Native American languages, as well as other niche languages, often get very little support and inclusion when it comes to technology. Simply the amount of hours necessary to be able to translate, optimise and research small group languages would not be a profitable endeavour, but through using volunteers in a crowdsourcing initiative, Microsoft and Google have managed to include Cherokee as a language option for both Windows 8 and Gmail, digitally ensuring the survival of the language and bringing joy to many North American native language speakers.
How Cherokee and Technology Meet
Cherokee was the first tribal language in the early 1800’s to create its own newspaper and native speakers have continued to rally for the integration of the language into modern systems to ensure the languages survival through the technological revolution. Already an integrated language system with Apple’s iPhone range, the 20 year long discussions with Microsoft finally bore fruit with the language making its debut with Windows in the latest version. The project included Microsoft employees, community leaders, and Cherokee students who lodged thousands of hours to create the translations for the system, with the most challenging task being creation of new technological terms not native to the language.
Gmail realised that due to the dispersion of the original tribal groups, one of the main forms of communication between native Cherokee speakers was email. Since becoming Gmail’s 57th supported language options are already in place to incorporate the work done into Google translate, making similar options available that are already in place for French translation services. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker has been working with Google and Microsoft to ensure that the Cherokee language keeps evolving and becomes a business not simply for recreation and private, but also business use.
A Language Saved
Early Census statistics in 2002 recorded that Cherokee was a dying language in the youth, with almost no native and fluent conversational speakers under the age of 40. With this development, chiefs and other prominent Cherokee officials rallied and implemented native language schools for Cherokee, ensuring that all supplies and facilities; including textbooks and technological needs were met.
At the Sequoyah Schools in Tahlequah, Microsoft officials will be celebrating this union of Windows 8 and the modern Cherokee language at a Cherokee School. With endeavours such as these and the love of a language by its native speakers, languages with few speakers can live for eternity in technology.
Terrence Stoker is a freelance blogger with interest in technology and the way it shapes our world. When asked by a client consulting about a website translation project, Terrence got interested in the digital preservation of language and in research cam across this recent story of how native american languages are being preserved through IT.
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