Monday, September 22, 2014
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UOIT professor wants to help First Nations languages live on

Allyson Eamer requesting federal funding to encourage convenient language lessons

Oshawa This Week

By Kristen Calis

DURHAM -- A UOIT professor has a plan in place to help First Nations languages stay alive.


“I have always thought it was terribly sad for a language to disappear,” said Dr. Allyson Eamer, a professor in the University of Ontario Institute of Technology’s faculty of education.

Dr. Eamer, who grew up next to a Mohawk reservation, explained languages become extinct over time as their speakers shift to using a language with greater political and economic power, such as English.

“It’s a response to colonialism and globalization,” said Dr. Eamer. “But colonialism is where it really started.”

She’s teamed up with Marilyn Shirt, dean of indigenous language at Blue Quills First Nations College in Alberta. They hope to obtain federal funding in order to put a plan into action, one that will offer certification courses for elders so they can teach their languages online through video conferencing.

“We’re just hoping for a small pilot project because she’s got the speakers and we’ve got the technology and video conferencing know-how and the pedagogy in the faculty of education,” she said.

Dr. Eamer finds elders are the most fluent in their languages, but don’t usually have teaching experience. Also, the distance that students might have to travel in order to learn from an elder could pose a problem.

“We’re working on ways to get elders technology training, some language pedagogy training and being able to reach across time and space and teach the language to people without people having to travel,” she said.

This is one of many ways that people are using technology to keep languages alive today.

“I think indigenous groups began to recognize that we are all using devices to accomplish our goals in various ways,” said Dr. Eamer. “We’re all walking around plugged into something.”

This signalled a shift in thinking so language learning could become portable.

“There are video games, cellphone apps, iPhone apps, dictionaries online,” said Dr. Eamer.

For example, one video game, RezWorld, only allows the user to advance once they speak with a character in the game using the Cherokee language.

Dr. Eamer will find out in 2015 if she too will help keep languages stay alive through technology.

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