Language is an important characteristic of any culture, and for the Crow Tribe, the fluency rate of their native tongue has dropped from nearly 85% in the 1960s to less than 20% today.
Now, an organization called The Language Conservancy has launched a digital tool in collaboration with the tribe to try to revitalize the Crow language.
During a virtual launch event held this week, contributors and organizers celebrated the Crow Mobile Dictionary app, a project almost 8 years in the making. The app contains over 10,000 Crow words. Some entries have audio recordings so users can listen to the exact pronunciation of the word from both a man and a woman.
The app was built as a collaborative effort between more than 50 Crow language speakers, working with a team of linguists and programmers from across the country.
Roanne Hill, Crow language and culture teacher at St. Labre High School, says the app will be an invaluable resource for young learners of Crow.
"We've had students and language learners that wanted to have a weekend where they could practice saying or speaking Crow," she says. "They might live in a household where there's no Crow language speaker and they really want to learn. So I think that's going to be one of the benefits of this app is that they're going to be able to see a word and how it's spelled."
Wil Meya, executive director of The Language Conservancy, says their group works with about 40 languages around the world. Meya says the group was approached by a Crow language supporter, who encouraged them to reach out and work with the Crow tribe.
"It was just a tremendous reaction in a very positive way," Meya says. "People were very interested and hungry for new materials and new resources for teaching and learning the language."
With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on the tribe's elder population, Hill says the app is the key to connect the younger generation to their heritage.
"Every native language comes from your ancestors and it's so valuable," she says. "It's something that they left behind. Language and culture go hand in hand."
Her message to the younger generation: "If you don't know it, learn it, even if it's a little bit at a time. Don't get discouraged."