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Keeping language alive with technology

Monday April 22, 2013 Written by Published in Technology

A dictionary of Cook Islands languages is soon to be available online.

Academics from AUT University in New Zealand and language experts from the outer islands gathered at the University of the South Pacific at Takamoa yesterday, and will be there until Friday to compile the resource.

The two universities are working with the islands in the southern group to record the words of their languages and the associated meanings, and hope to later move to the northern group.

Professor Tania Ka’ai, director of AUT’s Te Ipukarea and the International Centre for Language Revitalisation said there are many languages that make up the dialects of the Cook Islands, and the project aims to support minority languages and highlight their uniqueness.

“It identifies that each island has its own mana. The dictionary increases access to the world – it will be a great resource, but also the reach of it is huge.”

There are nine AUT staff members that have come to USP to help put the dictionary together. Six people from the outer islands – two from Aitutaki and one from each of the other islands in the southern group – are also working to put together the list of words.

“It’s not driven by the universities, it’s really driven by the communities,” said Ka’ai. “We’re really just the vehicle, the support.”

AUT staff have already visited Mangaia and worked with people on the island to compile more than 12,000 Mangaian words to be included in the online resource.

USP Centre director Rod Dixon said one benefit of having the dictionary in electronic form is that is can be updated.

“It can be changed, people can contest the words. Meanings can change with time.”

Ka’ai said that with the support of the island communities, the dictionary would be online once AUT staff return to Auckland.

“Once we go home, we’ll upload it and it’ll go live.”

Each island will have its own website domain, but they will all be linked together.

“It reflects that they have their own identities. It’s about empowering communities and valuing the knowledge that’s already there,” she said.

She said the end result will be “more than a dictionary”, and will include images, sounds, and encyclopaedia-like information about things such as historic figures and native fish.

“It’s a repository for language and cultural knowledge,” she said. “It’s timeless – these language groups will continue to be sustained. It’s ancient words with new technology.”