Cherokee has become the first Native American language fully integrated into Gmail. That means users can now exchange emails and instant message chats entirely in the Cherokee Syllabary, just as they would in English, Spanish or other languages.
“We are constantly trying to find ways to ensure our Cherokee language lives on and thrives, and being able to converse via email is a vital part of that,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “In the 1800s, we were the first tribe to develop a written language and newspaper. Two hundred years later, we continue to be a leader by becoming the first tribal language to be integrated on the iPhone and now Gmail. Partnering with the largest technology companies in the world to translate our native language onto modern devices is another useful tool that helps our Cherokees keep the language alive.”
One of the challenges of fully integrating Cherokee into Gmail was translating more modern words that did not exist when the Cherokee Syllabary was transcribed. Cherokee Nation translators and language technologists worked with Google to translate terms like “inbox," “sign in” and “spam."
“When Google decides to support a language, it’s not just about which ones have the largest number of speakers. In order to do business around the world, we need to support languages with millions of speakers, such as Japanese, French or Arabic,” said Craig Cornelius, a Google software engineer. “But we also want to include less spoken languages in order to help preserve the culture and diversity that come with them.”
Cornelius said several Native American tribes have expressed interest in translating their languages with Google, but the Cherokee Nation has been the most intentional in getting the translations done.
In 2002, a Cherokee Nation survey found no one under 40 spoke conversational Cherokee. A Cherokee language immersion school followed, requiring all the learning materials of an English-speaking school, including technological tools.