Regina podcast aims to revitalize Indigenous languages

People can learn different Indigenous languages through a recently launched podcast called pîkiskwêwin which means ‘language’ in Cree.

The Indigenous Communication Arts (INCA) program, at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) has worked on the pîkiskwêwin project, which is an Indigenous and community-led initiative to preserve, protect and interpret the history, language, culture, and artistic heritage of First Nations. The pîkiskwêwin’s family of podcasts are produced in Indigenous languages.

“We have joined an amazing circle of language teachers and language keepers,” said Shannon Avison, project supervisor and FNUniv INCA Assistant Professor, in a media release. “For most of them, podcasting is a new format to use. Some of our podcasters are fluent but some pîkiskwêwin podcasters are language learners. It’s so exciting to give them training and technology to do interviews in their ancestral languages for the first time.”

The project is funded through Heritage Canada on a $600,000 grant for two years. The podcast team ran their first episodes in January 2022. Podcasters who participate in the project are Knowledge Keepers, language teachers, and students. Three episodes are released every week and funding for the project will continue until March 2023.

Read more: Global News

This e-dictionary aims to save dying languages

Funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the De La Salle University (DLSU) has created a mobile electronic dictionary (e-dictionary) to help save the country’s dying languages.

According to DOST, there are 187 Philippine languages, but only 183 are living, while the other four are already extinct.

Of the living languages, 175 are Indigenous, while eight are non-Indigenous. Some 13 languages are endangered and 11 are dying.

Led by Dr. Rochelle Irene Lucas of DLSU, the research on Language Preservation and Documentation of Hanunuo was a response to a call of then Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro in 2016 to adopt an Indigenous language to help preserve endangered or in state of dying languages.

Lucas said there are still 13,000 remaining speakers of Hanunuo-Mangyan, one of the languages of the Mangyan population found in Mindoro.

The Mangyan comprises of eight tribes: Alangan, Bangon, Buhid, Hanunuo, Iraya, Ratagnon, Tadyawan, and Tawbuid.

Read more: Manilla Bulletin

How AI and immersive technology are being used to revitalize Indigenous languages

Researchers on Vancouver Island are working on innovative ways, including artificial intelligence and immersive technology, to revitalize Indigenous languages.

Sara Child has been working to revive her language, Kwak’wala, on northern Vancouver Island.

According to estimates by the First People Cultural Council in B.C., there are only about 140 speakers fluent in Kwak’wala across more than a dozen First Nations.

Child, a Kwagu’ł band member and professor in Indigenous education at North Island College in Courtenay, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, says most of the speakers in her community are in their 70s and 80s. 

She created the Sanyakola Foundation, which works with elders to find ways of passing on the language. 

The language, she says, is inextricably linked to the land and wellness, and requires different ways of learning. 

“After decades of being forcibly disconnected from the land and our lifestyle changes, many of our elders, the language of the land is trapped in their memories,” Child said. 

“And so we spent hours of work working with elders, trying to unlock that knowledge of the language of the land.”

Child realized the need to tap into the vast archives of recordings of Kwak’wala gathered by anthropologists and other researchers over nearly a century.

Read more: CBC

The Race to Document Endangered Languages, Now That We Have the Technology

It was a balmy day in Taiwan in November 2019, and I was rummaging through the Family Mart adjoined to the Qishan Bus Station. It was my last chance for 9V batteries and spicy tuna rice balls before taking a taxi into the mountains, where many of the remaining Indigenous languages of the island are spoken, the rest having been replaced by Chinese—the language of settlers from the Asian mainland who slowly took over the arable plainsland over the last few hundred years, as well as of the current ROC regime.

The 16 Indigenous languages still spoken in Taiwan today—the Formosan group—are tragically endangered, with three Formosan languages down to a single-digit number of speakers and a fourth rapidly encroaching. The languages are very well documented in some areas of their grammar and very poorly in others. The available documentation is the result of efforts by community members who create resources for their language’s revitalization movement and from local and foreign scholars.

The goal of my PhD dissertation project is to investigate one of the most poorly documented aspects of language. And I’m going to use a secret weapon, which I bought at B&H. To record, I use a Sony PCM-M10 recorder and a Røde Videomic, which I bought in a $379 bundle marketed to aspiring YouTubers, which I am not. Thankfully, it’s a directional (or ‘shotgun’) microphone, which records whatever you point it at louder than sound coming from other directions. This has allowed me to record analyzable elusive data in a sawmill, during a military drill, and while surrounded by dogs. (Not at the same time, luckily!)

The gaping hole in documentary linguistics which requires such equipment is something called prosody, which is easy to feel but hard to hear.

Read more: Gizmodo

‘The embodiment of everything’: Preserving the language of Indigenous Victorians

Mandy Nicholson was in her early 20s when she found a book containing singular Woiwurrung words. It was the first time the Wurundjeri woman had seen her traditional language in print and it became, she says, the beginning of her “language journey”.

