Entrepreneurial Conservation And Language Apps

This recent post about a language app was thought to be a one off on a funny subject. Then the topic was no longer one off, and not particularly funny. Even less funny, but technologically amazing, and certainly an example of one of our favorite topics, is this one (click the image to the left to go to the source):

…Last June, FirstVoices launched an iPhone app that allows indigenous-language speakers to text, e-mail, and chat on Facebook and Google Talk in their own languages. Users can select from a hundred and forty keyboards not recognized by iOS; the app supports every indigenous language in North America and Australia. (By default, iOS supports just two: Cherokee and Hawaiian.) The app accomplishes this through mimicry. When a text box is selected, a keyboard identical in form and function to iOS’s appears. The keyboard includes the characters necessary to write in, say, Cree, and follows a layout unique to the chosen language. 

(Cree’s equivalent of QWERTY would be ᐃᐱᑎᑭᒋᒥ). But the keyboards cannot exist outside of FirstVoices’s app. You can’t use it while surfing the Web; using it for e-mail is complicated. In this sense, the keyboards, like many of the languages they represent, are marginalized.

It is widely believed that the world’s languages number about seven thousand, with half of those predicted to die off by the end of this century. The threats to these languages are many—globalization, political and religious turmoil, climate change, disease—but, in recent years, awareness of the impending cultural loss has grown, along with efforts to stop it. A year ago, Google announced its Endangered Languages Project, a global crowdsourcing initiative that hopes to collect documents and recordings of endangered languages directly from speakers. FirstVoices, meanwhile, has provided language teachers and learners in British Columbia—home to sixty per cent of Canada’s indigenous languages—with online games, dictionaries, and now, the chat app.

The app débuted in February, 2012, before four hundred people, at a conference for the First Nations Technology Council. Its first official messages were exchanged by Steven Point, then the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, and Gwendolyn, his wife, who are speakers of Halq’eméylem. “The first message was, ‘Hi, I’m at the store. Is there anything you need?’ ” Peter Brand, the coördinator of FirstVoices, told me in excitement. “And she says, ‘Yeah, pick me up some fish.’ It was just a shopping list!” Ordinariness is an integral feature of the app. The language of legends and spiritual ceremonies, after all, can only do so much to save a culture; most of the responsibility falls on everyday communication.

David Underwood, a young SENĆOŦEN speaker, told me that he uses the app most often with his uncle, John Elliot, a co-founder of FirstVoices, and with Elliot’s son, PENÁW̱EṈ, who, like Underwood, learned SENĆOŦEN during an apprenticeship with an elder, just four years ago. The Master-Apprentice Program, administered by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, which also oversees FirstVoices, aims to create new, fluent speakers of British Columbian native languages through immersion. For the young people making that leap—Underwood calls this a “personal revolution”—the ability to compose your thoughts through text as you gain footing in the new language can be edifying. The app, Underwood said, “bridges that gap—that social gap—of the pressures of having to be able to articulate yourself in person, on the spot. Text allows you to compose yourself a bit more.”…

Read the entire post here.

One thought on “Entrepreneurial Conservation And Language Apps

  1. Pingback: New App for Borrowing/Lending Things | Raxa Collective

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