Speak Cayuga: The making of SNP’s language saving app

SIX NATIONS — Technology changes fast. Fifteen years ago there was no Facebook, no such thing as a Smartphone, no YouTube and there were definitely no mobile phone apps that could help reteach the world a dying language. Today there is.

A screenshot taken within the app itself. You can see some of the options available to users like, hearing the correct pronunciation, recording your own verse and hearing your own voice played back to you.
A screenshot taken within the app itself. You can see some of the options available to users like, hearing the correct pronunciation, recording your own verse and hearing your own voice played back to you.

A team from Six Nations Polytechnic (SNP) understands how the world is changing when it comes to technology and has developed an app that can help users learn to speak Cayuga.

“The idea was to start with the basics, the things that people could start using immediately,” said Sara General, project co-ordinator. “There are also some longer dialogues for people to copy, for those who want to start being able to have short exchanges in Cayuga.”

General was responsible for the overall co-ordination of the project, but had a lot of help

from many other people, including Kehte and Tracy Deer, who helped compile the language

components of the app. There are 500 words and phrases on the Cayuga app and those were

recorded by Joanne Longboat, Kehte Deer, Tracy Deer, Tom Deer and Alfred Keye. The team also had help with the photographs by lots of community members who were kind enough to come and pose for pictures. The app was coded and put together by Thornton Media, Inc., the only hi-tech language tool company in the world devoted to indigenous languages.

The app helps users with pronunciation too.

“There is a section on the app that covers the basic sounds the various letters (particularly the vowels) make in the Cayuga language,” said General. “Users can also make a short recording of themselves saying the words or phrases and compare it to the way the speakers say them.”

She first heard about the idea from Tom Deer nearly three years ago. He had attended an

education conference in the United States and saw the work that Thornton Media was doing

and thought it would be a great project to do for the Cayuga language. Although it was a good idea, they didn’t have the resources to make it at the time. Fortunately, this year they were able to move forward,

“It was a lot of work that had to be completed very quickly — we contracted Thornton Media in January of 2016, developed the word list and scheduled the recording and photography for the first week of March. The iOS version of the app was completed and made available for download March 29, 2016 — just in time for our language conference,” said General.

The app was made to share the language with people in the community and get them excited about learning Cayuga, one of the ancestral languages here at Six Nations. It also gives a chance to create a tool that people can take with them anywhere, to learn on their own and share with their kids.

“We also thought it would be a great tool for learners who are just starting out, as well as a support to students in the new degree program,” said General.

Since the app’s release, General said “we’ve had a lot of positive feedback, which is great! We saw a lot of encouraging comments through social media and we’ve heard through our friends and families that people are downloading and using it. We’ve also heard that some of our older speakers enjoy the app as well, which for us, is so awesome. What people seem to like is the combination of sound, visual and writing — and the games! It’s also nice to see familiar faces in some of the pictures as well.”

The team is extremely proud of the final product and is grateful for everyone who helped the app become a reality.

“We’re extremely proud of the development team. It took a lot of preparation beforehand, a lot of

work the week of and then Thornton Media pulled it all together. The hardest part of the whole

process was deciding what language to include in the app but in the end we think we did a good

job,” said General.

The app is only available on the Apple App store right now and the Android version is currently in the works and should be available in a few months.

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