Head down, fingers flying. People seem nearly constantly glued to their mobile devices. Could the ever-present cell phone help preserve vanishing languages?
Telecommunications company Motorola is investing in language research. Recently, the company introduced a Cherokee language tool on its newest line of phones.
Users will be able to find apps and toggle settings using the syllable-based written language.
Merely reading Cherokee on smartphones won’t preserve the language. But it might begin immersing younger tribal citizens in the tongue spoken by a dwindling number of their elders.
That’s the hope of Principal Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. “It’s just one more piece of a very large puzzle of trying to preserve and proliferate the language,” he says.
Apple, Microsoft, and Google software options already enable people to type in Cherokee on laptops and phones. But language preservationists with the Motorola project tried to infuse the system with Cherokee culture—not just written symbols.
For example, the start button on a Motorola device features a Cherokee word that translates into English as “just start.” That’s a clever nod to the casual way Cherokee elders might use the phrase, says Benjamin Frey, a university professor and member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
“It could have said ‘let’s get started’ in many different ways,” Frey comments. “But it said halenagwu.” He adds, “That’s very Cherokee. . . . which is pretty exciting.”
Frey and Sneed collaborated with Motorola. Both understand that some Cherokee have concerns about language research by tech companies.
“I think it is a danger that companies could take this kind of material and take advantage of it, selling it without sharing the proceeds with community members,” Frey says. “I decided that the potential benefit was worth the risk.”
Frey didn’t grow up speaking Cherokee. His grandmother and others of her generation were told that “English was the only way to get ahead in the world.” They were punished for speaking Cherokee, Frey says. Therefore, Frey’s mom didn’t learn the language—and didn’t teach him.
Sneed says that of thousands of members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who speak Cherokee fluently as their first language, “I think we’re down to 172 or so.”
Frey hopes Motorola’s new tool will start conversations between older Cherokee language speakers and their tech-savvy grandkids. But it’ll take real-life language interactions, not just smartphone technology, to make a difference.
“We do have to make sure that the language continues to be used and continues to be spoken,” says Frey. “Otherwise, it could die out.”
Why? The God who calls Himself “the Word” (John 1:1) places great importance on language. Perhaps God wants someone reading this magazine to spread the gospel by working with little-known languages.
Pray about how God might use a gift for languages to further His work in the world.
Yay! I get first comment!! I think that languages are a lot of fun because you can use it like a code. Also, it unlocks your travel possibilities. The lesser-known languages are very fascinating.
2nd comment /this is wyn
I love learning new languages (even though I'm not very good at it ). :D
i think its cool how they're taking everyday objects and making them a learning tool to preserve a new language.
@Belwyn R - same i don't know any others besides english right now though, but over the summer i'm going to start learning Mandarin.
@Steven L/this is wyn
That's cool! Mandarin sounds cool to learn. I only know basic Italian because my dad grew up in Italy and speaks Italian fluently. I once knew the numbers from 1-10 in Korean, but I think I forgot them XD
My mom is fully Korean and she's going to help me brush up on speaking and reading skills this summer. I would post how to count to 10 but the romanization would be incorrect and misleading for the pronunciation :(.
yea, mandarin is pretty cool,
yea, mandarin is pretty cool, actually, it is the second most spoken language so it might come in handy. and its pretty fun learning it.
and I aslo forgot how to count to ten in mandarin all I remember is that 8 is pronounced "ba" lol.
p.s. @Belwyn R. my brother is learning some korean.
p.p.s I hope to start learning ASL soon also
@Steven/this is wyn
ASL is so fun to learn! I don't know a ton of it but I do know a good amount. :)
They should totally.......
They should totally do the with Latin!!!
Latin is great!! Do you speak it? I know the basics after taking a course on it for the past year.
So interesting. I live in nc
So interesting. I live in nc so this seems interesting to go visit this reservation
Hey, I live in nc also!
@Analise and Scarlett -- lol, my brother stopped korean and switched to latin
I’m learning Latin at my school and my mom and grandpa are teaching me Korean (because 3 years of Korean school didn’t really help)
Nice, hows it coming?
This is a really neat idea. I also think that people are glued to their phones way too much.
As for languages. . . I am learning German right now. I did some Latin in junior high, but I didn't really like it that much. I also learned how to count to ten in Japanese when we had an exchange student, but I have forgotten it. So then do you really count it as learning it when you then forget it?
Is Korean in characters?
ooh german is cool! They didn't offer Latin at my middle school (junior high) otherwise I would have def taken it.
and I think that Korean has letters so I dont think its characters. but the letters might be put together to look like characters... not sure tho. that's what my brother says.
Ok. I would think that languages with characters would be the hardest to learn, since you have to learn all the characters and what they mean. In, say, German, there are some different letters, but most of them are the same alphabet as the Americans use, and so that makes it easier to at least read and write.
yea, I'm not going to start learning how to read and write Mandarin quite yet because i really dont have the time to study it that much to remember all the different characters. one of the confusing and more funnier things about mandarin that I learned is to say "he" sounds like "ta" (他) and "her" is also "ta" (她) the only difference is the way that you write it.