Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Good For Them

Titled Software Company Helps Revive 'Sleeping' Language, NPR just did a story on software-based revitalization efforts for Chitimacha, a dead language once spoken by the Chitimacha tribe in Southern Louisiana. According to the story, "the last native speaker died in 1940" so the revitalization efforts utilize "hundreds of hours of scratchy recordings on wax cylinders, along with extensive notes from linguist Morris Swadesh." Since I did my graduate work at a linguistics department steeped in descriptive field linguistics, the name Swadesh is well known to me (I've actually used the Swadesh lists). He was crucial to the early 20th century efforts to classify the indigenous languages of North America.

But the story really piqued my interest when they noted that Rosetta Stone, who is creating the software package, will not own the final product. Rather, the Chitimacha tribe will and they will have the right to distribute it for free (or charge, whatever they want, they'll own it). Rosetta Stone has a web page describing their revitalization and preservation efforts here. They appear to work with communities to procure funding through government and private foundation grants. I was impressed with the description of their process:

You select the team of language experts, teachers, and speakers from your community. Rosetta Stone provides the language teaching template, training, technology, recording and photography services, and project planning. Rosetta Stone turns your knowledge into the final user-ready software.

After 5 years in industry, I have come to respect the value of smart leadership at the project planning level. It sounds like Rosetta Stone is leveraging their considerable skills and resources at the project planning and execution level to help small communities realize their language and culture related goals. Good for them.

(PS: just to be clear, I have absolutely no connection, professional or otherwise, to Rosetta Stone. I've never even used any of their products; this just struck me as a good example of corporate responsibility).


Anonymous said...

This is a great program. I read in a news article that Rosetta Stone is trying to save a Ukrainian language. I first learned about Rosetta Stone through their language training products and picked up my Rosetta Stone through http://www.cbcwebcollege.com for $48. Then I got into the program. After I started using it, I heard about their project to save languages. That's awesome! I feel like I'm part of that a little bit. Sure, I think you can say that there's a lot of publicity the company will get from doing good deeds like this, but that doesn't decrease the merit of the deed itself. I heard the Library of Congress was trying to preserve languages and dialects via audio recordings but I think the Rosetta Stone approach has a better chance at doing the job.

albee (AKA Dawn Tripp) said...

It is a great example of corporate responsibility.

Chris said...

Thanks for the comments, folks. I hope Rosetta Stone can get good publicity out of this to continue their efforts.

enchanting_catalyst said...

They've been advertising this possibility for years - I hadn't heard of them actually working on a project before now, though. Now that they are, my vague satisfaction with the idea is becoming increasingly warmer and fuzzier... it makes me glad that my university uses the software.

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