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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Aboriginal Apps Give Old Languages Modern Edge
by Judith Lavoie, Postmedia News

VICTORIA — 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.

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