Making Indigenous languages accessible through technology

Cameron Lozinski (©UWinnipeg) 

tánisi, Cameron Lozinski nitisinihkáson ékwa nitóhcín Gimli. ninóhté-ininímon píhtaw niwáhkomákanak kí-pikiskwéwak óma ininímowin, nína mína nika-píkiskwán óma ininímowin kapé mína kapé. 
 
Hello, my name is Cameron Lozinski and I’m from Gimli. I want to speak Swampy Cree because my relatives spoke this language, I too will speak the language of the Cree forever and ever.

Cameron Lozinski has big plans for Indigenous language revitalization in Canada — and he’s going to start by developing an app that will make his ancestral language more accessible.

“People are on their phones reading English all day long. … An app would help preserve the language and help bring it up to 2018,” Lozinski said.

The 19-year-old UWinnipeg Indigenous Studies major became interested in the topic when he started teaching himself Swampy Cree — a dialect of Cree spoken largely in northern Manitoba — two years ago while he was in high school. His mother’s side of the family is Swampy Cree and his great-grandmother grew up speaking the language.

“I’m far from fluent; I know hundreds of words and phrases, but it’s more than I had when I was born,” said Lozinski said, who is from Gimli, Manitoba.

With no local speakers to rely on, he turned to books and the internet for guidance. Lozinski found a community of Cree learners in the Facebook group #CreeSimonSays, which focuses on teaching Swampy Cree, Woodlands Cree, and Plains Cree dialects.

As his vocabulary has grown, Lozinski has become passionate about sharing the language with others. In his last semester of high school, he started translating the cafeteria’s lunch specials into Swampy Cree each day to get his classmates interested.

During his time at UWinnipeg, he has continued to expand his abilities and has learned to write the language in Cree syllabics and the Roman alphabet. He has also become more determined to keep the Swampy Cree language, which currently has about 2,500 speakers, alive.

Right now he’s working on creating the first Swampy Cree language app to include modern terminology and a standardized spelling system.

“We can basically say everything we can in English; in Cree the word for computer, mámákowépinikan, is a descriptive which translates to ‘a thing you type with,'” he said.

Lozinski estimates an app would cost between $20,000 and $80,000 to develop. He has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money and plans to apply for funding grants to make his dream a reality.

“If I can invest $80,000 to save a language that has been spoken since time immemorial, I think it’s worth every penny,” he said, adding that the app would be free to use. “I don’t think there’s a lack of interest in learning the language, I think there’s a lack of accessibility.”

Follow this link to support the project and stay updated on its progress: gofundme.com/swampy-cree-language-app

Media Contact
Eva Wasney, E-communications Coordinator, UWinnipeg
P: 204.988.7129 E: e.wasney@uwinnipeg.ca

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