March 31, 2015 15:29 UTC

This Is America

How to Help an Endangered Language

Alfred “Bud” Lane works with linguist Gregory Anderson to record words for a talking dictionary
Alfred “Bud” Lane works with linguist Gregory Anderson to record words for a talking dictionary


Download this story as a PDF

BARBARA KLEIN: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Barbara Klein.

BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty. This week on our program, we look at efforts to protect threatened languages. And, later, we hear some songs about baseball.

(MUSIC)

BARBARA KLEIN: Eleven of the world's languages have at least one hundred million native speakers. The biggest are Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish, Arabic and Hindi. Next come Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese, French and German. The United Nations says these eleven languages are the mother tongues of half the world's population.

But the world has close to seven thousand languages. Linguists predict that as many as half of these may be at risk of disappearing by the end of this century. That would mean another language dies every two weeks.

BOB DOUGHTY: Members of the Siletz Indian tribe in the northwestern state of Oregon take pride in their language. Their language, they say, "is as old as time itself." But today very few people can speak it fluently. In fact, you can count the number of fluent speakers on one hand. Bud Lane is one of them.

BUD LANE: "We had linguists that had come in and done assessments of our people and our language and they labeled it -- I'll never forget this term -- 'moribund,' meaning it was headed for the ash heap of history."

The Siletz tribal council did not want to let that happen. So Bud Lane asked for help from experts. Several National Geographic Fellows helped him record fourteen thousand words and phrases in his native tongue.

TALKING DICTIONARY: "Let's dance out in front: ch’ee-naa-svt-nit-dash."

Some Siletz words describe basket making, a traditional tribal art.

TALKING DICTIONARY: "Baby basket: guy-yu." "Baby basket laces: guy-yuu mvtlh-wvsh."

More than ten thousand entries can be found in the Siletz Online Talking Dictionary, first launched in two thousand seven. The website, siletz.swarthmore.edu, is hosted by Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

David Harrison is a linguistics professor there. Professor Harrison has also posted talking dictionaries for seven other highly endangered languages from around the world. He says technology can spread the influence of major languages but also help save endangered ones.

DAVID HARRISON: "This is what I like to call the flip side of globalization, or the positive value of globalization. We hear a lot about how globalization exerts negative pressures on small cultures to assimilate."

BARBARA KLEIN: Smartphone apps, YouTube videos and Facebook pages have all become digital tools for language activists and experts.

Mr. Harrison and a researcher in Oregon have mapped areas of endangered languages. One is the Pacific Northwest in the United States. Others include the upper Amazon basin, Siberia and northern Australia.

In Canada's far north, the Inuit people are struggling to preserve their native language, Inuktitut. Part of the effort involves Microsoft. The company is translating terms in its Windows operating system and Office software into Inuktitut. Gavin Nesbitt is the project leader.

GAVIN NESBITT: "Instead of 'file,' you'll see ini.  Instead of 'home,' it will say pigiarvik. Instead of 'save,' it says 'jaggajairli' and stuff like that."

He says the programming group had to invent new words to include all the terms in some Windows and Word document menus. But he says the effort is worth it.

GAVIN NESBITT: "So many people will spend their entire day sitting in front of a computer. If you're sitting in front of your computer in English all day, that just reinforces English. If you're now using Inuktitut, it is reinforcing [that] this is your language."

Microsoft has also worked with language activists in New Zealand, Spain and Wales to translate its software into Maori, Basque, Catalan and Welsh.

BOB DOUGHTY: In Oregon, Siletz language teacher Bud Lane says technology alone cannot save endangered languages.

BUD LANE: "Nothing takes the place of speakers speaking to other speakers and to people who are learning. But this bridges a gap that was just sorely needed in our community and in our tribe."

He points to one sign of progress: young members of the tribe are now texting each other in Siletz.

(MUSIC)

BARBARA KLEIN: The twenty-twelve Major League Baseball season is in, yes, full swing. The sport has long been a hit with songwriters. In fact, baseball has been celebrated in song almost since the first pitch was thrown out. "The Baseball Polka" was written in the late eighteen fifties.

