Two Endangered Language Portals Open New Paths for Research, Community Education, and Language Revival

The Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Portal was launched in 2012 with an existing 19,000-word online dictionary co-authored by Robert M. Leavitt and David A. Francis and approximately 100 short video clips of NGC (natural group conversation/activity) recorded by Ben Levine and Julia Schulz with Margaret Apt as primary facilitator/trainer.

From the outset, the Portal marked a significant new development in a community whose language had become invisible as a result of official government assimilation attempts, racism and violence against this Native community, in combination with other factors. The number of speakers had sharply declined. Yet when fluent comprehender[BL1]  trainees began audio recording elders for word and sentence examples for posting on the Portal, they found their own language skills waking up. They enthusiastically posted news that “Uhkomi is on the Internet!” on social media; suddenly expanding networks of family and tribal members were becoming aware of the language and of the Portal as a social, educational, and linguistic resource.

This experience was the beginning of Community Self-Documentation[BL2] , based on the knowledge that the community can be a full partner in documenting its language and culture. The Ayöök (Mixe) Portal launched late in 2015 now has 40 longer form, edited videos of NGC, most of which were recorded by the community video team trained by Speaking Place[BL3] . The Portals are being used in their communities for language learning and language revival[BL4]  programs as well as by linguists, historians, ethnobiologists, plant scientists, anthropologists, teachers, and the general public.

Most important, the large number of people living away and separated from their home community for economic reasons now have a direct community cultural link keeping them connected to their languages as well as motivating a stronger sense of evolving shared identity.