App hopes to revitalize Osage language

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital
Osage Language Master Language Teacher Mongrain Lookout and Osage Language Department webmaster Mark Pearson attended the recent Internationalization and Unicode Conference in Santa, Clara, Calif., last month. Osage Nation

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — Osage Language Master Language Teacher Mongrain Lookout met with tech engineers in late October to talk about the revitalization of the Osage language for Osages everywhere. According to Lookout and the Osage Language Department Webmaster Mark Pearson, strides gained by other non-English languages are helping the Osage language move faster towards full mobile access.

Just this week, an unreleased version of the first Osage language app became available Apple and Android users. The app features Unicode developed for the Osage language orthography. This first step is huge for language revitalization and the Osage Nation is already working on developing keyboards and predictive text for new speakers who will want more after using the language app.

“I told [tech engineers] my story but I was really telling them the [Osage Nation’s] story. They had never heard about us before; how we conduct ourselves, our ways, our religion, our social ways, all the things we do that are Osage,” said Lookout about speaking with Google and other tech engineers.

The two, and Lookout’s wife Judy Lookout, attended the Internationalization and Unicode Conference (IUC) in Santa Clara, Calif., Oct. 16 to Oct. 18. The IUC is among the largest convergences of tech experts who specialize in the varied and complicated fields of turning language-writing systems into numbers.

According to the IUC website, “For over 25 years the (IUC) has been the preeminent event highlighting the latest innovations and best practices of global and multilingual software providers … working with natural languages, multicultural user interfaces, producing and supporting multinational and multilingual products, linguistic algorithms, applying internationalization across mobile and social media platforms, or advancements in relevant standards.”

Pearson said internationalization of a language is a huge and evolving undertaking and can take years to develop. Fortunately, the Osage Nation is in the same boat as several other languages and efforts to create language equality in the digital world is a serious topic that has big corporations like Netflix and Microsoft staying in the game for any and all new developments.

“It was very inspiring and motivating to meet with Herman Mongrain Lookout, Judy Lookout, and Mark Pearson at the [IUC] and also at Google Headquarters. … The presentations on Osage language and history were well received at both the conference and at the technical talk at Google. The personal stories help us understand the importance of supporting language and cultures with today’s technologies,” said Craig Cornelius is a Senior Software Engineer at Google in Mountain View, Calif.

Cornelius urged Lookout and Pearson to attend IUC and then come to Google for a one-on-one with more Google engineers. He said making the Osage language available on mobile devices, just like more common languages are, includes the following steps; develop one or more Osage fonts for Unicode text; include an Osage font in Android; develop a mobile Android keyboard for use with this font; verify that an Osage font is available on iOS; develop a keyboard on iOS for use with the font.

To date, the Osage Nation and Google have completed the first step and have made substantial progress with the keyboard. Several fonts have been tested and verified to work well with Osage Unicode text and, with help from Cornelius, have been developed and tested on a web-based keyboard layout for Osage orthography.

Cornelius added, “I urge the Osage Nation to create public content with web-based tools using the Osage font as websites, blogs, social media postings, and other methods. There is no technical hurdle to this, other than educating users to the use of fonts and keyboards on their computers. This will encourage people to use the language online and will also make such data available via search engines.”