Thumbs up to link between tech firms, Cherokee language
Twenty-first century communications networks are helping to preserve a language first spoken in these foothills and mountains long before Blount County was ever imagined.
The top technology companies in the world are making it possible.
Google has added the Cherokee language to Gmail — with a Cherokee virtual keyboard — making it the first Native American language the email service offers among the 56 other languages it supports.
According to the Cherokee Nation based in Tahlequah, Okla., that means users can now exchange emails and instant message chats entirely in the Cherokee syllabary — created by Sequoyah — just as they would in English, Spanish or other languages.
Apple was the first high-tech communications giant to draw the Cherokee language into its computerized fold. The MacOS operating system enveloped the “Plantagenet Cherokee” font in 2003. Apple made Cherokee one of 40 languages used by iPhone.
In February, Microsoft announced on its blog that Windows 8 will be available in 14 new languages including Cherokee. The Droid cell phone is also expected to soon include Cherokee as part of its operating system.
These modern devices will build upon the effort by Cherokee tribes to save their language from extinction. In 2002, a Cherokee Nation survey found no one under 40 spoke conversational Cherokee. A Cherokee language immersion school followed, requiring all the learning materials of an English-speaking school, including technological tools.
In 2009, along with representatives of the Cherokee Nation and the United Band of Cherokee, also from Oklahoma, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina opened Kituwah Academy. The academy is a language immersion school for preschool through fifth-grade students in Cherokee, N.C.
The language as Sequoyah knew it required a bit of tweaking to bring it up to date. Cherokee Nation translators and language technologists worked with Google to translate terms like “inbox,” “sign in” and “spam.” The word “email” in the modern Cherokee vernacular means “lightning paper.”
Preserving a language is invaluable to appreciating the heritage of a community — or a nation, as in the case of the Cherokee.
Cooperation between the Cherokee and America’s top communication technology firms is a virtual powwow worth celebrating.
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