News / Victoria

App helps Aboriginal youths preserve Tlicho language

Anyone who wants to brush up on their Tlicho language can now carry an Aboriginal elder with them in their back pocket, thanks to a new smart phone app.

University of Victoria associate professor of linguistics Leslie Saxon partnered up with the Tlicho Community Services Agency to launch the free Yati Dictionary App for the Tlicho language, one of the Dene languages of the Northwest Territories, just this month.

Much of the 7,000 Aboriginal languages across the world are now becoming endangered as they’re passed orally from generation to generation. While Tlicho is considered a fairly strong language – with about 2,000 to 3,000 fluent speakers – Saxon says an app like this would help maintain the language by giving beginners easier access to the language and helping speakers perfect their pronunciation.

“It’s like a more interactive thing that young people or anybody who had an iPad, iPhone or iPod could use to keep somebody speaking their language in their back pocket so to speak,” she said.

The interactive app acts like an audio reference tool – with over 1,300 words, photos and professional studio recordings of elders and others speaking the language.

Saxon says this is one of many ways the Tlicho community is reaching out in hopes of preserving their language. There are many factors that contribute to the endangerment of a language, according to Saxon.

“It’s a complicated situation. I’m sure the effect of residential schools, the prejudice that has existed against indigenous people in Canada and other places all contribute,” she said. “There are just a lot of factors.”