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Classical Languages in Virtual Worlds

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Classical Languages in Virtual Worlds

Postby annis » Fri May 29, 2009 2:05 am

In the last few years there has been increasing chatter in the technical press about virtual worlds. By virtual world here I mean on-line, game-like environments of varying graphical realism which are more free-form than most games. If you've heard of any virtual world at all, it will be Second Life, which has generated more than its fair share of press (good, bad, incoherent), but there are all sorts of such projects, some of which have had the misfortune to go public during a teetering economy, like Metaplace. There are many others, some commercial, some free, of varying technical assumptions and computing requirements.

Some educators have gotten very excited about these virtual worlds as a platform for teaching, but not always with great success it seems to me. It's not clear how a literature class, say, is improved by logging in and staring at a screen. Indeed, if you're taking almost any class where you're getting face time with an instructor, getting mediated access to that same instructor doesn't seem to make much sense, with the possible exception of a 3d computer design class (many of these virtual worlds let people create and sometimes even add programs to in-world objects).

That said, it does seem like these tools are useful for distance learning situations, especially if you have some sort of voice chat available. For example, I've attended talks by astronomers in Second Life. And in the last year or so I've noticed that some companies have started to offer foreign language instruction in-world, a task for which virtual worlds seem very well suited. Again, especially if you have voice chat available, you get a convenient "face to face" situation (if only metaphorically — some people actually find that more comfortable than just voice chat) plus you can reasonably expect to drop people into contextually appropriate situations for conversation practice, like a cafe, a grocery store, etc.

Do people think there are ways Greek and Latin instruction and interaction could be profitably pursued in virtual worlds?
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Re: Classical Languages in Virtual Worlds

Postby NathanSmith » Fri May 29, 2009 4:42 am

I think voice-chat hits the nail on the head. A virtual world would be an appropriate setting for "The Agora" in that it provides better context for learning to communicate in Greek and Latin (e.g. I could go over to the fruit stand and purchase fruit from the vendor, bargain, etc.).
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Re: Classical Languages in Virtual Worlds

Postby 1%homeless » Fri Jun 05, 2009 2:13 pm

In some ways, my fear of mmorpg and gaming addiction has made me avoid something potentially useful like Second Life. Is there a list of subjects available or do I have to sign up to find out? I think the virtual world would be great to learn any language. It would require a lot of work to get a quality virtual classical world up and running. I suppose a makeshift classical world would do, but would it be engaging? After reading about the Euler voice synthesizer and the Alice AI chat-bot, I once fantasized about creating a robot Diogenes with the peculiarities of his humor and personality. Last I checked, nobody made a text-to-voice program for Latin or ancient Greek. Even though it is artificial sounding, it would still be an immense help for vocalizing text. I think the foundation is there for creating Greco-Roman NPCs geared for linguistic education. I am assuming there is a need for lots of NPCs for a sparsely populated virtual classical world.

I think there is a small communication issue of physical expression and control for immersive language learning, but there finally seems to be practical motion capture technology coming out soon without the need of wearing a mocap suit:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10257042-1.html
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Re: Classical Languages in Virtual Worlds

Postby Lucus Eques » Sat Jun 06, 2009 2:08 pm

Adrianus was working on just such a project of text-to-speech Latin.
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Re: Classical Languages in Virtual Worlds

Postby annis » Sat Jun 06, 2009 2:39 pm

Lucus Eques wrote:Adrianus was working on just such a project of text-to-speech Latin.


He's working on several things related to this. I hope he weighs in.
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Re: Classical Languages in Virtual Worlds

Postby annis » Sat Jun 06, 2009 3:07 pm

1%homeless wrote: I am assuming there is a need for lots of NPCs for a sparsely populated virtual classical world.


The biggest difference between a virtual world and MMORPGs is that there are no NPCs (translation for non-gamers: Non-Player Characters, programmed critters in the environment) in most virtual worlds, or only obvious and stupid ones. Most of the time, any person you meet in Second Life has a real human being behind them. So, you don't need text2voice conversion, you need merely find out where Italian or Chinese speakers are hanging out. Like non-virtual language instruction, virtual world language instruction has human instructors.

It would require a lot of work to get a quality virtual classical world up and running. I suppose a makeshift classical world would do, but would it be engaging?


Ancient cultures are well-represented in Second Life, including quite a few of the classical world. ROMA is one of the best — the creator is a classical archaeologist — but there is no shortage of others.

A few months ago I was loitering in ROMA, and someone walked up to me. Certain Latin greetings are common in ROMA, and once I said "Salve" to this guy he refused to speak (well, text chat) to me in any language but Latin. Dealing in Greek has been much harder, but the current beta release candidate viewers are finally accepting Unicode input correctly, so polytonic Greek is possible now, too.

Is there a list of subjects available or do I have to sign up to find out?


Finding out what is going on in SL can be much harder. There is a giant search interface inworld, including a section for events, but some organizations only announce events by other means. One can join groups in SL, and very often communication happens only to group members. There are plenty of language related groups, only some of which are attached to more formal instructional or conversational gatherings. I created a classics group years ago, but not much has happened with it. That would be easy enough to change.
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Re: Classical Languages in Virtual Worlds

Postby 1%homeless » Tue Jun 09, 2009 3:18 pm

Ancient cultures are well-represented in Second Life, including quite a few of the classical world. ROMA is one of the best — the creator is a classical archaeologist — but there is no shortage of others.

A few months ago I was loitering in ROMA, and someone walked up to me. Certain Latin greetings are common in ROMA, and once I said "Salve" to this guy he refused to speak (well, text chat) to me in any language but Latin. Dealing in Greek has been much harder, but the current beta release candidate viewers are finally accepting Unicode input correctly, so polytonic Greek is possible now, too.


Well then, I might as will dip my toe in Second Life. It sounds like it has nearly every type of interest represented. I am reminded of youtube and wikipedia. It took me a while to find them acceptably useful after it was rising quickly in popularity. I've just been cynical of being a 'beta' user of new technology. I doubt I will be doing any scripting from the way you talked about LSL last time. (By the way, I'm about half way in Touretzky's Lisp book and it's pretty fun) Unless I can import a 3D character from a more familiar 3D app like Maya or Modo, I am probably not going to get too elaborate with my avatar. Hmm.. so what are the obnoxious looking characters? I don't want to be too obviously obnoxious looking. Depending on my mood, I like being where the trolls are or either completely avoiding them. :)

Most of the time, any person you meet in Second Life has a real human being behind them.


I am surprised that there are no spam NPCs. I am thinking the moment after I step in, a top heavy woman would try to seduce me into visiting a site about legal teens doing salacious things with their orifices. Too much sophiscation for a spam NPC? Anyhoo, I was just assuming that there will initially be very little Latnists or Greekists milling about in the virtual world, so that is why this virtual-world ingenue thought you might need NPCs.
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