New App Out for Cup’ik Language

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The Cup’ik language is about to get its biggest audience yet. A new app has been developed to help Cup’ik students learn their language and show it off to the world.

When you’re searching for the newest iPad app you may be surprised to find one in an Alaska Native language. But that’s what you’d get when you download a version of the ‘Milly, Molly’ storybook series.

“Milly and Molly climb up onto the seat by Apakcuaq, ‘Hello!’ Says Apakcuaq.”

Those are the voices of Cup’ik narrator Rebecca Nayamin, Ignatius Chayalkun, and Lillian Olson from the story ‘Milly, Molly and Bertie;’ or ‘Mil’iq, Maaliq and Apakcuaqlu’ Cup’ik.

The story has been translated into several languages, and now Cup’ik. The new app was developed with a language innovation grant from the Association of Alaska School Boards.

Dr. Robert Whicker is the Consortium for Digital Learning Director. He says some they’re looking for ways to preserve and maintain Alaska Native languages.

“Now we have 20 Alaskan Native languages, some on the verge of being very endangered and some on the verge of disappearing,” he said. “And we’re seeing a strong interest at the State level and also the Federal in the preservation of these languages.”

That is why they awarded the grant to the Kashunamiut School District. It is a single site school district for Chevak, Alaska; one of two villages along the Bering Sea where Cup’ik is still spoken. The village is remote: about 500 miles from the Alaska road system.

Whicker and other members of the AASB traveled to Chevak, to assist with the recording. But decided they could save time and money by producing it at a location better suited for such an undertaking.

“We saw real quickly, that this was going to take a long time if we were going to do it the way we did it then,” Whicker said. “We decided that we should send the three speakers to the New Zealand recording studios and they would just hammer these books out within a week. I just think this was a very heroic trip. People we’re basically travelling halfway around the world to preserve their language for their children.”

Three months after the recording was completed at Kiwa Digital, the Cup’ik versions of the ‘Milly, Molly’ series are now available in the iTunes store.

The app is considered as an interactive book with features such as full word for word narration. Also an added feature of word pronunciation when a word is tapped, and syllable pronunciation when a word is double-tapped. Whicker said they’re being downloaded worldwide.

“They’re being downloaded in Russia, they’re being downloaded in Europe, they’re being downloaded on the East Coast of the United States,” he said. “Why? I’m not really sure but there’s an interest in learning and seeing how other people communicate in their native language.”

Along with the ‘Milly, Molly’ series, two more books narrated and illustrated by Alaskan Native students are also available on the app store.

To check the app out, type out any variation of the word Cup’ik into the iTunes Store search bar.

Or visit AASB’s CDL site.