A Record-a-thon for Human Language

On July 30, 02011 The Rosetta Project partnered with Mightyverse.com to hold the first human language Record-a-thon at the Internet Archive. This is an event we developed to test the idea that with a few basic guidelines, anyone can use common video devices to help document human language.

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The idea is that by creating a 5-10 minute unedited video, and providing basic information about it - essentially just saying what language you think it is in - and then uploading it to the Rosetta Project collection in the Internet Archive, you are helping build a corpus of valuable data for that language. You don't need to be a specialist, and by archiving it you create a resource that others can build on, for many different useful purposes - from language learning and teaching, to linguistic analysis, to building the tools that enable a language to be used with modern technology.

This introductory talk by Dr. Laura Welcher, made the morning of the event, describes the ideas behind the creation of the Record-a-thon:

In the course of a single day, both in-person and remote partipants combined created about 85 videos in 34 different languages. There were speakers of all ages, native and non-native, some quite fluent while others were learners practicing their skills. All the videos they created are interesting to watch and are available here in the Rosetta Project video collection. They recorded conversations, told stories, histories, and jokes, recited poems, and sang lullabies. Here is a sampling (click on the images to see the videos):

  • Chihota speaking his native Shona. Shona is a language of Zimbabwe with about 11 million speakers. Chihota took home one of the Record-a-thon prizes, having made recordings of himself speaking Shona, Swahili, Sheng (an emergent Swahili-English mixed language) and Chilapalapa (a pidgin that emerged in the mines of South Africa). He also speaks fluent English and Russian. Chihota was unsure that we would consider all of these languages but we assured him we were interested in them all:

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  • Arturo Avila speaking his native Mixteco Bajo from Oaxaca, Mexico. Mixtec languages comprise a cluster of about 50 related languages in Mexico, having anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand speakers each. Mr. Avila was the lucky Record-a-thon raffle winner of an iPad 2 (participants were given raffle tickets for each recording they uploaded, and Mr. Avila upload a bunch!):

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  • Anita Suter speaking her native language Swiss German, in the Ostschweizer dialect. Standard German is one of the official languages of Switzerland, along with French, Italian and Romansch. Swiss German, with approximately 6.5 million speakers is the spoken variety of German used daily in Switzerland, and it has many dialects, many of which are unintelligible with each other. These dialects are used alongside Standard German, a spoken and written variety which is reserved for more official purposes, in a peaceful linguistic co-habitation known as 'diglossia':

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  • Jordan Brown speaking Yiddish, a language he is studying. Several of the Record-a-thon participants made recordings in languages they are learning or studying. Mr. Brown, a linguistics student and Rosetta Project summer intern, made recordings in both Yiddish as well as in the unrelated Sri Lankan language Sinhala. Here he reads from the Yiddish translation of "Winnie the Pooh" by A.A. Milne. Yiddish is a Germanic language with about 2 million first language speakers and 11 million second language speakers in Israel, Germany, and worldwide:

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During the Record-a-thon there were also several Mightyverse Phrase Farm recording stations set up and running all day, where participants could record vocabulary lists, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These video files are more complex, but as soon as the files are processed, we hope to make them available at the Internet Archive as well:

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Other highlights of the day included a keynote speaker by Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey. Dr. Lindsey is an Explorer at the National Geographic, and she inspired us with stories of her experiences on her current expedition to visit and document traditional knowledge-keepers around the world.

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Thanks to all of our participants, and to our sponsors The Internet Archive, The Levenger Foundation and Levenger.com, The Long Now Foundation, and to our team of dedicated Rosetta Project Interns and volunteers, without all of whom this event would not have been possible.

We heart human languages - all of them!


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