Talking Dictionaries

Author with Dagga People of Papua New Guinea 1984

You will want to check out the offerings on the talking dictionaries site. National Geographics’ Enduring Voices team has helped communities around the world to preserve their culture by preserving their language. A key element to that has been recording individual speakers and cataloguing translations of their various words and phrases. Many of those collections have then been made accessible to the community online, to serve as a resource to help them teach their native language to the new generation, who all too often would otherwise grow up learning only the regionally dominant language.

Several of these communities are now offering the online record of their language to be shared by any interested person around the world. While you probably won’t walk away from these Talking Dictionaries knowing how to speak a new language, you will encounter fascinating and beautiful sounds–forms of human speech you’ve never heard before, and through them, get a further glimpse into the rich diversity of culture and experience that humans have created in every part of the globe.

As a Baha’i, I have long been interested in the principle expounded by Baha’u’llah of an international language.  “The third Glad-Tidings concerneth the study of divers languages. This decree hath formerly streamed forth from the Pen of the Most High: It behoveth the sovereigns of the world — may God assist them — or the ministers of the earth to take counsel together and to adopt one of the existing languages or a new one to be taught to children in schools throughout the world, and likewise one script. Thus the whole earth will come to be regarded as one country. Well is it with him who hearkeneth unto His Call and observeth that whereunto he is bidden by God, the Lord of the Mighty Throne.” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 22) Some 20 years ago I began to write a short story about the development of a new language. In my story I imagined that a computer program ran all the known languages of world through software that treated them according to chaos mathematical theory that dealt with the sounds, words, and grammar, so that, eventually, a new language was created. Although much more aware how immensely difficult such a project would be, I am regularly inspired to its possibilities with every advance in computing power. I also continue to be enamoured by the idea of an international language that is a true representation of all the languages of the world, and yet a quite different language to any, including my own mother tongue, English. Bushman ‘click’ language just must find a place.


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