Sametingspresidentens åpningsinnlegg om språkteknologi under UNPFII sideevent, New York

Opening remarks by Aili Keskitalo, the president of the Sámi Parliament in Norway, in the side-event entitled "Is it possible to create technical tools for indigenous languages?, 24.04.19.

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Bures boahtin! Welcome to this side event that we have called "Is it possible to create technical tools for indigenous languages". (It's a great pleasure to see so many here today, because that means that the development of language technology tools for indigenous languages is of interest to a broad audience).

This side event is a result of cooperation between the Sámi Parliament in Norway, the Norwegian State, and the University of Tromsø – Norway's Arctic University. The purpose of this event is to show that it is possible to develop language technology tools for languages of limited diffusion, which indigenous languages definitely are, and to pass along some ideas about how this can be done.

There are currently nine Sámi languages, and every one of them is on UNESCO's list of endangered languages. Two Sámi languages are already extinct. This is also the reality for several other indigenous languages on a global basis. It is therefore imperative that we work to preserve our indigenous languages. One crucial aspect of this preservation work is to help ensure that indigenous languages are able to keep up with technological development and digitisation.

We are facing a quantum leap in the digital world. More and more of our communications take place on digital platforms, and indigenous languages must conquer these arenas. That being said, please note that technological development can also offer us new tools for learning and using our languages. I am the mother of three daughters. Much of my communication with my children takes place through technology and on social platforms, so I know a lot about what opportunities – and limitations – are available to us.

The Sámi are very fortunate because several of our languages have multiple language technology tools available to us already. Divvun and Giellatekno, at UiT, the Arctic University of Norway, have done a fantastic job of creating these tools for Sámi languages. They are a pivotal part of the vital efforts to keep our languages alive. Divvun and Giellatekno have also made it possible to develop language tools for other minority languages.

Language technology tools make it easier to use the written language; we have Sámi keyboards and spell check and grammar check software programs that make the use of written language simpler for the language users. For me personally, it became much easier to use the written language after we got all of this technology. These days, people use cell phones (and tablets) to a greater extent than before. We are also fortunate that several of these technological tools are also suited for use with cell phones (and tablets).

In collaboration with the Sámi Parliament, Divvun has also helped make speech synthesis for North Sámi. Speech synthesis is a tremendous help for the blind, as well as for individuals with reading and writing difficulties, because it allows them to use the language, and not least because it also allows them to listen to text.

However, there are challenges when making language technology tools for minority languages. The greatest of them is that the big companies that develop tools for majority languages are not receptive to the idea of integrating languages of limited or very limited diffusion. It is vital for the survival of the minority languages that they too can be integrated into tools made by the big companies (for example, Apple, Microsoft? and Google?). Part of the Sámi strategy in connection with the IYIL is to strive to ensure that the major technology manufacturers are amenable to integrating indigenous languages into their products. I have submitted this as a separate item to the Steering Group for the International Year of Indigenous Languages, on which I serve as a representative of the Arctic region.

Thus far, I have told you about the technological tools we have for the Sámi languages and how fortunate we are as a result of having these technical aids. The point I want to make is that the Sámi languages have relatively few users, (like several other indigenous languages,) proving that it is possible to make good technological tools even for languages of very limited diffusion. I hope that this will allow you to recognise the opportunities that exist for technological aids for indigenous languages.

I am excited to see the University of Alberta here to talk about language technology from the Canadian perspective and to see that my colleague Chief Ed John from the Steering Group for the International Year of Indigenous Languages is here to make comments.

Before we hear from Divvun and Giellatekno from UiT, the Arctic University of Norway, I am pleased to give the floor to State Secretary Anne Karin Olli, who is part of the organising group for this side event.

Giitu! Thank you for your attention!

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