Texting in Cherokee

ThinkstockPhotos-493796427Cherokee language supporters collaborated with Google two years ago to launch a Cherokee language interface and Cherokee language version of Google’s email service. Whether it’s Cherokee YouTube videos or Skyping with native Cherokee speakers, getting the language into new popular mediums has been a large part of the movement to revitalize the language. Currently, Cherokee immersion programs are aiming to cultivate the next generation of Cherokee speakers as most of the native or fluent speakers are elderly. Retention of the Cherokee language after such immersion programs will rely on the ability for young people to use their language in everyday ways. The Cherokee syllabary has been adapting to new forms of media, such as the printing press and typewriters, for hundreds of years and there are now over 40 Cherokee word processing fonts to choose from.

A large concern for minority languages turning to mobile phones and the internet is the production and maintenance of quality content. “What does having this information available on the Internet mean to Cherokee speakers, Cherokee language learners and the Cherokee community?” Hartwell Francis, the director of WCU’s Cherokee language program, asked during a talk on Cherokee language in the digital age. “You have essentially useless, overproduced word lists that are potentially incorrect, often a list of colors or an alphabet,” Francis said. “You can see how limited it is,” he continued, pulling up one such site, where you type in the English word and it spits out the Cherokee syllabic pronunciation for its equivalent. “Language is words being put together in a meaningful context. It puts a severe bottleneck in your language learning if you have to type in word by word.” Still, any interaction with the internet means the creation of a meaningful digital archive.

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