Writing messages on their phones has long been a headache for the indigenous people of the Amazon. Now, an app makes your communication easier by putting your native languages at your fingertips.
Launched in August 2022, “Linklado” —a word formed by the combination of “lin”, in reference to indigenous languages, and “klado”, derived from the word “keyboard”— provides a digital keyboard suitable for indigenous populations living in areas remote areas of the immense Amazon region or in urban centers.
“The Linklado app brings many good things for me and so many for indigenous peoples,” said Cristina Quirino Mariano, 30, from the Ticuna community in an interview with AFP.
“It makes it a lot easier because before we couldn’t write on our cell phones,” he said, since in these communities not everyone speaks Portuguese.
On smartphones sold in the country, it is only possible to write messages in Latin characters.
Historically oral, Brazil’s indigenous cultures entered the written world when European colonizers sought to transcribe their languages, especially to convert them to Christianity.
In an attempt to better reproduce the sounds of these languages, it was necessary to find specific resources, associating the characters of the Latin alphabet with a set of accents and symbols, known as “diacritics” by linguists.
But until recently none of this was available on cell phones, which are essential for the approximately 1.7 million indigenous Brazilians, as well as other citizens of the country.
In the absence of a suitable keyboard, “the indigenous people spoke a lot on their cell phones in audio”, explains Noemia Ishikawa, coordinator of the Linklado project.
This 51-year-old biologist also had difficulties translating her research work: “I spent 14 years complaining that I needed a keyboard to solve this problem”, she says.
Two students, native to the region and non-indigenous, responded to his request.
Juliano Portela was 17 years old and his friend Samuel Benzecry was 18. Alerted by Benzecry about the difficulties the natives encountered, Portela, who had already learned to program, began designing the tool with his friend.
“It took us four days to create the application, we didn’t imagine we would do it so quickly”, recalled Portela.
Testing began in May 2022 and was released for free in August of the same year.
Today, “the application works for all indigenous languages in the Amazon”, that is, around 40, celebrates Portela, who now studies in the United States, as does Benzecry.
To date, the application has more than 3,000 downloads.
But, according to Portela, there are more daily users: “For the testing phases we used a file that we sent via WhatsApp; some natives sent the file to each other even before the application was launched.”
Income for communities
In addition to daily communication, the application also allows the translation of books and other texts from Portuguese to indigenous languages.
This allows some women in these communities to generate income, using their knowledge of local languages. The project called “Linkladas” was created to bring these translators together.
Rosilda Cordeiro Da Silva, 61 years old, is one of them. For this former teacher of indigenous languages, the application is something “very positive” that allows her to have “more confidence” when translating.
Furthermore, the application assists in efforts to preserve indigenous languages.
Vanda Witoto, a 35-year-old activist, tries to “rescue the Buré language”, spoken by her Witoto people.
“This keyboard has given us the opportunity to not use those symbols that are not from our language”, he said.
Beyond the Amazon, preserving native languages is a global challenge.
Half are doomed to disappear by 2100, the majority of which are indigenous languages, according to a report published by the UN in 2018.