Thanks to Jenny Shen at The McGill Tribune for featuring us as well as many amazing indigenous language activists from Canada in this fresh-off-the-press article on revitalizing First Nations languages in Canada. We are proud to be part of the world-wide movement to bring awareness to these important issues. This article is a follow-up to the panel discussion on indigenous languages that we recently organized at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Montreal.
This panel took place at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word on Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) territory at the MAI in Montreal, Quebec, on Nov. 9th 2013. It featured distinguished indigenous language activists, poets and scholars. They drew from First Nations oral traditions, spoken word and linguistics to discuss and celebrate indigenous languages in Canada. Panelists explored current threats that their languages face, and presented examples of community education initiatives that are underway to stop language extinction by engaging new generations of speakers. Among many topics, oral transmission, writing systems, phonetics, digital art forms and new media were discussed.
We wish to extend a big thank you to everyone involved in this event! Thank you to the MAI, to the Festival, and to the Festival Director Moe Clark, to everyone who attended, and to everyone who gave presentations. We would like to emphasize how amazing it was to hear all of the panelists’ stories. It is so important to hear about their experiences and approaches to language conservation and revitalization directly from the language warriors themselves. Miigwech.
From left to right: Melody McKiver (Anishnaabe), Vera Wabegijig (Anishnaabe), Anna Luisa Daigneault (Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages), Jacques Newashish (Atikamekw). Photo by Leonor Daigneault.
From left to right: Chelsea Vowel (Plains Cree), Kahtehrón:ni Iris Stacey (Mohawk), Leith Mahkewa (Oneida / Hopi / Mohawk), Manon Tremblay (Muskeg Lake Cree), Louise Halfe Sky Dancer (Cree). Photo by Leonor Daigneault.
For more details on this panel, and for bios on all of the participants, please see our event page:
The following is part of a presentation for a panel on 'Indigenous languages: heritage and spirit at the CFSP 2013. I didn't have enough time to finish my story so I thought it was necessary to share the whole story.
n'debaajaamowin - my story
as a child i only heard commands: wiisnin! eat! nmaadibin! sit down! this is the language our anishnaabeg gashiwag (mothers - the beings who mean well) used with children.
Tomorrow is the big day! We are in Montreal, Canada, hosting the “Indigenous Languages: Heritage and Spirit / Langues autochtones: patrimoine et esprit” panel as part of the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. Below is the updated list of speakers, and all of the details and speaker bios are available on the event page:
- Kahtehrón:ni Iris Stacey (Kanien’kehá:ka turtle clan): language instructor in Kahnawà:ke, Mohawk Territory.
- Leith Mahkewa (Oneida / Hopi): facilitator at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center in Kahnawà:ke, Mohawk Territory.
- Chelsea Vowel (Métis from Plains Cree, Alberta): language learner, activist, advocate and writer at âpihtawikosisân.com.
- Manon Tremblay (Muskeg Lake Cree, Saskatchewan): Linguist and Director of the Cree Language Commission, Grand Council of Crees, Quebec.
- Anna Luisa Daigneault, researcher and project coordinator at Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages.
- Louise Halfe Sky Dancer (Cree): poet, writer, indigenous rights advocate, Saskatchewan Poet Laureate
- Jacques Newashish (Atikamekw Nation): artist, singer, storyteller, teacher.
- Vera Wabegijig: Nishnaabe mother, writer and Anishnaabemowin language learner from Mississauga First Nation residing on Algonquin Anishnaabe Unceded Territory now known as Ottawa.
- Melody McKiver: Anishinaabe multi-instrumentalist, improviser, interdisciplinary media artist and writer.
Learn more on our event page!
Learn more about the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word: http://www.cfsw.ca/
by K. David Harrison and Gregory D. S. Anderson
A Language Revitalization workshop was held over 4 days in July 2013 in Kolonia, Pohnpei State, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) hosted by the Island Research Education Initiative (IREI) and the FSM National Dept. of Education and Special Education Program. Greg Anderson and David Harrison of the Living Tongues Institute led the workshop, which aimed to leverage new digital technologies in support of Micronesian languages. Yvonne Neth of IREI was the local coordinator and partner.
