Modern technology has provided Cherokee citizens a platform for preserving language – not just on a local level, but worldwide.
On Wednesday, Microsoft and Cherokee Nation launched Windows 8 in Cherokee, which is the first Native American language to be fully integrated into the software platform.
“This is one of the most important, far-reaching events of the Cherokee Nation,” said Neil Morton, executive director of education for the tribe. “This will benefit you and generations to come. It could very well be compared with the Rosetta Stone - the artifact, not the software program - because the Cherokee language is alive and well as proved by this morning’s meeting.”
Morton said when the endeavor first began, both Microsoft representatives and Cherokee Nation translators approached the task with a certain degree of apprehension.
“We wondered what we were getting into,” said Morton. “We wondered, ‘Can we do this?’ We did. One of the first affirmations of Microsoft’s commitment was when they asked to meet with the chief. If there were any uncertainties, they were quickly taken care of, as the chief explained it is part of his oath of office to preserve the tribe’s language and culture.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said launching the system a week before Christmas is a fitting gift for the holidays.
“And this was truly a labor of love,” said Baker. “Two hundred years fro now, Cherokees can go to whatever a computer may be by then and this will keep the language alive. Over 180,000 words were translated during the course of this project, which is the largest undertaking since the New Testament was translated back in the 1800s.”
Baker thanked staff from the tribe’s information technology department, Microsoft and the dozen translators who volunteered for the project.
Carla Hurd, Microsoft senior program manager, said while the project was a huge undertaking, and even bigger endeavor has already begun.
“This will have global reach; your language will be everywhere,” said Hurd. “Adding Cherokee to Microsoft Office 2013 is already in the works, and it is three to five times larger than Windows 8.”
CN Chief Information Officer Jon James said integrating language preservation efforts with technology has become essential.
“It’s very important we use technology to get our language back,” said James. “Even our elders are realizing it’s important to use technology to keep the language alive.”
Lois Leach, a 56-year-old clerk in the Cherokee Nation roads department helped with the translation, logging over 100 volunteer hours with the project. She helped with computer terms that didn’t exist when the Cherokee language was developed, including “folder,” “printer,” and “email.”
“You don’t look at yourself really doing anything that huge until you see it come together,” said Leach. It’s amazing to think our work will be shared all over the world. In essence, it’s my way of giving back to the younger generation.”
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