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Alaska Beat

Could texting save indigenous languages?

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published June 29, 2011

The Miami Herald reports that young people around the globe who can speak in dialects that are on the decline -- like Huilliche in Chile and regional dialects like Kapampangan in the Phillipines -- are using technology in unique ways to share the language with one another, sparking interest among the traditionally hard-to-reach youth speakers of endangered languages. Technology like text messaging allows speakers of endangered dialects to communicate with one another in brief and simple ways with those rare languages. In the article, Dr. Gregory D.S. Anderson, the director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Salem, Ore., said that youth need to hear the language being used not just from their elders, but from kids their own age in order to embrace it. "If the language isn't being used by their peer group, then they reject it categorically," he said. With an growing network of cell phone and internet coverage around rural Alaska, there may be implications for the phenomenon to take hold in the state as well. A variety of languages around Alaska are spoken by 1,000 or fewer individuals, and organizations like the UAF Alaska Native Language Center are working to preserve or document the languages while they still can. Some, like the Eyak language as of 2008, have no remaining native speakers.

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