The What, Why, How and Who of the Audio Language Lessons

What

Lessons in Yukon Native Languages, with sound, on the internet. YNLC has produced more than twenty-five versions of Language Lesson booklet and tape sets. In April 2002, the centre began to post these conversational language lessons on the web, beginning with the Gwich'in language lessons by Mary Jane Kunnizzi which were completed in January of 2003. Currently available are:

Why

The on line lessons have several advantages over the booklet and tape sets.

  • Each section and each sentence can be quickly and easily accessed.
  • Every sentence can be clicked to hear the speaker's voice.
  • Interested people anywhere on the internet can hear and begin to learn a native language.
  • Corrections can be made quickly, easily, and at any time.

How

The project begins with sound. A fluent speaker, usually an Elder, records CD quality sound files directly onto the computer, with technical assistance from YNLC staff. A good quality microphone is important. With Athapaskan and Tlingit languages, the highest possible sound quality is desired to accurately reproduce the subtle phonetic distinctions which are critically important. The lower sampling rates often recommended for English voice are not acceptable. The sound files are edited to, among other things, remove dead space and ensure consistent, maximal volume.

YNLC linguists, primarily Director John Ritter, prepare the transcriptions of the recorded sentences. Note that we do not proceed from the written to the spoken as is usual with similar projects, but do the reverse. The fluent speaker is the model. Starting in 2014 with the Tlingit Lessons by Norman James, HTML 5 audio is used so the sound may be heard on iOS devices and Android 4.1. Older lessons use Flash for audio. These are being coverted to HTML 5 starting with the Gwich'in of Mary Jane Kunnizzi in 2015. In older projects the text, including transcriptions, and colour images were made into (flattened) PNG image files using Fireworks. In newer projects the text is Unicode and the colour image is a separate file.

Who

The project was conceived and implemented by YNLC staff working closely with Elders and fluent speakers of the various Yukon languages. A biography and photo of the author is included in each book or set of lessons.

YNLC staff John Ritter, Doug Hitch, André Bourcier and Sheila Maissan record and edit the sound files, prepare transcriptions and construct the web site materials. Over the years technical and design assistance has been given by contractors Felix Vogt, Dave Rogers, Carolyn Steele-Lane and Myron Balagno & Associates. Susan McCallum painted the original watercolours.