Meet The Woman Who Created An App To Save Her Endangered Language

After the Vietnam War, Annie Vang’s parents escaped persecution in Laos and traversed the Mekong River in the dead of night to seek safety in Thailand. “My family had no choice but to flee or die,” she says.

Vang and her family are Hmong, an ethnic and cultural group who lost their land—and way of life—after siding with the U.S. in the fight against Communism. Like so many other Hmong people, Vang’s family resettled in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S. in the late ’70s. Growing up in Iowa, Vang remembers being bullied for having an accent and “looking different” than everyone else. “I was told to go back to my country every day,” she says. “I just wanted to be like everyone else and assimilate and forget about my Hmong roots.”

Yet as an adult, the 44-year-old is doing everything in her power to preserve her cultural history. For more than a decade, the app developer has been digitally documenting the Hmong language with HmongPhrases, an app she created to teach the Hmong language to English speakers. “It is critical we capture this, so that our language, legacy, and stories can live on,” she says.

Read more: Elle

First Nations take to designing their own apps to preserve their languages and cultures

Byron Bates is meticulously adding more than 100 Cree words about medicine, pain and doctors into the mobile app he created, called ATC Cree.

The app developer and Athabasca Tribal Council member built his app in an effort to maintain the languages of his community, made up of about 5,000 Cree and Dene people in the Fort McMurray area. It launched early in March with 120 Cree words translated into English, and includes audio pronunciations. Now he’s working on more.

The band councillor and software developer has already received a lot of feedback, including how useful the app will be for elders who go into the city for medical treatment.

“Medical professionals can bring up the app and ask the elders where it hurts and ask them other questions,” Bates says.

Read more: The National Post

Preserving an Indigenous language? There’s an app for that

The Athabasca Tribal Council is launching a new mobile phone app that it hopes will help preserve the Cree language dialect of northeastern Alberta.

The app is called ATC Cree. It translates 120 Cree words into English and plays audio of their pronunciations. Close to 450 words have been recorded and are expected to be added to the app later.

Byron Bates, an app developer and Athabasca Tribal Council member, created the app with help from other ATC members. In 2000, the council helped fund Bates’ four-year education in software development. He sees this as a way to pay them back, while helping to preserve the language of his people, he says.

“Your language is a big part of your identity and I think this will help with the younger generation who all have smart phones and they all use apps and it will help keep the language alive a little bit better,” said Bates.

Read more: CBC News

Can an App Save an Ancient Language?

Joshua Hinson’s first biological son was born in 2000. His son’s birth marked the start of the sixth generation that would grow up speaking English instead of Chickasaw, which was the primary language his ancestors had spoken for hundreds of years. Hinson was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up in Texas. Other than a small handful of words, he knew almost nothing about his ancestral language—formally known as Chikashshanompa’. Hinson had a few pangs of sadness over the years about what was lost, but it didn’t really affect him—until his son was born.

As he counted the 10 tiny fingers and 10 tiny toes of his firstborn child, Hinson realized he had nothing to teach his son about his Native American roots. The only thing he had to pass on was his tribal citizenship card. Hinson wanted to bequeath more than just a piece of paper; he wanted his son to be a part of Chickasaw culture. He recognized that the most direct way to understand his culture was to speak the language. But to make that happen, Hinson had to start with himself.

“I had family stories, but not the lived experience of being an Indian,” says Hinson. “I wanted to become a better Indian, and what better way than learning the language.”

As Hinson began to learn the Chickasaw language, he found that native speakers were in perilously short supply. In December 2013, the last person on the planet who spoke only Chickasaw, Emily Johnson Dickerson, died at the age of 93 in her home in central Oklahoma. Less than 100 tribal members remained fluent in Chickasaw, although they could also speak English. All of these individuals were over the age of 60, and no one under 35 could speak conversational Chickasaw. None of the rest of the tribe’s 62,000 members knew more than a few words of Chickasaw. After months of searching, Hinson apprenticed himself to a fluent speaker of Chickasaw, ultimately leaving Texas to move back to the center of tribal life in Oklahoma in 2004. By 2007, tribal leaders had appointed him to direct a project to revitalize the Chickasaw language.

Read more: Scientific American

FirstVoices app translates English to Indigenous languages

If you’ve always wanted to text in Cree, Anishinabemowin or Maori, there’s an app for that.

FirstVoices was created by First Peoples’ Cultural Council in British Columbia and has over 100 Indigenous languages including those from Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.

Once you choose a language like Blackfoot, Dene or Wendat, the app will customize your keyboard for the special characters required so you can text, send Facebook messages and even tweet.

Trish Rosborough is an assistant professor of Indigenous education specializing in language revitalization at the University of Victoria.

A grandmother of nine, Rosborough has been using it to communicate in her mother’s tongue — Kwak’wala.

“That evening when the app had come out, somebody from my home community was texting me late into the night, well late for us grandmothers,” she said. “[lt was] almost midnight and she’s saying, ‘I really need to go to bed but I want to text in our language.'”

Read more: CBC/Radio-Canada

Researchers are using an app to crowdsource how the English language has changed

Does “scone” rhyme with the word “gone” or “cone”? Is “last” pronounced with a long a, as if an r follows it?

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, along with academics from the universities of Zurich and Bern in Switzerland, are using these (often contentious) questions of how Brits pronounce words to try to map how and where the English language has changed.

The team recently launched a smartphone app that attempts to guess a user’s regional accent. A user will take a quiz in which they answer how they would pronounce 26 different words, colloquialisms and phrases before the app guesses where in England they are from.

Users are then given the option to share with researchers data on their location, age, ethnicity, education, and gender, as well as how many times they have moved in the last 10 years. “We want to document how English dialects have changed, spread, or levelled out,” said Dr. Adrian Leemann, a researcher at the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at Cambridge.

Read more: Quartz