There are only a few hundred Tlingit speakers in the world, according to linguists and researchers.
In a world where English is considered the dominant language, Tlingit is endangered, linguistically speaking.
The Sealaska Heritage Institute hopes to combat that.
The organization announced the release of two free apps Monday, aimed at making learning the language more accessible.
Katrina Hotch is behind two recently released apps to help people learn Tlingit.
Earlier this week, I sat down with Hotch and Kathy Dye. Dye walked me through the Tlingit Games app, which has two naming games in it.
The game features a colorful array of about a dozen birds common throughout Southeast, there’s even a hummingbird that flies in and out of your screen.
Dye designed the birds herself; each one took about a day, with the goal is to match what someone might see in our actual world with their Tlingit names.
Hotch has been working on the language app since the year began — editing and gathering audio, some that’s decades old, from Sealaska Heritage Institute’s archives.
“There’s also years and years of work of collecting the audio,” Dye said, “that a lot of current and past employees have been working on, and that’s been going on for many years.
“Yeah, there’s so many people that have done a lot of work in the language and it’s exciting to make it more accessible to everyone,” Hotch said.
The other app, Learning Tlingit, has about 300 entries in three main categories—alphabet, vocabulary, and phrases.
“One of the more difficult but super useful phrases for a beginning learner is ‘I don’t know,’” Hotch said.
Hotch says she’s not a fluent speaker, so she tried to pick entries that would be helpful for someone who’s learning.
“What’s probably going to be some really popular phrases is introductions and learning Tlingit and probably meal time,” she said, “everyone eats, yeah?”
She says the goal was to create a game that exemplifies the organization’s mission.
“Especially Haa Shuká ,” Hotch said, “that’s the concept of, you’re connected to the past, present, and future. We have audio of all of these speakers, and some of them have gone on, but we’re making it available for present and future generations to help perpetuate the language and culture.”
The institute hopes apps like this will give people the tools they need to learn and maintain the language.