Make us your home page
Instagram

Cherokee, Apple partner to put native language on iPhones

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Nine-year-old Lauren Hummingbird asked for a cell phone for Christmas — and not just any old phone, but an iPhone. Such a request normally would be met with skepticism by her father, Cherokee Nation employee Jamie Hummingbird.

He could dismiss the obvious reasons a kid might want an iPhone, except for this — he's a proud Cherokee, and buying his daughter the phone just might help keep the tribe's language alive.

Nearly two centuries after a blacksmith named Sequoyah converted Cherokee into its own written form, the tribe has worked with Apple to develop Cherokee language software for the iPhone, iPod and — soon — the iPad. Computers used by students at the tribe's language immersion school already allow them to type using Cherokee characters.

The goal, Cherokee Chief Chad Smith said, is to spread the use of the language among tech-savvy children in the digital age. Smith has been known to text students at the school using Cherokee, and teachers do the same, allowing students to continue using the language after school hours.

Tribal officials first contacted Apple about getting Cherokee on the iPhone three years ago. It seemed like a long shot, as the devices support only 50 of the thousands of languages worldwide, and none were American Indian tongues. But Apple's reputation for innovation gave the tribe hope.

After many discussions and a visit from Smith, Apple surprised the tribe by coming through this fall.

"There are countries vying to get on these devices for languages, so we are pretty excited we were included," said Joseph Erb, who works in the Cherokee Nation's language technology division.

The Cherokee take particular pride in their past, including the alphabet, or syllabary, Sequoyah developed in 1821. In 1828, the tribe obtained a printing press and began publishing the Cherokee Phoenix, which the Cherokee claim was the nation's first bilingual newspaper. Copies circulated as far away as Europe, tribal officials say.

The Cherokee language thrived back then, but like other tribal tongues, it has become far less prevalent over the decades. Today, only about 8,000 Cherokee speakers remain — a fraction of the tribe's 290,000 members — and most of those are 50 or older, Smith said.

Tribal leaders realized something must done to encourage younger generations to learn the language.

"What makes you a Cherokee if you don't have Cherokee thoughts?" asked Rita Bunch, superintendent of the tribe's Sequoyah Schools.

Tribal officials thus decided to develop the language immersion school, in which students would be taught multiple subjects in a Cherokee-only environment.

The Oklahoma school began in 2001 and now has 105 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. They work on Apple laptops already loaded with the Cherokee language — the Macintosh operating system has supported Cherokee since 2003 — and featuring a unique keypad overlay with Cherokee's 85 characters, each of which represent a different syllable.

But Erb and co-workers Jeff Edwards and Roy Boney knew there had to be more ways to tap into the younger generation's love of cell phones, iPods and the like.

"If you don't figure out a way to keep technology exciting and innovative for the language, kids have a choice when they get on a cell phone," Erb said.

Initially, the thought was to simply create an application so texting could be done in Cherokee. But that idea quickly grew.

Smith compared the use of Cherokee on Apple devices to Sequoyah's creation of the syllabary and the tribe's purchase of the printing press.

He sees a day when tribal members routinely will read books and perform plays and operas in their native language.

"You always hear the cliche, 'History repeats itself.' This is one of those historic moments that people just don't comprehend what is happening," the chief said. "What this does is give us some hope that the language will be revitalized."

Cherokee, Apple partner to put native language on iPhones 12/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is being asked to help the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board get $500,000 from the state so it can stay open beyond February.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally

    Business

    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  3. Tampa Club president seeks assessment fee from members

    News

    TAMPA — The president of the Tampa Club said he asked members last month to pay an additional assessment fee to provide "additional revenue." However, Ron Licata said Friday that the downtown business group is not in a dire financial situation.

    Ron Licata, president of the Tampa Club in downtown Tampa. [Tampa Club]
  4. Under Republican health care bill, Florida must make up $7.5 billion

    Markets

    If a Senate bill called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 becomes law, Florida's government would need to make up about $7.5 billion to maintain its current health care system. The bill, which is one of the Republican Party's long-promised answers to the Affordable Care Act imposes a cap on funding per enrollee …

    Florida would need to cover $7.5 billion to keep its health care program under the Republican-proposed Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.  [Times file photo]
  5. Amid U.S. real estate buying binge by foreign investors, Florida remains first choice

    Real Estate

    Foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate recently skyrocketed to a new high with nearly half of all foreign sales happening in Florida, California and Texas.

    A National Association of Realtors annual survey found record volume and activity by foreign buyers of U.S. real estate. Florida had the highest foreign investment activity, followed by California and Texas. [National Association of Realtors]