Endangered Language Revitalization
Despite having many written examples and audio recordings of their language, the Mutsun tribe hasn't had a fluent speaker in over 90 years. Through a partnership with the Stanford University linguist department, Mutsun tribe elders, and Pratt institute, I created a learning/study tool for selected vocabulary words and common phrases. The cards include a word in the language, pronunciation of that word, how it’s used in a sentence, the English translation of that sentence and a graphic symbol to help aid the memorization process.
The cards were divided into four categories: nature, food, materials, and kinship terms and were color coded green, red, dark brown, and beige respectively. Each category has a system of symbols that relate to one another. However, the symbols do not reflect the noun itself. All words were chosen by a member of the tribe. The set included 65 word cards and three instructional cards.
These belong to the nature category. The words translate to sky, thunder, and lightning. The visual system for nature was based around triangles.
With these words specifically, you can begin to see a logic between the words/symbols. Triangle = sky. Both thunder and lightning take place within the sky.
Establishing Visual Relationships
The category of kinship terms was most challenging. This tribe has two different words for the word “sister” depending on who is speaking. Unlike the Spanish language in which the ending dictates the gender of the speaker/subject, this language just uses two separate words. Therefore, the word for “sister” (said by a woman) is depicted with a solid line whereas the word for “sister” (said by a man) is depicted with a dashed line.
The front of the card includes the word, the phonetic breakdown of the word, and related symbol.
The back of the card is an example sentence and the English translation of that sentence. Color was utilized to connect to the word, english translation, and graphic together.