Saturday, November 24, 2012


The syllabary, the Cherokee Nation's written language, was developed in the early 19th century by a man whose name is now known as the name of giant trees. The word syllabary reminds me of those tiny New Yorker funnies with Constabulary Notes from All Over.

As reported last October 7 by Christina Good Voice, in the online Cherokee Phoenix, in the article "Apple co-founder Steve Jobs leaves legacy in Cherokee language":

In 2003, Apple began supporting the Cherokee language by including a font and keyboard in the company’s computer operating system, wrote CN Language Technologist Joseph Erb in an emailed statement.

“In 2010, Apple’s mobile operating system, now known as iOS, began supporting the Cherokee syllabary by including a font and keyboard as well,” Erb wrote. “Now, all iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches in the world include our language on them – out of the box.

“Anything a person can do in English can be done in Cherokee in part because of his innovations and his support of our language.” 

Students in the Cherokee Language Immersion Program use the Cherokee language on Apple MacBooks in class.

Granted, Steve Jobs did contribute to the well-being of a language that in December 2010 had all of 8000 fluent speakers, most of them over the age of 50, according to an Engadget report. But the Cherokee Nation did its part, too: It joined the Unicode Consortium, the non-profit organization which develops, maintains and promotes software internationalization standards and data. (The Cherokee Nation is listed on Unicode's website as one of many Liaison Members; Apple, Google, Microsoft, and IBM are among the two handfuls of full members.)

In 2011 the National Science Foundation and the NEH announced 10 fellowships and 24 institutional grants totaling $3.9 million in the agencies' ongoing Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) program. One of the grants was awarded to the author of the definitive Cherokee-English dictionary and many Cherokee language books, a man named Durbin D. Feeling, "to study the prosody of Cherokee, a severely endangered Iroquoian language. This project will add information about lexical tone and vowel length for each entry in the Cherokee Electronic Dictionary, filling a gap in the available resources on Cherokee grammar."

This week, Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ) became Google's 57th language to become Gmailable. Email in Cherokee means the newly coined phrase "lightning paper," an echo (to me, anyway) of the 19th-century phrase "paper leaves."


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November 2017: Here's a tidbit about the history of the syllabary, from an online-published essay by Krissy Clark and Geoff McGhee, entitled "Did the West Make Newspapers, or Did Newspapers Make the West?" Find it at the website for The Bill Lane Center for the American West.
. . . In Oklahoma, for example, a young, Princeton-educated silversmith by the name of Sequoyah began developing an alphabet for the Cherokee language in 1809, with the hope of making written communication possible for his tribe. In 1828, the Cherokee Phoenix, the first Indian newspaper, came off of a press in Georgia that was typeset in his syllabary. It is instructive of the relationship between the natives and the coming settlers that one of the later papers to use the alphabet was not a newspaper at all, but a publication called the Cherokee Messenger, meant to proselytize Christianity in 1844.7 
7 Karolevitz, Robert F., Newspapering In the Old West: A Pictorial History of Journalism and Printing On the Frontier. [1st ed.] (Seattle: Superior Pub. Co, 1965), p. 122. 

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