Rory O’Connor writes for Google’s The Keyword about “a new tool for exploring indigenous languages”:

“Our dictionary doesn’t have a word for shoe” my Uncle Allan Lena said, so when kids ask him what to call it in Yugambeh, he’ll say “jinung gulli” – a foot thing. Uncle Allan Lena is a frontline worker in the battle to reteach the Yugambeh Aboriginal language to the children of southeast Queensland, Australia, where it hasn’t been spoken fluently for decades and thus is – like many other languages around the world – in danger of disappearing.

For the younger generation, even general language can be a challenge to understand, but it can be especially difficult to try to describe modern items using Indigenous languages like Yugambeh. For example in the Australian outdoors, it’s easy to teach children the words for trees and animals, but around the house it becomes harder. Traditional language didn’t have a word for a fridge – so we say waring bin – a cold place. The same with a telephone – we call it a gulgun biral – voice thrower.

However, today’s technology can help provide an educational and interactive way to promote language learning and preservation. I’m particularly proud for Yugambeh to be the first Australian Aboriginal language to be featured on Woolaroo, a new Google Arts & Culture experiment using the Google Cloud Vision API. […]

Woolaroo is open source and allows language communities like ours to preserve and expand their language word lists and add audio recordings to help with pronunciation. Today it supports 10 global languages including Louisiana Creole, Calabrian Greek, Māori, Nawat, Tamazight, Sicilian, Yang Zhuang, Rapa Nui, Yiddish and Yugambeh. Any of these languages are an important aspect of a community’s cultural heritage.

Google will doubtless get bored and drop it as they have so many other exciting/useful projects (why yes, I’m still bitter about Google Reader), but in the meantime it seems like a Good Thing. Thanks, Kobi!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s an odd selection of languages. I wonder what drove those particular choices?
    (You could say “one of these things is not like the others” in reference to any of them. Maybe that’s what they have in common …)

    “Ten global languages” is also a peculiar way of attempting to say “ten languages from around the world”, although Yiddish, of course, is a global language.

  2. “global languages” like “world music”

  3. It was destined that mollymooly would comment on woolaroo.

  4. David Eddyshaw says


  5. J.W. Brewer says

    “Global languages” is in 21st century AmEng a vogue euphemism for “foreign languages,” popular among educational bureaucrats who have managed to convince themselves that “foreign” is an unacceptably pejorative term for describing, in English, languages-other-than-English. Sometimes “foreign” is said to be problematic because e.g. second-generation LEP Hispanophones who attend a given school aren’t necessarily themselves “foreigners” so another label is needed for the academic department that teaches their non-English L1, but the euphemism still sweeps in other other-than-English languages where that rationale doesn’t fit and is subject to the criticism that English itself is about the most “global” (in terms of what percentage of the planet’s time zones contain a quorum of fluent speakers etc) language there is.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    Ah. I should have thought of euphemism. (AmEng is, after all, a language in which bears go to the bathroom in the woods.)

  7. You covered Yugambeh in 2015.

  8. So I did — I thought it sounded familiar!

  9. John Cowan says

    in which bears go to the bathroom in the woods

    They do. But not in answers to silly questions. There is also a hybrid comeback in which bears are replaced by the Pope.

    I like to say that only if you know exactly what “Johnny went to the bathroom in his pants” means to us do you truly grasp AmE.

  10. Bathrobe says

    Does it mean he shat in his breeches?

  11. Bathrobe says

    I wonder what drove those particular choices?

    Would the availability of resources be a factor? (For which, see the previous Yugambeh post.)

  12. John Cowan says

    Does it mean he shat in his breeches?

    Yes. But it also entails that Johnny is a wee one rather than being merely pissed.

  13. @John Cowan: This reminds me that, up until 1978, there were apparently multiple variations of the Pope question, whereas there is now only one (excluding the, “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” you allude to, which is a different kind of joke). Instead of just, “Is the Pope Catholic?” (yes), there was also, “Is the Pope Italian?” (yes), and, “Is the Pope Polish?” (no). The fact that the last two were scotched simultaneously, when Karol Wojtyła became the first non-Italian pontiff since Adrian VI in the Renaissance, was presumably coincidental.

