The Transcribe Bushman project aims at using a crowdsourcing solution to transcribe the Digital Bleek and Lloyd Collection. This material was compiled in the 19th century to record the Bushman people’s languages, stories, and way of life. The transcription project will help preserve these endangered “click” languages of Southern Africa, as well as teach us about these cultures’ unique worldview. A citizen science project, Transcribe Bushman needs your help to reach these goals.
The Transcribe Bushman project of the University of Cape Town promotes the preservation of a rare cultural heritage collection. This is a transcription project specifically aimed at preserving the extinct |xam and endangered !kun languages of the Bushman people. In the 19th century, Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloydworked with the Bushman people to record their culture. The resulting materials include rock art painting, drawings and notebooks, which have been digitized and now make up the Digital Bleek and Lloyd Collection. You, as a citizen scientist, can contribute to the project by signing up and transcribing some pages.
The Bushmen People of Southern Africa
The Bushmen people are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa; they have lived there for at least 20,000 years. Bushmen are small in stature, generally, with light yellowish skin. We find that the Bushmen have a unique view of the World and live as hunter-gatherers.
There are many different Bushman peoples—they have no collective name for themselves—and different terms like Baswara, San, Khwe, Sho and Bushmen are used to refer to them. The terms used to describe these people have a problematic history, as they have negative connotations. Khoisan is used as a rather academic term referring to all Bushmen of Southern Africa.
Bushman “Click” Language(s): Unique in the world
Bushmen speak a variety of languages, but not many living speakers exist anymore, hence their languages are classified as endangered. Different click languages are spoken by different groups of Bushmen, but all of the languages incorporate click sounds. The unique clicks used in Khoisan languages are varied and complex. Five types of click sounds are known to exist in the Bushman languages. In general, the click is created by a sucking action of the tongue. However, different positioning alters the click noise by changing the way air is released.
The sounds are written as “/” (dental), “≠” (palatal), “!” (alveolar or retroflex), “//” (lateral) and “⊙”(bilabial). The sound // is similar to the noise a rider would make when urging his horse to move. The sound “/” is similar to a “tsk tsk” or tutting, when you are expressing sympathy or perhaps scolding a naughty child. The “!” is the noise that you make with your tongue to imitate a cork popping from a bottle. Lastly, “≠" sounds like a baby sucking with the tongue just behind the teeth.
Crowdsourcing to Preserve Endangered Languages
For the Transcribe Bushman project we are working with the |xam and !kun languages documented in the Digital Bleek and Lloyd Collection. Both these languages contain special characters and complex diacritics, because there is no Unicode representation of the language, a computer industry standard for handling the world’s different scripts. To manage this, we developed an intuitive and easy-to-use transcription tool to capture and encode the language. It uses the Bossa framework, developed as a platform for crowdsourcing projects.
You will be asked to enter both the English language text on one half of a notebook page, and the corresponding Bushman language text on the other. Below is one of many folktale stories found in the Bleek and Lloyd notebooks, and an example of what you might get the chance to transcribe in this project.
The girl who made the Milky Way, by throwing ashes into the sky From: Lucy Lloyd |Xam Notebooks
Summary: A girl of the ancient race (preceding the Bushmen) wished for a little light, so that the people might see to return home at night. She, therefore, threw wood–ashes into the sky, which became the Milky Way. This myth, which //kábbo heard from his mother !kwi–an, is followed by an account of the same girl, who, being vexed with her mother for giving her too little of a certain red, edible root, threw up portions of it into the sky, where they became stars. A verso note describes how this girl (the new maiden) made locusts by throwing the peel of the !kui ssi that she was eating into the sky. Another note describes how she threw up the !huin roots to make stars. The red (or old) !huin made red stars and the white or young !huin made white stars.
“The Wisdom of the Crowd”
This project is open to anyone interested in helping preserve this rare collection. If you would like to give it a try, the project could use your help. There is a tutorial video to watch first, and then you can jump right into transcribing. You can do just a single page, or as many as you wish.
The “wisdom of the crowd” has been proven to have great potential to solve research problems, for example in the classification of galaxies with GalaxyZoo. The Transcribe Bushman project is being run in collaboration with the Citizen CyberScience Centre that promotes the establishment of Citizen Science projects worldwide. Transcription of the |xam and !kun languages will promote increased awareness of the Bushman people of Southern Africa. We stand to learn many lessons from stories recorded in the Digital Bleek and Lloyd collection because of the Bushman people’s unique perspective on life. This text will become searchable online and future work could look at possibilities of translating from text to speech. Most importantly the crowd will forge a solution to preserve these complicated, endangered languages.
About the Author
Ngoni Munyaradziis a student at the University of Cape Town South Africa, currently studying for his master’s degree in Computer Science. He works in the Digital Libraries Laboratory under the supervision of Assoc. Prof. Hussein Suleman. This research work is based on his master’s thesis, and he has worked on the crowdsourcing application.
References:  http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za/  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushmen Similar articles: Tracking Sevengill Sharks with Citizen Science http://blog.mysciencework.com/en/2012/10/04/tracking-sevengill-sharks-with-citizen-science.html Astronomie et Ecologie Citoyenne : le Projet Zooniverse http://blog.mysciencework.com/2012/03/05/astronomie-et-ecologie-citoyenne-le-projet-zooniverse.html Citizen Science : rencontre entre la science et les citoyens http://blog.mysciencework.com/2012/03/01/citizen-science-rencontre-entre-la-science-et-les-citoyens.html Find out more: “‘Click Language’ and the San Bushmen People”, from The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey (PBS, National Geographic) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c246fZ-7z1w “Ancient Kalahari Bushman Tribal Song”, featuring typical click sounds. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0a6gShIToSQ Khoisan languages, Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khoisan_languages