Emotikis and new keyboards bring indigenous culture to text messaging
Downloading new keyboards and emoji sets are a great way for smartphone users to show off their individuality and play around with cute icons. But it's also a powerful tool for technological inclusivity. Now, indigenous people from around the world are turning to emojis and keyboards to promote their cultural heritage. And in some cases, they are using it to save their languages from extinction.
Over the last few years, the cartoon pictograms have become an integral part of how many people communicate. This is through email or text messaging. In recent years, there has been a push to include more diversity in emoticons. For instance, adding new options for a variety of skin tones in smiley faces and including icons depicting same-sex couples.
But when people from the Te Puia Maori cultural center in Rotorua, New Zealand, looked at existing emojis, they realized there was an opportunity to create some that reflected their country's indigenous cultures.
"We see these as a lighthearted and inclusive way to share the meaning of Maori words and concepts with other cultures and with all New Zealanders," Te Puia spokesperson Kiri Atkinson-Crean said in a statement.
Te Puia designed more than 150 emoticons that they have dubbed "Emotikis." The pictograms include traditional objects from Maori culture. These include outrigger canoes, a traditional weapon called a "taiaha," and a tiki making all kinds of faces, Radio New Zealand reports. The set even includes a number of animated emoji gifs. Swinging poi and moving taiaha are two.
But while the Maori emojis may be designed with fun in mind, Atkinson-Crean says they give Maori youth a way to engage with each other online. They can use signifiers from their own culture.
"All they could use were expressions and symbols from other countries. We wanted to give them another form of this language with Maori culture Emotikis for an opportunity to express themselves," Atkinson-Crean said in a statement.
The Emotiki app will be available to download for free on smartphones and tablets.
Even so, there is more to texting than emoticons. Many languages are inexpressible. This is because of the limited symbols available for most smartphone keyboards. Many of those languages are at risk of disappearing.
In Canada, there are more than 60 different indigenous languages. They are spoken by First Nations people. But many of these languages are at risk of disappearing. During the late 19th century, government policies tore First Nations children from their parents. This was in order to forcibly assimilate them into Euro-Canadian and Christian culture. Raised in state-run schools, they were forbidden to speak their native languages. This is according to Cailynn Klingbeil. She was reporting for Motherboard.
Native groups have advocated for years to have their languages officially recognized by Canada. To promote and protect their languages, they're also turning to technology for solutions. For example, the FirstVoices Keyboard is a free app for iPhone and Android smartphones that allows anyone to write in more than 100 indigenous languages from around the world.
"The app is another strategy to help revitalize and promote the indigenous languages," Alex Wadsworth, who developed the FirstVoices Keyboard for the First Peoples' Cultural Council, tells Klingbeil.
Many indigenous languages require characters that weren't available on smartphones, tablets and the like. So Wadsworth programmed in these characters and then applied his keyboards to use for text messaging and writing emails, Klingbeil reports. Since Wadsworth began working on chat programs in 2012, he has added support for many indigenous languages from around the world. These include Atikamekw, Inuvialuktun, Maori, and Wendat.
"You can text an elder now," Wadsworth tells Klingbeil.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why are many languages inexpressible with the limited symbols available for most smartphone keyboards?
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