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Alaska-based crew helps preserve language via popular social media platform

(Source: Pixabay/stock image)
(Source: Pixabay/stock image)(Source: Pixabay/stock image)
Published: Jun. 7, 2021 at 10:07 PM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 1:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After working for years to preserve culture through language by creating ways to use different social media platforms to educate, a crew based in Alaska has made good on its mission, several times over.

The group has created the opportunity for Facebook users to change their language interface for the app into Inupiaq.

“There’s so many people who are trying to learn their language today — across Alaska — and Inupiaq is one of the official languages of Alaska,” said Myles Creed, the lead of a recent translation project dedicated to making Alaska Native languages more accessible on social media. “And yet we don’t have a lot of resources to learn the language, especially on a day-to-day basis.”

More than five years ago, Creed and a group of friends – including a pair of brothers based out of Kotzebue – discussed the possibility of some of the world’s most dominant social media platforms providing translations for one of the most underserved groups: Alaska Native languages.

That followed the development of an application that allowed people to text in Inupiaq on their phones, which itself triggered the creation of an app called Chert. This app allows people to text in any language on their smartphones.

The team, though, wanted more. With social media as another jumping-off point, they maintained an ongoing question: How could they make language learning more accessible to more people, especially on an interface that so many individuals are using every day?

“Language is a huge piece of culture, and I think often – Alaska Native languages – they’re separated,” said Grant Magdanz, who developed Chert and called himself a technical consultant for the Inupiaq Facebook translation project. “In school, your Alaska Native language classes are separated. And I think it’s really important for us to have everyday activity. So much of the world is digital, people spend a lot of time on Facebook, Instagram; I think it’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

Facebook seemed like a perfect platform to try out, particularly considering how many Alaskans frequent the site. So, the group built an Inupiaq translation interface from the ground up, working together to at first translate words one by one. Outreach to try and get volunteer translators started almost immediately.

“We found that we weren’t having enough translations done just on a volunteer basis,” Creed said, “and we really needed thousands of translations done.”

Eventually, another official translator was also brought on board through a grant, so that the massive load of language work could be tackled under a realistic timeline.

Fast forward to now, and the entire front-facing interface – what the average Facebook user sees when they open the site or app – is fully translated. Phrases, paragraphs, and more can also be translated now that the group has been able to spend some time working on building out the project more fully.

“Over several years, the translators, myself, volunteers, project members,” Creed explained, “were all working to translate as many terms on the Facebook interface into Inupiaq as possible. And finally last year, it was made available to the public.

“So anybody who wants to use Facebook in Inupiaq can go to their Facebook settings,” Creed said, “and change the language interface to Inupiaq.”

Below is guidance to change a Facebook page interface to any language. Users will want to know at least some of the language they’re changing their interface to – or at least be able to generally follow this guide – so that they can change the interface back to their native language if necessary.

Changing Language and Region Settings, Desktop:

  • Click on the top right tab once you’re logged in to Facebook
  • Select Settings & Privacy
  • Click Language & Region on the left hand side
  • Click “Edit” under Facebook language

Changing Language and Region Settings, Mobile App:

  • Once logged in, click on the bottom right circle-shaped photo of your profile picture
  • Scroll down to the tab that says Settings & Privacy
  • Click on App Language
  • There, find a step-by-step guide to changing the app language depending on the type of smartphone

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the location of two of the project’s team members to Kotzebue.

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