Some of British Columbia's ancient languages are getting
an ultra-modern boost in the hopes that cool technology will appeal
to young aboriginal people.
New language apps for Apple's iPod, iPad
and iPhone devices have been developed for two native languages
in the province: Sencoten, spoken on southern Vancouver Island;
and Halq'emeylem, spoken in the Fraser Valley.
Six more communities are using archives
of recorded words and phrases to build mobile audio dictionaries
with funding help from the province.
"Young people today are distracted
by a lot of technology. They want to text, be on the web and play
games," says Peter Brand, co-ordinator of FirstVoices, which
helped develop the apps. "And so we knew that, if we had any
hope of keeping the language in front of them, it had to be presented
in these ways."
The struggle to keep B.C.'s 34 aboriginal
languages alive becomes more difficult as elders die.
On Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula,
for example, only about 10 fluent Sencoten speakers remain.
"We are trying to archive as much
as we can and the key is to make the language accessible to more
people," says Tracey Herbert, executive director of the First
Peoples Heritage, Language and Culture Council.
The apps developed with copious
volunteer time and about $30,000 in funding from the First Peoples
Cultural Foundation are media-rich with audio recordings,
images and videos. While struggling through the correct pronunciation
for words such as grandmother or cat, generic pictures can be replaced
with images from the student's own life.
Brand believes the apps could also be
useful to non-aboriginal people. "It's something a business
person or a politician could carry into a remote First Nations community
and could bone up on a few words or greetings as a courtesy."
As for Herbert, she suggests non-natives
shouldn't be afraid to try the apps.
"Most First Nations people will be
encouraged rather than critical," she says. "It shows
a lot of respect."
The apps can be downloaded for free from
the iTunes store by searching for Sencoten or Halq'emeylem.