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[From our man, temporarily in India, Peter K. Austin, Department of Linguistics, SOAS]
23 October 2009

Last January I wrote a blog post about how Facebook is being used in various ways to present and document endangered languages.

My former student and colleague Domenyk Eades of Sultan Qaboos University, Oman, has just written to tell me about another use of Facebook, this time by speakers of Gayo, an endangered language spoken in Aceh, Indonesia. Domenyk did his PhD research on Gayo and published a grammar of it. He writes:

I recently found that there is a large group of Gayo people who are communicating on Facebook in their language, many of them have a rudimentary command of the language. Some university students from Takengon have a project called "Kamus Gayo Bergambar" (illustrated Gayo dictionary). Every day they send out a photograph and a list of about 5-8 Gayo words and their Indonesian equivalents. The Gayo Facebook friends of the dictionary, who live in Gayo and elsewhere in Indonesia, read and comment on the words. There have been some good discussions on the different words. At the moment the spelling of the words is a problem, and I have been trying to get them to use the orthography I developed in my PhD study. It is very interesting to see the enthusiasm. I can't remember anything like it when I was doing my study of the language.

The Gayo dictionary Facebook Group is here (requires membership of Facebook to view). There is a map of Takengon and the Gayo area here and English language blogs developed by Gayo speakers here and here.


Social networking and online forums are hugely popular in the Philippines which has advantages for field researchers. I've been able to elicit and crosscheck a certain amount genealogical and linguistic data via the Facebook group Eskaya Cultural Heritage. I've tracked down a rare document using Wayne.com and my principal informant has just joined Yahoo Updates. Admittedly, this is only a trickle of data and no substitute for working face-to-face but it's been worth the effort.

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