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People & Culture

First Nations turn to tech to save endangered languages

The latest app from FirstVoices allows users to type, text and post to social media in more than 100 indigenous languages

  • May 25, 2016
  • 270 words
  • 2 minutes
FirstVoices Keyboards Expand Image
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Want to learn Skidegate Haida? There’s an app for that!

With many indigenous languages facing extinction across Canada, finding a way to preserve them has never been more urgent, and mobile technology might be the solution.

Since 2011, First Voices, an initiative of the First Peoples’ Cultural Council in BC, has been developing apps to serve as both a teaching tool and a way to archive indigenous languages.

The apps are free to download on iTunes, and their creation is a team effort between tech-savvy youth and fluent Elders.

There are apps for many languages, including Ktunaxa, which is spoken only in the interior of British Columbia near the Montana/Idaho border and is considered critically endangered and culturally isolated.

There’s also an app for Skidegate Haida, one of the dialects found in Haida Gwaii off the coast of BC. Fewer than two dozen living Elders are fluent in the language.

The apps have many helpful features, including images, videos, and audio recordings. They also allow users to add to the archive of information.

The latest app from FirstVoices, a collection of indigenous language keyboards, was released last week and enables users to text and post to social media in more than 100 languages from Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Apps aren’t the only way technology is being used to preserve indigenous languages. In 2012 Google launched a website as part of their Endangered Languages Project which to date has catalogued 3,403 languages, including many indigenous languages at risk of dying out in Canada.

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