Revitalization Efforts for Aboriginal Languages
There are at least 65 Aboriginal ethnic groups in Canada and probably even more languages. The first language of most Aboriginals is either English or French, others speak an Aboriginal language in addition to an official language, and some have only a passive knowledge of their ancestral language. An estimated 80% of Canada’s Aboriginal languages might currently be close to extinction, and languages with fewer speakers might already be extinct. Efforts to save Aboriginal languages are crucial for the protection of the cultural identity and the dignity of Canada’s Aboriginal communities and in order to safeguard their heritage.
The Canadian Encyclopedia references Aboriginal languages stating that there is “a tendency found in a number of them toward great complexity of the word, particularly the verb. It was often found that the formal elements expressed in the familiar European languages by separate words or word endings were, in many Aboriginal languages, combined in chains of prefixes or suffixes surrounding basic roots.” This therefore poses a considerable linguistic challenge.
To help counter this linguistic erosion, the LTRC is working with experts in the language field, most notably with the NRC Interactive Information Group, which has created innovative Inuktitut processing tools.
The LTRC aspires to encourage other similar initiatives that will provide the necessary foundation for Canadian industry in Aboriginal languages.
Sample Company - Linguasoft
Ensuring not only the survival but also the revitalization of Aboriginal languages is a cause for concern among various stakeholders in the language field and on the international level.
The company Linguasoft designs technological projects specifically for Aboriginal cultures.
Its mission revolves around three main objectives:
- bringing human communities together;
- integrating native languages into computers;
- preserving cultures.
Overall, the company’s expertise covers current technologies on the Internet, information technologies and software.
Example of Immediate Need
In their daily lives, Aboriginal people must manage certain situations using structures adapted from the claims process. A good example of this is the Registry of Specific Claims Tribunal of Canada.
In order to process the claims while respecting the values and traditions of Aboriginal peoples, it was necessary to provide interpretation services that include the Aboriginal languages of the various stakeholders.
If some stakeholders take a more in-depth look at these issues, they will notice that technological resources that could support Aboriginal languages in various contexts of everyday life remain to be developed.
One project concentrating precisely on this is undoubtedly the WeBiNuk project (see Current Projects).
The LTRC promotes the development of strategic partnerships to provide new opportunities for collaborative research, technological development and commercialization. This is mainly to help Canada thrive in the knowledge economy and enable it to take full advantage of its linguistic duality.
In fact, the Government of Canada’s plan for linguistic duality is intended to support Francophones and Anglophones living as minority groups for the overall benefit of all Canadians. By ensuring community access to key services, the Canadian government seeks to promote its vitality and contribute to Canadian society.
Although English and French are the official languages in the majority of Canadian provinces, this is not the case for the northern territories of Canada.
Inuktitut is the main language in the circumpolar region stretching from Alaska to Greenland. It is also an official language in Nunavut (ᓄᓇᕗᑦ), along with French and English, since it is the mother tongue of 25% of the new Canadian territory’s population.
Unfortunately, like most Aboriginal languages, the survival of the Inuktitut language is threatened. Moreover, it is a difficult language to integrate into basic computer tools, such as spell checkers, grammar checkers, etc. because it is a polysynthetic, agglutinative language. This basically means that words are very long and consist of fragments of meaning that make them very difficult to integrate into technology.
In order to revitalize and protect the quality of the Inuit language, the Uqausiit project involves concerted efforts on the part of the NRC (IIT Group) and the LTRC. Their focus is on developing key tools that provide the foundation for an Inuit language industry and thereby bringing the language closer to achieving official language status. In fact, the Uqausiit project encompasses a set of tools that will make Inuktitut easier to both use and process. It includes a morphological analyzer, a linguistic database, a transcoder, an advanced search engine as well as a search feature within parallel corpora.
ᐃᓛᓂᓗ (Ilaanilu - Goodbye!)