Cherokee language translator proud to share language
MARBLE CITY – David Crawler is this year’s recipient of the Cherokee Phoenix’s Seven Feathers award for language.
He has worked for the Cherokee Nation since 2009 as a translator.
“What I do there, I translate for the Cherokee Phoenix. I put the articles in the Cherokee language. I translate for the schools…the (Cherokee) Immersion (School). They need stuff all of the time, so we help translate materials for the school as well as the (Cherokee), North Carolina, immersion school. We work with them for whatever translations they need,” he said.
Translators also translate signage for the tribe’s hospitals and clinics, Crawler said, along with street signs and signage for tribal departments and programs.
“Everything you see in Cherokee around here, that’s what we do, that’s what I do,” he said. “There are several of us that does those translations, and I’m one of them.”
He said what he likes the most is that he can speak Cherokee with others and “never have to talk English.”
“It’s (job) the easiest thing for me because of the language. We get to talk in Cherokee. When you talk in Cherokee everything is funny. It just depends how serious you are. You can make it funny or you can be serious. That’s the best thing in the world, to talk Cherokee all day with my coworkers.”
He said he’s glad to help keep the language going, and believes all Cherokees should learn some or “a lot” of their language to save it.
He said he learned Cherokee as a young boy going to church in Marble City, as well as from his elders. In particular, he learned how to read and write from his great-aunt, Cynthia Rosin Pettit.
“She was the only one that read Cherokee in our church,” he said. “We had an uncle, he was a preacher, he would tell his sister (Cynthia), ‘could you read that passage in Cherokee for me?’ She would get up and open up that Bible and read it. I thought, ‘that sure is something. She can read our own language.’ I thought that was really interesting.”
He began learning to read and write Cherokee with his grandmother, Nancy Pettit, and “learned a little bit then.” While in high school, he met Cherokee linguist Durbin Feeling, who invited Crawler to his evening Cherokee language class.
Crawler said he learned much quickly from Feeling in 1986 while attending Sequoyah High School because Feeling “pushed us to learn the language.” But he said it all started in Marble City at that little church where he got the idea to learn from his aunt Cynthia.
“Sometimes when we would be outside and I’d ask her, and she would write on the ground…and say the sounds like I’m supposed to,” he said.
He said his teachers would be proud of the job he is doing now.
“I wish they were here to see what we’re doing. I need them sometimes. Sometimes I’ll try to remember how to say something, and I think, ‘boy, I wish I could have them all back with me,’” he said. “Language is important. There are just a few of us left (speakers). Me and my mother talked last night, and we were talking about how serious it is, that the kids and grandkids should learn. I’m at fault there because I have children and I have grandchildren. I wish they could talk Cherokee or understand it even, but they don’t.”
He said he’s glad to receive the Seven Feathers award for language because that’s something he excels in and can teach. “That’s the thing I can’t fail at. I can really do that, and I thought it was an honor that they chose me for that award.”