A click of a computer mouse this morning will get you access to 55 audio samples of Indigenous languages spoken around the world, including one from Vancouver Island.
To mark the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and its 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, Google Earth Voyager is providing samples of Indigenous languages from 27 countries, including Australia, Ecuador, Finland and Canada.
University of Victoria professor Brian Thom, who assisted in the project, said users will find Google Earth maps marked with pictures of little pins. Click on the pins and audio samples of the Indigenous languages will be played. “There will be people speaking their Indigenous languages and sharing wisdom and songs and proverbs,” said Thom, who teaches in the university’s anthropology department.
One of the 55 Indigenous languages is Hul’q’umi’num’, the Indigenous language spoken by First Nations peoples on Vancouver Island between Nanoose Bay and Mill Bay.
The words and phrases will be spoken by Yutustanaat Mandy Jones of the Snuneymuxw First Nation and a teacher of the Hul’q’umi’num language and culture at Ladysmith Secondary School.
Thom said B.C. is home to 34 distinct Indigenous languages and Canada has about 70.
The UN estimates 40 per cent of the approximately 6,700 languages spoken around the world are at risk of dying and the majority of those at risk are Indigenous.
Thom said the loss of any human language represents much more than the loss of simple communication.
He said the loss of a language means the loss of unique method of perceiving and describing the world and universe. A language is a distinct viewpoint that enriches our understanding of the human condition.
“Language, culture, identity, philosophy and dignity are all very closely linked together,” he said. “There are generations of ways of thinking and knowing tied up in language.”
Thom said an example of language, culture and human experience at work is the variety of words Hul’q’umi’num uses for rain. One of those rain words evokes a wet, cold, winter rain.
“If we could all learn Hul’q’umi’num, we would have a much better way of describing weather instead of ‘cloudy with showers,’ ” he said. “We really want to preserve that diversity of human experience.”
Anyone interested in the Indigenous languages of B.C. can also check out the First People’s Cultural Council in Brentwood Bay.
The First People’s Cultural Council’s website, online at fpcc.ca, contains maps, pictures and an expanding number of audio recordings of B.C.’s Indigenous languages.