October 09, 2007

70 tribes use Phraselator

The Phraselator II

How a high-tech military device is helping to preserve the tribal languages of American Indians.Throughout Indian Country, hundreds of younger tribal citizens like Brockie are diligently working with their elders to preserve and teach the unique and complex linguistic traditions of their tribes. There are currently more than 70 tribes using the Phraselator as a language preservation tool.

Indian linguists say the gadget has gained popularity at a critical time, since most tribes have very few living members who know their native tongue. It is increasingly rare to find young Indians who communicate with their elders in the tribal language.
Why tribes like it:The Phraselator itself looks like a cross between a BlackBerry and a walkie-talkie. It can record and translate both audio and video files, and it stores language via a flash memory card. A one-gigabyte card will hold up to 85,000 phrases or words, which can then be transferred to other computers.

“There’s a huge trend in Indian Country to revive the languages,” Thornton says. “I think the feature of the Phraselator that really attracts tribes is that they can do it all themselves—and they retain all copyright of their materials. They don’t have to depend on outsiders.”

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