03 December 2010

Preserving Endangered Languages with GigaPan

CREATE Lab's Laura Tomokiyo recently returned from the Elders and Youth Conference in Barrow, Alaska, where she utilized GigaPan to help document Inupiak culture and language.

View several GigaPans taken during the Elders and Youth Conference

"I've been working with the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska to do language and cultural documentation using GigaPan. GigaPan allows us to capture images of broad scenes - places and practices of cultural importance - and talk about fine detail in context. By introducing GigaPan as a tool for documenting endangered languages, we hope to capture linguistic events that are not easily elicited using conventional techniques while at the same time recording valuable cultural and environmental information and providing a tangible resource - the photographic archive - to the community. The larger objective is to develop standards for using GigaPan as a language documentation tool, so that the many endangered language communities that do have the necessary resources - technological infrastructure and language advocacy - are empowered to undertake their own documentation projects.

Preservation and perpetuation of the Inupiaq language is of critical importance to the community. Elders are most comfortable speaking Inupiaq. Their children - today's community leaders - are bilingual, but at a great price - they were punished for speaking their own language and sent away to schools in other parts of the country. As a result, English dominates among youth. Providing opportunities for youth to engage authentically in Inupiaq conversation is imperative for the survival of the language.

At the recent Elders and Youth Conference, which focuses on intergenerational learning and transmitting of core Inupiat values and knowledge, I ran several workshops to introduce GigaPan to the community. Some of the sessions focused on prints, which triggered animated discussion between elders about the difference between villages. Youth from several villages learned to use the GigaPan equipment, and hope to prepare a traveling gallery in the weeks leading up to or following the upcoming Messenger Feast (Kivgiq). Native speakers at the Heritage Center are developing annotations for panoramas in Inupiaq, as we develop best practices for cross-generational interaction with GigaPan panoramas for language documentation."

Laura Tomokiyo is a project scientist in the CREATE Lab. She coordinates the GigaPan Dialogues project with UNESCO, the Documenting our Heritage project with the North Slope Borough of Alaska, and formerly the Civil War Trails project with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Civil War Museum. Before coming to the CREATE Lab, Laura worked for over 15 years in spoken language understanding, including 6 years at a speech synthesis start-up and 3 years in Japan working for Toshiba, the Electrotechnical Labs, and Denshi-Tsuushin Daigaku.  She holds an SB from MIT in Computer Science, an MS in Computational Linguistics from CMU, and a PhD in Language Technologies from CMU.

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