A newly created Sm’algyax Braille system will increase accessibility to the language for the visually impaired, Gitga’at Nation member and Sm’algyax Word ap developer Brendan Eshom announced, on July 9. (Photo: supplied)

A newly created Sm’algyax Braille system will increase accessibility to the language for the visually impaired, Gitga’at Nation member and Sm’algyax Word ap developer Brendan Eshom announced, on July 9. (Photo: supplied)

Sm’algyax word app grows to include Braille alphabet

Developers say it’s a historic first for the North Coast language

Accessibility to the traditional Ts’msyen language of Sm’algyax has extended to a newly conceived Braille alphabet the Prince Rupert-based ap developer and Gitga’at Nation member Brendan Eshom announced, on July 9.

In a partnership with Harris Mowbray, an American amateur linguist and programmer from San Fransisco now studying in Washington, the pair collaborated during the early months of 2021 over zoom to incorporate the Braille characters developed by Mowbray into the Sm’algyax word ap designed by Eshom.

“The development of a Braille alphabet for Sm’algya̱ x increases the number of people who can experience the knowledge and heritage of B.C.’s North Coast — literally at first-hand,” Eshom said.

“People with visual challenges who are fluent in Braille will be able to learn the language as readily as those who have access to printed reference materials. I applaud Harris for his expertise and initiative, which have enabled an exciting cross-cultural collaboration.”

Following discussions via online conferencing and consultation with the Sm’algya̱x Language Authority, the newly-conceived alphabet was added to the smalgyaxword.ca website.

Braille is a system of writing used by people who are blind or have limited vision. Publications using Braille render text as embossed patterns with which readers interpret using their fingertips.

The Braille alphabet is already operational on the website and can be viewed by the public as a series of illustrations that correspond to characters conventionally used to write Sm’algya̱x.

Mowbray has been noted for his encoding and development of Braille systems for other minority languages for the Chamorro and Carolinian dialects of the Mariana Islands, the Kashubian and Silesian languages of Poland, as well as others.

“Accessibility is vital for the preservation and spread of minority languages,” Mowbray said

Although he does not live with impairments to his vision, his fascination with written communication and technical acumen inspired him to learn and adapt the Braille system for others.

“As I devise and fit Braille alphabets to written vernacular, I’m amazed at the unique ways that communities preserve and transmit culture. Limits to sightedness should not be a barrier to anyone who wants to share that experience,” Mowbray said.

Eshom has operated his Sm’algya̱x Word of the Day website, mobile app and SMS subscription service since 2019. To date, he has published over 600 unique words and pronunciation videos.

The Braille version of Sm’algya̱x is available at www.smalgyaxword.ca/resources/braille.

READ MORE: Aimed at success – the launch hit the target

READ MORE: Heart of our City: Brendan Eshom


K-J Millar | Journalist
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