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What does it meme? Lexicography for a new generation of language learners

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Title: What does it meme? Lexicography for a new generation of language learners
Issue Date: 28 Feb 2013
Description: In the last two decades, lexicography has been shaped by an influx of new technologies that have put the creation of dictionaries into the hands of everyday computer users. Sites such as Wikitionary and Urban Dictionary have expanded the limits on who can create dictionary entries and who might see them. However, while the process of dictionary creation and distribution has been altered, the format has largely remained the same. That is to say that even with more images, better cross references, unlimited entry space and a variety of authors, online dictionaries look like digital copies of something you could theoretically find in print. Little has been done to explore the ways in which entirely new kinds of dictionaries may be adopted to engage a technologically savvy generation of language learners.

This issue was tackled last spring by a group of Tulane students developing an engaging way to teach Tunica. The Tunica language has not been spoken since the 1960s; but in 2010, the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Marksville, Louisiana approached the Tulane linguistics department for help in revitalizing their language. Initial work consisted of developing a new orthography, adapting Tunica stories into illustrated children’s books, and digitizing Tunica language sources. This past year, the development pedagogy was undertaken, and the topic of digital resources was broached.

This paper examines the ways in which social media websites can be used to building new kinds of dictionaries that are composed of internet memes to aid in language learning. Internet memes are audiovisual concepts that contain cultural references, satire, parody, and wordplay. Memes are particularly useful for language learning because they encourage language learners to engage with vocabulary in creative ways, expanding words into new, culturally-relevant domains. For example, the Tunica word lawutamuhkini “dew” is paired with a picture of Scooby Doo holding a Mountain Dew. Lapuya meaning “well, thoroughly, correct, properly, or just right” is placed with a picture of the Three Bears hovering over Goldilocks.

One major advantage of using social media is that content is not controlled by a single user. Nor is language learning passive. Tunica learners are encouraged to create their own account and start their own meme dictionary that can be easily cross referenced. Memes can be reposted to different websites with the click of a button. Overall, the creative engagement and quick dissemination memes encourage make them an innovative language learning tool in the process of revitalization.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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