February 28, 2012

Shoshone databases, iPads, and software

As elders pass, Wind River Indian Reservation teachers turn to technology to preserve Shoshone language

By Tetona DunlapWhen Teran started the phonetic and audio dictionary project 10 years ago, she said she felt a sense of urgency because there were only a few Shoshone elders who were fluent speakers. Today, Teran estimates that number is even smaller as elders pass away. And for her, that sense of urgency has amplified.

“We’re real poor on elders but our language is really rich and beautiful,” Teran shared. “Time is of the essence.”

In January 2012, Guina passed away, decreasing the number of fluent speakers even more.

“When Manfred passed away my heart just went down,” Teran said. “I thought ‘Geez, that’s one less person.”

In the meantime, she is working to revitalize the language through books rather than audio recordings.

In Oct. 2011, Teran received a grant from the Wyoming Historical Society to write a children’s book called “Elka,” which is a family story about a baby elk Teran’s brothers caught and raised. The book will contain Shoshone words that are translated into English and listed in a glossary. She also received a donation from a family foundation in California of $400 to buy software that will allow her to create a font for the Shoshone language since writing words phonetically can be very long.

And though it may seem that Teran’s idea of capturing the language digitally has stopped for now; the conversation started by Teran and others is being picked up once again — this time with the use of technology such as iPads and computer software.

“The whole idea of using technology is to incorporate language and culture. It’s a very effective tool for me because of student engagement,” said middle and high school Shoshone language teacher Lynette St. Clair. She often has her students utilize laptops and programs like PowerPoint to aid students in speaking Shoshone.
Below:  "Lynette St. Clair watches her students Selena Jarvis, D'Etta Durgin, and Sierra Ferris, left to right, using the Shoshone language iPad application she developed." (Brad Christensen/WyoFile)

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