Using technology to support the survival of language and culture

Passamaquoddy Language Portal Orientation Video

This short video orientation explains how the portal works and how it can be a window into the world view of a language.

The Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Portal ( (2011) is a model online application that links a 19,000-word indigenous language dictionary with an archive of 100 subtitled videos of natural group conversation and activity. Audio archives and content-relating search functions enhance the contextualization of the data. The Ayöök Portal ( (2016) made major improvements in display and efficiencies. Several other portals are now in development.

The portal addresses a number of challenges facing researchers and communities by:

  • giving researchers, including ethnobiologists, anthropologists, geographers, historians, and plant scientists, as well as linguists, access to dictionary-linked video recordings of activity and language and a platform for collaboration that contextualizes deep understanding of the knowledge and world view contained in the oral culture

  • presenting a new language resource for use in the community—part encyclopedia of the culture, part learning platform for language and cultural education

  • reconnecting the home community to younger community members living in distant diaspora localities giving them the opportunity to hear the language, see family, and remain emotionally close to their homes and life ways.

  • integrating easily with social media, offering to younger community members a contemporary way to participate in and share cultural and linguistic information that reinforces intergenerational identity and makes the language more visible, also contributing to language revival.


A History of Innovation

Since portable video equipment became available in the late 1960s Ben Levine and collaborators have been adapting the technology to respond to community and institutional needs. Early work with community feedback addressed public health, racial and disabled discrimination issues, moving them into public awareness by adapting video to the then new technology of cable television. Later, video was adapted to microwave networks for education and rural delivery of health services. Video feedback became part of documentary production resulting in high impact documentaries.

Robert Leavitt and David Francis’s Passamaquoddy-Maliseet dictionary was one of the first online indigenous language dictionaries. It paved the way for the online Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language Portal. We’ve adapted technology and work flow to make it possible for isolated rural communities to document and archive their own languages and cultures. And work on the Portal is diversifying to address challenges in access and archiving of linguistic and cultural data, such as the challenge of integrating long term, economical archives into the portal and the production work flow.

Access to the deep contextualization of world view available through the portals can concretely demonstrate the value of indigenous knowledge and thought, to both aid interdisciplinary research and become a bridge for understanding and mutual support.