Over the years, Irving Berlin and Bruce Springsteen have written songs about baseball. Singers as different as Frank Sinatra and Meat Loaf have sung about the game.

(MUSIC)

BOB DOUGHTY: Mandolin player and singer Sam Bush is a huge fan of his favorite team, the Saint Louis Cardinals. His album "King of My World" includes a song he wrote called "The Wizard of Oz." The song is about Ozzie Smith, a former Cardinal great who played shortstop and did backflips on the field.

(MUSIC)

BARBARA KLEIN: Ozzie Smith is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Bob Dylan wrote a song about another Hall of Famer: Jim "Catfish" Hunter. Catfish Hunter was one the best baseball pitchers ever, and one of the most popular. His fifteen-year career included five World Series championships with the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees.

He once pitched a perfect game, not allowing a single opposing player to reach base. He also pitched five seasons in a row with twenty victories. But Catfish Hunter is also remembered for another reason.

On December thirty-first, nineteen seventy-four, he signed a contract with the Yankees worth almost four million dollars. That might not sound like very much with today's highly paid star athletes. But the contract set a record. It made Catfish Hunter the first multi-millionaire player in baseball -- the "million-dollar-man" as Bob Dylan called him. The contract was for five years but he retired early.

Catfish Hunter died in nineteen ninety-nine. If you ever visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, you might see Bob Dylan’s signed album featuring the song "Catfish."

(MUSIC)

BARBARA KLEIN: Singer-songwriter Chuck Brodsky likes to include baseball songs on his albums. One song tells the story of a real-life player on the Brooklyn Dodgers, before they moved from their New York home to Los Angeles. Moe Berg lived a double life: baseball player and spy for the United States before and during World War Two. Here is "Moe Berg: The Song."

(MUSIC)

BOB DOUGHTY: One baseball song is in a league by itself. People may not know all the words, but that never stopped anyone from singing along with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." A few years ago, Sam Bush had a chance to play it during the seventh inning stretch at a Cardinals game. The seventh inning stretch is a time for fans to get out of their seats to stretch their arms and legs after sitting for most of the game.

Sam Bush says he will never forget hearing thousands of fans singing along as he played his version of the song on his mandolin.

(MUSIC:)

Jack Norworth wrote "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in nineteen eight. One day he was riding a New York City subway train and saw an advertisement for a baseball game. That gave him the idea for the most famous baseball song ever written. Not bad for someone who had never even been to a major league game.

(MUSIC)

BARBARA KLEIN: Our program was produced by Brianna Blake with reporting by Tom Banse and Katherine Cole. I’m Barbara Klein.

BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty. Read, listen and learn English with texts and MP3s of our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
    Next 
by: khaled almalki
05/08/2012 11:41 PM
we must help those people to restore their language >>>>>


by: Touch sokheng
05/08/2012 10:36 AM
Happy with VOA


by: Laurent
05/08/2012 9:24 AM
Our Earth loose more and more diversity, in the nature and in our societies. It'S really sad to notice that the world become more restricted, even if we travel...


by: Alex
05/08/2012 2:36 AM
Hey Salih, your language is awesome!!Poor Turkish guy:))


by: Mr. Maung Maung OO
05/07/2012 3:16 PM
Thanks for VOA program. I am Burmese and I arrived on USA in 2003.
When plane was landed to USA, my spoken English is zero level and I learned English language as a second Language via using VOA program.
Now, I am working as Interpreter for Burmese people in North carolina state.


by: Gilberto
05/07/2012 3:11 PM
There are there are approximately 180 languages ​​in Brazil. This number does not consider the communities of immigrants or people who learn a foreign language. It's only indigenous languages ​​spoken by about 160,000 people.


by: Dreen Dara
05/07/2012 2:48 PM
Language is the most important way to communicate.It represents the culture, civilization, job and many important things of that country. I think human has the main role to protect the language by avoid using Extraneous words.


by: tarik
05/07/2012 1:17 PM
languages are our treasure and our identity . so , we must protect them by several tools . the first one is to teach childreen their own languages . it's good to teach them foreign languages but that's after learning their own languages . the second one is to encourage foreign people to learn those languages . thanks


by: Christian
05/07/2012 10:51 AM
Different languages are treasure but also sometimes a problem to understand each other


by: Pikaq
05/07/2012 10:41 AM
I don't want many languages in the world. It is better that there is only one language in the world because we don't spend much time doing it.

