Last week at the Digital Book World Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, SIL LEAD Executive Director Dr. Paul Frank spoke about what digital publishing has to offer languages without literature.
“Languages without literature… what are those?” you might ask, as you wonder what other glorious insights you might have missed by skipping another (admittedly hectic and overwhelming) conference.
Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered!
Not only are we providing a link to the slides from Dr. Frank’s talk (complete with cool pictures and charts), but we’re giving away the bullet-point version right here on this webpage. And you don’t even have to take a flight, book a hotel room, or make small talk at a buffet table!
Let’s get to it!
A Life WITH or without Books: Digital Publishing is the Answer for Languages without Literature
Dr. Frank began his talk by asking us to imagine what our lives would have been like without books. He drew the audience’s attention to the Lani Language Group of Papua, in Indonesia. 180,000 people speak Lani, but until very recently they had a grand total of ZERO books. Can you imagine? That would be as if the entire population of Providence, Rhode Island had zero books. Ouch! And that’s only one of 700 living, indigenous languages in Indonesia!
Thanks to the charity Remote School Papua and others, the Lani group now has digital books. Here’s a video of some kids reading a talking book in Bloom:
Dr. Frank then reminded the people at this publishing conference that while they knew what it was like to serve a crowded market, they should try to imagine all the languages with few or no books—adding that there are over seven thousand languages in the world, with thousands that, just like the Lani, have no books of their own.
310 of these languages are disappearing, as their last remaining speakers die out. But what do we lose when that happens? Dr. Frank quotes Kantuta Conde, a young Aymara woman in Bolivia who recently said:
“ Language is the main form of interaction with our environment. Words preserve stories, traditions, culture, and identity. The indigenous languages represent the legacy of our grandmothers and grandparents. Our obligation is to take care of them because when an indigenous language disappears, the indigenous traditional knowledge…also disappears. Moreover, indigenous languages consist of accessing a world of culture and a different conception of the world. The treasure of indigenous languages is a heritage that should not be lost.”
So what can we do?
We can write books!
When we bring books to a language community that’s never had them, it’s like a light bulb turns on for the first time in a new part of the globe.
40% of the world’s population (2.8 billion people) speak 7006 languages, with a median community size of 29,000 speakers. That’s a huge untapped market. Print runs for markets of that size are cost prohibitive, but digital publishing can bridge the gap and make literature available to millions of people.
This is possible because access to digital technology is increasing rapidly all over the globe, and the cost of mobile internet has gone down dramatically. In fact, many developing countries have cheaper rates than the U.S.!
Another way that digital publishing is a game changer is that it allows people within these smaller language communities to create local content. This means they can preserve their culture through books, and then, as they do, they can move from the familiar to a growing understanding of the wider world. This allows them to maintain what’s already valuable to them, while at the same time engaging the global community.
This is where SIL LEAD’s Bloom software comes in!
In a podcast interview at the conference, Dr. Frank summed it up nicely when he said that “the task was to build something so simple that if you can use a mouse and you can type—you can build a book in Bloom. It took the… outsider out of the equation for people creating their own literature.” He added that “by the end of day one [of a Bloom training], people have created a book” (check out the rest of the podcast below, then come back for the rest of our bullet points).
Next, Dr. Frank shared some amazing facts about Bloom. For example, nearly 10,000 registered users worldwide are creating and sharing books locally and globally. And Bloom Library now has more than 5,000 titles in 200 languages and is growing steadily.
He added that Bloom’s simple interface has been localized for more than 20 languages—including two Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala! This increased accessibility continues to expand, with specialized tools for creating leveled books, talking books for the visually impaired, and sign language books. In fact, it’s possible to have a single Bloom book page with text, audio, images, and video!
In concluding his talk, Dr. Frank challenged the attendees at the conference to become involved in transforming and preserving the minority languages of the world by becoming sponsors of the Bloom platform individually, and by engaging through Cause Marketing or through Corporate Social Responsibility.
He said that anyone who wished to know more could text “Bloom” to 484848.
So there you have it! And you didn’t even have to deal with jetlag, and stale croissants at the continental breakfast!
Still, Dr. Frank would love to see you at the next conference where he presents. He’ll shake your hand and together you can dig a little deeper into the possibilities of digital publishing with Bloom.
See you there!