Can virtual reality help save endangered Pacific languages?

The Pacific is the most linguistically rich region in the world, with Papua New Guinea alone being home to a staggering 850 languages.

Yet experts fear that widespread language loss could be the future for the region.

To draw attention to the issue, and to document more Pacific languages, Australian researchers are trialling a new way of making their database of languages more exciting and accessible.

To do this, they are turning to virtual reality technology.

“We’ve got this fantastic resource — a database of a thousand endangered languages,” lead researcher Dr Nick Thieberger from the University of Melbourne said.

“But it’s not very engaging, it’s a bit dull, so we wanted to do something to change that.”

Over the past 15 years, researchers from Australian universities have been digitalising recordings of languages and storing them in the Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC).

The database has documented more than 6,000 hours of recordings from over 1,000 languages.

Earlier this year, Dr Thieberger, Dr Rachel Hendry — a lecturer in digital humanities — and media artist Dr Andrew Burrell created a virtual reality experience using files from the database.

Audiences don a pair of virtual reality goggles, allowing them to “fly across” Pacific nations such as Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

As they do so, shards of light emerge that play clips of local languages.

The VR display is currently only exhibited in museums, but the team is working on versions that could be accessed anywhere.

Read more: ABC News

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