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Half of the indigenous languages could disappear. These apps want to prevent it

2023-11-28T19:19:06.441Z

Highlights: Half of the indigenous languages could disappear. These apps want to prevent it. With technologies, the aim is to combat the prognosis and preserve thousand-year-old languages. "The loss of a language also implies a loss of knowledge and know-how," says Roberto Zariquiey, a professor of linguistics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. "Optimistic" estimates by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization suggest that at least 40% of the more than 6,000 indigenous languages spoken in the world could disappear by the end of the century.


With technologies, the aim is to combat the prognosis and preserve thousand-year-old languages, given that "the loss of a language also implies a loss of knowledge" for everyone. Also, in the newsletter Axios Latino, behind a controversial immigration law in Texas.


📢 Axios Latino is the newsletter that summarizes every Tuesday and Thursday the key news for Latino communities throughout the hemisphere. You can subscribe by clicking here.

1. The Theme to Highlight: Safeguarding a Legacy

Speakers of indigenous languages in the Americas, accompanied by specialists, are increasingly using mobile apps and other technologies to try to save those dialects and languages from possible extinction.

Why it matters: "Optimistic" estimates by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) suggest that at least 40% of the more than 6,000 indigenous languages spoken in the world could disappear by the end of the century. This is as those who speak them pass away and given that the younger generations of these communities are often forced to assimilate and prioritize other languages.

  • "The loss of a language also implies a loss of knowledge and know-how; ideas, worldviews, ideologies about the surroundings and more that are valuable are no longer transmitted," says Roberto Zariquiey, a professor of linguistics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP).
  • Indigenous peoples have become more vocal in demanding better resources to prevent that loss, Zariquiey adds. And technology is helping with that.

The loss of a language also implies a loss of knowledge and know-how."

Roberto Zariquiey, linguist

Details: Zariquiey and fellow linguist Mariana Poblete led the initiative to establish a scientific station in the Peruvian Amazon, which was inaugurated in October. There, researchers — including university students who speak some of the 20 local indigenous languages — are composing a collection, recording audio and video of native speakers in the area.

  • The station is called Chana and is a joint initiative of researchers from PUCP, the Max Planck Institute in Austria and the University of Zurich. It also works with a special system of eye-tracking technology, which uses high-tech cameras to examine the role of vision in language.

Exterior view of Chana station in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Mariana Poblete / Courtesy

  • The system helps give researchers more information about how grammatical constructions work in various languages. For example, the way a person moves their head can indicate who they see as the subject in a sentence.
  • "We can't think that what people who speak languages like Spanish or English do is the same as what people who speak languages like Shipibo do," Zariquiey says. But to this day, in many cases what is known about the thought processes of humans is still very much based only on small language groups, such as English or Spanish.
  • With the studies to be carried out at Chana station, "the aim is to build a vision of the human and human cognition that is more open, heterogeneous and more sensitive to differences".
  • In fact, Chana's team has already built some applications for the Android system for teaching the Iskonawa language.

In Mexico, a group of university students developed an app with the same purpose of expanding horizons.

Screenshot of the Miyotl appCourtesy

  • Miyotl, available for free on various platforms, started in 2021 as a bilingual dictionary of the Maya, Mixe, and Hñahñu languages.
  • It now includes 15 of the 68 indigenous languages currently spoken in Mexico, and comes with annotated texts that promote learning the grammatical construction of the language; Reading comprehension of the language is encouraged (not only that it is spoken, but that it can be read), and the myths and legends of the cultures from which those languages come are taught.

  • Miyotl has already been downloaded more than 100,000 times, according to the team that created it, and is expected to continue to grow.

In his own words: "We saw a very big opportunity to pay much more attention to innovating technologically for the preservation of languages, looking for a tool that is free, non-profit, pedagogically supported, and accessible to everyone — and with the best quality," the app's co-creator, Emilio Álvarez Herrera, tells Axios Latino.

  • Alvarez adds that they're trying to recruit more programmers and designers willing to help on a nonprofit, so Miyotl can be improved into a tool similar to Duolingo — the popular language-learning app — that also includes multiple-choice practice questions and more.
  • Miyotl "is a project that should be noted that is very long-term," says Álvarez.

Further: The Language Conservancy, a U.S.-based nonprofit, works with Native American linguists and has also developed a computer program.

  • Its algorithm scans text and audio records from languages such as Apache, Lakota, or Cree to create online dictionaries and even coloring books for children.

2. Displacement due to climate disasters

More than 1 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean were internally displaced in 2021 due to climate change-related disasters, according to a new study.

Overview: The World Bank predicts that more than 216 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050 (17 million of them from Latin America), leading to increased pressures on migration and food and shelter supplies.

  • The report by the University of the Americas Puebla, published last week and first reported by the Spanish newspaper El País, suggests that displacement caused by the effects of the climate emergency has accelerated.

By the numbers: In Brazil, more than half a million people had to migrate internally due to climate-related disasters. That was the most of any nation in 2021, according to the report.

  • Haiti came in second with 220,000 internally displaced people, followed by Cuba with 194,000.

Details: The report's authors predict that the number of refugees due to climate change will increase due to a general lack of policies addressing the problem.

