• 13 years, 4 months ago by Austin Brown

    Dr. Laura Welcher - The Rosetta Project & The Language Commons

  • 13 years, 11 months ago by Adrienne Mamin

    Rosetta Spotlight: Yurok - a critically endangered language


    Description of Yurok numerals in the Rosetta archive

    Yurok (YUR) is the language of the Yurok people of northwestern California. As with most indigenous American languages, European contact has mostly come to replace Yurok with English, so that as of 2009 it is near extinction. Yurok belongs to the Algonquian language family, most of whose other members are geographically distant from Yurok. Accordingly, Yurok is surrounded by languages unrelated to it, except for the only distantly related (and extinct) Wiyot.

    Yurok has a set of glottalized consonants (sounds produced with the glottis closed, as if holding your breath) that contrast with their nonglottalized counterparts. The glottalized sounds are less common but are important in Yurok morphology, such as verb conjugations.

    Some verbs must inflect (be conjugated) for person and number, others cannot, and many can go either way. For example, the word for eating must take different endings according to the subject: nepek’ for ‘I eat,’ nepe’m for ‘you (singular) eat,’ nep’ for ‘s/he eats,’ nepoh for ‘we eat,’ nepu’ for ‘you (plural) eat,’ and nepehl for ‘they eat.' On the other hand, chek ‘sit,’ always maintains the same form no matter who and how many are sitting. Finally, skewok ‘want’ can remain skewok for all subjects, or it can inflect as skewoksimek’ ‘I want,’ skewoksime’m ‘you (singular) want,’ skewoksi’m ‘s/he wants,’ etc., just as the verb ‘eat’ does.

    Yurok has no distinct category of adjectives; the words that translate to adjectives or express adjective-like meanings behave like verbs in terms of word order and inflection. For example, there is a word for being big that inflects just as verbs do: peloyek’ ‘I am big,’ peloye’m ‘you are big,’ pelo’y ‘s/he is big,’ etc. Numerals are also a type of verb, and they have different forms according to the type or shape of thing being enumerated (for example, humans versus animals, or flat things versus tufted things).

    Ways of writing Yurok have varied over time and remain not entirely settled. In the 1980s the Yurok Language Committee adopted UNIFON, designed (by an economist) as an English pronunciation key. However, UNIFON was impractical and therefore unpopular, and the Yurok Language Committee adopted an alternative system, which was later revised by linguists working on the language (as Leanne Hinton details in her unpublished 2010 article "Orthography Wars"). The Berkeley Yurok Language Project, a searchable collection of Yurok stories, words, and morphemes, lists entries in both the original alternative system and the revised system.

    UNIFON alphabet

    UNIFON alphabet

  • 14 years, 1 month ago by Sarina Spector

    Rosetta Spotlight: Lakota – an oral language enters the digital age

    Lakota phoneme chart

    Lakota [1], the language of the Lakota tribe of the Great Plains, is fading before its speakers' eyes. Although Lakota is one of the most robust Native American languages today, its speaker population has fallen far since its peak in pre-colonial times and continues to dwindle. This reflects the experience of many native tribes, and is largely a result of US government policies concerning these peoples. Lakota speakers (the Ethnologue puts their number around 6,300) are left in danger of losing not only their language but the vital cultural information it holds.

    Lakota, like most of the world's languages, was not originally written, and much of the long tradition and history of the Lakota exists only orally in their stories and ceremonies. The Lakota people did, however, keep detailed historical records, as can be seen in the "Lakota Winter Counts," now archived online on the website of the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives. These are pictographic calendars detailing important historical events in the lives of the Lakota.

    An alphabetic writing system for the Lakota language in use for the past four decades has now been widely adopted by Lakota speakers. And, in a modern effort to revitalize the Lakota language, the Lakota Language Consortium has compiled textbooks from introductory to college level and an expansive online forum to assist children and adults in learning and thereby preserving the language.

