Native language learns to talk tech

Language of Shuswap Nation has promising future thanks to modern technology

Catherine Litt / Kamloops Daily News
February 4, 2013 01:00 AM

Richard Billy speaks to reporters at the launch of a digital app that helps people learn the Secwepemc language.

It is a complex language thousands of years old, spoken mostly by elders and rarely heard outside traditional settings.

Secwepemctsín, the language of the SecwÉpemc (Shuswap) Nation, was once in danger of becoming a lost language.

And, while only about 150 SecwÉpemc people speak it fluently today, never before in its history has Secwepemctsín had a stronger footing or a more promising future - thanks to the efforts of a cultural education centre and the marvels of modern technology.

On Monday, teachers and elders of SecwÉpemc Cultural Education Society in Kamloops officially launched the SecwÉpemc Language application for iOS-based mobile devices.

"It's really exciting to see," said Mona Jules, a SecwÉpemc elder.

Jules is one of the few fluent speakers of Secwepemctsín in B.C. and one of a handful of people whose voices are heard on the new app.

She is also part of a multi-generational group determined to renew the language, which was nearly lost when residential schools prohibited aboriginal languages.

"To me, the importance of preserving our language, it's a part of our identity," said Julie Peters, a 25-year-old student from the Canim Lake Band.

"And I feel like, in order to know who we really are, we have to know part of our mother language."

Peters is learning Secwepemctsín in earnest after spending years off the reserve speaking only English.

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Listen to Richard Billy speak his language and give translations: