Digital Language: Texting, Talking Dictionaries, and Virtual Learning

Several recent announcements shine a light on the intersection of digital technologies and language. The articles, summarized below, showcase a number of ways scientists are using digital tools to teach, preserve, and study changes in language.

Research on applying enhanced virtuality to language learning

Researchers are using a 3-D virtual world platform and geolocalization to create immersive learning experiences for language and other applications.

They are interactive spaces where the subject can be contextualized and where the impossible can be made possible. For example, if we are studying the discovery of America, we can accompany Columbus in his historic accomplishment, or we can travel through the arteries of our own bodies, see a magnetic field or modify the structure of a molecule.”

— María Blanca Ibáñez, Telematic Engineering Department, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

According to the researchers, there are many benefits of digital technologies for e-learning, including the ability to engage students through interaction and variety. Moreover, virtual worlds provide “laboratories” for educators where they can experiment using different approaches.

‘Talking dictionaries’ document vanishing languages

Students can now listen to – and learn from — the last surviving speakers of some of the world’s most endangered languages. Linguists from the National Geographic are creating talking dictionaries to “document and revitalize struggling languages.”

The talking dictionary is and will be one of the best resources we have in our struggle to keep Siletz alive. We are teaching the language in the Siletz Valley School two full days a week now, and our young people are learning faster than I had ever imagined.”

— Alfred “Bud” Lane, among the last known fluent speakers of the Native American language known as Siletz Dee-ni, spoken in Oregon

Produced by National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, the new talking dictionaries include:

  • Matukar Panau, an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea. Only 600 speakers remain, living in just two small villages. 3,045 entries; 3,035 audio files; 67 images. http://matukar.swarthmore.edu
  • Remo, a highly endangered and poorly documented language of India. 4,008 entries; 1,157 audio files; one image. http://remo.swarthmore.edu
  • Tuvan, an indigenous tongue spoken by nomadic peoples in Siberia and Mongolia. 7,459 entries; 2,972 audio files; 49 images. http://tuvan.swarthmore.edu

More talking dictionaries are in production, according to the report.

Texting affects ability to interpret words

Through a study conducted for her master’s thesis in linguistics, Joan Lee found that people who text frequently seem to have more difficulty interpreting and accepting words.

Our assumption about text messaging is that it encourages unconstrained language. But the study found this to be a myth. The people who accepted more words did so because they were better able to interpret the meaning of the word, or tolerate the word, even if they didn’t recognize the word. Students who reported texting more rejected more words instead of acknowledging them as possible words.”

— Joan Hwechong Lee, M.A., University of Calgary

Lee’s study, What does txting do 2 language? The influences of exposure to messaging and print media on acceptability constraints, is available at http://gradworks.umi.com/MR/75/MR75222.html

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

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