In Brazil, smartphone initiative keeps indigenous languages alive

For smartphone users deep in the Amazon, sending a text message in the Nheengatu language just got easier – giving their endangered native tongue a better chance of survival in the digital age.

Nheengatu, spoken by Amazon tribes in Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia, is now available as a language option on a range of new Motorola phones and any mobiles that run the Android 11 operating system.

Kaingang, an Indian language spoken by some 19,000 people in southern Brazil, is also being offered as part of the project financed by the smartphone manufacturer.

Both languages are at risk, as young people stop using them, but linguists say initiatives like Motorola’s not only encourage their use in daily life but help restore “prestige” to endangered tongues.

While not spoken by many people, Nheengatu and Kaingang have had an important cultural impact. Many words in Brazilian Portuguese originate from Nheengatu, and the language has given names to hundreds of species of fauna and flora in the Amazon. 

Wilmar D’Angelis, a professor at Campinas State University (Unicamp) who led the smartphone project, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation why taking indigenous languages digital could help to keep them alive.

Read more: Thomson Reuters Foundation

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