Update 2 from CoLang

In the second week of CoLang, I took courses on Archives/Databases, Strategies to Reintroduce Languages, Pedagogical Grammars, and Internet/Multimedia.

Archives/Databases: In this course, we learned how to use SQL and OpenOffice Base to make databases, which are basically like inter-connected spreadsheets where the information can be presented in a variety of different ways. If anyone is interested in learning how to do any of this, there are very detailed slides available for the first and second weeks of this course.

Strategies: This was a class about using archived and written material for language teaching, particularly for languages without many fluent speakers anymore. We talked about a variety of sources for language learning materials and things you can do with them. Some things that other language communities have done include an iphone app for learning YatiWunderkammer, a project for making spelling dictionaries on mobile phones (so you can text in a language more easily), a list of lesson plans for language-learning in general, and some audio/video lessons that have been made in Mohegan. Other ideas are playing games like I Spy and Simon Says, and the “Where are my keys?” game that I posted about earlier.

Pedagogical Grammars: This class looked at lots of different types of grammars and discussed what makes a grammar effective for teaching (syllabus here). SpokenCree.org is a website with audio Cree lessons that goes with a series of textbooks on the Cree language. A great quote from Jacob Manitowa-Bailey, who has done a lot of work with the Sauk Master-Apprentice program:

“Concrete, contextualized, varied, modern, and repeated sentence length examples are better than charts, explanations, or isolated examples in longer narratives.” -Jacob Manatowa-Bailey

Internet/Multimedia: In this class, we discussed a variety of ways to use Internet resources to promote and use language. A few examples of interesting things we were shown: Indigenous Tweets, which lists people who tweet in indigenous languages. Navajo Word of the Day, a website (also on Facebook and Twitter) that gives a new Navajo word each day. We also learned how to put QR codes on posters to send people to a website on their smartphone. I have a demo of this that I can show if anyone’s interested but I don’t think I want to put it up online at the moment.

Videos of language-learning games

Where Are Your Keys?” is a language game that I just found out about at CoLang. The game is played with several simple objects, such as a red stone, a white stone, a red stick, and a white stick. The players then repeat several phrases about these objects (such as, “what’s that?” and “I want the red stick”) while pointing and passing them around. The phrases are repeated many times with different variations by the players, so the people I was talking to said that they found it was a great way of getting people comfortable talking. This is a video of Mohegan language learners playing the game.

Another example of things that other people are doing with video is Katie Grant, a participant in the Sauk Master-Apprentice program who is making youtube videos about things she is learning in the Sauk language.

Endangered Languages Project

Interesting new project from Google: a website for information in and about endangered languages. Description from their main page, at www.endangeredlanguages.com:

The Endangered Languages Project, is an online resource to record, access, and share samples of and research on endangered languages, as well as to share advice and best practices for those working to document or strengthen languages under threat. (Source)

More details on the project at the Google blog press release and an FAQ on sources for the information. People here at CoLang with me seem pretty interested by this, and a few of the people here are already involved.

I just checked out the entry for Mi’gmaq, and it’s pretty incomplete. For example, only one location is listed where the language is spoken, around Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, the primary spelling is listed as Micmac, and the primary classification is listed as Algic. There are three Youtube videos linked, but no other materials in the language.

However, people and organizations are encouraged to sign up and add more to the entries. On the one hand, getting involved could correct some of this information and make more resources available. On the other hand, it would be extra work for us, and we’re already making materials available online. At minimum, maybe we could consider logging in and making some links to Mi’gmaq-language resources that are already online? Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Language Restoration: Ojibwe in Minnesota and Wisconsin

I was recently talking with my parents about the work we are doing here in Listuguj, and it reminded them of the documentary First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language that they’d recently seen on television in my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It covers the strategies used and challenges faced in the immersion programs at Niigaane Ojibwemowin Immersion School, Leech Lake Resevation, Minnesota and at Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion Charter School, Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, Wisconsin. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in restoring endangered languages.

Akwesasne trip

Yesterday, we (the CAN-8 group) took a small yellow car on a road trip to Akwesasne to visit Karen Mitchell, who has been running a magnificent program on the Mohawk language at the Akwesasne Economic Development Agency. We learned so much from the trip, and were simultaneously inspired and a little bit daunted! This (long) post is about some of what we learned while we were there, and how we’re hoping to use it for building a Mi’gmaq CAN-8 program.

