Cultural genocide leads to the death of not only languages, but knowledge and thus generations. An unfortunate reality is that voice technologies can exacerbate this problem as much as they could be used to reverse it. Like most technologies, the key is in how they are designed and how they are implemented.
Before heading to law school I formally studied: Arabic, Spanish, ASL, Portuguese, Turkish, Farsi, Hebrew, and Greek. Informally throw in many others, including lots of dialects of Arabic, Tashelheet, Tembe, Hawai’ian, French, Polish, and a quick dabble in Norwegian and Azeri.
I’ve learned in that time, and travel (I spent about 8 years abroad), that governments use language laws to eradicate peoples. I don’t say that facetiously. It’s why I went to law school – because we are “guaranteed” a jury of our peers but the first document you sign in US immigration courts might waive your right to a translator in English!
Language access has been life-or-death at our border. Children will go study a foreign language in the cities and come back to their parents who they can no longer speak to comfortably. They lose their ability to know the ways of the forest or desert, often with deadly consequences.
As Covid wreaks havoc, and medical care is only available in select languages, language inaccess compounds danger in our current state of affairs.
The founder said to me, “we won’t stop coding until everyone has access to free information in the language they speak.” We discussed Tashelheet. We discussed Tembe. We discussed what it would be like for someone speaking Icelandic to not need to talk to a smart speaker in English.
I’m here because I believe, in my core, that everyone should have free access to information. They should be able to access it in a language they understand, when and where they want. That doesn’t mean that smart speakers need to be brought into the Northeastern Amazon (where Tembe is spoken) or the Western Sahara (where Tash is spoken) BUT if someone wants to be able to ask questions – they should be able to, in private, in their language, without paying for it.
Leanna’s purpose in life is to help folks, teach empathy, and make loads a little lighter. To do that, she went to law school hoping to become a movement lawyer. On her way to CUNY School of Law, she formally studied more than a dozen languages and lived abroad for about a third of her life. She joined Mycroft because she is interested in jobs that make a difference and believes that everyone should have technology they can use in the language they are most comfortable in. She believes in guerilla open access and can’t wait until accurate information is free and accessible to all.