As part of its efforts to preserve endangered languages, Google just released a new search option: Cherokee.
The new search page allows people who speak Cherokee to search the Internet in Cherokee from any computer. You don’t need a special keyboard to type your query out, either – just click on the keyboard icon in the search box, and a virtual keyboard with the Cherokee syllabary on it will appear. Sweet!
In a press release, Cherokee Nation Language Technologist Joseph Erb said:
“Translators from Cherokee Nation were eager to volunteer to help make this project a reality, including Cherokee speaking staff, community members and youth. We now have the power and knowledge of the Internet accessible in our own language. With these tools we are building for Cherokee tomorrow.”
The Cherokee syllabary was most likely developed by Sogwali, otherwise known as Sequoyah. This writing system helped preserve the language through trials like the “Trail of Tears” and government “assimilation” programs that discouraged children from speaking it. Today, it is taught to Cherokee children in school along with English, but with 22,000 speakers at the most, it’s still vulnerable. The tribe has focused on technology in its quest to encourage young people to embrace the language. Last year, they released an iPhone app that makes it possible to send and receive text messages in Cherokee.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chad Smith called Google’s new Cherokee interface:
“essential to keeping our language alive. We have been working hard to get our young people interested in learning our Native tongue but we cannot be successful unless they can read and write in the medium of their era – all the digital devices that are currently so popular.”