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BBC Cymru Wales Plans to Double Welsh Language Users

Technology is a double-edged sword for many minority languages. On the one hand, it can be instrumental in preserving these languages, teaching them to others and connecting fellow speakers. On the other hand, English is one of the dominant languages on the web, and people who speak both English and a minority language are often content to visit websites and social networking in sites in English.

This is one of the challenges that the Welsh language will face in the years to come. In a speech at the National Eisteddfod, Rhodri Talfan Davies, the director of BBC Cymru Wales, discussed how the news organization was preparing to meet that challenge.  Despite the obstacles involved, BBC Cymru Wales plans to more than double the number of people who view the Welsh-language content on the website in just three short years.

That’s an ambitious goal. Here’s how Davies says the BBC plans to make it happen:

“We have to recognise that most, younger, Welsh speakers live their lives largely through the medium of English – and few will turn to Welsh-language interactive services out of any sense of duty. They’ll only come if the quality is there and we’re offering something they can’t get anywhere else. That’s the challenge for all of us…We don’t have all the answers – we never did – and we know that there are many people outside the doors of the BBC who have exciting ideas with the potential to transform our services. We need to open our doors to these people – and their ideas.”

That’s the challenge with any website, really, no matter what language it’s in: offering enough added value to entice users to choose your site over the competition.

What do you think BBC Cymru Wales can do to add value for Welsh speakers?

Google Fined Over French Books

According to the BBC a Paris court has fined Google 300,000 euros (£266,000) in damages and interest for copyright infringement of books owned by French publisher La Martiniere.

La Martiniere was one of many publishers to take Google to court for digitising books without explicit permission.

Google have also been told that they will have to pay 10,000 euros a day until it has removed extracts of the books from its database.

Google had planned to scan millions of books to make them available online; this ruling may have ramifications for this plan.

The BBC report that this case will be seen as a victory for critics of the plan who fear Google is creating a monopoly over information.

The publisher Herve de la Martiniere launched his court case three years ago but Google continued to scan books throughout this time.

This is a big set back for the web giant Google.

Chomsy-on-language

Documentaries About Language

We’re so lucky that language is at the centre of everything we do at work. Let’s take a moment to stop the clock to appreciate how beautiful it is and maybe even look back at what inspired us at an early age to take a career in the language industry. To help here are my favourite documentaries of all time about language.

The Story of English

I am biased but it’s a fact that English is more influential than any other language. The first episode of this documentary sets out to provide evidence of that and to explore how the language has evolved. The story begins with an English language rock concert in Russia; the English influence was so strong that it even managed to break through the Iron Curtain. Further images show English as the universal language of air-traffic control, computer data, newspapers, telegrams, international trade and world news. American English is the original language of the movies, and the world of music is dominated by English-language songs.

The tour of the English language takes viewers from elite-Public-School English to the BBC wireless broadcasts that sent that very English over the airwaves and into the homes of people from all classes. For the first time, the Queen’s English was now considered by many to be the correct English.

Decolonisation removed Britain’s political influence from around the world, but the English language remained behind. India, Ghana and Nigeria are all countries that have English, or a form of English, as a link language. It’s the common thread in the midst of the diversity that comes with multi-language countries.

In all of the ex-colonies, English has evolved, and each country has its unique form. In fact, language is never static. As interviewees provide definitions of modern-American-slang terms, that fact becomes increasingly obvious. The idea of one correct form of English is set aside in favour of acknowledging the diversity. Read more

Can Computers Help Preserve Indigenous Languages?

According to the BBC, nearly half of the world’s 6,500 languages are expected to disappear over the next 100 years. Languages die when people stop speaking them and stop teaching them to their children. This has happened all over the world, with one of many examples being the fate of Native American languages after Europeans began to settle the continent.

Native Americans were confined to reservations, and Native American children were taken from the parents and sent to boarding schools, where instructors would punish them for speaking their native languages.

However, many Native American tribes are now making efforts to revitalise their languages through language learning and immersion programs in schools. One Native American couple, Mary Hermes and Kevin Roach, founded a non-profit organisation called Grassroots Educational Multimedia to provide people with tools to learn Native American languages.

The organisation teamed up with a company called Transparent Language to create language learning software for the Ojibwe language. The software allows Ojibwe students to create flashcards and watch videos of native speakers conversing in Ojibwe.

Another benefit of this software is that it has helped to document the vocabulary and grammar of the Ojibwe language. Before this project, the language’s grammatical structure was poorly documented.

So, with this software, GEM and Transparent Language have created a portable system people can use to learn Ojibwe at home, created a record of native speakers’ conversations, and created a map of Ojibwe grammar.

Even better, this approach provides a way to circumvent the emotional issues involved in trying to revive a dying language. As the Earth Times notes,

‘The history of the near genocide of the indigenous people of North America and the repression of their cultures and languages has meant that many emotions can get stirred up when indigenous people try to learn their own languages. They may encounter feelings of shame that they don’t know their indigenous language, feelings of anger at the trauma their people have endured, and feelings of embarrassment when they attempt to speak their language with the vocabulary of a two year old. Tribal elders who are fluent in the indigenous language may feel too jaded or just be too few in number to offer enough assistance. Often the indigenous language learner hits a place of cultural loss and insecurity that they have great difficulty overcoming.’ –Earth Times

Practicing at home, at a computer, gives language learners a chance to overcome these issues privately, and means that elders who grew up speaking the language can more easily pass it on. Also, this software gives students learning the language at school a fun way to practice outside of class.

Hopefully, this approach will help linguists document endangered languages and help language activists teach them, at least in places where computers are readily available.

Plaque received from the BBC

As some of you will remember we took part in the world record attempt organised by the BBC to try and simultaneously plant as many trees as possible in one hour last year. We managed to do 204 (with another 200 later on that month) – in light of this the BBC this morning sent us a plaque to acknowledge our achievement. See picture below

We planted a mixture of native species to the UK, namely, Hawthorne, Blackthorne, Alder, Dog Rose and Birch – and soon they’ll become homes for birds and other wild life in the local area.

More trees are planned soon, we have made arrangements to plant around 5,000 on our site in the north east this year. More details will follow.

Thanks for your support
Richard

Ireland’s Worst Driver: Translation issues for Irish Police

According to the BBC police in Ireland had an embarrassing month after finally discovering the mystery behind Ireland’s worst driver.

He was wanted across Ireland, right from County Cork to Cavan after he accumulated a large number of speeding tickets and parking fines. He managed to get away each time he was stopped by providing different addresses.

But his luck was soon over. Mr Prawo Jazdy wasn’t quite the man the Irish Police force had thought they were looking for.

‘Prawo Jazdy’ is Polish… yes Polish for driving licence! Not the first and last name of this villain police had been searching for. The misunderstanding was discovered by an officer working within the Garda’s traffic division.

The officer then decided to check and see how many times this mistake had happened. He discovered that the system they use had created over 50 identities with the name ‘Prawo Jazdy’.

This has now been amended and relevant guidelines have been changed to prevent this happening again in the future.

So lesson learnt for the Irish police and on the plus point they now know a little Polish.

As for Mr Prawo Jazdy and all his driving offences we can only assume he won’t get away with it again.