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How to learn an Aboriginal language through karaoke

Soon, you’ll be able to learn the NWT’s Aboriginal languages through karaoke.

Pinnguaq, a Nunavut-based video game and app developer, is expanding.

The Pangnirtung-based company makes an app named Singuistics, which teaches you how to speak Inuktitut with the help of music.

Now, a new version of Singuistics is set to offer support for Gwich’in and Dene languages.

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“Singuistics was the first original app we ever developed,” Pinnguaq founder Ryan Oliver told Moose FM.

“It’s a language-learning app which teaches Inuktitut through music and art. We commissioned artists from across Pangnirtung to interpret songs visually, and you really become absorbed in the culture. You’re able to touch words at any point on your tablet and get language lessons out of that.

“Hopefully, by September, we’ll have editions of Singuistics available in the Gwich’in language as well as in Dene.”

Pinnguaq began by translating other developers’ existing games into Inuktitut – the best-known being Osmos, a puzzle game that won a range of prestigious awards in 2010.

Oliver says the inspiration to do that came from his own children.

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“In Pangnirtung, a lot of their friends would come over to my house and play a seemingly endless supply of video games,” he said.

“But I noticed a lot of kids were playing experiences that really didn’t relate to the life they were living – it was really a reflection of American culture, a culture that doesn’t exist and certainly isn’t in the language within most of the North.”

Oliver reached out to friends in the gaming industry and Pinnguaq now has three full-time staff: Oliver, plus developers with experience at EA Sports and Microsoft.

The company’s philosophy lies in applying “the uniqueness of the North” to technology, to create an authentic representation of northern culture on the latest devices.

Gwich’in and Dene editions of Singuistics are among five new languages Pinnguaq hopes to roll out. The company is also expanding to support Android and PC editions alongside Apple.

“The Gwich’in edition is almost finished. Some people are helping us out of Fort McPherson,” said Oliver. “The Dene version we got going on last week, and we’re still figuring out who the right partners are.

“The one thing we have right now – that probably most people who approach indigenous nations don’t have – is we receive federal government funding. We can cover costs: we have money to pay artists, musicians, and language teachers. Matching the right partners with the available funding we have is a big priority.”

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Singuistics, first released for the Inuktitut language in 2013, comes with the ability to share the tracks you make – a “karaoke mode” where, once users have spent some time learning, they can sing their own Aboriginal-language accompaniments to instrumental tracks.

“We’ve had recordings from Morocco, Spain, France, of people singing these Inuktitut songs,” said Oliver.

“It’s always interesting to listen to the accents of the world taking their attempt at the Inuktitut language.”

New apps and games are in the works. In Arviat, Nunavut, the company is currently testing a mini-game app based on healthy living.

Next will be Qalupalik, which Oliver describes as a “mainstream stealth-horror game” based on an Inuit sea-creature myth.

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