The Mohawk CAN-8 program has immense breadth and depth (it has been developing for over five years), and there is no way to accomplish that much in the course of this summer. However, there were certain strategies and tools that seemed very adaptable to what we’re doing with our Mi’gmaq CAN-8!

First, there was a section about Mohawk writing, and the possible Mohawk syllables. Since Mohawk (unlike English and French) makes heavy use of a distinction between what we would write as /a/, /ah/, and /aʔ/, the students were introduced to the contrast between them. They heard each syllable /ma/, /mah/, /maʔ/ and saw them written on the screen in Mohawk orthography. How we’re talking about this for Mi’gmaq

  • This section went through every possible Mohawk syllable, but we’re thinking that covering every possible syllable might not be necessary for us. The main advantage of this for Mi’gmaq might be in helping show the long/short/schwa vowel differences. We can record individual instances of the vowels, show the spelling (just enough to familiarize the student), and then record some minimal pair words to highlight how the difference shows up in speech.
  • A helpful and perhaps even crucial followup to that is to give learners sets of rhythm patterns/profiles: pairs and sets of combinations of each of the three degrees of vowel length in the language: regular, extra-short (= schwa), and extra-long.  That is, V, ‘, and V’. Hence we want to demonstrate rhythmic profiles like these—V-V, ‘-V, V-‘, V-V’, V’-V, ‘-V’, V’-‘ (etc.)—in the form of actual words that model them.  From there, as learners are presented with new words, they can compare them to the rhythmic profiles of each the model words they’ve already mastered, pick out the one best match, and so basically get the longs, shorts, and schwas of the whole new word automatically and accurately.  It is also necessary to include coda consonants: geminates and clusters, as these too have a distinct effect on the rhythmic profile of the word.

Second, each vocabulary word/phrase was presented in four ways (with a supporting element). 1) the student clicks on the English approximation of the word, 2) there is a picture indicating the meaning, and 3) the Mohawk word written out syllable by syllable and then as a unit, 4) the student hears a recording of the Mohawk word, syllable by syllable and then as a unit. As the recorded speaker says each syllable, the written Mohawk on the screen is highlighted to align with the recording (i.e. a less bouncy version of “follow the bouncing ball”). A supporting structure in the system is that the words/phrases were in Question/Answer format: The CAN-8 user, after clicking on the vocab word, would hear a questions such as “what animal is this?” or “how do you feel today?” and respond using the new phrase like a mini-dialogue. We like this because it takes vocabulary out of a “vocabulary/phrase list”-based approach and situates it in real interactive language use. How we’re talking about this for Mi’gmaq

  • This was a fantastic format that covered a lot of ground! For citation style, it’s hard to think of a better-rounded way to show it. We’re discussing the idea of also using video, and also talking about eliminating solo words altogether, and using mainly phrases in context, as a vocabulary-teaching tool.
  • We’ll also have semi-scripted dialogues, which is material for another post.

Third, they had a thematic dictionary. It was a very well-organized reference, and showed vocabulary in a nice, usable way. How we’re talking about this for Mi’gmaq

  • Obviously, building a dictionary is a huge project. We’re hoping to lay the groundwork for the whole thing, building a skeleton for the future and keeping track of the phrases that we are entering for the individual lessons. Actual input for the summer will prioritize thematic contexts where the language is currently likely to be used–school vocabulary and some topics relevant to speaking with older relatives (suggestions welcome). Later work will then branch out to topics where the language isn’t presently as common.
  • We already have a great resource for Mi’gmaq words! The Mi’kmaq Online Talking Dictionary has a substantial quantity of vocabulary, all of which is not only illustrated with sentence-level usages but also provides sound files of both. Maybe in the future, we can look at how this alphabetically-arranged resource might be cross-linked into a thematically-arranged presentation, and if possible filed in the CAN-8 system, too.

There was more, too, but this is already quite a long post! We’d like to hear what you think!