It was a bumpy start. Her first attempts to learn those words were “totally wrong”.

“I tried my best to learn how to say them, but I had no idea. I was reading it the English way,” she says.

“Looking back, I was totally wrong in what I was doing. As years went by I got more and more involved in First Language education, because I wanted to learn how to say these words properly, how to use Woiwurrung in context today rather than like an ancient language only used in the past.”

The restoration and preservation of Indigenous languages has attracted considerable popular interest over the past two decades. Great effort – although too often under-resourced – has gone into reawakening many threatened First Languages after they have sat dormant for a century or more.

Community language centres have appeared, as have school programs, workshops and camps; there have been several well-received films with dialogue entirely in traditional “lingo”; and requests are regularly submitted to language holders for permission and assistance to use traditional local words for everything from new buildings to new boats, clothes labels to reconciliation action plans.

Read more: The Age

The Race to Save Indigenous Languages, Using Automatic Speech Recognition

Michael Running Wolf still has that old TI-89 graphing calculator he used in high school that helped propel his interest in technology. 

“Back then, my teachers saw I was really interested in it,” says Running Wolf, clinical instructor of computer science at Northeastern University. “Actually a couple of them printed out hundreds of pages of instructions for me on how to code” the device so that it could play games. 

What Running Wolf, who grew up in a remote Cheyenne village in Birney, Montana, didn’t realize at the time, poring over the stack of printouts at home by the light of kerosene lamps, was that he was actually teaching himself basic programming.

“I thought I was just learning how to put computer games on my calculator,” Running Wolf says with a laugh. 

But it hadn’t been his first encounter with technology. Growing up in the windy plains near the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, Running Wolf says that although his family—which is part Cheyenne, part Lakota—didn’t have daily access to running water or electricity, sometimes, when the winds died down, the power would flicker on, and he’d plug in his Atari console and play games with his sisters. 

These early experiences would spur forward a lifelong interest in computers, artificial intelligence, and software engineering that Running Wolf is now harnessing to help reawaken endangered indigenous languages in North and South America, some of which are so critically at risk of extinction that their tallies of living native speakers have dwindled into the single digits. 

Running Wolf’s goal is to develop methods for documenting and maintaining these early languages through automatic speech recognition software, helping to keep them “alive” and well-documented. It would be a process, he says, that tribal and indigenous communities could use to supplement their own language reclamation efforts, which have intensified in recent years amid the threats facing languages

“The grandiose plan, the far-off dream, is we can create technology to not only preserve, but reclaim languages,” says Running Wolf, who teaches computer science at Northeastern’s Vancouver campus. “Preservation isn’t what we want. That’s like taking something and embalming it and putting it in a museum. Languages are living things.”

The better thing to say is that they’ve “gone to sleep,” Running Wolf says. 

Read more: Northeastern University

Cherokee fight to save language from extinction

In classrooms throughout North Carolina and Oklahoma, students are learning about the periodic table of elements or the origins of the Civil War. However, in some classrooms, the lessons are a bit more personal — Cherokee students are learning the history and language of their people.

Cherokee speakers have made great efforts to keep their language alive. But often the schools, programs and tribes involved in that work haven’t shared resources or strategies to achieve their goal. That changed over the summer when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma signed a memorandum of agreement to protect and preserve the tribes’ shared language, history and culture. The signing took place July 24 at Kituwah Mound near the modern-day Western North Carolina town of Cherokee, the center of the historical Kituwah village that is known as the place of origin for the Cherokee people.

EBCI Principal Chief Richard Sneed says the preservation plan that will result from the agreement is meant to address the siloing that can occur among the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. (The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee, also based in Oklahoma, plans to sign the memorandum at a later date). Each group has its own Cherokee language programs, curriculum and teaching tools. Cherokee Central Schools, a K-12 education system operated by the EBCI since 1990, also has its own language curriculum and developed a language app.

“We’re stronger together than we are separate,” Sneed says. “Let’s pool all of our resources, share resources and open source what we have.”

One component of the plan is a commitment between Western Carolina University and Northeastern State University in Oklahoma to “support Cherokee language revitalization efforts guided by the Cherokee tribes,” says Sara Snyder Hopkins, who directs the Cherokee Language Program at WCU.

“It commits us to share language and cultural pedagogical materials between university and tribal programs,” Hopkins explains. Resources could include instructional videos, children’s books and information about cultural sites.

Read more: Mountain Xpress

Extinction of indigenous languages leads to loss of exclusive knowledge about medicinal plants

“Every time a language disappears, a speaking voice also disappears, a way to make sense of reality disappears, a way to interact with nature disappears, a way to describe and name animals and plants disappears,” says Jordi Bascompte, researcher in the Department of Evolutional Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich. 

