Online Talking Dictionary: An Effective Mean To Preserve Endangered Tribal Languages

By Dr. Rajdev Tiwari, Dean - Computer Science, Greater Noida Institute of TechnologyGNIOT is one of the world's leading institution for management & engineering programs offering undergraduation and postgraduation programs in the fields of Computer Science & Engineering, Electronics & Communication, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering and many others.

According to a survey published in The Hindu daily, 4000 of the world's 6000 languages face a potential threat of extinction, out of which 10 percent is spoken in India. In fact 400 Indian languages out of 780 languages may get extinct by the next 50 years, as claimed by The Hindu. Probably, the true beauty of India is its natural diversity. Diversity in India can easily be observed in many terms like climate, culture, language, dressing sense, food habits, physical built, and others.

According to the census in 2011, around 100 million population of India falls under the tribal category. In totality, there are hundreds of tribal communities in India having their own languages and culture. Most of the tribal languages are of oral tradition and have no written scripts. For oral language communities where traditions are conveyed through speech, oral literature is undoubtedly an effective medium for communicating ideas, knowledge, and history. Oral literature may include ritual processes, curative chants, long poems, folk & historical narratives, stories, songs, myths, puzzles, tongue twisters, and recitations. Oral kinds of literature are discouraged, knowingly or unknowingly, by a number of complex and related reasons.

One prime factor is the ever greater focus on universal basic literacy programs by international organizations serving in the domains of welfare of education & human, in general. Globalization and modernization also have a negative impact on smaller communities and have grind down expressive diversity through assimilating cultural practices towards dominant communities. Fortunately, oral tradition and internet technology have common characteristics of navigating through networks. Fundamentally, they both promote co-inventive, participatory, dependent, and ever-arising synergistic experiences.
With the penetration of digital technologies, speakers of endangered or poorly documented languages have become aware and started using a wide range of new digital media. Many communities whose speech forms were previously exclusively oral have adopted the internet and not only as a virtual `store' for recordings of their endangered traditions, but as a federated, inter-language platform for the transmission, communication, and revitalization of their oral traditions.

Users of the internet on smartphone have shown significant rapid growth worldwide. Especially in India, Reliance Jio has revolutionized the telecom industry and has crossed over 130 million customers, according to The Indian Express. India has 92.03 mobile phone connections per 100 citizens, according to World Bank Population Data, April 8, 2016, and Highlights of Telecom Subscription Data, as on 31st July 2017. The smartphones are capturing the market with pace of 33.4 percent in the year 2017, as per Statista report, and will keep on increasing in coming years. Even at present, we can witness people re-cording weddings, rituals, funerals, and more and uploading it on YouTube, Facebook, and other networking sites. Skype, WeChat, WhatsApp, and others social medias are the applications that have shown a very deep penetration amongst the people as a medium of sharing the oral kinds of literature in digital form.

Tasks of any language preservation project do not sum-up at just by digitizing them, rather making it visible to other communities and making rest of the world presentable in those languages forms

Fundamental similarities between the Internet and Oral tradition are well acknowledged by various agencies around the world and have undertaken several projects for the preservation of endangered languages of oral traditions. Most of these projects are involved in the creation of oral kinds of literature or even library from such types of literature by recording and archiving the chants, poems, recitations, stories, tales, and songs of the indigenous societies in various forms on digital media and making them available online for the global accessibility. Multiple efforts have also been made to create the online dictionaries for endangered languages in the venture of preserving them.

In the Indian context, some attempts have already been made by local state Government like Orissa, Chhattisgarh, and others to preserve a few of endangered language spoken in tribal communities, but hundreds of such languages are still at the verge of being extinct. Language documentation in India has a great scope, especially the creation of language corpus. Documentation of indigenous endangered languages differs from language corpus in many ways. The grammar and the dictionary are not an integral part of the corpus, but are key outcomes from it and are produced for the commercial purposes. Documentation of a language, on the other hand is to preserve the language through its texts (may be oral), grammar and dictionary along with the diversified cultural heritage.

Tasks of any language preservation project do not sum-up at just by digitizing them, rather making it visible to other communities and making rest of the world presentable in those languages forms. To address these challenges, creation of Online Talking Dictionary and its metadata for a language can serve a vital role in the direction of keeping a language alive.