The first fruits from a five-year Alutiiq language revitalization project have been released to the public.
Native Village of Afognak (NVA), in partnership with the Native Village of Port Lions, is spearheading an effort to create different ways for people to learn the language.
An iPhone, iPad and Blackberry application, gFlash, currently has three sets of Alutiiq flash cards waiting to be not only read, but also heard.
“We launched three Alutiiq language sets,” said Melissa Borton, tribal administrator for NVA. “We’re going to add more photographs. It’s a really easy tool.”
The flash cards have an audio segment that allows users to listen to Elders pronounce the word with the English translation on the bottom.
“You can’t look at an Alutiiq word and try to sound it out. It’s not going to come out the way it’s written,” said Kari Sherod, NVA language program manager. “The letters don’t sound the same in the American alphabet.”
The northern dialect of the language from Afognak is the focus of the revitalization program.
“It’s not completely different than the language as a whole,” Borton said. “It’s really a big boost to the language island-wide.”
The goal of the program is to increase the number of learners on the island. There are about 32 fluent speakers of Alutiiq in the Kodiak Archipelago. The language is considered endangered.
The Alutiiq Museum has led efforts over the last six or seven years to increase learners, but this program hopes to take it to the next level.
“We need to be teaching the kids and giving a more concerted effort,” Borton said.
Using multimedia, written sources and audio programs will be a part of the effort. Having the flash cards on an app is just a way to tap into a specific user group.
“People are always on the go,” Sherod said. “Everyone has smart phones or computer access, so you can learn from anywhere. If you’re waiting for your kids to get out of school you have five minutes. If that’s all the time you have in the day, you can learn something. We realize that this is a multimedia society and we’re trying to meet those needs.”
The application can also be used within the Kodiak Island Borough School District as it adds more iPads to its teaching repertoire.
The program is still in its infancy. After the launch of the flash cards on the app comes setting up an advisory committee of Elders and teachers by the end of October.
After that, the next planned launch is a podcast. A website focusing on immersing the visitors in an all-Alutiiq experience is also in the works.
“We’re really focusing on multimedia because it’s easy to launch quickly,” Borton said.
The program aims to get teaching kits into schools starting with preschool and going through high school.
“By the end of the five years I want to see people speaking conversational Alutiiq,” Borton said.
Sherod, who grew up in Port Lions and whose father is from Afognak, said preserving and teaching the language is important for Kodiak.
“We have a very limited number of Elders who can speak Alutiiq, and that is our language, our culture, our identity,” Sherod said. “There was a period in our history where they weren’t allowed to speak it in public — now that’s different. It’s something we should be proud of. That’s who we are.”
Mirror writer Louis Garcia can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.