Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

English teacher writes a Jaqaru dictionary

14 May 2012

The On Location series by news company GlobalPost won a Peabody award in 2011.

Posted on 10 May, Alexander Houghton’s video “On Location: Peruvian Indigenous Group Fights to Save Their Dying Language”  highlights the situation of Jaqaru (jqr), a language spoken in Tupe and Catahuasi, Peru, not far from Lima.

With many Jaqaru moving to Lima and the recent arrival of television and mobile telephony, the language is quickly losing to Spanish. One of the people featured (her name is mentioned rapidly in the video) is a native speaker of Jaqaru who has written the only dictionary of her language, but even her own son speaks Spanish. Today, there are about 700 speakers of Jaqaru.

According to “M.J. Hardman — Noticias,” the Jaqaru alphabet was developed by MJ Hardman and Dimas Bautista Iturrizaga by 1961, and according to the video, it was officially accepted last year.

Museum exhibit on developers of Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics

17 June 2011

According to “Provincial archives honours missionaries who devised written language for First Nations” on the Edmonton Journal site, the Provincial Archives of Alberta will have an exhibit on the people who developed and spread Canadian Aboriginal syllabics, one of the topics in yesterday’s post.

According to Wikipedia, James Evans, the creator of the syllabics, based the writing system on Devanagari (Wiki) and Pitman shorthand.

The exhibit will be on display from June 23 to September 17.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta website does not yet mention this exhibit.

Romanizing Cree

16 June 2011

Cree (cre) is a macrolanguage or language family spoken in Canada and the US. As noted in the Wikipedia article, Cree is one of the most widely spoken languages in those countries, but has little institutional support.

Some of the dialects of Cree are traditionally written not with the Latin alphabet, but with the Canadian Aboriginal syllabics. A “syllabic” is a single character combining a consonant and a vowel, such as found in Cherokee (chr) and the Japanese hiragana.

The Canadian Aboriginal syllabics are of a writing type known as an abugida, where you write the consonant and then somehow modify it to indicate the vowel. For example, drawing a line to the right over an “n” character makes the “n” into ᓂ or “ni” and a line that goes to the left makes ᓀ or “ne.” See Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics on the ScriptsSource website for good examples of how this works.

Learning the writing system requires a major investment of time, however, and as some dialects are conventionally written with the Latin alphabet anyway, there is a movement to exclusively use the Latin alphabet. The Cree Literacy Network provides resources for Romanized Cree, including a list of Cree books written with the Latin alphabet.

For a Romanized Cree dictionary, see Online Cree Dictionary. Also, for a blog on Plains Cree, see That Môniyâw Linguist.

Assyrian Dictionary Complete

14 June 2011

After nine decades of work, scholars have completed the 21-volume “Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.” Although the set can be purchased for USD 1995, it is also available free of charge to download (with restrictions on use).

A language whose literature includes the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” Old Akkadian (akk) was spoken between 4500 and 4000 years ago, after which scholars consider the language to have broken into two dialects: Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian. These continued to develop, disappearing about two thousand years ago. The dictionary project covers all known stages of the 2600 years of the language.

Running about 9700 pages in length (not including the front matter), the dictionary includes 28,000 words, a number perhaps comparable to the number of unique words Shakespeare used.*

As with the Oxford English Dictionary, the plan for the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Project was ambitiously wide in scope and the expected time to compile grossly underestimated. The database used to compile is nearly two million file cards, and the dictionary will surely be recorded as one of the greatest accomplishments of scholarship.

Will Assyrian/Akkadian be brought back to life as we see with Latin, Old English, Sanskrit and other ancient languages?

The article “Dictionary of dead language complete after 90 years,” one of the sources for this blog post, includes a short audio clip of Irving Finkel speaking Akkadian. The Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, has a series of recordings, including many of the “Epic of Gilgamesh.”

John Heise maintains a site on Akkadian, including grammar lessons, where he suggests tuppi bitim “home clay tablet” as the word for “home page.” The 1961 edition of the text Old Akkadian Writing and Grammar by I.J. Gelb can be downloaded as a PDF. The 1881 “A Sumero-Akkadian grammar” by George Bertin is also available for download.

Also, YouTube videos can assist in learning to write the language, such as “You Can Write in Akkadian, Lesson One” by GiskAkina:


Because no people today claims descent from the ancient Akkadians and no language exists that descends from Akkadian, it seems unlikely Akkadian will become the target of revitalization. The literature, however, will continue on and the “Assyrian Dictionary” will be a valuable resource for understanding this ancient culture.

* For the number of unique words Shakespeare used, see:

  1. The Man Who Shakespeare Was Not (and Who He Was)” by Charlton Ogburn
  2.  “Shakespeare’s Vocabulary Considered Unexceptional” by zwischenzugs
  3. Shakespeare’s Vocabulary: Myth and Reality” by Hugh Craig (I do not have access to this and have not confirmed the contents)

Amate paper and Otomí

20 May 2011

The State of Puebla is located in East-Central Mexico. There and in nearby states, the Otomí family of languages is spoken by about 240,000 people according to Wikipedia.

One of the cultural features of Puebla is the traditional craft of making tree bark paper, known as amate (fig) as one of the trees used is the fig tree. Amate has been produced in Mexico for at least 1100 years, and perhaps much longer. Amate was for writing by such peoples as the Maya and the Aztecs, and possibly the Olmecs, and is also used for creating ritual figures known as dahi.

The town of San Pablito is one of the few towns that has maintained the amate production custom. Until the 1960s, only shamans produced it in San Pablito, keeping the process a secret. To learn more about amate, see “Mexican Indigenous Textiles: Otomi of Tenango de Doria Hidalgo.”

