January 30, 2013

Facebooking, Googling, and texting in Cherokee

Can the digital age save the Cherokee language? The halls of Facebook, Google and texting

By Becky JohnsonRapidly firing incomplete sentences on cell phones might not look or feel like the same Cherokee language spoken by fluent elders, but it’s a critical juncture in the race to pass the torch to the next generation of speakers. Putting the language at the fingertips of youth in a format they know means the language is being used in daily life and interactions — which is ultimately the test of a language’s survival.

“Language is something that happens in social interactions between people who hold that language in their minds,” said Hartwell Francis, the director of WCU’s Cherokee language program. “They are not thinking about how they are interacting; they are simply interacting through the language.”

Cherokee language proponents have collaborated with Google to launch a Cherokee language interface and Cherokee language version of GMail. One click of the mouse can switch the language settings to Cherokee for web searches and composing email messages.

The possibilities are vast. Whether it’s Cherokee YouTube videos or skyping with native Cherokee speakers, getting the language into new popular mediums could make the difference in the language surviving or dying down the road.

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