Comments page of 2
    Next 

Learn with The News

  • Audio UN Agency Questions Thailand’s Air Safety

    The UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) reported “significant safety concerns” with Thailand’s air safety practices last week. The negative report may prevent some flights from coming out of the kingdom and forced Thailand’s government to deal quickly with the results on Monday. More

  • Conversion of forests to agricultural use create starkly different habitats for small mammals that carry zoonotic disease such as plague, resulting in increased risk of plague transmission. (Photo Credit: Douglas McCauley)

    Audio Land-Use Changes May Increase Risk of Plague

    Efforts to increase food production in Africa may be increasing the risk of plague infection. A new report looks at efforts to clear land for farming in natural, undeveloped areas of Tanzania. The report links the development of croplands to an increase in the number of rats carrying the plague. More

  • Video Ceramic Guitar Proves Good for Rockin'

    Musicians have been using clay, or ceramic, wind and percussion instruments for a long time. But a rock guitarist in Spain is now attracting audiences with not only his music, but his unique ceramic guitar. Luis Martin says there is a unique quality of sound bouncing off ceramic material. More

  • Iran - Nuclear

    Audio Difference Remains in Iran's Nuclear Talks

    How to dispose of Iran’s nuclear materials remains a barrier. Also, Arab-coalition airstrikes continue in Yemen; France's Socialist Party faces election losses; Nigerians vote for president; the U.S. and South Korea hold joint military exercises; and blogger killed in Bangladesh. More

  • Audio Chinese Development Bank Gains Members

    The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, proposed by China, is aimed at financing infrastructure projects in Asian countries. The United States has voiced concerns about how the bank might affect organizations such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. But some U.S. allies have joined. More

Featured Stories

  • A woman wakes up on downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row, March 7, 2013.

    Video Community Center Helps Women on Skid Row

    Many homeless people live in the “Skid Row” area of Los Angeles, California. These men and women have no permanent place to live. Skid Row is a place where many social service groups can be found. They work to help the homeless find work and a place to live. One such organization works with women. More

  • Audio New Treatment for AIDS Called a ‘Big Deal’

    Read on to learn words like mutate, neutralize and antiretroviral as you learn how researchers have found a way to trick HIV, the virus causing AIDS, into killing itself. The difficulty level might be high as this article describes what happens when a genetically modified cell becomes an HIV killer. More

  • Video Angelina Jolie Has Second Surgery to Prevent Cancer

    The 39-year-old actress published a piece in The New York Times about her decision to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to protect herself from cancer. She had a double mastectomy two years ago for the same reason. The latest surgery leaves the mother of six unable to have more children. More

  • Space Rocket to Launch Weather Satellite Into Deep Space

    Video Satellite Will Watch Sun Storms, Send Warnings to Earth

    Strong storms on the sun can cause problems for satellites, radio communications and even airplane travel. A satellite is now traveling 1.5 million kilometers to enter the sun’s orbit, just in time to observe the extreme weather on the sun at its most violent time the sun’s 11-year cycle. More

  • An employee plays the game Flappy Bird at a smartphone store in Hanoi, Feb. 10, 2014.

    Audio Too Much Gaming is a Pain in the Neck

    Smartphones and other electronic devices, or gadgets, are becoming more affordable. Children in India are using them more and more. Doctors say children who spend long hours playing video games are increasingly showing signs of physical deformities, meaning their bodies are not growing properly. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner blog
Confessions of an English Learner blog

 

 

 

Tell us About Our Programs