Bringing a language back to life

With fewer and fewer fluent speakers of the Crow language, advocates for revitalizing it hope a free online dictionary can aid people already working to bolster their skills and make learning the language more accessible.

On Thursday, a group of linguists, native Crow speakers and programmers launched the app after four years of work on the project. The dictionary contains more than 10,000 entries and audio of Crow language speakers demonstrating pronunciation. It is free to download on Android and IOS devices. The group that spearheaded the project — a coalition of the nonprofit Language Conservancy, the Crow Nation, Little Big Horn College and the Crow Language Consortium — celebrated the app’s launch during a virtual event that included a demonstration and remarks from participants in the project.

The hope, said Crow Language Consortium Board Chair and Project Director Janine Pease, is that the dictionary app will be useful for people currently trying to learn the language, inspire learners who don’t have access to a fluent teacher, and meet younger generations where they already spend a lot of their time.

“Technology is really accessible to our youngsters,” she said. “What really is important, is it can step into the grand scheme of media and technology but have the quality that delivers the language.”

In the past, Pease said, she was hesitant about using technology to teach the language, preferring one-on-one methods to “rekindle the way language was learned for generations upon generations.”

“Because of where we are in history and time, we need to take advantage of each and every tool we have,” she said.

There are other dictionaries of the Crow language, also known as Apsaalooke, but in many cases they aren’t as accessible as the online app, either out of print and hard to find or too expensive for many language learners. The new app’s launch comes as Crow fluency rates have dropped from 85% in the 1960s to 20% today. Fluent Crow speakers currently number about 4,200, while some tribes have only a handful of fluent speakers remaining, Pease said.

Worldwide, about 90% of the approximately 7,000 languages currently spoken are expected to become extinct in the next 100 years, according to the Language Conservancy. In the last 400 years, more than 200 Indigenous languages in the United States have gone extinct, according to the nonprofit, which works to help endangered languages endure.

Read more: Montana Free Press

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