Quietly, the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet-speaking people of Eastern Maine and New Brunswick have been making history, taking their language and lifeways to far-flung community members, linguists, and scholars around the world on line via a groundbreaking web application developed in collaboration with Speaking Place of Rockland and Northeast Historic Film of Bucksport. That application, called an Endangered Language Portal, or, in this case Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language Portal, links the 19,000-word Passamaquoddy on-line dictionary with over one hundred videos produced by documentarians Ben Levine and Julia Schulz of Speaking Place.
A significant enhancement, announced this week by Donald Soctomah, Passamaquoddy Tribal Historian, is the accessibility of an audio archive, recorded and uploaded to the Portal by community members, on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. As Soctomah put it, “Now people on the go can access the Passamaquoddy Language Portal site, especially the young Passamaquoddy members who are learning tribal language.”
The audio files were created in the two communities of Sipayik and Motahkomikuk (Maine), under Soctomah’s leadership, with funding from the ANA (Administration for Native Americans), in a process that united older fluent speakers with younger tech-savvy digital recording assistants, in one of the first cases of technology enabling Native people to document their own language on line. This process helped bridge a heritage language gap between generations, energizing both young and old around the richness of the Passamaquoddy language and efforts to both document it and increase the use of the language among all community members, according to Margaret Apt, Passamaquoddy speaker and a leader of the language recording project. The Portal project was led by Levine and educator/linguist Robert Leavitt, with web developers from the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton and funding from the National Science Foundation program for Documenting Endangered Languages. A complete list of credits for the Portal is available on the site (PMPortal.org).
The connectivity with mobile devices now adds the dynamic of social media to the mix, making it more likely that this endangered language will survive in a new generation of younger people who were not taught to speak but who want to learn.
The Portal was recently introduced by Schulz and Levine at the European Conference on Endangered Languages in Minde, Portugal, where representatives of European endangered languages saw and heard Passamaquoddy people harvesting fiddleheads, telling hunting stories, trapping, and participating in many other activities, expressing in their language their unique world view. Readers can visit the Portal at PMPortal.org or see a demonstration at http://vimeo.com/78820886.
Contact: Ben Levine, Director
[ Photo credits: Daniel Quintanilla]
Caption #1: A screen grab from PMPortal.org
Caption #2: George Neptune uses the Portal to learn Passamaquoddy, his heritage language