T. Carter, in a comment to an earlier post, has pointed me to Languagegeek, a site “dedicated to the promotion of Native North American languages, especially in providing a means by which these languages can be used on the internet.”

I have included a font, “Aboriginal Serif Unicode” which tries to cover all of the glyphs (alphabetical letters/Syllabics) necessary for writing the Native languages. Also, there are pages which show what symbols are required for each language, and a keyboard that can be used for typing each language.

The font is based on the Unicode encoding, so that users on any computer can use the font to read Native language texts composed by anyone else, using this font or otherwise. Also, by typing in the Aboriginal Serif Unicode font, other users can read your Syllabics text without downloading and installing the exact same font that you have…

For the names of the languages themselves, I have attempted to use on at least some pages the Native language ethnonym (the name of the nation used by its people) in those cases where I have found such a name. Usually, I give the English/French name in parentheses. Occasionally, I have found numerous different names for the same Nation, so I may not always be completely consistent on this site, using one version in one place, a different version elsewhere. I would appreciate any feedback on correct usage in each language. Where I have yet to find an ethnonym, I have employed a standard English/French word. In a few instances, there seems to be no one word for the nation, like Blackfoot or North Slave, instead each sub-group in the nation has its own name. Here, I have used the English word when referring to the nation as a whole, and the Native names to label the individual dialects. Language families are called by their English-linguistics name.

A few caveats: the site focuses mainly on languages spoken in Canada, although that is not stated explicitly (cf. “Native North American languages” above); many of the links on the pull-down menus at the top go nowhere or to 404s; and the “What’s New” link is a pdf file (for no apparent reason), which some people like to be warned about. At any rate, many thanks, T.!


  1. It does seem sort of a waste of effort. What’s the point in promoting the internet use of a language with a small number of speakers? People use languages because they’re useful, after all, and with a globalized communications network, the most useful language is that which gives you the widest possible number of people to communicate with.

  2. I don’t know. If you have small populations who use a common language but they are scattered across a wide area (for example northern Canada), being able to communicate online with other people in similar situations who use your langauge could help keep the language alive.
    It doesn’t cost anywhere near as much to develop a website as it does to produce a radio or television program, so — with tools like the Unicode font Languagegeek has designed — you can build a corpus of material realiatively cheaply that can be used to further interest in the lesser-used language.

  3. Stirling, I must disagree with your notion of “the most useful language.” I have no interest in speaking with “the widest possible number of people.” One learns a language because of an immediate need (a friend learns German because his wife is German) or because of an interest in the culture (a friend learns Japanese because he likes their paintings) or because of no good reason at all (a friend becomes fluent in Thai because learning Chinese seems cliche).
    No need to tar the process with a utilitarian brush, else we’d all be speaking English, Chinese and French and Spanish.
    I wish more wind to the sails of speakers of “minority languages.”

  4. What’s the point in promoting the internet use of a language with a small number of speakers? People use languages because they’re useful…
    O, reason not the need: our basest beggars
    Are in the poorest thing superfluous:
    Allow not nature more than nature needs,
    Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s…
    Do you really think the only point of language is to be “useful,” practical, perhaps to convey messages about income and expenses, the weather, and suchlike? Language is at the root of who we are, and depriving people of their native language is stripping them of a large part of their identity. It is easy to miss this, of course, when one speaks a majority language that is in no danger of disappearing.
    On preview: what commonbeauty said.

  5. Heel away Jack Tar!
    Huffy accuracy from the wind’s four quarters and the crunchy sound of little utilitarian function-bots crushed beneath the unnecessary heels of seven-league boots.
    Fie on practicality! Stasis is the most efficent state of all. Flat null emptiness requires no energy to maintain and perfects the transfer of goods and services to its end-point. All unnecessary things stripped away leaving…hmmm.
    Why do so many people like so much of Victorian architecture?
    Why does the idea of someone in a three-room apartment in Lisbon compiling a glossary of proto-Phoenician mercantile terms seem dear as the presence of small unseen birds in a nest in a tree at the edge of a schoolyard?
    Is it just me who delights in the near-frivolous and vitally unnecessary?
    No, it is not just me who delights in the near-frivolous and vitally unnecessary.

