Dongba symbols refer to a system of primitive pictographic glyphs that were invented by Naxi ancestors living in the junction of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet, with Lijiang as their living center, thus known as a “living fossil” witnessing the origin and development of writing in human society. However, as fewer and fewer people can read and speak Dongba symbols easily, it has become an urgent task to organize and translate more than 30,000 volumes of existing Dongba classics and to teach Dongba symbols to Naxi children.
In the context of digital transformation, artificial intelligence (AI) may function as a booster for the inheritance of the Dongba culture among Naxi people. At the 5th World Artificial Intelligence Conference Education Forum convened this year, ECNU focused on the deep integration of AI and Dongba symbols, delivering a forward-looking elaboration of how AI can help identify Dongba classics. It also officially released an intelligent recognition and recitation system for Dongba symbols, demonstrating the AI-based recognition and speech output of Dongba classics.
“We feel excited today to see such a minority culture has stepped onto such a high-level stage.” He Lijun (Dongba Dharma name: A Heng Dongta), a 17th generation inheritor of Naxi Dongba culture, was present at the forum. Wearing folk costume, he walked on to the stage and affectionately shared with the participants that the core value of Dongba culture should lie in the fact that “human beings must stay harmonious and united while protecting nature to achieve common development.”
He Lijun , a 17th generation inheritor of Naxi Dongba culture
Although the minority ethnic group has created a great culture, it still faces the risk of declining inheritance. The inheritor He Lijun said: “the development of this intelligent recognition and recitation system for Dongba symbols will create a miracle in history, because it will preserve a soon-to-be-lost culture that would otherwise be seen only in museums.” The inheritor also recited a section of the Dongba scripture to people on the spot as a blessing for their peace and health.
The intelligent recognition and recitation system for Dongba symbols was jointly developed by ECNU, Lijiang Teachers College and other institutions, mainly containing modules for pre-processing, text recognition and matching, and voice conversion. Based on the theoretical study of Dongba symbols and a large amount of image and speech data provided by Dongba culture, the system integrates various AI technologies such as image processing, deep learning, intelligent matching, and natural language processing, to initially realize the intelligent recognition and recitation of Dongba classics.
Editor: Cui Jizhen, Philip Nash