21st Century Tools for Indigenous Languages

A language plays a central role in the identity of community, and language is one of the key channels through which a community's culture, traditions and values are maintained. At present, the continued use of Indigenous languages in Canada and worldwide is under tremendous pressure from the majority languages and cultures.

In the modern, computerized world, technology plays an increasingly central role in how and where we use language, in the form of a plethora of tools – e.g. electronic dictionaries, spell-checkers, computer-assisted language learning applications and text-to-speech synthesizers – that assist us in writing, reading and understanding texts, on our laptops, smartphones or tablets. While such tools are in widespread use for all major languages, they are almost entirely lacking for the many thousands of smaller, Indigenous languages around the world. Nevertheless, collaborative projects have produced high-quality language tools for some minority languages such as the Sámi of Scandinavia, helping maintain and revitalize the language within their home communities.

The goal of this international research cluster is to accelerate the development of such  tools for North American indigenous languages, in order to support their revitalization and continued use in all spheres of life – not just in day-to-day communication, but also in administration, business, and education, by both their native speakers and language learners. We aim to accomplish this goal by bringing together those with the essential linguistic knowledge (Indigenous communities and field linguists) and those who have the necessary technical skills (computer programmers and computational linguists) in order to create such language technological tools.

Learn more about this project in the Work of Arts blog at http://www.woablog.com/2015/04/modern-tools-for-indigenous-languages/


Antti Arppe

2015 Cluster Grant

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