Saturday, 17 October 2009

TETLIT'ZHEH/FORT MCPHERSON - Keeping a language alive

Keeping a language alive

Katie May
Northern News Services
Published Monday, October 12, 2009


TETLIT'ZHEH/FORT MCPHERSON - Sisters Karen Mitchell and Eleanor Mitchell-Firth are used to being mistaken for women twice their age.

NNSL photo/graphic

In her spare time, Eleanor Mitchell-Firth from Fort McPherson does Gwich'in translations on a contractual basis for several agencies. If she could make a living from it, she says she would do translations full time. - photo courtesy of Eleanor Mitchell-Firth

It often happens when strangers learn - before meeting them in person - that they are Gwich'in translators, and expect to see two elders, passing on the words of their ancestors.

But Eleanor and Karen, both 41, are part of a younger generation of Gwich'in helping to document a language still spoken by only about 275 NWT residents. They each have 16 years of experience translating English to Gwich'in and vice versa, often for the Gwich'in Language Centre in Fort McPherson. Their work is used to create teaching materials for schools, instructional pamphlets for government agencies and brochures for businesses. They take on contracts for translation assignments in their spare time while juggling day jobs and families.

"It's something that I can take with me wherever I may be," Karen said.

"As a translator, the English language is watered down for me. Like if I say 'I love you,' for me that word doesn't carry much meaning whereas if I said it in my language it just defines what I really mean by 'love.'"

Eleanor, who just recently completed a translation of a pamphlet that explains how to vote, said one of the biggest challenges is many modern English words don't exist in Gwich'in.[...]

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