Wikis Awaken Local Languages

From Asia Views, April 2, 2018

Once scoffing at Wikipedia, academics are slowly entertaining the idea that crowd-sourced knowledge might be a useful starting point for serious research as Wikipedia and other crowd-source platforms have “metamorphosed from gangly cultural interloper(s) into the de facto reference work of first resort.”

Recent work by the Spatial History Project at Stanford University suggests that in some cases, crowd source platforms might even be better than academic studies in their ability to “ask questions that would be difficult or impossible to do in more traditional modes of inquiry.”

An innovative collaboration of linguists and community leaders in Bali, Indonesia is taking a step further by seeing if crowd-source platforms can influence social behavior in addition to developing viable resources.  The group, known as BASAbali, is developing a Balinese wiki that is part dictionary, part encyclopedia, and part platform for Balinese-related materials that do not yet have a digital home.  The wiki uses the strength of the Internet – which has the power to help and hinder the world’s 7000 local languages – to engage the public in valuing and using Balinese alongside of Indonesian, English, Chinese and other international languages.

Linguist David Crystal suggests that languages can thrive if:  1) the people who speak the language want to save it – which means that the language has to be cool enough for young people to want to speak it, 2) there is “sympathy from on high” meaning that there is national if not international policies and resources support the use of the language and 3) there is the expertise to teach, write, and publish in the local language.

BASAbali’s Balinese cultural wiki tries to engage the public in making sure that these three elements are present and strong enough to sustain the Balinese language against the pressure and allure to just use national and international languages in an increasingly digital and globalized world.

This collaboration, which just a few months ago was internationally recognized for its innovative work,  doesn’t measure success in terms of publications, documents archived or words entered in the wiki, although at 11,000 they have a pretty good start.  The collaboration keeps track of wiki users but they are more concerned about how the wiki can increase the number of Balinese language websites, crossword puzzles, cartoons, social media postings, newspaper articles, and modern literature.

The impact of these spillover effects is difficult to measure, but if the BASAbali wiki can have an even tangential impact in how people are thinking about and using Balinese, it may be that we should be focusing on using crowdsourcing platforms as a powerful way to sustain and strengthen local languages.***