How do you save a dwindling language with technology? In the case of the Native American Cherokee tribe, you put your language on the devices that the kids want most, and that’s iPhones and iPads. Cherokee has been supported on Mac OS X since 2003, with special keyboard layouts and keys that use Cherokee characters. Now you can use your iPhone, and soon the iPad, to do the same.
Pretty much as soon as the iPhone was released, representatives from the Cherokee Nation asked Apple to consider adding support for the language, which is declining in use among the younger generation. Concerned with keeping the language alive, tribal officials had numerous discussions with Apple, and even a visit from Cherokee Chief Chad Smith. Apple remained mum on the subject, and it wasn’t until just shortly before the release of iOS 4.1 in September 2010 that they were informed that Apple would be adding support for Cherokee. According to the Associated Press, Joseph Erb, who works in the Cherokee Nation’s language technology division, was elated. “There are countries vying to get on these devices for languages, so we are pretty excited we were included,” said Erb. So far Cherokee is the only Native American language to be supported on Apple devices.
The hope is that by extending the use of Cherokee into iPhones students will continue to use Cherokee even when they are not in class, away from their computers. Chief Smith and teachers have been known to text their students using Cherokee, and students are encouraged to do likewise. And it’s not just for the young. Erb notes that the Apple devices that support Cherokee are most popular with students, but the technology is slowly gaining traction with older tribal members, especially those who might not like using computers but routinely use cell phones.