  6. No, it is not. And thanks for the image of the three-room apartment in Lisbon, which will be a comfort to me.

  7. “Near-frivolous?”
    I fear that’s much too practical for me. No, nothing short of outright frivolity would do. Dump the near.
    Why, I’ve thought as many as six useless things before breakfast. Bracing. Try it.
    I hope, gods be kind, someday to be almost as worthless as a poet! Then, blessed day, I shall be communicating with no one at all. I shall be Surplus to Requirement, like mad old Lear.
    [sorry Hat, this *is* a near-frivolous comment, but considering the topic…um…msg made me do it]

  8. Hey, I’m a big fan of frivolity! All my life I’ve been drawn to the useless: in mathematics, group theory and topology; in lingustics, the historical variety; and now… blogging.

  9. “I don’t know. If you have small populations who use a common language but they are scattered across a wide area (for example northern Canada), being able to communicate online with other people in similar situations who use your langauge could help keep the language alive.”
    — why bother?
    Most of my ancestors spoke Lallans or Gaelic (a few probably spoke Beothuk), and I don’t. I can’t see that I’m any the worse off for it. All human languages are equal – that is, they’re all of roughly equivalent semantic efficiency.
    It therefore makes sense to speak the one that’s most useful in your everyday life.
    With respect to “preserving cultures”, it’s important to remember that “cultures” don’t exist except as generalized abstractions; only individual human beings really exist, in a concrete sense.
    Your “culture” isn’t like your skin color, which you’re stuck with, and which thankfully is increasingly regarded trivial.
    Your culture is more like your clothes.
    We’re all born naked — a newborn baby has no language, no heritage, no religion, and no ethnicity. Apart from the common human genetic inheritance — and humans are a strikingly uniform species, in genetic terms — the newborn is a blank, a tabula rasa, culturally naked.
    Culture is all acquired characteristics.
    And there is absolutely no reason why one shouldn’t mix or match or switch — just as you do with your clothes. If some article of clothing is inconvenient, get rid of it. If another is more useful or more amusing, put it on.
    Eg., my mother grew up in Lima, Peru, speaking mostly Spanish. Then she moved to Canada, and switched to English. Had she “lost” her language? Of course not: she’d _changed_. English was just as much “hers” as it was to someone who’d grown up in Halifax.
    Or to take another example, I have a friend who has four Japanese grandparents. She speaks half a dozen words of Japanese, mostly of the “karate” and “karaoke” variety, and is married to a guy all four of whose parents came from England.
    Has she “lost” her “ancestral” culture? Of course not. She’s got a perfectly good culture, and she’s as native to it as I am.

  10. “No need to tar the process with a utilitarian brush, else we’d all be speaking English, Chinese and French and Spanish.”
    Posted by commonbeauty at December 19, 2003 10:20 AM
    — which is precisely what the statistics say is happening, of course. To give one tiny statistic, the number of institutions teaching English in Patna, India, has increased from 1 to 120-odd in the past 15 years.
    Learning an additional language is hard work for most people. They don’t do it unless they have a good practical reason.
    Eg., over 90% of Hispanics in the US speak fluent English, because it’s useful. And since maintaining two languages is not very useful here, on the whole, and requires more effort, by the third generation 95% of them are monoglot English-speakers.
    Most human beings, most of the time, follow the “principle of least effort”.

  11. “and depriving people of their native language is stripping them of a large part of their identity.”
    Posted by language hat at December 19, 2003 10:29 AM
    — oh, hooey. Identity is an infinitely flexible concept. Your only real identity is personal, the world-line that leads from your birth to your death; the others are all social masks.
    It’s foolish to mistake the mask for your face.

