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New, free phone app teaches Tlingit language

The program is available for iPhone and Android

Posted: September 18, 2013 - 12:07am

A Southeast Alaska man recently released an app for iPhone and Android that teaches the basics of the southern Tlingit dialect, and plans to eventually create a series of educational apps that will cover all Southeast Alaska Native languages.

Professional app developer Simon Roberts, a Tlingit and Haida man who lives on Prince of Wales Island, created the language app because he wants to increase the number of its fluent speakers from single digits. Two of the only remaining fluent speakers of southern Tlingit are Roberts’ grandmother and aunt, he said.

The idea was sparked more than a year ago when Roberts stumbled across a Haida language app, but nothing for Tlingit.

“Feeling a little discouraged by this, I started thinking about what I could do to get the Tlingit language out there,” he said.

Roberts hopes the app will help Native people learn words they can use in traditional ceremonies and potlatches.

He’s been working with his grandma, Alicia Roberts, and University of Alaska Southeast Native languages professor Lance Twitchell, among others, on developing and recording the app. Alicia Roberts herself voiced the sound clips that teach users how to pronounce a slew of elementary words, like 'mom,' 'dad,' 'hot' and 'cold,' in the language.

The app, called “Southern Tlingit 1,” is available for free download in the iPhone and Android app stores. The app is sponsored by Juneau company Fluetsch Financial Services, LLC.

Roberts said that he plans to make an app for every Southeast Native language, but is right now focused on releasing the two follow-ups to the basic southern Tlingit app. The next two apps will increase in difficulty for the learner, he said. The second southern Tlingit app will be released at the end of September; the third by the middle or end of October, he said.

Roberts himself is learning the language as he develops these tools, he said.

“I try to use more and more household words,” Roberts said. “As it becomes more advanced, I’m hoping to become more advanced myself.”

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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