Revitalizing Indigenous languages through mobile apps and human connections

News release

NRC Indigenous Languages Technology Project collaborators and advisory board members gather in Paris at the UNESCO Language Technologies for All event, marking the achievements made during International Year of Indigenous Languages. Left to right: Delaney Lothian (Cree, University of Alberta, NRC advisory committee); Heather Souter (Michif/Métis, Prairies to Woodlands Indigenous Language Revitalization Circle, University of Manitoba, NRC Advisory Committee); Aidan Pine (Research officer, NRC); Nathan Thanyehténhas Brinklow (Mohawk, Queen’s University, NRC advisory committee).

The National Research Council of Canada and Indigenous experts celebrate software for verb conjugation, predictive text, and other technologies developed together

December 12, 2019 – Ottawa, Ontario

In participation and consultation with Indigenous language experts, instructors, and communities, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) is working on speech- and text-based technologies to assist the stabilization, revitalization and reclamation of Indigenous languages. Technologies developed as part of the NRC’s national Indigenous Languages Technology Project aim to support Indigenous language educators and students, as well as Indigenous language translators, transcribers and other language professionals.

As the International Year of Indigenous Languages draws to a close, the NRC and its collaborators would like to recognize key accomplishments made together.

Recent highlights include releasing WordWeaver, an open source code and graphical user interface to create online verb conjugation tools for Iroquoian languages. WordWeaver was used to build a verb conjugator for Ohswé:ken, the western dialect of Mohawk, working with the Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa immersion school. The NRC is now collaborating with language experts on a version for the Kahnawà:ke (eastern) dialect.

The team also delivered a predictive text software for SENĆOŦEN, released as part of Keyman 12. Now people typing in SENĆOŦEN can benefit from the speed and ease of having predictive text at their fingertips when typing on mobile devices. The aim is to help engage young people in learning Indigenous languages and increase language use in everyday contexts.

Other collaborative projects include enabling keyword search of audio recordings in Inuktitut, Cree, and other Indigenous languages with the Computer Research Institute of Montreal, the Pirurvik Centre, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation; welcoming visiting scholar Dr. Marie-Odile Junker to work on web-based Algonquian dictionaries and atlases; developing technologies for Inuktut language learners and professionals that reinforce Inuktut’s status as an official language; and contributing to online language course creation for Kwak’wala, Michif, Mi’kmaw, and Naskapi.

Though the International Year of Indigenous Languages is drawing to a close, language revitalization remains more important than ever, with new projects launched in summer and fall 2019. Behind each app and technology is a dedicated, hardworking team that puts human connections and collaboration at the forefront of Indigenous language revitalization.

Quotes

"As the chair of the advisory committee to the Indigenous Languages Technology Project, I have witnessed the relationships and trust built between our committee and the National Research Council of Canada team through often intense but open dialogue and negotiation of approaches and processes. This willingness to really listen and respond in a thoughtful manner to the expressed needs and desires of Indigenous communities bodes well for future collaborations on language technology and the continued building of capacity in Indigenous communities."

Heather Souter, Chair of the Advisory Committee, Indigenous Languages Technology Project

“The National Research Council of Canada is pleased to recognize the work carried out by our researchers and collaborators as part of the Indigenous Languages Technology Project. We celebrate the positive impacts the project is having for speakers and learners of Indigenous languages in Canada and look forward to the team’s continued accomplishments in the future.”

Carolyn Watters, Chief Digital Research Officer, National Research Council of Canada

"For over 20 years, the Keyman project has been providing Indigenous language keyboards for hundreds of language communities. Working with the National Research Council of Canada to add predictive text to Keyman 12 has opened up a wonderful new way of keeping Indigenous languages in daily use, offering text suggestions when typing messages, status updates and stories on mobile phones. The linguistic and technical expertise of the NRC and its collaborators has been pivotal and we look forward to continued work together."

Marc Durdin, Keyman Project Lead, SIL International

"The Indigenous Languages Technology Project has been instrumental in bringing together Indigenous experts, researchers and the Computer Research Institute of Montreal’s specialists to focus on speech technologies relevant to their common needs and interests. Participants are benefitting from new spoken and written resources that are also enabling us to accelerate transcription and analysis. This collaborative work reaffirms CRIM’s long-term engagement in research with societal impact."

Gilles Boulianne, Researcher, Speech and Text Team, Computer Research Institute of Montreal

“We are grateful to the National Research Council of Canada and Carleton University for their support of deep-rooted, collaborative language projects with well-established partnerships that help increase resources and technologies that serve the needs of speakers and learners.”

Marie-Odile Junker and the Algonquian Dictionaries and Linguistic Atlas Project Team

Quick facts

  • Funded through Budget 2017, the National Research Council of Canada’s Indigenous Languages Technology Project collaborates closely with Indigenous experts on technologies that contribute to language revitalization.

  • 6 projects were launched in 2018-2019 between the National Research Council of Canada and 10 collaborating organizations ranging from Indigenous communities, schools, language experts, governments, universities, and language service providers. A second set of projects was also launched in summer and fall 2019. For additional project information, please see attached backgrounder.

  • Technologies are developed to serve an immediate need and can then be extended to other languages with similar needs. The team is working on technologies for more than 10 Indigenous languages across Canada:

    • Maritimes: Mi'kmaw
    • East: languages of the Cree family, Mohawk (several dialects), Wendat
    • Central: languages of the Cree family, Michif
    • West: Tsuut'ina, SENĆOŦEN, Kwakʼwala, Tŝilhqot'in
    • North: Inuktitut
  • An all-Indigenous advisory committee provides guidance and direction on selecting and implementing projects.

  • Research within this project is performed in accordance with the Tri-Council Research Ethics Policy.

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National Research Council of Canada
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