Friday, 28 October 2011

Á is for Á,pel

September 30 saw the release of the new iPhone app for the SENĆOŦEN language. SENĆOŦEN (pronounced something like Sen-chaw-then) is the native Straits Salish language of the Wsáneć (Saanich) people who hail from the peninsula by the same name north of present-day Victoria.

The SENĆOŦEN app is a media-rich bilingual dictionary and phrase collection comprised of words and phrases archived at the online Aboriginal language database, aimed at revitalizing a language that currently teeters on the edge of extinction. Apple has also released similar apps for two other indigenous languages from BC, Halq'emeylem (a Sto:lo Salish dialect from the lower mainland) and Hlgaagilda Xaayda Kil (the Skidegate dialect of the Haida language).

Here's what it looks like:

 iPhone Screenshot 2

As an exiled native of Wsáneć territory, I remember clearly when the area's first Tribal School was built, which helped usher in a new era of cultural revitalization and emphasis on language instruction. Nevertheless, the latest numbers put the total number of first-language native speakers at 20, all of whom are elders.

Can digital technology serve as the anti-residential school system in helping breathe new life into long-suppressed languages? I really hope so, although the complex phonology of the Salishan and other west coast languages presents something of a barrier. At least SENĆOŦEN doesn't have quite the complexity of its fellow Straits Salish language Nuxálk (Bella Coola), which contains the following phrase consisting entirely of consonants: 

Xłpx̣ʷłtłpłłskʷc (literally: "He who had in his possession a bunchberry plant.")

I'm not sure when I'd have the occasion to use this phrase; I'm just glad I wouldn't have to say it in the Nuxálk language.

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