People on the Hay River Reserve now have a new and innovative way to learn some South Slavey words – at a grocery store.
On March 11, small signs were being placed on shelves at Ehdah Cho Store to let shoppers know the South Slavey words for the products they are buying.
But more than just read the names, the shoppers – if they have a free app downloaded onto their cell phones – can scan a quick response (QR) code and their phones will say both the English and South Slavey words for a product.
“I think that’s pretty neat,” said Chief Roy Fabian, who was at the store as the signs were being put in place. “Kids will like the technology, and I think it will be really good for the kids.”
Fabian believes it will help people learn new South Slavey words.
The South Slavey signs at Ehdah Cho Store are a project of the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) and the Chief Sunrise Education Centre.
“I’m not thinking that everyone is going to be going around with their phones and that sort of thing but it’s there as a support for anyone intent on learning the language,” said Brent Kaulback, assistant superintendent with the SSDEC. “And I think, more importantly, it’s sort of acknowledging that this language is important and making sure that it’s in a public place so that anybody, an elder or somebody walking around, can say, ‘Oh, I know that word.’ And they’ll see their language in their store.”
Kaulback explained the audio files already existed with pronunciations of many South Slavey words.
“I just went into our Slavey dictionary that we produced and pulled out the sound files that are part of that dictionary,” he explained.
Kaulback said people can now shop and learn South Slavey at the same time.
“So these products can now talk,” he said.
As of March 11, there were about 30 signs with South Slavey words around Ehdah Cho Store.
“We tried to generalize. For instance, this means soup,” said Kaulback, pointing to the sign with the Slavey word “tudhee.”
The assistant superintendent said more South Slavey words will be added.
“As we go along, we’ll get more product names and put them up so everything will have a Slavey name for it eventually,” he said.
Kaulback said the idea for the signs originated at Chief Sunrise Education Centre, where some students were doing a project on the Ehdah Cho Store.
“So they wanted to get some signage up in the store, and they’ve created some signs,” he said. “When I heard about that and I recognized that if we put those QR codes on with them, then people would be able to hear the words, as well. So that’s what we did.”
Diane Tourangeau, the South Slavey language instructor at Chief Sunrise Education Centre, said high school students and those in Grades 5 to 7 were all involved in the project, during which they did drawings of food and labelled them with Slavey words.
“So the kids can all say the words,” she said.
Tourangeau is pleased the idea has moved into the real store to help people learn South Slavey words.
“I think it will help as long as everybody knows they can download these apps for free,” she said. “Then I think it will be awesome.”
Kaulback is hopeful the concept can be used in other stores and even other communities served by the SSDEC.
“The hope is that we can approach other stores and, if they’re interested, then we’ll continue to make some signage for them,” he said.
That may include, for example, South Slavey signs at stores in Hay River or Chipewyan signs at stores in Fort Resolution.