The fifteen participants in the workshop represented eight indigenous language communities: Pohnpeian, Pingelapese, Kapingamarangi, Nukuoro, Namolukese (dialect of Mortlockese), Yapese, Mokilese, and Kosraean. Language activists taking part in the workshop included Johnny Rudolph, Maynard Henry and Kurt Erwin representing the Nukuoro language; Danio Poll, Jason Lebehn and Monique Panaligan representing Mokilese; Yapese language activist Caroline Dabugsiy; Namolukese language activist
John Curley; Leilani Welley-Biza and Darlene Apis representing Pingelapese; Howartson Heinrich, Kapingamarangi language speaker; Arthur Albert representing Kosraean; and Pressler Martin and Mario Abello representing Pohnpeian.
We covered a variety of topics, including audio recording techniques, word and sentence elicitation, photo elicitation, lexicography, and building talking dictionaries. Further, the participants began building nine new Talking Dictionaries, and beta-tested a new interface that allows speakers to edit and record lexical items directly via their web browsers.
The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages team that ran the workshop consisted of five members with the following division of labor:
- Dr. Greg Anderson—co-leader of workshop, linguistic documentation
- Dr. David Harrison—co-leader of workshop, linguistic documentation
- Jack Daulton—Ethnographic interviewing and photography
- Roz Ho—Technology advising
- Oliver Anderson—videography
The participants were energized by the workshop and delighted to be taking part. As Johnny Rudolph, Nukuoro language expert, put it: “The workshop was a great one and everybody did enjoy it very much and most importantly…[it] guided us to see and understand the importance of preserving our languages before losing them.” Johnny continued: “As for our Nukuoroan language, I feel very enthusiastic and enlightened with what we’ve learned… I chose to move forward and continue to build the Nukuoroan Lexicon into the computer system while inserting sounds, photos and perhaps to start teaching others how to use the Nukuoroan Lexicon on the internet while holding Nukuoroan language classes in either in public school or in other special educational learning settings.”
The nine dictionaries created during the workshop currently have nearly 12,000 lexical entries, many with soundfiles, and some with cultural photos. Community members will continue to expand these in the near future, and will use them in language revitalization efforts.
Link to all dictionaries: http://talkingdictionary.swarthmore.edu/workshop.php
Following the workshop, the team visited remote Mwoakilloa Atoll, a landmass of only 0.8 square miles located in the outer reaches of Pohnpei State in the FSM. Here we continued work on the Mokilese language and collected words, sentences and folk stories from both elder and younger speakers in Mokilese. These will be added to the Mokilese Talking Dictionary and our YouTube video channel in coming months. We observed and conducted interviews about oral history, traditional foodways, fishing, outrigger canoe building, and navigation technology.
Mwoakilloa represents a unique and endangered speech community within Micronesia, as the Atoll has a permanent population of under 100 people. With most Mowoakilloans living away from the atoll, the language is vulnerable. At the same time, the community has mounted ambitious efforts, including a new Bible translation, children’s books, and the Talking Dictionary in an attempt to stabilize the language. We are grateful to Roz Ho and Jack Daulton for providing financial and technical support during the expedition. Jeremy Fahringer at Swarthmore College developed nine new Talking dictionaries for the workshop. Taking part in both the workshop and the trip to Mwoakilloa was Yvonne Neth, Vice-Director of IREI.
by Carla Hurd
[This entry was originally posted on the Microsoft in Education Blog].
Such an appropriate title as it was one of the themes at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this year which I had the honor of attending. As one of the main sponsors, the Microsoft Local Language Program, it was also my pleasure to partake in the festivities. I was blessed in many ways and engaged with the people representing their languages – both literally and figuratively. I proudly wear my beads presented to me by the Koro Aka of India and bracelets from the Kallawaya of Bolivia. I witnessed the ceremonial practices of the Kalmyk of the Russian Federation and listened to Welsh poetry and stories of Wales. I was moved by the music of Tuvan throat singers of the Russian Federation and touched by the dances of the Hawaiians, as well as many other experiences that I haven’t mentioned here. You can see pictures that I’ve posted here, on Flickr.