    They have also compiled a 20,000-word dictionary of Lakota, including wonderfully complex words like "woímnayankel," which expresses the humbled yet connected feeling one experienced when witnessing something particularly majestic in nature, such as the aurora borealis. Lakota words are often this complex, efficiently expressing ideas that would take a sentences or two in English. Efforts like the Lakota Language Consortium allow the Lakota language to not only survive but flourish, giving future generations the chance to embody and spread the culture of their ancestors.

    The Rosetta Project's collection on the Internet Archive has records of the Lakota language in the form of three text excerpts: a description of where Lakota was historically spoken; a phonology, which uses a chart to characterize phonemes by linguistic traits; and an orthography, or explanation of the Lakota writing system.

    [1] The Lakota were historically known as the Sioux, but this is an exonym from their Algonquian neighbors to the east, and the term is deprecated today.

  • 14 years, 2 months ago by Sarina Spector

    Rosetta Spotlight: Ormuri - a piece of Middle Eastern identity

    Ormuri Description in the Rosetta Collection

    "Language is identity," Darfur refugee Daowd I. Salih told the New York Times about a week ago. He was being interviewed for an article called "Listening to (and Saving) the World's Languages." As mentioned in this Rosetta Project blog post, the article discusses the amazing variety of spoken languages in New York City, and what residents are doing (or not doing) to preserve their native language.

    One of the languages the article touches on is Ormuri, a language of multiple dialects spoken in small regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to the Ethnologue, Ormuri has only about 1,050 speakers. The New York Times article reveals a plan to canvass New York City for speakers of Ormuri in order to learn more about the language and the cultural information it holds.

    Languages with small speaker populations are quickly dying out, and the data they contain (whether it be linguistic, historical, or cultural) is important enough to merit a concerted effort at saving them. Ormuri is a perfect example, especially in the political and economic environment of our time (read: the complex tangle that is our current Middle Eastern relations). The Rosetta Project's database in the Internet Archive contains a detailed description of Ormuri, including a history of its speakers: where they came from, who their ancestors are, and how their language has co-evolved with those around it to become what it is today.

    In my mind there is nothing that illustrates a culture's unity so much as its language. It allows people to build social relationships, conduct business transactions, and express to fellow humans everything they hold dear. What's more, as any good anthropologist knows, learning the language of a culture is one of the most important steps an outsider can take to gain the trust and respect of its people.

    What does this have to do with an obscure Afghan language, or with Darfur refugees? Only this: if we intend to successfully navigate the conflicts of the modern global world, it is absolutely necessary to understand and relate to the people with whom we intend to work. The Middle East in particular, Afghanistan being an illustrative example, is culturally very foreign to the West; its people have lived for centuries in small, autonomous groups that hold to varied, often contradictory beliefs. The fact that so many of these groups have their own language, like Ormuri, is telling of their relative isolation, and gives clues to how they live their lives.

    Rosetta's description of Ormuri tells the story of its peoples' interactions through Ormuri's morphology. By studying the languages Ormuri had contact with and how these influenced its words, we can begin to create a web of social and economic interaction that would show the connections and dissociations between groups in the area. For example, Ormuri has many morphological similarities to Pashto, a common language in the region of Waziristan where Ormuri is spoken. Ormuri pronouns are strikingly similar to their Pashto equivalents, and many scattered words share similarities, like "wife," "glitter," and "to sit down." Pashto has also phonetically influenced Ormuri, replacing some traditional Ormuri allophones with similar Pashto ones.

    Ormuri has also sustained contact with Persian, which is evident in many morphological changes that mimic the latter: loss of gendered nouns, simplification of plural nouns, and reduction of irregular past participles. Analyzing this data led the author, Georg Morgenstierne, to doubt the previous belief that Ormuri speakers descend from Kurds, and provided evidence for further theoretical investigations.

    The very existence of this kind of knowledge is what Rosetta is all about; by preserving minority languages and stressing their importance, we hope to contribute vital insights into the lives of their speakers, insights that can be put to good use in surprising places. After all, you never know who you'll meet on the New York City subway.

    [A note of introduction: this is my first post as an intern with the Rosetta Project. I will be working with Rosetta for three months, building the collection in the Internet Archive and continuing to spotlight Rosetta material on this blog.]

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