Small Number: Adventures in Languages 




6th International Conference on Language Documentation & Conservation

February 28 - March 2, 2019

Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

Betty Wilson and Veselin Jungic hosted a very well attended session entitled "Small Number: Adventures in languages". Below is the description of the presentation. This presentation addressed the main conference theme by giving an example of a project which strives to connect communities and languages through the use of technology.


The Math Catcher Outreach Program project includes  a series of animated films that introduce math topics through stories that follow Indigenous storytelling formats and contain elements of Indigenous traditions and cultures. The stories are set in various Indigenous communities, and yet Small Number, the clever, playful hero of the series remains the same.

The animations have English and Indigenous versions in nine languages: Blackfoot, Cree, Halq'em├łylem, Hul'q'umi'num', Heltsuk, Huu-ay-aht, Sliammon, Squamish, and Nisga'a. Some of these languages are endangered and an important, if initially originally unintended, contribution of the program has been to contribute to the digital recording of Indigenous languages.

On the program website, each video is accompanied with a bilingual transcript of the story.

In this presentation, we describe our collaboration with Indigenous language communities creating video narrations. We address the main challenges that our narrators have faced: to re-tell in their language a story created in English and built around a certain mathematical problem. Through a discussion of the creation of Tla'amin narrations of Small Number's adventures, we demonstrate that meeting this challenge brings together endangered language speakers communities, from old to young. For example, the creation of the Tla'amin narration of one of the Small Number stories was a joint project among a group of Tla'amin elders. The recording of the story included a group of elementary school students. As part of our discussion of the Tla'amin experience, we provide examples of situations in which not only the narrators' knowledge of the language but also their creativity was needed to communicate mathematical ideas and maintain the traditional spirit of the language.

By sharing with the audience some statistics collected through the Math Catcher website, we address how using animated films and the creation of digital online available resources are ways to make Indigenous languages easily accessible to communities, teachers and learners, as well as to the broader public.

The presentation is in English with occasional use of the Tla'amin language. A short animated film in the Sliammon language is shown.