Carla Hurd (Microsoft) with Koro Aka beads
The festival served as a landscape that produced a mosaic of languages which I think was probably one of the most diverse spots on the planet for these 2 weeks of the event. It was so gratifying seeing the people from different countries/regions, cultures and backgrounds all together in a single location and sharing what is important to them – their language and culture. What they all had in common was that they were all enthusiasts trying to make a difference in revitalizing their languages. They all agreed that education was key to survival as the younger generations were going to make or break the pattern for their future. Since young people are growing up today with technology all around them, embracing technology is of utmost importance.
This is where my passion lies – in bringing together language and technology to bridge the gap. But where to start? Technology can be scary for some and downright confusing for most. Start at the beginning – with the language and what to call things. Problem is that many of these languages are very old and don’t have words for technology terms like “computer”, “mouse”, “wi-fi”, etc. Developing these words in the local language or making a conscious decision to borrow them from another language is one that the language experts should make and own. It is important that the translations are culturally relevant. For example, the Cherokee word for “email” is ᎠᎾᎦᎵᏍᎩ ᎪᏪᎸ (anagalisgi gowelv) and literally translated it means “lightning paper”. That is what makes sense to them as a people with regard to their culture and language.
I’d like to share with you one of the projects that I have worked on with teams at Microsoft called the Microsoft Terminology Forum. It is a tool that provides a place where communities can develop technology terminology in their local language. We have a base collection of about 2,500 terms that are considered the key terms to begin engaging in technology solutions for any language. The finalized project can be downloaded and used by the community as a common set of terms and translations in the development of local software solutions. Best of all, it’s free!
I was happy to see and hear the reactions of people when I told them what I do at Microsoft. Most of them had no idea that Microsoft invested in the area of local language or had tools to help languages move forward in the area of technology. One statistic that people didn’t know was that Windows 8 and Office 2013 are available in 108 languages which reaches approximately 4.5 Billion speakers on the planet. Two of those languages were even represented at the festival – Quechua and Welsh. You can get more information about the Local Language Program and Microsoft’s language solutions by visiting the website at http://www.microsoft.com/LLP. It is my hope that Microsoft’s efforts can make a difference in the world and provide a catalyst for these languages to move in the direction of growth and survival for their futures.
Talk Stage: “Technology and Language Panel” with K. David Harrison, co-curator of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, One World, Many Voices Program; Carla Hurd, Microsoft; Ruben Reyes, Garifuna language expert; Owen Saer, Welsh expert.
About the Author: Carla Hurd is Senior Program Manager at Microsoft’s Local Language Program (LLP). The program provides people access to technology in a familiar language while respecting linguistic and cultural distinctions. The program bridges the gap to technology through language and culture as well as empowers individuals in local communities to create economic opportunities, build IT skills, enhance education outcomes, and sustain their local language and culture for future generations.
by Allison Taylor-Adams (guest blogger from Polyglossic)
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival took place over two weekends on the National Mall in Washington, DC. I’m lucky enough to live in DC, so it was just a short bus ride for me to get to spend a whole day exploring the “One World, Many Voices” program. The program participants had much longer journeys, having traveled from such far-flung locations as Hawai’i, Colombia, Russia, and Bolivia. One group, the Koro Aka speakers of the Himalayan Mountains of northeastern India, had to travel for nine days to arrive at the Festival – a trip that involved taxis, buses, more taxis, and connections through four different airports.
The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages has a special relationship with the Koro Aka. I was happy to be asked to write a guest blog post for Living Tongues, and was given the opportunity to speak with some of the participants from the Koro Aka tribe. I interviewed Khandu Degio, a basket weaver and spirit house maker, and later spoke with Sorsomi Degio, a weaver, with the translation help of Bhokta Newar, a member of the nearby Nishi ethnic group who traveled with the Koro Aka delegation to assist them throughout the festival. (You can tell from my audio tracks that the festival was a bustling, busy event!)
Allison Taylor-Adams interviewing Sorsomi Degio and Bhokta Newar.
Photo by Aaron Adams.
The Koro Aka live among a group of people called the Hruso Aka, or Aka. According to Khandu, the Koro and the Hruso share many similarities – “the way we dress, the way we celebrate our festivals, the way we cultivate our farms…[in many things] we may be very similar – except in our language.” While the Hruso Aka are a fairly large tribe, made up of over 30 different clans or “family names”, the Koro Aka are much smaller, with only 4 family names.