  • What themes should we work on?
  • Do these three features sound good to you? What are the problems with them?
  • What are your thoughts for useful dialogues for a CAN-8 user to hear? Again, there will be a post just for dialogues coming up later, but please start talking about it now, if you like.

An Update from iLanguage Lab Team

As many of you may know, we are building a database for all of our Mi’gmaq data! To those who do not…we are building a database! 

The big picture:
We have been working with iLanguage Lab LTD to create an open source (free!), easy to use app that will run online and offline. There are plenty of database applications out there, but they tend to be difficult to use and either run online OR offline (not both). The idea is to create something that will be used not only by linguists, but by whoever is interested in doing language research (for non-programmers by non-programmers). Thus, we are making the code for it as intuitive as possible, which will be easy to change and fit specific needs in the future. More features and other info here.
What do we mean by database? It will essentially be like Word or any other word processor, but more organized. We will have sessions, where data from elicitations can be entered directly into a series of fields (orthography, gloss, translation, etc.). Researchers and consultants will be able to collaborate with each other on projects in groups and will be able to have discussions via comments. Ultimately, it will be a place to store all of the data collected thus far in a way that is accessible to those involved in the project but also secure (maintaining consultant confidentiality and reducing the number of errors that inevitably occur during research). 
Why is this useful? It is organized and accessible, which is great for people trying to learn the language as well as for project purposes. The flexibility of the program will also allow linguists and speakers together to decide who has access to what data.

The nitty gritty:

So far the project is still in its skeletal stages (literally..we are using a JavaScript framework called ‘Backbone’). We have been working on things that are mostly ‘under the hood’ (things like defining what ‘Users’ are, how we want things to look, etc.) In addition, we have been running tests to make sure that the code we are writing is working. You can check out the progress by installing a google chrome extension called “Drag and Drop FieldLinguistics” (name to be changed soon) in the Chrome Web Store. The goal is to have most of these tests done by the end of this week so we can start building up to the ‘View’, which is what people will actually see when they use the app. The Beta Testing Target is July 1st 2012, at which point we will actually test out the finished app. 

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to post them here (or if you are technically oriented, you can post on the github project page: https://github.com/mecathcart/Drag-and-Drop-FieldLinguistics/issues/milestones)! We really hope that this will be used by people who have previously found themselves frustrated by the obscurity of other web applications.

Master-Apprentice Program

One of the talks I attended at OWNAL was about the Master-Apprentice program. This is a language-learning program originally from California that aims to train new fluent speakers by pairing elder speakers of the language (masters) with younger adults interested in learning the language (apprentices) for 10 or more hours per week for several years, for a total of around 300 hours. The goal is to create new fluent speakers who can then teach the language to others. The program has been applied to a variety of different languages and communities  — the presentation that I attended was about the Master-Apprentice program in Sauk, an Algonquian language spoken in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Jessica also has a new book about the Master-Apprentice program so if anyone is interested they can contact her or read a partial version online. I also found these two videos made by people who have been doing Master-Apprentice programs in various indigenous languages in British Columbia.

Anyway, I think this looks like a really interesting idea. Thoughts to consider: is this something that anyone in Listuguj might be interested in trying? Can we use any ideas from the Master-Apprentice program when creating Can-8 lessons or other teaching methods?

Wiki update & Algonquian bibliographies…

The grammar wiki is beginning to take shape as Gretchen has wrote a brief introduction and listed some possible starting points for topics. Let us know if you would like to write about a topic once you have sent us your revised page(s) from the old wiki. We are looking for volunteers!

As well, I have put up a gloss-ary with glossing standards we would like everyone to use on the grammar wiki. It includes a working list of abbreviations based on the Leipzig Glossing Conventions (see the sidebar on this page). Please feel free to add (or possibly delete) abbreviations, but please send me a message if you do so we can make sure to keep everything consistent. I have included a notes column beside in the terms table to make these terms as transparent as possible to a wide audience. So feel free to add links to your page if you address any of these terms explicitly, or add comments. Also, the table itself is a user-sortable table. Click on the symbol beside the header of a column to sort the table in different manners. Please let me know what you think about the appropriateness this style of table.

In other news, Jessica has found an informative Algonquian bibliography made by Connor. Here is a comprehensive Algonquian bibliography I found a little while ago. Take a look if you get a chance!