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Learning threatened language with new iPhone app

Language coordinator Kathy Manuel demonstrates the First Voices dictionary on a SmartBoard, the dictionary was used to create the Apple app for the Secwepemc language.
February 25, 2013 - 4:06 PM

By Jennifer Stahn

Secwepemc literally translates to "spread out the people" and the term is very apt in describing a culture that can be found over the expanse of an 18,000 km territory, but the word endangered could be used to describe the language with only 200 individuals currently speaking it fluently.

Kathy Manuel, language coordinator for Secwepemc Cultural Education Society, says of the 200, they believe there are only about 150 who can also read and write the language. With most of them already over the age of 70 the spoken element of the Secwepemctsin language is bordering on extinction, which is why the education society has been working with First Voices, an umbrella organization dedicated to preserving aboriginal tongues, to archive the language.

The society offers many resources and the latest project which has been in development for several years is an application (app) for iPhones, iPads and some iPods. Spelling and definitions on audio files are verified by the "language" authority made up of three or four elders from each dialect. Manuel has to then upload each individual work and phrase file along with corresponding pictures, sound files, descriptions, translations and other pertinent information to the dictionary style database on First Voices. Nearly a dozen elders helped with the project by proofing spelling and translations or by providing the audio.

Once there was adequate content they were able to apply funding to the creation of the app, which was then released in January - making it the most recent release of the 12 B.C. First Nations language apps. The free app contains more than 3,000 words and around 1,500 phrases. Manuel says when used properly it can be a very useful tool in helping someone to learn the basics of the language.

“Just pick a phrase you would use everyday, and try variations of it...until you own that phrase.” Only then should you move on to a new phrase, she added, trying to learn too many at once can be overwhelming and is no way to properly incorporate the language into your everyday life.

Manuel says the tool is a good way to begin learning the language without the pressure of having to speak it right away. Pressure makes some people shy away from learning while others have been ridiculed for trying to use the language in the past.

“You can't humiliate, degrade...anyone who's trying,” says Manuel, and the elders, “who are all so passionate about saving the language,” took note, buying in to the new technology and helping where they could to help “save the language...get it out there.”

While many other resources - including additional classes and a language tutor app - are being worked on Manuel has been encouraging everyone she meets with an Apple phone or tablet to download the app and is happy if someone spends even 15-20 minutes each day working on the language that way. She says it's a beginning step and there is a chance to “motivate them to take a passion to the language,” which ultimately could lead to a growth in fluency among the Secwepemc.

To contact the reporter for this story, email jstahn@infotelnews.ca or call (250) 819-3723.

 

Screen shots from the recently released Secwepemc language app available for iPhones, iPads and iPods.
Screen shots from the recently released Secwepemc language app available for iPhones, iPads and iPods.
Image Credit: SOURCE/iTunes

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

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