Until just a few years ago, Koro Aka could be described as a “hidden” language. Khandu explained: “many researchers, many scientists, many authors came [to our villages] – the only saw Aka…They had never gotten to know about Koro. They researched only ‘Aka.’ So any time any kind of researchers came there, they recorded only ‘Aka’ and they took their information from the Hruso Aka, the Koros were never known to them. But [in 2008] David Harrison and Greg Anderson*, both of them came there and they went to a small village there, where there were many Hruso speakers…but ultimately they came to know that there was another kind of person, called Koro.”
I asked him if the Koro and the Hruso Aka always knew they were speaking two different languages, and he replied, “Yes, of course! They are totally different!” He gave the example of a greeting in Koro:
And the same greeting in Hruso Aka:
“Totally different,” Khandu reiterated. He explained that his father is Koro Aka, and his mother is Hruso Aka. Khandu said, “I was so lucky that in my home there were both Koro and Hruso speakers.”
Khandu Degio performing a Koro dance, with Ramda Degio in foreground.
Photo by Aaron Adams.
As is the case with many communities in the world, the Koro Aka are remarkably multilingual. Khandu speaks Koro and Hruso as well as Hindi and English; Sorsomi speaks Koro, Hindi, Miji (the language of a neighboring tribe), and some English. Both Khandu and Sorsomi said that the younger generation of Koro is growing up speaking both Hindi and English, the two official languages of India. I asked Khandu about the state of the Koro Aka language. He said that it is an endangered language, and pointed out that the biggest problem is that Koro Aka does not have a writing system (he also noted that Hruso Aka suffers the same problem). “There is not any written record. That’s why anything, any story, any traditional beliefs somebody has… we speak it verbally, we’ve inherited it from our ancestors, from our fathers, from our parents, only by listening and by hearing and by memorizing, because we do not have a script of our own. That’s why I think it is an endangered language.”
Sorsomi Degio is employed by the Indian government to teach school to the youngest children in the community. She says she teaches in Koro Aka and Hindi, but all of the texts for school are only available in Hindi and English. When I asked her and Bhokta if they wanted Koro Aka to have a writing system, they both said “yes!” simultaneously. Sorsomi said that illiteracy is a problem in the Koro Aka community, and Bhokta said that roughly 70% of Koro Aka are illiterate, but added that “nowadays people are giving much more emphasis on education.” Sorsomi said if she would love to be able to use written Koro Aka in her lessons.
This echoes Khandu’s feelings. He said that he hopes that many students will be able to study in the Koro Aka language, and hopes that the coming generation will have texts in Koro Aka.
When I asked Sorsomi what her favorite part of the Koro Aka language was, she smiled and said, “the songs.” Bhokta asked me if I’d like to hear a Koro Aka song, and Sorsomi cleared her throat and started to sing:
Sorsomi Degio singing at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Photo by Aaron Adams.
Bhokta explained: “The meaning of this song is, wherever there is a party, let’s go! We can meet each other from different part of the people. Let’s go together and enjoy. Let’s go!”
Koro Aka Spirit House Celebration at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Photo by Aaron Adams.
About the Author. Allison Taylor-Adams has bachelor’s degrees in Religious Studies and Russian Language and Literature from the University of Oklahoma, and has just received her master’s degree in Applied Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She blogs about languages, language learning, and linguistic diversity at Polyglossic. She also loves lace knitting and hiking in the woods, both of which are activities that can conveniently be accomplished while also talking and thinking about languages.
*Living Tongues Editor’s Note:
Thanks to Ms. Taylor-Adams for her wonderful guest blog post, and to Aaron Adams for the the photos!
The Koro Aka language has been a priority for linguists Dr. K. David Harrison and Dr. Gregory D. S. Anderson in part because, prior to their research, it was not acknowledged or listed in the scientific record as a distinct language, nor were any recordings available. Koro Aka remains a mystery in terms of its position within the Tibeto-Burman language family. Harrison and Anderson’s comparative work will help scientists understand where it fits and how it has evolved within the Eastern India Language Hotspot. Click here to learn more about the Koro Aka.