Not long ago on the Facebook Cree Word of the Day Group, somebody complained that Facebook should recognize Cree. A great idea, right? Why not?
Here’s the single biggest reason: Spelling.
Why does spelling matter?
Like every other computer program, Facebook needs consistent spelling to make it work. Sure, people can spell words as they please in their posts, but the stuff that the computer uses in the background to make it all work just doesn’t compute when there are spelling errors.
When Facebook recognizes other languages – like French, or Russian or Finnish, it starts by looking for the words in its English dictionary. When it doesn’t find them there, it goes on to other carefully edited dictionaries and language tools that it has stored in the background. When it finds a match, Facebook suggests a translation. When the spelling is wrong, nothing matches and Facebook can only guess. Badly. When the spelling is “just like it sounds to me”? Facebook can’t even guess what language it’s supposed to be.
What’s the next step?
Before we all write to Facebook and tell them to recognize Cree (which is a great idea), we need better agreement amongst ourselves! The standard used by the Cree Literacy Network is Arok Wolvengrey’s Cree: Words, which is based on decades of use by pioneers like the late Freda Ahenakew and Ida McLeod, who devoted their lives to exactly this cause. Their foundation is being used right now to help develop better computer tools for Cree, that rely on standard spelling to work!
A gift to use right now:
To help Facebook learn to recognize Cree, spelling consistently is step one. Here’s a gift from Arok Wolvengrey and Jean Okimâsis that can help: Wolvengrey and Okimâsis: How to Spell it in Cree. Jean and Arok wrote this book to help fluent speakers use their existing knowledge to spell in SRO. They’ve asked that it be shared at no cost through the Cree Literacy Network. Of course, there’s some work involved in reading it and using the rules. But considering the value of Cree language migration to the internet?