  • An analysis of 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean found that the region invests only 0.18% of its total GDP in the fight against climate change.

3. The Potential Impact of an Immigration Project in Texas

A legislative proposal that gives Texas authorities control over how to apply immigration measures (something that legally is only federal responsibility) is seen by experts as a potentially unconstitutional project that could also aggravate situations of discrimination based on whether someone "appears to be" a migrant.

News Push: SB4 will likely be signed into law soon by Gov. Greg Abbott, who is a Republican. However, a spokesperson for the governor declined to comment on precise dates when asked by Axios Latino.

Background: SB4 would make it a misdemeanor to cross the Texas-Mexico border illegally; It would allow local police to arrest someone if they are suspected of being on U.S. soil illegally, and it would require local judges to give that person a deportation order to Mexico.

  • If the accused person refuses to go to Mexico, SB4 would allow the misdemeanor to be escalated to a felony, which carries higher possible sentences, according to the Texas Tribune.

In his own words: César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, an immigration law expert and professor at Ohio State University College of Law, says Texas lawmakers are trying to create laws at the state level even though they already exist at the federal level and are consistently enforced.

  • "The federal constitution is very clear that when a state law conflicts with federal law, the federal government wins," Garcia Hernandez tells reporters Astrid Galvan and Nicole Cobler.
  • "This is the most obviously unconstitutional state immigration law I've ever seen," says civil rights expert Thomas A. Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

The Other Perspective: Proponents of the bill say it will empower Texas law enforcement and target those who have just crossed the border illegally, supposedly without affecting those who have lived in Texas legally for years.

  • "SB4 is the strongest border security bill Texas has ever passed," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, said in a statement.
  • "Anyone who crosses illegally can be jailed or a magistrate can order their return to the border. If you violate the order and return to Texas, you will face even harsher penalties."

What's behind the bill?

In recent years, Gov. Greg Abbott has focused a lot on mechanisms to curb illegal immigration. For example, he has ordered barbed wire fences to be put up; deployed state troopers to the border; he has bused migrants to other states, and criticized President Joe Biden's federal administration because, according to Abbott, border policies are weak.

  • SB4 is one of several legislative proposals designed to reduce the influx of immigrants entering the U.S. through Texas, which Abbott and others say creates "chaos" in border communities.
  • Abbott is also expected to soon sign SB3, which allocates more than $1.500 billion for border barrier construction.

This is the most obviously unconstitutional state law in the area of immigration that I have seen."

Thomas Saenz, Attorney at Law

Overview: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) counted nearly 270,000 migrant encounters at the southern border in September (the most recent month for which data is available). That was the highest number in several years, and more than 160,000 of those encounters occurred in Texas.

  • Some Texas cities have struggled to respond. El Paso opened a new shelter in September and also began taking migrants out of the city on buses, for example.

Between the lines: Abbott is seen as a potential vice presidential candidate, according to U.S. political experts. He has been glorifying former President Donald Trump, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination for the November 2024 election; Abbott recently endorsed Trump as the one who will "restore law and order."

4. Roundup of key news from Latin America and the Caribbean

1. Peruvian Attorney General Patricia Benavides on Monday formally filed a criminal constitutional indictment against President Dina Boluarte and Prime Minister Alberto Otárola. The charges would be for the deaths of protesters earlier this year. They are accused of committing crimes against life by omission, given that there is evidence that police officers used excessive force in repressing the protests.

  • Boluarte, who since the beginning of the year has denied wrongdoing in the government's response to the protests, said the charges are an attempt to distract from the allegations against the prosecutor herself.
  • On Monday, Benavides was identified as under investigation by a special anti-corruption unit and three of her advisers were arrested.

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

2. Argentina's President-elect Javier Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist who has vowed to adopt the dollar as his currency, ended his initial visit to the United States on Tuesday.

  • His team met with IMF officials to discuss Argentina's loan program, and Milei is scheduled to meet with White House officials on Tuesday. The trip is a prelude to his inauguration of the Argentine presidency on December 10.
  • Milei had said he would seek to meet with former U.S. President Donald Trump at some point, but said it would not happen on this trip.

5. Instilling conservation from a young age

An environmental project in Puerto Rico provides middle and high school students with regular workshops on conservation in a naturally biodiverse area.

Details: El Bosque Escuela invites all students to put their cell phones aside and connect with life in the protected area. Workshops include basics of composting, bird watching, the role of fungi in the decomposition of organic matter, recycling, and more.

  • El Bosque Escuela was established by the community organization Casa Pueblo, which also has a massive program to install solar panels around the village of Adjuntas.
  • The curriculum is taught by community volunteers, such as university professors and local artists.

Thanks for reading! We came back on Thursday.

If you would like to share your experiences with us or send us suggestions and comments, please send an email to axioslatino@axios.com.

Do you want to read any of the previous editions?

  • Sixty years ago, JFK spent part of his last night alongside Latinos. That's how it happened
  • The undocumented population in the U.S. is becoming more diverse: "There are more Mexicans returning than coming"
  • More Latino Groups Are Securing Funding to Combat the Effects of Climate Change
  • How Bad Bunny's Success Spurs U.S. Audiences to Explore More Latin Genres and Artists

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2023-11-28

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