TAHLEQUAH -- Ever since Sequoyah created the Cherokee syllabary for reading and writing, technology has advanced the language more and more into a contemporary form. And now in the digital age, technology is expanding the language's vocabulary.
Anyone using a smartphone, tablet or computer can access the Cherokee language by changing the language in their devices' settings. Because of modern technology, Cherokee translators in the Cherokee Nation's Language Department, as well as the Cherokee Language Consortium, are creating more words to keep up with today's vernacular.
The Cherokee Language Consortium is comprised of fluent speakers from the CN, United Keetoowah Band and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who translate modern words into Cherokee.
Language Department Manager Roy Boney helped get the language into technological media.
"Probably the biggest, most well-known example is the iPhone, which has Cherokee language support on it. You go through some settings and you can enable a Cherokee keyboard so you can type and text and do everything in Cherokee on the phone," Boney said. "At the moment, pretty much any technology you can think of, you can do it in Cherokee now. That was a pretty long process. We started trying to do these projects back in 2008."
He said Microsoft Office software also has an online program in which Cherokee can be accessed.
"How this all works in the bigger picture is all languages that are on computers and phones, anything that's digital, there's a group called Unicode Consortium that governs how these languages are used on technology," Boney said. "The languages have to follow the standard of Unicode. About the year 2000, the Cherokee language, the syllabary, was actually coded into that Unicode system. So when that happened, it allowed all of this other technology to fall into place."
He said Cherokee was the first Native American language to be encoded. Now other tribes are following suit.
"As a result of the work that we've done with the technology at Cherokee Nation, we're the only tribe that's a member of the Unicode Consortium group. I serve as the liaison representative to the Unicode Consortium for the Cherokee Nation. So if there are other tribes that want to come in and do this work, we can guide them through this process," Boney said.
With technology, the Language Department is also able to translate for other tribal departments when needed, including the Cherokee Phoenix.
"The Cherokee Phoenix has been doing articles since it formed initially. So this tradition continues. We have five full-time Cherokee translators. What they do is they'll read the story and they'll sit down and write the translation for it," Boney said.
He said once a story translation is complete for the Phoenix, the translator will record audio for it. Then readers can scan a QR code with their smartphones to hear the translated story's audio.
The Language Department also created translations for classroom and training materials after fielding requests and placing those translations onto the tribe's website for download.
Boney said in addition to online Cherokee classes taught by Ed Fields, the Language Department is starting an online course with Rogers State University in the fall to expand its online presence.
"When you look at the bigger picture, when Sequoyah made the syllabary back at the time, people don't think of writing as a technology. But it is. You're using a tool to communicate, and that's a form of technology to do that," Boney said. "So every time there's a new version of some writing technology, the syllabary's been updated for it. Where we are now is the same idea. Texting, social media and everything, that's just the next evolution of technology in Cherokee, and the Cherokee syllabary's just evolved along with it."