"For many tiny, endangered languages, digital technology has become a lifeline."
December 11, 2011 5:06 AM   Subscribe

Everyone Speaks Text Message: [NYTimes] "Is technology killing indigenous languages or saving them? Well, you may soon be able to text in N’Ko."
posted by Fizz (6 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I want the upside down exclamation point to designate tongue clicks on my keypad!
posted by Renoroc at 6:23 AM on December 11, 2011

Oh hell n'ko!
posted by spicynuts at 6:53 AM on December 11, 2011

From the article: Whether a language lives or dies .... is a choice made by 6-year-olds.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:30 AM on December 11, 2011

One thing that confuses me is how the article talks about N'ko as a language, when it seems it is really a script. Although the Wikipedia article does say that N'ko is an emerging literary standard of all the Mande dialects, so in a sense it is a language. But the article seems to talk only about the script.

At any rate, Kante's achievement is as cool as Sequoyah's.
posted by xetere at 7:46 AM on December 11, 2011

Some background links.. A sample page in N'Ko and N'Ko on Wikpedia (It was defind in Unicode 5 and lives at U+07C0–U+07FF). Background info on Graphite, SIL's open source system for correctly rendering complex scripts (included in OpenOffice). And Eatoni's N'Ko iOS application.

I enjoy and respect the diversity of world's languages. As a computer nerd I'm less excited about a diversity of writing systems. There's a lot of national and cultural pride in having your own writing system, Cherokee being a successful example. The Mormon Deseret is a fascinating example of a failure, doubly so since it was an alternate writing for English.

Still, I have to wonder whether a Roman script transliteration (or Arabic) wouldn't work just as well as a writing system for Manding languages; the Wikipedia article says both are in common usage. The obvious benefit is that literate Manding speakers could then use mainstream software without special effort or adaptation. The question seems particularly germane for a relatively new script like N'Ko. The question is balancing the value of a unique script for cultural identity vs. the limitation of delaying texting culture by years.
posted by Nelson at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

But for hundreds of heritage languages, a four-inch bar of plastic and battery and motherboard is the future of the past.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:47 AM on December 11, 2011

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