The bountiful and Enigmatic Mermaid points us to an article about an effort to save the Mapudungun language spoken by the Mapuche Indians of Chile by setting up a machine translation program between Mapudungun and Spanish, backed by a $5 million NSF grant. I’m all in favor of saving minority languages (assuming they’re still alive), but it doesn’t seem to me that machine translation is the way to do it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to set up a program that would let them record (and print out as desired) texts in their language, allowing them to preserve chants, epics, recipes, ritual insults, and whatever other aspects of their culture they wanted to pass on to later generations? The ability to automatically translate into (inevitably bad) Spanish seems to me a distant second in terms of usefulness. But maybe I’m missing something.

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