L to R: Vince Collison, Marianne Ignace, Costa Dedegikas

Research, First Nations, Linguistics

First Nations Language App Showcased at SSHRC’s Fall Forum, Imagining Canada’s Future

December 15, 2016

The team behind the development of new language apps aimed at documenting and revitalizing First Nations languages in B.C. recently returned from showcasing their work in Ottawa at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Fall Forum on Emerging Technologies, Imagining Canada’s Future.

Marianne Ignace (back to camera) and Kathryn Michel demonstrate an app for forum participants

The project, “First Nations Languages in BC: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” includes 23 community partners that represent 13 Indigenous languages in BC and Yukon working together with 22 academic co-investigators and collaborators. Project director Professor Marianne Ignace (Linguistics and First Nations Studies), travelled to Ottawa in November with a team that included community partners Vince Collison (Haida Gwaii) and Chief Ron Ignace (Skeetchestn/Secwepemc Nation), Dr. Kathryn Michel from Chief Atahm School, and Mr Costa Dedegikas from the project’s technology partner, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation New Media Lab. The team showed its app development work to invited participants that included SSHRC leadership and staff, representatives from the Department of Canadian Heritage and other government organizations, fellow researchers supported by SSHRC funding, and other participants.

From the Secwepemc Story App, Tlli7sa and his brothers

Of the more than a dozen language apps currently under development, the team showcased a Secwepemc Story App, Tlli7sa and his brothers, which portrays in text, audio and vibrant illustrations the epic journey of a group of transformers through Secwepemc territory, and then breaks down the story into its language components, place names, and  cultural and ecological lessons. In addition, the group showed both an early beginner’s app where learners are taught basic commands in a language through animated commands, and also the Haida app, which is based on 40 lessons in Xaad kil (Massett Dialect of Haida) that teaches learners to engage in simple conversation in the language.

From the Haida App

This project is supported by a $2.5 million SSHRC partnership grant (2013-2020). The four pillars of the grant involve 1) documentation of Indigenous languages with remaining fluent speakers, 2) supporting the successes and challenges of second language learners through projects and research, 3) developing “cool apps” for participating First Nations languages, and 4) creating safe, long term storage and retrieval systems for First Nations languages with the help of SFU Library Services.

L to R: Vince Collison, Kathryn Michel, Ron Ignace

The partnership grant team’s participation in the SSHRC technology forum was supported by travel funding from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences arranged by Associate Dean Dr. Lisa Shapiro, and by funding from Dr. Joy Johnson, SFU’s Vice President of Research.

Learn more about the project here.