Hi-Tech U.S. Military Tool Used for Native American Language Revitalization Efforts
Banning, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 02/1/2006 -- Several generations of American Indians from the 1930s to the 1970s were sent to U.S. Government boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their native languages. Native students of that era who spoke their language were severely punished.
"My mother was part of that boarding school era where Indian kids were made to be ashamed to be Indian," said Cherokee businessman, Don Thornton. Now Thornton uses U.S. Government technology to revitalize the native languages that were decimated during that era.
The revolutionary Phraselator P2, developed by defense contractor Voxtec International in the aftermath of 9/11, is a handheld unit that allows the user to instantly translate spoken English words and phrases into any Native language. "Phraselator holds tens or thousands of phrases, words and songs in one machine. You can hold your entire language in the palm of your hand," said Thornton. Since early 2005, dozens of Native speakers have begun recording their languages onto the hi-tech machines. Many are among the last speakers of their languages.
"After I played with it I cried. This will help save our language," said Jane Dumas, a Kumeyaay elder from Southern California.
Thornton Media, Inc. ( http://www.ndntv.com ) is the only language tool company in the world devoted to Native Languages. Recently they announced their move into the international market with the addition of six Canadian Reserves to their tribal client list of 30 tribes. A consortium of Blackfeet Tribes in Alberta purchased 28 Phraselator units for language revitalization. "This is a very interesting tool with tremendous potential. It has the ability to focus on our language and how precise it is," said Keith Weasel Head, from the Kainai Board of Education in Alberta, Canada.
In the launching of the product, TMI has provided on-site training to native language teachers and speakers in widespread areas of North America at minimal costs, often barely making a profit due to travel costs. They have traveled mainly to reservations in California, Oklahoma, Montana, North Carolina, Alaska and Canada to record with often the last native speakers of their languages.
During their journeys, many heart warming stories were told. "I have been waiting for such a tool all my life. Phraselator is what I need," said Terry Brokie, a Gros Vente language teacher in Montana. "It is a great tool that can give us our whole world in our hand," said Ken Tuffy Helpeson, a Nakota language teacher in Montana.
"It’s ironic," said Thornton, "that this tool, created by the US Government may help to save the languages that they attempted to wipe out for generations. With Phraselator tribes can now have full control over their languages without the help of outsiders. TMI don’t own a database of the recordings of any tribe. The only one I own was recorded by my grandma, Lucinda Robbins, a master speaker of Cherokee."
Don Thornton ( Cherokee ), a filmmaker in Southern California founded TMI in 1996 to create positive images of American Indians. Thornton is a former Indian journalist who also worked in social services for many years. He created and ran the cutting-edge American Indian Clubhouse in Los Angeles ( from 1996 - 99 ), an after-school program for Indian kids in LA, which the National Indian Review referred to as a "bright shining light in urban Indian Country." An interest in neuroscience and brain development led Thornton to adapt hi-tech language products to Native languages.
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