The project Ethnologue concluded that 42% of the world’s more than 7,000 existing languages are endangered. Of the 1,000 indigenous languages spoken in Brazil prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500, only about 160 are still alive, according to language research non-profit SIL International

In a recent study, Bascompte and biodiversity specialist Rodrigo Cámara-Leret warn that the extinction of indigenous languages equates to a loss of traditional knowledge about medicinal plants, which could reduce chances for the discovery of future medicines. 

Many of today’s mass-market medications are derived from medicinal plants. They range from acetylsalicylic acid—commonly known as aspirin, whose active ingredient is extracted from white willow (Salix alba L.)—to morphine, which is extracted from poppies (Papaver somniferum).

As indigenous groups traditionally rely on the spoken word for intergenerational knowledge transfer, the disappearance of these languages will take with it a universe of information. 

Double the challenge

The study’s scientists analyzed 3,597 vegetal species with 12,495 medicinal uses and linked this data with 236 indigenous languages from three biologically and culturally diverse regions—the northwestern Amazon, New Guinea and North America. From this, they concluded that in these regions, 75% of the medicinal uses for medicinal plants are known in only one language. 

“We found that those languages with unique knowledge are the ones at a higher risk of extinction,” says Bascompte. “There is a sort of a double-problem in terms of how knowledge will disappear.” 

The Americas stood out in the study as a hotspot for indigenous knowledge in which most of the medicinal knowledge is linked to endangered languages, and the northwestern Amazon particularly proved to be a prime example of the double-problem mentioned by Bascompte. The study evaluated 645 plant species and their medicinal uses according to oral tradition in 37 languages and found that 91% of this knowledge exists in a single language only. Therefore if a language is extinguished, as could happen with many in the Amazon in coming years, the medicinal knowledge therein will also die. 

Read more: Global Landscapes Forum 

Quechua language endures in Peru despite centuries of discrimination

Leila Ccaico walked slowly to the front of her class in a rural village in the Andes. Reluctantly, she faced her classmates, obeyed her teacher’s orders and started to sing softly in Quechua.

This is the first year that the sixth-grader has been taking reading and writing lessons in the Indigenous language she learned from her parents, one that has survived despite centuries of laws and discrimination that discouraged its use.

Halting efforts to revive and promote the language hit the spotlight last month when Peru’s newly appointed prime minister surprised the nation by delivering a speech in Quechua to Congress for the first time in Peru’s history.

Translation into Spanish was unavailable, angering politicians who couldn’t understand the speech — a fact that illustrated Quechua’s status as a second-class language in the South American country.

But the incident also raised hopes among Quechua speakers that Peru’s new government, led by a rural schoolteacher from an Indigenous region, will give their language more visibility and increase funding for bilingual education in villages where children are often reluctant to speak the ancient tongue.

“I feel strange speaking Quechua; it’s embarrassing” said 11-year-old Ccaico, whose name is pronounced something like “Hai-Ko” in English.

Talking in Spanish, she said that children who speak Quechua at her school get bullied and added that parents in her village don’t want children to learn the tongue because they think it will not help children when they move to the cities for work.

Ccaico, whose parents are alpaca herders, said she stopped speaking Quechua fluently at the age of 6. She said she she was visiting a city and started to speak in Quechua, but her older sister told her to stop because passersby would make fun of them.

It’s a situation commonly faced by Quechua speakers in South America, even though the language is used by an estimated 10 million people in the region — largely in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, all of which have made it an official language in recent decades.

Five hundred years ago, Quechua was the lingua franca of the Inca Empire, which stretched from what is now southern Colombia to central Chile.

But the language’s status began to decline following the Spanish conquest of Peru. Though Spanish authorities initially tolerated Quechua, they banned it following an Indigenous rebellion in 1781.

In 1975, a nationalist military government turned Quechua into an official language in Peru, along with Spanish. But legal recognition did not stop discrimination against Quechua speakers, who come mostly from poor and rural areas.

During the conflict between Peru’s government and the Shining Path guerrilla group in the 1980s and 1990s, some Indigenous people were tortured by the military and accused of being rebel collaborators merely for speaking Quechua, a truth commission found.

Thousands of Quechua-speaking women were enrolled in forced sterilization campaigns in Peru during the 1990-2000 government of Alberto Fujimori and were denied medical attention in their native language.

“We have suffered for 500 years. We walked slowly through hills and snowy peaks to arrive here in Congress, and have our voice heard” Prime Minister Guido Bellido said during his Quechua language speech on Aug 26.

Read more: NWA Online

Te reo Māori and Welsh: Two indigenous languages, two stories of revival

Welsh is a dead language.

This is what I’ve been hearing my entire life.

I’ve always been aware of the comparison between my language and te reo Māori. Both, I knew, shared the precarious position of being endangered languages.

