Preserving and reviving languages – a high-tech solution

A hand-held device called a Phraselator, that can translate between English and a variety of other languages, has been adapted by a Cherokee business man, Don Thornton, to help with the preservation and revival of Native American languages, according to an article I found today.

You can talk into the Phraselator in English, it recognises your voice, translates your words and then reads the translation aloud. It was originally developed for military use in Afghanistan to translate from English into Dari, Pashto. Quite a few more languages have been added since then and the device is now used by used by the military, police and in disaster relief.

When he read about the Phraselator in 2001, Don Thornton thought that it could be used to help to save indigenous languages. After a long campaign for the right to use the technology, he set up a company, Thornton Media Inc. to do just that, and now works with over 70 tribes. The device is being used by and with elders to record words, phrases, stories and songs in their native languages, along with English translations, and then other members of the tribes are able to use it to learn their languages.

The device enables people to preserve and revive their own languages in their own ways without relying on others. For this reason, because it emulates oral traditions, and because of it’s ease of use, it has be adopted with enthusiasm by many. Thornton acknowledges that it would be better if the languages were passed on in the home from generation to generation, however this is not always possible. This device offers an alternative solution.