Thursday, July 24, 2014
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The beauty of language

By Kerry Benjoe, Leader-Post

REGINA — There is beauty in language, language lovers say.

The First Nations University of Canada hosted a Visual Language Conference last week to coincide with a new art exhibit called Endangered Alphabets.

Tim Brooks, creator of the exhibit, said the idea for the 14-piece collection grew out of an interest in endangered languages from around the world.

“I came across a website that has all of the world’s writing systems and I was blown away,” he said. “First of all, I’d never heard of most of them and I’m a well-travelled guy. Second thing was, to look at, they were just visually extraordinary. Some of them were so beautiful and some of them were so strange.”

As he learned more about the languages, he became more interested in the role language plays in culture. He said if a culture uses a writing system for centuries and then stops using it, that can be devastating.

“They lose their history, they lose who they are, who they have been and where they come from,” said Brooks. “I never heard of this as an issue before. So I thought I would carve some of these (alphabets) as a means of maybe preserving them and drawing attention to them.”

He believes the best place to draw attention to endangered languages is at places like FNUniv.

Olga Lovick, FNUniv associate professor of linguistics and Dene language studies, is equally passionate about preserving languages, especially First Nation languages.

Originally from Germany, she developed an interest in linguistics at an early age, which eventually led her to FNUniv.

At Thursday’s conference she shared information on a project she worked on in Alaska that incorporated a variety of mediums, including text, audio, animation, video and photographs.

“To give a visual picture of language because it is something primarily we perceive by the ears,” said Lovick about her presentation.

Although she has knowledge of 16 languages, her current focus is on the Dene language.

She hopes the conference will help spark an interest in languages by others.

“I think there is really much value in these languages because it’s not only because of their connection to the culture,” said Lovick. “But it’s also because they are just beautiful — they sound wonderful.”

Although Brooks and Lovick are not aboriginal they are passionate about language, and that’s just fine with FNUniv Cree-lab instructor Shannon McNabb.

“The languages are endangered,” she said. “I appreciate all the help we can get (to preserve them).”

The Endangered Alphabets exhibit is at the FNUniv art gallery until Feb. 22.

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