I was surprised, then, to read this article looking to Wales with admiration for its handling of the language.

Growing up, I would never have confessed to enjoying Welsh language music, television or books. I made a point of not being seen with the patriotic Welsh kids, and spoke to friends in English despite knowing we both spoke Welsh at home.

Wales became the first English territory way back in the 13th century, before being officially incorporated into the kingdom by Henry VIII in the 16th century. While the Celtic name for our land, Cymru, refers to “friends” or “fellow countrymen”, Wales derives from an Anglo Saxon word meaning “foreigners” or “outsiders”.

I learned how Welsh was literally beaten out of school children by none other than Welsh teachers, led to believe by a government commissioned report — known today as the Treachery of the Blue Books — that “the evil of the Welsh language” posed “a manifold barrier to the moral progress and commercial prosperity of the people”.

Any child caught speaking Welsh was humiliated by the wearing of a heavy wooden plaque around the neck, reading WN or “Welsh not”. The child left wearing the plaque at the end of the day was physically and psychologically punished.

It was a real shock, then, to find this video of Jemaine Clement breaking down as he said his kuia would be punished for speaking te reo. Just like us, generations were robbed of the language of their ancestors.

Read more: The Spinoff

Can Indigenous Language Comics Save a Mother Tongue?

Tlaloc is a tempestuous deity: provider and withholder. The god of rain, he looms large in the belief system of the Ñäñho people*, who reside in the seasonally parched plateau region of Central Mexico. In the heavens above, Tlaloc lives within a paradise of lush vegetation and endless water in clay pots. If only he’d share.

In recent years, a comic book, Ar Metlaloke(The Tlaloques Hunter), has reimagined Tlaloc’s domain with a twist. The comic weaves in a traditional story from the Mexican state of Querétaro about the spontaneous rainfalls of the mountain Pinal del Zamorano. In the creative adaptation, Tlaloc’s haven includes the Tlaloques, goblin-like helpers who are prone to pranks. They playfully break containers—crack!—and rain pours down unexpectedly onto the arid landscape around Zamorano.

The book is the first of its kind written in Hñäñho, the language of the Ñäñho people, as well as in Spanish and English. It represents a larger, ongoing effort to preserve the people’s culture, which is under threat as speakers decline and cultural bonds erode from centuries of colonial policies.

The language—sometimes called Otomi, from the Spanish name for the community—is imperiled. Today it is one of several regional dialects of a mother tongue with fewer than 300,000 speakers, a figure that’s been dropping for decades.

Limited written Hñäñho has been a challenge for preservation. When linguist Ewald Hekking began researching it 40 years ago, he recalls, “I’d heard there was a local language called Otomi, but I couldn’t find any books.”

Hekking, of the department of anthropology at the Autonomous University of Querétaro, has been working to address that absence ever since. The Dutch-born researcher helped translate the comic, and more recently, he co-authored an anthology of Ñäñho oral traditions and beliefs.

The hope is that telling Ñäñho cultural stories in a contemporary format can help preserve them, and the language, for generations to come.

Hñäñho is one of 68 ancestral tongues still spoken in Mexico, and the seventh largest by number of speakers. But many of these languages are endangered.

Read more: Sapiens

Indigenous languages are a bedrock of Alaska Native culture, but they are disappearing fast

Indigenous languages are a bedrock of culture among Alaska Natives, but apart from a handful of exceptions they are endangered. 

There are 21 Indigenous languages officially recognized by the State of Alaska, but every year there are fewer proficient speakers of these as elders are lost and the power of Western culture exerts powerful influences among young people.

“The land we call Alaska is home to around two dozen Native languages, spoken in and near Alaska for many thousands of years. Each Alaska Native language is a treasure beyond value, holding cultural knowledge of a unique people, a unique history, and a unique way of viewing life,” the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council wrote in its 2020 report. 

However, “every Indigenous language in Alaska faces threats from colonial English-only practices, and nearly all of them are critically endangered,” the Council said in its latest report. 

The Council compiles a report to the governor and state Legislature every two years on the state of Indigenous languages. The language Council was formed by the state Legislature in 2012.

There are only rough approximations of the numbers of fluent speakers and their age ranges for each Alaska Native language, but surveys provide some indication. 

According to the Council’s 2020 report, one language — the Doogh Qunag of Holikackuk — now has no living proficient speakers. In the Dena’ina language of Southcentral Alaska, there are only five proficient speakers. In the Dihthaad Xt’een Ian Aandeeg language of Tanacross, in eastern Interior Alaska, there are only 10.

In the Ahtna language of the Copper River region, known as Koht’aene Kenaege, there are 15. Of the Tlingit language of Southeast Alaska, Lingit Yoo X’atangi, there are 60 proficient speakers.

The list goes on and on.

Read more: Anchorage Press