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“Lost in Transliteration?”

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on January 3, 2009 2 Comments

Linguists claim that text messaging could save endangered languages from slipping into oblivion, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Michael Cahill, a SIL linguistics coordinator, noted that “texting is helping to preserve languages” since the young are motivated to text in their native languages. The predictive text capability, “which reduces the number of key taps necessary to create a word when using a limited keypad,” is especially vital for ensuring the success of texting in different languages.

The article goes on to explore the case of predictive texting with Hindi:

In Hindi, a language with 11 vowels and 34 consonants that is spoken by 40% of the Indian population, texting “Namaste,” which means “hello,” can take 21 key presses. The solution for most users is predictive text. A phone with predictive text guesses what word a person is trying to type on the 12-key cellphone keypad, requiring far fewer keystrokes. Typing “Namaste” with predictive text takes just six key presses. Nuance Corp. of Burlington, Mass., which dominates the predictive-text market, says that in 2006 cellphone users in India with predictive text in their handsets averaged 70 messages a week; those without it averaged 18.

Unfortunately, as the article notes, predictive texting is presently available for less than 80 of the 6,912 languages that SIL has documented (see graphic below). It is hoped that this will change in the near future…

Who woulda thunk it-that TEXTING could be a potential ally in the war against language loss?


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2 Responses to ““Lost in Transliteration?””

  1. Youki on: 3 January 2009 at 4:35 pm

    curious if my cell phone can figure out “namaste”:



  2. Usree Bhattacharya on: 3 January 2009 at 7:55 pm


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