American linguist develops Braille alphabet for traditional dialect of Ts’msyen people


Harris Mowbray never went to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, but he left his mark there.

Mowbray, a California-based amateur linguist and software programmer, together with Brendan Eshom, a resident of Prince Rupert and a member of the Gitga’at Nation, created a braille alphabet for Sm’algyax, the traditional dialect of the Ts’ people. msyen from the north coast. .

According to the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, which works to preserve Indigenous languages ​​in British Columbia, sm’algyax is in serious decline and most speakers are over 70 years old.

Eshom, in an effort to revitalize the language, has been operating the Sm’algyax Word of the Day website and mobile app since 2019.

It was through Eshom’s website and app that Mowbray discovered the language in early 2021 and offered his services.

Mowbray has already created braille alphabets for Chamorro and Carolinian languages ​​of the Mariana Islands, Kashubian and Silesian languages ​​of Poland and others and was looking for his next project.

“I think it’s really important that people who are blind or nearsighted or have visual impairments can participate in languages ​​as much as everyone else,” Mowbray said.

WATCH | Brendan Eshom talks about learning the Sm’algyax language through courses available in Prince Rupert schools:

Mowbray contacted Eshom in February and, after an online conference and consultation with the Sm’algyax Language Authority, the newly designed alphabet was added to the website.

“The development of a Braille alphabet for Sm’algyax increases the number of people who can experience the knowledge and heritage of the North Coast of British Columbia – literally firsthand,” Eshom said in a statement.

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

The new braille alphabet was launched on Eshom’s website on July 9 and can be viewed by the public as a series of illustrations that correspond to the characters conventionally used to write Sm’algyax.

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

Sm’algyax is spoken by people from the Ts’msyen communities of Maxlaxaala (Metlakatla), Txałgiu (Hartley Bay), Lax Kw’alaams (Port Simpson), Lax Klan (Gitxaala), Klemtu, Gits’alaasu (Kitselas), Gits ‘m’Kalm (Kitsmkalum) as well as the Ts’msyen who live in Prince Rupert, Terrace, Alaska and beyond.

Harris Mowbray also created braille alphabets for the Chamorro and Carolinian languages ​​of the Mariana Islands and the Kashubian and Silesian languages ​​of Poland. (Facebook / Harris Mowbray)

Mowbray said the corresponding braille alphabet doesn’t have many more characters than the English braille alphabet, which means people who can read English braille only need to learn a few more letters.

He also said that there are computer printers that can create tactile dots on thick paper to make written documents accessible to blind people, as well as modern technologies that allow people to send and receive text messages in braille.

“Accessibility is vital for the preservation and dissemination of minority languages,” Mowbray, who is not visually impaired, said in a statement.

“As I design and adapt Braille alphabets to the written vernacular, I am amazed at the unique ways in which communities preserve and transmit culture. The limits of vision should not be a hindrance for anyone who wishes to share this experience. ”

The braille version of Sm’algyax is available at

LISTEN | Harris Mowbray on working with Brendan Eshom on a Sm’algyax braille alphabet:

North Dawn6:11Translate Sm’algyax into braille

Linguist Harris Mowbray talks about his collaboration with Prince Rupert Sm’algyax language application designer Brendan Eshom. 6:11

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