In San Pablito, the Otomí language spoken is Tenango Otomi (otn). In September 1996, a video was uploaded to Channels.com titled “Mexico’s indigenous languages – Otomi of the Sierra of Hidalgo.” The video shows a man providing translations of a few Spanish expressions in Otomí, with subtitles in English.

It appears that an Otomí version of Wikipedia is in the works. A test version can be see on the Incubator at Wp/ote/Ndänxi.

The Channels.com page has other videos, including one similar to the Otomí titled “Chatino Indian language from Oaxaca Mexico.” The Chatino languages (family) are spoken by 38,000 people in Mexico according to the Ethnologue.

News on Indigenous Tweets blog

18 May 2011

In addition to helping people finding tweeters in lesser-used languages on Indigenous Tweets, Kevin Scannell has a blog by the same name. (A tweet is a very short message sent out instantaneously to subscribers’ cell phones and posted on the web.)

According to “Interviews Coming Soon,” Indigenous Tweets has added 11 languages, bringing the total to 82. Some of those include languages recently discussed here, namely, Adyghe (ady), Delaware (del) and Yiddish (yid).

Another exciting post is “Not dead yet: John Gillingham on the Cornish Language.” As noted, Cornish (cor) is a language spoken in southwest England, and despite being one of the first victims to the expansion of English, Cornish has nevertheless survived.

The post is primarily an interview of John Gillingham, a student of the decline of Cornish who tweets in the language. He says that there are a couple dozen children raised in Cornish and discusses how disagreements about orthography (spelling) hindered the Cornish revitalization movement in the past.

Another topic discussed is the modernization of Cornish. In order to maintain the interest of particularly younger people, words have been developed for modern technology, and are spread through various media such as books, dictionaries, magazines and radio.

Spelling unification movement in Africa

10 May 2011

In Italian, the “ch” in “che” and “chi” stands for the /k/ sound. In Spanish, “ch” is used for the “ch” English sound. In French, “ch” is used for the “sh” English sound. All of these languages use the Latin alphabet, but the orthographies, or writing systems, differ.

How about if the orthographies of English, French, Italian and Spanish were unified so all letters and letter combinations were pronounced consistently in each language? It would be much easier to read and learn all four languages.

When creating a unified orthography, it would be necessary to consider sounds unique to each language. For example, “th” could stand for the sound as in “thick” and “dh” for the sound as in “this.” The combinations “th” and “dh” are not used in French, Italian or Spanish, so there would be no conflict. The combination “gl,” however, has a different pronunciation in Italian than English, French and Spanish. Perhaps an acceptable solution would be for “gl” to remain as in English, and for “ly” to be used for the Italian sound currently spelled as “gl.”

According to “Presenting the new orthographies” on the Next website, this sort of “orthography harmonization” for Igbo (ibo), Ijo (family), Hausa (hau) and Yoruba (yor) has just been completed after about six months of work.

This work was performed by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization and the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society. CASAS has worked on similar projects in the past as part of their “Africa-wide Harmonization and Standardization of African Languages Project,” and the next such project will focus on Nigerian Fulfulde (ful) and other languages in Nigeria.

With the unified orthography completed, dissemination must be carried out, including providing new textbooks to educators to ensure the system takes hold.

The unified orthography is provided in four volumes published by CASAS, numbers 240 to 243.

Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba as well as Nigerian Fulfulde each have millions of speakers, but the family of Ijo languages range from Okodia (okd) with a 1977 estimate of 3600 and Nkoroo (nkx) with a 1989 estimate of 4550 to Izon (ijc) with about one million speakers.

News in Brief: Brown bag at UNM, Xibe revival, WA conference

12 April 2011

Brown bag lunch at the University of New Mexico on April 13, Wednesday, focused on the Americas. ‘Indigenous Planning in the Americas’ Focus of Presentation

Xibe (sjo) revival in China. Video in English after Xibe lead-in. Xibe is related to Manchu (mnc) and employs the same writing script. Revival of a dying language

The Western Australia State Language Conference is now in progress. Irra Wangga

Linguicide and Revitalization

10 April 2011

In “Linguicide: Trends and Revitalization,” op-ed writer Sandeepan Borthakur discusses the decline and rejuvenation of languages.

In the lead of the article, the dormancy of Bo or Aka-Bo (akm) is mentioned. Bo became silent in January 2010 with the passing of the last speaker. See also Andamanese languages for more information on this rich area of human culture.

UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger is cited as listing 2500 languages in five categories of endangerment.

At the end of the article, the author notes that while Assamese (asm) is spoken by 13 million people today, the percentage of people speaking it of India’s population as a whole has steadily declined over the past four decades.

Other endangered languages mentioned in the article are: Cornish (cor), Irish (gle), and Manchu (mnc), which has an interesting alphabet. The two other projects mentioned are the Rosetta Project and the Endangered Language Fund.

Bodéwadmi, Keepers of the Fire

9 April 2011

Potawatomi (pot) is a language spoken in the Great Lakes region and Kansas in North America. It is spoken by the Potawatomi, who call themselves the Bodéwadmi, which means “Keepers of the Fire.”

According to the Ethnologue, there are 1250 speakers in Canada and 50 in the US. The APWAD blog says there are less than 20 in the US.

Along with the Algonquin, Nipissing, Oji-Cree and Odawa, the Potawatomi are an Ojibwe people, and one of the interesting aspects of Ojibwe culture is the use of birch bark scrolls, known as wiigwaasabak and mide-wiigwaas. These scrolls have complex glyphs (writing symbols), though according to Wikipedia, not much is known about them due to their secret nature.

Many resources are available for learning Potawatomi.

This post was inspired by “Endangered Language: Potawatomi” on the (sometimes outrageously funny) Languages Hell Yeah blog, and the many links in “Potawatomi language” on the Pokagon blog.