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ELAR to work with Mahidol University on digital archive project

ELAR is collaborating with the Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia (RILCA) at Mahidol University, Thailand to set up a digital archive for the long-term preservation and dissemination of indigenous linguistic materials and cultural heritage in Thailand.

Logo of Mahidol University

The small-scale digital archive will focus on developing measures to preserve cultural heritage and linguistic diversity by local scholars and community themselves, building capacity at a local level.

The project will also focus on training and empowering local researchers and community members in digital archiving and language documentation, as well as the organisation of training and public engagement activities. Local scholars and communities will become actors in creating, sustaining and using digital resources of their linguistic and cultural heritage for language revitalisation activities.

Thailand has approximately 70 living languages with 15 of them highly endangered. Climate change and urbanisation are leading to the marginalisation of minority communities who are losing their ways of life and access to local and economic resources.

In turn, the project will contribute to knowledge concerning the impact of globalisation on indigenous minority populations, loss and preservation of cultural heritage, sustainable development.

The Mukurtu platform has been chosen for local archiving and is tailored so that not only the researchers but also the communities can manage, preserve and share their own digital heritage in culturally relevant and ethically-minded ways.

ELAR will implement and support the infrastructure, providing training on data collection and archiving and supporting the Thai team throughout the project. SOAS University of London has a long-established international reputation in the study of African and Asian languages and has developed a unique expertise in the documentation, description and archiving of endangered languages.

RILCA has experience in linguistic fieldwork and community development, having initiated language revitalisation and bilingual education programs in 23 minority languages. RILCA will manage the local archiving infrastructure and will digitise, curate and archive legacy materials and newly collected data.

Initial training on archiving will take place in London, from March 18 to March 24 2019, including training the Thai team on archiving tasks and using Mukurtu, as well as digitising legacy materials that have been collected in Thailand over the past 20 years. In total, materials for 15 different endangered languages in Thailand will be processed throughout the project.

Mukurtu will be set up at the University of Mahidol and a long-term plan for the archive will be jointly developed with RILCA and SOAS, based on ELAR expertise and one-to-one sessions supporting the local team.

In the second half of the project, ELAR will provide local training on data collection and archiving to support self-determined data gathering.

In December, an international conference on language diversity and cultural heritage in Thailand will be organised to publicly launch the archive and to promote the results of the project to researchers and national and international stakeholders.

RILCA and SOAS already have links following researcher workshops on language documentation and preservation. The archiving project will make the most of these established connections to develop a globally accessible digital archive.

Siripen Ungsitipoonporn, linguist and member of RILCA, has extensive experience of working with minority groups in Thailand and neighbouring countries, especially in language education and revitalisation of endangered languages.

As the archive for the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP), the ELAR team at SOAS annually trains over 60 researchers, community members and language activists worldwide. The team, directed by Mandana Seyfeddinipur, is highly experienced in training and supporting scholars with no or little technical expertise in digital collection creation, data management and archiving.

Funding for the project is being provided by the Newton Fund – Institutional Links (British Council, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), which builds research and innovation partnerships with partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare.

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