Friday, January 7, 2011


Some mostly exciting news from a couple of weeks ago. has leapt into the iTunes App game with two new language apps designed to help preserve and teach two Canadian Indigenous languages: SENĆOŦEN & Halq'eméylem. 
SENĆOŦEN is the language of the W̱SÁNEĆ people on Vancouver Island.  Their anglicised name is the Saanich people, and they are a Salish peoples.  I have not yet had the opportunity to download and check out their language app but I am excited about it.
The other app, the Halq'eméylem app is more exciting to me as it is the traditional language of my people, the Stó:lō who live along the Fraser River in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia.  This is the language of my Grandfather.  He spoke it fluently.  He would speak it with his mother but would switch to english whenever my Mom would come into the room.  He wouldn’t teach her the language because she would get hurt if she spoke it.  Halq'eméylem contains words that I recognize because I have heard them before.  When I introduced myself here initially, I used one of the few words I know.  Ey Sweyel is essentially hello.  Like I said, I know bits and pieces.
I was disappointed when I downloaded and installed the app on my ipod.  It contains Halq'eméylem words, their english equivalent and the category they belong to (ie. Human relations, family, greetings, etc) and include, wonderfully, the voice of someone pronouncing the words for us.  I think I know the Elder they used and if it is her, I am happy to hear her voice again.  There are a lot of words in the program.  It is all alphabetized but it is alphabetized in Halq'eméylem, so it isn’t easy to find the english word you want to learn in Halq'eméylem.  As well, it contains a heck of a lot of phrases and their english translation, again with an audio voice pronouncing the words for you.
Having said that, I am still excited.  It is a good start.  It is something being done to both preserve and protect our language.  Yes, I wonder if I have the right to say ``our language`` when I cannot speak it myself.  The fact that it is in trouble and risking extinction because of the rape that is colonialism, I believe allows me the right.  I don’t know the language, not because I chose not to learn it; I don’t know it because my Grandpa was taught to not pass it on, in order to protect his children and grandchildren.  I can’t rage at my Mom or my Grandpa because they wouldn’t teach me the language or culture.  My Grandpa made a choice not to teach it to protect us from harm.  That is an honourable thing to do, even as it did move the language towards extinction.  I do not believe that I can ever forgive the Canadian government for forcing him to make that choice.
So, the app isn`t brilliant but it is something that is thrilling nonetheless.  My Band`s last somewhat fluent speaker of the language passed away last year as did two of the remaining fluent speakers in the Stó:lō territories (at least that is my understanding, I am hoping that I am wrong).  I suspect that the dialects of the various Bands in the various parts of the Stó:lō regions are dying out.  I know my Band had its own dialect, ways of pronouncing that is different from the Chilliwack Bands.  These variations may already be lost, but this embracement of technology offers hope that the main language is not lost.  The local dialects will redevelop as the language grows and evolves again. 
So, a huge shout out to First Voices!  I look forward to the next evolution of this app, but I am enjoying hearing the words while I wait.
You can find the full press release here and you can get a hold of the apps at itunes:  SENĆOŦEN
Check out First Voices to see and hear multiple Indigenous languages from Canada's First Nations as the work to preserve them and teach them is carried out.

One final note.  My title "ch'íthométsel" is a  Halq'eméylem word.  It is not contained in the App, but that is okay.  If you go here, you can here my Auntie, Elizabeth Herrling, pronounce it.  She passed away last year and it is extraordinary to hear her voice again.  Ch'íthométsel means "I thank you."

1 comment: