Cherokee Language now on iPhone

Apple is helping protect native cultural institutions in the United States. Huh? The Grinch Steve Jobs has a heart? Who knew. But seriously, Apple has released software for its iPhone and iPod touch that allow speakers of the Cherokee language write and read in it right on their devices. An update is even on the way to allow iPads to do the same.

Cherokee was first converted into a written language with the creation of its alphabet in 1821 by a blacksmith named Sequoyah. While it once boasted hundreds of thousands of speakers, its popularity has dwindled to the point to where only about 8,000 speakers exist according to the Associated Press. Now with Apple’s help, it might halt the tide and be saved from becoming a dead language.

The difficulties of supporting Cherokee are not insignificant. The language has 85 unique characters, far more than the 26 in the English alphabet. However, Apple has a history of helping out historic, native languages in the U.S. It has supported Cherokee on its computers since 2003 and even Hawaiian is an available language in Mac OS X. Thanks to Apple, these languages will be available in digital forms for a long, long time.

So how does support for Cherokee in iOS help keep the language alive? With most speakers of Cherokee over the age of 50, the key to the language’s survival rests in the younger generation. And what do young people like to do more than anything else? Text message. Thanks to Apple, students at the Cherokee language immersion school—which boasts 150 students—can now text each other after class on their iPhones in the language. Now here’s hoping they don’t butcher it like students do with English when they text…

Before you give Apple too much credit, the Cherokee have been trying to get their language supported on iOS since 2007. It wasn’t until the release of iOS 4.1 that it became a reality though. When you figure that only about 50 languages are supported in iOS, this is a big deal.

Apple saving the languages and ultimately the cultural identities of the native peoples in the Americas? It’s not as crazy as you would think.

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