  14. marie-lucie says

    The current Pope is a hybrid – Argentine by citizenship, but Italian by ancestry,

  15. Bathrobe says

    it also entails that Johnny is a wee one rather than being merely pissed.

    I think I assumed that. It doesn’t sound like something you would say about an adult…. although I guess it couldn’t be ruled out completely.

  16. “Does the Pope shit in the woods?”

    Now the horse is out of the bag. And that’s only the tip of the icing on the cake.

  17. That train has already sailed.

  18. You’ve locked the barn door after the pontiff has bolted.

  19. You are twittering up the wrong tree.

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    Well, are bears Catholic?

  21. John Cowan says

    I suppose it would depend on their views on the predestination or mere foreordination of ursines. But perhaps it would be simpler and easier to look at the geography. There can be no doubt that the bears in Cantabria, the Pyrenees, the Appenines, and the Andean spectacled bears are Catholic, for example. In Iran and Anatolia, they are by the same token Muslim (a bear performing sajadat in the woods is a remarkable sight). In China bears are Buddhist vegetarians, and in Japan they are Shinto vegetarians (apart from the accidental ingestion of bees).

    In the Scandinavian/Baltic/East Slavic/Central Asian macro-region, Catholic, Orthodox, and Lutheran bears have maintained an uneasy peace for a few centuries now. In the Dinarian Alps and separately in the Carpathians, it is only very recently that Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim bears have stopped raiding and counter-raiding one anothers’ honey trees. Canadian brown and black bears are evenly and peacefully divided between the Catholic Church and the United Church of Canada, a curious body resulting from the merger of Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian, and Unitas Fratrum entities. Sloth bears are similarly divided among Hindus and Muslims.

    U.S. black and brown bears stand on the First Amendment and refuse to be formally surveyed, though they are voluble enough on religion when approached individually. Sun bears and Asian black bears are divided into Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and many local religions, mostly without strife. Polar bears are polytheistic, but that’s all we know. No one has successfully interviewed a panda bear on any subject.

  22. @John Cowan: In China bears are Buddhist vegetarians, got a LOL from me, but I’m afraid you ruined the joke with the last line of the third paragraph.

  23. On the other hand, the last line of the third paragraph got a LOL from me, which goes to show you can’t please all the people all of the time.

  24. I’m afraid you ruined the joke

    got a LOL from me

    What are you all talking about? It’s all literally true.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Of course. I knew that JC would know the answer to my question. I was glad of the opportunity to ask about an issue that has long perplexed me.

  26. John Cowan says

    I was referring in that last line to the fact that almost all we know about pandas in the wild is through observation of the long brown cylinders associated with them. Eu- and dyspepsia do not seem to correlate well with matters of faith.

  27. Shinto vegetarians (apart from the accidental ingestion of bees)

    And apart from an occasional bite or two of human flesh:

    HIROSHIMA — A man in his 50s was taken to the hospital after being attacked by a bear in Hiroshima Prefecture on the evening of June 3, local officials said.

    Officials in the prefectural city of Shobara said the man was bitten and clawed on the right shoulder and both arms by the Asian black bear in a mountainous area of the city at around 6 p.m. on June 3. His injuries were not life-threatening.

    The man was attacked while looking around a pond near his home, and made an emergency call for an ambulance afterward, city officials said. It is believed that the bear that attacked him was a cub less than one meter in length.


  28. The bear wasn’t trying to eat him. It was a theological argument. Those young cubs can get fanatical.

  29. @John Cowan: Do you mean that, “In China bears are Buddhist vegetarians,” was not also intended to be about pandas? If it wasn’t, it was a brilliant accident.

  30. John Cowan says

    It was indeed an accident. In fact I was talking about brown bears, the most common of Old World bears; it was only after I wrote that that I decided to cover all eight species. But of course there are sun bears and Asian black bears (the closest surviving relatives of American black bears, the most common of all) there too.

    “Bears Discover Fire” (Bisson, 1990)

  31. Is Gladly, the cross-eyed bear, Protestant?

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    Certainly. He’s a notorious Strict Baptist, like all teddy bears.


  33. Raccoons are the strictest Baptists there are.

  34. John Cowan says

    Paw-washing Baptists, I believe.

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