FirstVoices: The App That Allows Indigenous Peoples To Express Themselves Online

Australian Aboriginal Girl: Utopia homelands, Central Deserts, Australia

A new initiative developed by Canada's First Peoples' Cultural Council is making it easier for indigenous peoples to find their voice in the digital world.

Author Marisa Pettit, 11.30.16

A new initiative developed by Canada’s First Peoples’ Cultural Council is making it easier for indigenous peoples to find their voice in the digital world.

According to statistics from the Second National Indigenous Language Survey, in Australia today there are currently around 120 Indigenous languages still spoken – that’s a drop from 145 back in 2005 (that, in turn, a drop from the estimated 250 languages that were found on the continent at the time it was colonised). Australia’s native languages are disappearing at an alarming rate.

And it’s the same story in the rest of the world: whether it’s due to assimilation policies, the fact that many speakers are ageing and passing on, or the way that rural-to-urban migration means that speakers of indigenous languages end up isolated from their communities and traditions, high numbers of indigenous languages are facing extinction, from Canada to Central America.

Transmitting Tradition With The FirstVoices Keyboard App

While governments have taken steps to provide support to indigenous language learners and speakers and try to reverse the trend, even in countries with a lot of linguistic diversity, there is usually very little space given for the recognition of First Nation languages. And the same goes for the online world too. But now there’s an indigenous language app available to download (for free) to your Android phone, iPhone or iPad, a simple keyboard application that allows users to type and send messages in their mother tongue, and thus return to the everyday use of their traditional languages whilst sending emails and using social media.

More than just a way to express meaning, language is also an important expression of identity too, a way of revitalizing and developing tradition, and transmitting histories, beliefs, philosophies and values, from generation to generation. This app is actually just the latest step in a long-running and comprehensive web based project, also called FirstVoices, that aims to support Aboriginal education by teaching and archiving indigenous language and culture. Set up back in 2003, the website features language learning games, lessons and a huge online language archive including text and audio entries.

The FirstVoices Keyboard App has software for over 100 different languages, including all First Nations languages from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as several from the US. You can download the app on Android and iOS.

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