language

Tennessee caused a stir earlier this year when it ran an audit of the state's 2015 graduating class. The number crunchers in Nashville reported that nearly a third of students who received a diploma didn't complete the required coursework. One in three.

Naturally, parents and politicians alike were baffled and more than a little bothered.

Voice recognition surrounds tech-loving Americans, from Siri to Google Assistant to Amazon Echo. Its omnipresence can make it easy to forget that making this technology has been really, really hard.

Understanding human speech is one of the most difficult frontiers in machine learning, and the biggest names in technology have devoted much time and money to conquering it. But their products still work for only a handful of languages.

Less prominent languages are still indecipherable to computers — even for text translations, let alone voice recognition.

Nearly two decades after California banned bilingual education, voters next month will have a chance to restore it. Proposition 58 would officially end the era of English-only teaching and re-introduce instruction in English and a second language as an option.

About 1.4 million English Language Learners, or ELLs, make up roughly 23 percent of California's public school students. Most are Spanish-speakers.

Earlier this month Here & Now visited the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma — a center not only for culture and history, but also the preservation and revitalization of the critically endangered Chickasaw language.

Among the 30 or so remaining native speakers we met was Jerry Imotichey. He grew up speaking Chickasaw, and called the language and culture his “soul.”

How Determination And Technology Are Fostering The Chickasaw Language's Rebirth

Oct 6, 2016
Karyn Miller-Medzon / Here & Now

With only 30 or so remaining native Chickasaw speakers — those who learned Chickasaw as a first language — the language has been considered critically endangered. That didn't sit well with Joshua Hinson when his son was born in 2000.

Realizing that his son would be the sixth generation of Chickasaw children to grow up speaking English, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Many native languages are considered endangered, ­with few first speakers left to pass down the language to a new generation. But, a new generation of young people fueled by technology​ is making an impact. 

The famed song by Chubby Checker encouraging dancers all over to get down and do “The Twist” plays in the background as dancers from the Cherokee Pride school in NE Oklahoma move and groove around. Today, the song isn't being sung by the 1950's icon,  it’s being sung by students in their native language of Cherokee.

Herman "Mogri" Lookout is the master language teacher for the Osage Nation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

He's studied the language for forty years and helped revitalize the written portion of it by creating an orthography. Language teachers and experts from all over Native America say that an orthography is a way to reclaim your sovereignty.

Lookout also worked with developers to create Osage for Unicode. Because of that, Osages all over the world can write and text in the language.

Emily Wendler / KOSU

In Guymon, Oklahoma—way out on the panhandle—a major influx of immigrants has caused the school district to build a new school. It’s essentially an elementary school for teenagers, because many of these newcomers aren’t even fluent in their own native language.

For years, Guymon, Oklahoma has been a hub for Mexican immigrants. There’s a pork processing plant in town, and the immigrants could find work there. This influx overflowed in to the schools, which are currently about 70 percent Hispanic.

Should the president of the Navajo Nation be required to speak fluent Navajo?

The Navajo Nation held a referendum on that question this week, and the majority voted no.

The vote was victory for supporters of a Navajo presidential candidate who was disqualified last fall because he didn't speak the language fluently. The next Navajo Nation election is in 2018.

There have been a number of weather-related deaths in Oklahoma since storms and flooding began on Friday, including a firefighter who died during a water rescue, and a 48-year-old woman who was killed after a tornado struck her home.

Nearly two years ago, a powerful tornado – the widest on record – struck the rural outskirts of Oklahoma City. Fortunately it missed heavily populated areas, but the ensuing flash flood killed 13 people in Oklahoma City, including nine Guatemalan immigrants.

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