Module 2 Research- David McInnes

Module 2 Entry #1- Challenges of Preserving Traditional Languages

My interest was peeked due to a documentary (Endangered Speech) I saw about how the Inuktitut language is being lost in the Canadian arctic as older generations pass on. The documentary focused on the different approaches in preserving the language, between Greenland and Canada and highlighted some challenges of preserving any cultural traditions where there are variations and differences of opinion.

Because Inuktitut was a spoken language, there have been challenges preserving the language. Several written versions have been recorded, but there is variation due to the extent of the distances from Alaska to Greenland, the various dialects, and in some instances the written text were done by missionaries of European descent.

In Greenland, they have been very successful in preserving the Greenlandic (Inuktitut) language by taking some difficult steps. They decisively acted to standardize the text to enable a greater number of print materials to be produced to help teach the young people. By standardizing the writing system they only learn one alphabet. Even though there are many dialects, there is only one official written dialect.  The “youth are Confident in identity and secure in their culture thanks to the foresight of the previous generation”.

In Canada, it has been much the opposite. There are fewer and fewer Inuktitut speakers and they have been unable to come to a compromise to select one writing system. The Elders are resistant to change and concerned about losing their dialects, or choosing one writing system.

To view the documentary:


Module 2 Entry #2- Using Technology to Preserve Traditional Languages


FirstVoices is a web based tool and service that enable First Nations communities to preserve and promote their languages. “FirstVoices is a suite of web-based tools and services designed to support Aboriginal people engaged in language archiving, language teaching & culture revitalization.

FirstVoices archives over 60 First Nations languages, and there is a “Language Tutor” that allows students to record their own voice and compare it to the examples.

I became aware of the project several years ago, when working in technology assisted learning unit of our department of education. It presented difficulty in our schools as fonts and keyboards were problematic in terms of being able to write the languages of Northern Yukon First Nations languages due to extensive use of diacritics (or accents above and below a letter that gives it a different sound).

What is most interesting is the fact that it touches on the debate to share their language, or keep it within the First Nations’ community so that only descendants have access to learning the language.

“Some language archives at FirstVoices are publicly accessible, while others are password protected at the request of the language community.”

Introduction video:


Module 2 Entry #3- Preservation of Traditional Knowledge to Protect its Sovereignty

The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library

A database of traditional knowledge (medicinal practices, traditional foods, etc.) in India that gives legitimacy and protection to traditional information that otherwise might be scooped up and patented by profiteering groups outside of India. By developing accessible archives of traditional practices, India is better equipped to defend their ancient use of these traditions and knowledge. Because much of this traditional knowledge was passed down orally from generation to generation, it was very difficult to prove its origins.

“Documentation of this existing knowledge, available in public domain, on various traditional systems of medicine has become imperative to safeguard the sovereignty of this traditional knowledge and to protect it from being misappropriated in the form of patents on non-original innovations, and which has been a matter of national concern. India fought successfully for the revocation of turmeric and basmati patents granted by United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and neem patent granted by European Patent Office (EPO).”


Module 2 Entry #4- Traditional Knowledge: Collection, Preservation, Protection and Access

 SlideShare presentation by Dr. H.K. Kaul- Director, DELNET, New Delhi


Module 2 Entry #5- United Nations University- Traditional Knowledge Initiative

“aims to promote and strengthen research on traditional knowledge (TK) of indigenous and local communities conducted from a global perspective, grounded in local experience.”

Institute seeks to contribute to:

  • change mindsets and paradigms about the role of TK in our society and in key sectors such as academia, government and business;
  • increasing the recognition and importance of TK;
  • developing the application of TK in a broad range of contexts (e.g. ecosystem management and biotechnology);
  • developing strategies for the preservation and maintenance of TK; and facilitating the development of the capacity of indigenous communities to conserve and apply their knowledge in an increasingly globalized economy.


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