Iñupiaq on NPR

Iñupiaq was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered program yesterday in a story about how the software company Rosetta Stone has been working with elders to make Iñupiaq learning software. While the program didn’t really focus on the language itself, except to point out how Rosetta Stone software is flexible enough to handle a singular-dual-plural system, it’s nice to see software being developed for Alaska Native languages. I look forward to seeing the software when completed (if I get a chance, that is).

The story doesn’t mention which dialect or dialects are covered, but they interview native speaker Willy Goodwin in Kotzebue, so chances are it’s Malimiut Iñupiaq. At least in my experience, most (but not all) print and computer materials for Iñupiaq until now have been for the North Slope dialect, so it’s refreshing to see more materials for other dialects.

While I don’t think there’s any substitute for learning a language from other speakers – I guess what you’d call ‘the old-fashioned way’ – I think Rosetta Stone is doing a laudable thing by creating software for indigenous languages, using culturally appropriate content. The NPR program also points out that unlike its other language software, Rosetta Stone programs for indigenous languages give control of the software’s distribution to the indigenous people themselves. That means that the Iñupiat people, not the Rosetta Stone company, decide how this software will be used, and therefore make their own decisions about the transmission of culture.

Hats off to the Iñupiat elders, community members, and Rosetta Stone staff for their hard work!

(I noticed one minor terminology error in the NPR program: the Iñupiat people aren’t Native American, they’re Alaska Native. There are Native American peoples in Alaska (and they are also Alaska Native), but Eskimo-Aleut people aren’t usually called Native American.)

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