  12. Although I disagree with you, I very much like the word “hooey.”

  13. While for me, even “hooey” is cold comfort.
    But everything belongs, and everyone belongs, even those people who have this idea that the “only real identity is personal.” Oh my stars. You actually believe that? Well friend, you’re well within your rights.
    But be warned, when you get to heaven, Wittgenstein and Levi-Strauss are both going to back you into a corner and demand lunch money. A word to the wise. 🙂

  14. Too close to Christmas to write much but, Halloween to the contrary, face is mask, and persona is mask and mask is deep truth of self held to the light, because it is seen from without.
    And who or what is it that regards the self from within and where might that somewhat disturbing entity be located precisely?
    Of the self there is no proving but mask and mask again.
    It is the fool’s mask that shows all our faces clear and present. Put your best fool forward.
    Ethnicity is not cultural.
    Skin is trivial clothes are trivial language is practical all is habituated line of least resistance followed to its common denominator.
    No. Now sort of.
    But we are changing like spelling, like tone, like accent, flattening toward the non, the easiest expression of anything is null, did I say that already? Grace notes and gingerbread again, like a flag planted in the street, the filigree of oratorical dress-up, a tuxedo of a paragraph. Things which have no immediate value later shown to be constituents of a finer stew your analyzing instruments were too coarse to catch. We rely on more than current definitions for our bridged solitude and contact.
    Culture is where you are and what you have on.
    Piffle. And fie again.
    Crunch and piffle and fie.
    Spanish became the Latin of Spain as a living thing that was before Latin just as alive, before it was Roman formally it was street-Roman becoming, Etruscan hip-hop carried in the
    lexicon, we name these things in section like the frozen image of a river taken through thick plexiglass. It is an illusion sir. The river never stops, you stop the illusion of the river and point to the piece you hold as being of the river.
    A practical utilitarian illusion, like a dream you can inhabit with the rest of your stark faith.
    A mirror is the only lens you’ll find to show your face back to yourself. And backwards into the bargain, in a side-to-side manner of course.
    Where the right gets left.
    Depth is one measure of things like culture. A man standing on a mountain at the solstice in a cape of parrot feathers made by his wife’s great-grandmother is not culturally equivalent to a 6 year old drinking Pepsi from a Cat-in-The-Hat plastic 20 oz. cup. Though both objects are ‘cultural’ and mark their wielders as inhabitant.
    Merry debatable Christmas and to all
    good relative night!

  15. >mask is deep truth of self held to the light
    — no, actually; mask is _play_.
    You can have as many as you want, in whatever shape and color you want.
    >Ethnicity is not cultural.
    — ah, then it’s genetic? “Ve must keep ze Race _puuuure_…”
    Now, where have we heard that one before?
    In fact, nothing is more mutable than ethnic “identity”. Ethnicity is a story we make up and tell each other. Ordinary people switch identities with innocent calm all the time.
    Essentialist arguments are inherently racist. Like the use of “multiculturalism” when what people really mean is “race”, a deliberate confusion aimed at sidestepping precisely the point raised here.
    >But we are changing like spelling, like tone
    — Shakespeare could carry off blank verse. You would well-advised to use prose. Unless you’re using it as a smoke-screen to disguise the fact that you can’t defend your position, of course.
    Glyph of being dryly unimpressed.
    >We rely on more than current definitions for our bridged solitude and contact.
    — an impressive sentence, until on further reflection it becomes apparent that it’s meaningless.
    NB: consciousness of the past exists only in the _present_.
    >A man standing on a mountain at the solstice in a cape of parrot feathers made by his wife’s great-grandmother is not culturally equivalent to a 6 year old drinking Pepsi from a Cat-in-The-Hat plastic 20 oz. cup.
    — why not, except your personal aesthetic judgment?
    You just happen to think parrot-feather cloaks are cool.
    That’s your privilege; but don’t mistake your personal tastes for the laws of nature.
    On the numbers, more people prefer the Pepsi. And every one of them has as much right to his or her personal choices as you or I.

  16. “Ordinary people switch identities…all the time.
    Mask is _play_.”

    Mask is much deeper than play the way you mean play. This is the arrogant condescension of truncated adulthood trivializing the purer truth of children’s reality, and trivializing drama itself, which is seen in that light as merely an extension of childish play.
    Masks are what we are to each other. As deep as you’ll ever get inside another’s personal interior you won’t find anything more substantial than a mask. But then we’re back to your shallow version of what masks are. In that flat world-view Greek myths are just entertaining stories, subject to subjective interpretation, with no more intrinsic value than an episode of CSI or The Osbournes. Hmmph.

