A Dying Language Finds Hope on the Internet

al-Jazeera did a story just a few days ago about a group of Native Americans, the Ktunaxa (pronounced toon-ah-ha), whose ancient language may be in danger of extinction.

The Ktunaxa believe that if their language, a vital part of the makeup of their culture and traditions, fell into disuse, it would be a great loss. By storing hundreds of hours of conversation and language materials on the Internet, they seem to be making the most of new technology in their struggle to preserve their language.

The Internet is making tapes of conversations and only useful cultural materials available to many people who might be interested in studying the Ktunaxa language. Before the Internet, only one person at a time could listen to recordings, and they had to be in the Ktunaxa language facility. No longer is this the case; through the Internet, the language is and will (for as long as the Ktunaxa desire) be available to curious minds far and wide. Its a great way to let the rest of the world know what their culture is all about.

The language learning programs also take advantage of the latest in digital learning technology, using video games to help teach people Ktunaxa. This is a great way to reach out to the younger generation, who will be the future torchbearers of Ktunaxa language and culture. In Now You See it, Cathy Davidson writes of how education in this day and age needs to be revamped to take advantage of the youth’s affinity for and proficiency with technology; the Ktunaxa have done exactly that. Jane McGonical would also agree that video games are a powerful way to train and educate, and that they will only get more effective in the future.

The story of the Ktunaxa people and their quest to keep their language alive is a story of people using technology in a new, innovative way that may not have been anticipated when the Internet was created. It is a prime example of the social shaping of technology. As one elder says in the video, “The Ktunaxa have always made use of new technologies that became available.” This tactic served them well enough so far, helping them live through many a harsh winter in the American Northwest. Hopefully, technology will continue to be a blessing to the Ktunaxa and provide their language with the boost it needs to stay alive.

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