March 21, 2012

Digitizing Alutiiq

Program seeks to recover Afognak's lost Alutiiq words

Kodiak village is starting to digitize video and audio recordings of elders.

By James Brooks
The Native village of Afognak is beginning a long-term project to digitize hundreds of hours of video and audio conversations with Alutiiq elders, converting them into a format accessible to modern researchers. Locked within the recordings may be Alutiiq language words lost to current speakers.

"We want to identify those lost words and bring them back," said Melissa Borton, tribal administrator of the village.

In 2003, a survey found only 45 fluent or semi-fluent Alutiiq speakers on the island. Intensive efforts to revive the language of Kodiak's Native inhabitants have taken place since, but it's not simply a matter of maintenance.

In 2007, April Counceller started the Kodiak Alutiiq New Words Council. Each month, Counceller and a group of elders meet to discuss ideas for Alutiiq words to translate modern items or concepts. In 2010, for example, the group translated "hovercraft" as tengauruasqaq, literally "kind of flier."

March 19, 2012

Cherokee pen pals

Immersion students share with pen pals in CherokeeThe Cherokee Nation recently started a new pen pal program with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina to encourage and promote stronger cultural interactions in the Cherokee language.

Immersion students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade from both tribes have been exchanging activities, cards and cultural items, all written in Cherokee. Recently, Cherokee Nation’s second-grade immersion students received a package from their pen pals containing materials they collected in the forest. Each student bagged up items including sticks, moss, lichens and rocks and labeled the bags with their Cherokee name.

“The kids are excited and they feel like they’re getting to know the other kids a little bit,” said Denise Chaudoin, Cherokee Nation Immersion School second-grade teacher. “It’s a really good program for the kids in both areas to get to know each other and realize we’re all Cherokees, whether we’re from the east or west.”

The Cherokee Nation Immersion School, Tsalagi Tsunadeloquasdi, began in 2001 as a language preservation program, which aims to educate children in a cultural environment while revitalizing and promoting the use of the Cherokee language. Students in preschool through sixth grade are immersed into an environment where Cherokee is the only language spoken.

Navajo language blog

Navajo Now: Learning and Perpetuating the Navajo Language

March 18, 2012

Pauma language preservation project

Language preservation helps American Indian students stick with college

By Marisa AghaEducators say that confronting cultural differences is one of the challenges facing American Indian students in higher education. CSU San Marcos, which counts about 40 tribes in its service area, has launched a new California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center aimed at strengthening relationships between the tribes and the campus. The center's ultimate goal is to boost the retention and graduation rates of American Indian students statewide.

Among the center's first efforts is a language preservation project with the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians in northern San Diego County, made possible by a $40,000 gift from the tribe. Through the project, staff members and students like Murphy have gone to the Pauma reservation to collect photographs and record the native language once predominantly spoken by tribal members.

Then they uploaded the photos and recordings onto cartridges as songs, images, prayers, quizzes and stories, and distributed the cartridges to families on the reservation for use on a Nintendo DSi. A picture of a big brown bear, for instance, appears with the Luiseño word for bear, "hunwut."

The project helps reinforce students' ties to their tribe and ignites academic and technological curiosity, said Joely Proudfit, the center's director and an associate professor at the university.
Below:  "Joely Proudfit, right, who teaches at CSU San Marcos, shows Cheryl Zohm, left, and Cathy Deveers how to use a language program on a Nintendo device during a Luiseño Language Preservation Project workshop at the tribal hall on the Pauma Indian Reservation in the Pauma Valley near Fallbrook." (Sandy Huffaker/Special to The Bee)

The benefits of bilingualism

Why Bilinguals Are Smarter

By Yudhijit BhattacharjeeSPEAKING two languages rather than just one has obvious practical benefits in an increasingly globalized world. But in recent years, scientists have begun to show that the advantages of bilingualism are even more fundamental than being able to converse with a wider range of people. Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

This view of bilingualism is remarkably different from the understanding of bilingualism through much of the 20th century. Researchers, educators and policy makers long considered a second language to be an interference, cognitively speaking, that hindered a child’s academic and intellectual development.

They were not wrong about the interference: there is ample evidence that in a bilingual’s brain both language systems are active even when he is using only one language, thus creating situations in which one system obstructs the other. But this interference, researchers are finding out, isn’t so much a handicap as a blessing in disguise. It forces the brain to resolve internal conflict, giving the mind a workout that strengthens its cognitive muscles.

Bilinguals, for instance, seem to be more adept than monolinguals at solving certain kinds of mental puzzles. In a 2004 study by the psychologists Ellen Bialystok and Michelle Martin-Rhee, bilingual and monolingual preschoolers were asked to sort blue circles and red squares presented on a computer screen into two digital bins—one marked with a blue square and the other marked with a red circle.

March 12, 2012

Ojibwe People's Dictionary

Homeroom: University of Minnesota helps create online Ojibwe People's Dictionary

By Mila KoumpilovaGerri Howard was loath to let a digital recorder capture her voice for a new kind of dictionary.

A fluent speaker of Ojibwe on Minnesota's Leech Lake Reservation, she didn't like how she sounded on playback. But the sense of urgency she and other Ojibwe speakers share about their endangered tongue prevailed.

With help from elders such as Howard, a University of Minnesota professor and students have created the first online talking dictionary of Ojibwe. The effort involved crisscrossing Minnesota and Wisconsin to record the voices of the dictionary and brainstorm entries for new-fangled concepts such as "Internet" and "school dance."
And:In tandem with the Minnesota Historical Society, the university lined up a roughly $375,000 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment grant for the project.

Going digital opened up many possibilities: Users can search definitions using both Ojibwe and English. The authors were eventually able to include 30,000 entries, compared to 7,000 in Nichols' "A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe." Most importantly, Childs said, "You click on a word, and you hear Ojibwe people actually speaking the language."

The dictionary also is a virtual museum of sorts, with photos, drawings and texts from the Historical Society collection complementing the entries. But the new format was also an adjustment.

March 09, 2012

Lakota Toddler app

Toddlers Can Learn Lakota With New AppLakota Toddler, a new free app available in the iTunes store, is an easy to use, fun way for toddlers to learn Lakota words.

The app has two options on the menu screen —learn and play. The learn option gives users a colorful flashcard with a picture of an object or number, the Lakota word and the English translation. When the screen is tapped, the word is spoken by Dollie Red Elk, reported the Rapid City Journal.

Currently the app has three categories—numbers, food and body—and it says new lessons are coming soon. App creators Isreal Shortman, Navajo, and Rusty Calder, owners of tinkR’ labs, are excited about expanding their latest app and creating new ones.

Their first app, Navajo Toddler, came out last year and started with the same three categories. It now includes animals, colors and phrases.