    Nature’s cold indifference to intention gets twisted to mean that nothing has weight in the natural world, no one thing is truer than another. The elephants become extinct, Rush Limbaugh spawns a thousand GM clones, nature doesn’t care. At it’s bottom that bleak argument is sound, but you don’t argue from there. You argue from a moral position, mixing biology and ethics at will.
    That’s a recent gloss made possible by the subjugation of the immediate natural by desperately flailing modern law-conditioned man. And if you don’t think that’s accurate you haven’t been outside for more than an hour or two lately.
    Nature has no laws. Unless inevitable consequence is law. The illusion is bolstered by the terminology. Morality, which is what laws exist to enforce, is itself a subset of biology. Morality and laws are part of the survival strategy of an organism, human beings, a means of organizing and defending its resources. Though there are many people who believe that morality trumps biology, there’s no evidence to support that view, and more than enough to refute it.
    The parrot-feather-cape side of the argument has many culturally and ethnically distinct subgroups, but more than a few of them have in common a belief that biology and spirituality/morality are inseparable. So that each action each thought, every state of mind and being is a moral act.
    The culture you attempt to place in equal(relative, consumer-choice) standing to that says anything not covered in current legislation and/or the ten commandments is permissible.
    These are not aesthetic differences.
    In the context of biology as final arbiter, one way works, the other doesn’t, in the sense of the open-ended long-term survival of the species. And the nature of the species itself.
    Another illusion thrown across our eyes, that the human thing is a constant and not subject to the same genetic wild ride all other creatures are. The sad part is, the beneficiaries, the immediate beneficiaries of the Cat-in-The-Hat(movie not book)20-oz.-cup-reality can’t maintain their positions of dominance in the parrot-cape reality. But we can drink your Pepsi.
    As it stands now most of the currently dominating gene-types are in a turbo-mode frenzy of denial and panicked adjustment to their hijacked and careening landscape. And if you don’t think that’s true you still haven’t been outside for more than a few hours.
    So we have these guys running this massive scam of biology-thwarting non-Darwinian moral order, and using it to break and forcibly assimilate people who have adapted in highly flexible ways to the larger Darwinian world, once that’s been accomplished turning around and saying “now it’s time to go back to Darwinian rules”.
    Right. Now that they’ve risen, scum-like, to the top of this micro-managed pond.
    The illusion that each human life is equivalent to any other was not accidently propagated. The chopped-up moral vision that blankets our contemporary moment serves a purpose, a biological one.
    Seeing the world in the light of that dynamic makes cultural relativism obvious as just another desperate gambit on the part of marginal gene-types.
    Not that marginality is necessarily permanent, or fatal. An essentially crippled individual can drive from Rome to Paris in a not so long day in perfect autonomous comfort, as a member in good standing of the dominant culture. The Ice Man, or his contemporary analogue, has no place in that same reality. And there goes your relativist nonsense of personal choice. The parrot-feather-cape has been ground into the mud beneath the wheels of the trucks hauling the petroleum to make that plastic cup.

    Video can be a sort of mirror, I forgot that.
    The spelling of a language, like tone and accent, changes through time, “mutably” existing and transforming right alongside “ethnic identity”. That isn’t opaque.
    As far as blank verse goes, I’ll gladly take my place with Christopher Smart and all the other loopy practitioners of verbal incontinence.
    Far better that than the pelletized stool of a clenched and humorless anality.
    Scorn and ridicule are the hallmarks of cowardice.

  17. S.M.Stirling-
    Having got that over with I wonder if the early posts made you feel rebuffed at all. It occurs to me, as usual quite tardily, that what I took as unnecessarily offensive might have been a defensive reaction. Checking my shit as it were. So if that’s the case my apologies.
    Though it seems obvious to me there was a lighthearted tone to it all, and more pertinently, a tone of delight to this site which is Mr. Hat’s doing.
    A quality missing entirely from that bit in your last comment about “racist multiculturalism”. Though you did do that stage-Nazi dialect thing.
    But still, you know, it’s not light-hearted, is it?
    And as an accusation I found it entirely undeserving the dignity of response. And do still.

  18. Not only is the site still there, the links on the pull-down menus at the top are now fully functional and the whole thing looks well maintained. Color me impressed.

  19. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    TIL that the coders at Perseus don’t know how many layers of URLencode they need to make the headword links on the left sidebar of Zoega work. Links are hard. (And given that most of the headwords have at least one non-ASCII letter, it’s not even funny).

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