Editorial: Wise words

NOT to be left unseen in the feverish month of February is the celebration of the National Arts Month. While our health departments are in the thick of dealing against the mutant virus, our cultural agencies are at work in rendering vigorous the Filipino soul. There’s a whole roster of cultural activities lined up for this month, although something else hooked our attention.

A team of computer scientists and linguistics scholars at the University of the Philippines (UP) has developed a mobile phone-based dictionary for the native tongues in the Philippine archipelago.

Called “Project Marayum,” the application open-sources the growth of our ethnic lexicon on an online platform. “Marayum” is Romblon province’s Asi term for “wise words.”

The project is being spearheaded by professor Mario Carreon of the UP Computer Science Department and MA Linguistics student Mantha Sadural.

What sets the Marayum project apart from other online dictionaries is that the community earns a sense of ownership. The team launched the project in 2017, getting the help of language experts while opening the project for credited contributions from the community. In two years, it was able to build a whole corpus of words and definitions from the Asi language, even expanding it to parts of speech, tenses and translation guides.

The Philippines has about 185 languages, the developers said. Twenty-eight of these are endangered, 11 are dying and four are extinct. What helps in the demise of some of these precious languages is the lack of efforts to preserve them as a corpus of readable text. Without a body of literature, they could not be taught in schools and be kept alive for the succeeding generations.

But Project Marayum crowd-sources the efforts and provides a platform that is most accessible to the young Filipinos. These days, we know for a fact that our native tongue seems to be in a losing battle against the language of the global village. The project goes against the grain of this persistent erosion of our national soul, deeply embedded in that priceless dwelling we call language.

The team is also replicating its efforts for Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Ilokano. The programs should be up in the fourth quarter of this year, as reported. Once up, we hope it gets all the support and vigor from the community.