Cherokee Nation creates syllabary keypad

Staff reports

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In an ongoing effort to strengthen the use of the Cherokee language, the Cherokee Nation has developed a unique keypad that allows the user to more easily type in the Cherokee syllabary instead of using the Latin alphabet that is standard to modern computer keyboards. The special keypad is made of thin black silicone, and fits over the top of a regular computer keyboard.

“The creation of this keypad has helped us leap forward in the teaching of Cherokee,” said Dr. Neil Morton, group leader for Cherokee Nation Education Services. “Before we were only able to utilize the print media, but now our students have computers for homework, messages and more where they can actually type and text in the Cherokee language.”

The keypad was designed and developed by Roy Boney Jr. and Joseph Erb, of Cherokee Nation’s Cultural Resources Department. It was manufactured by zCover, Inc., a maker of silicone protective cases and accessories for digital devices.

Officials said the keypad is the most innovative language breakthrough since 1828 when Cherokee Advocate editor Elias Boudinot designed the first type set in the Cherokee syllabary for the tribal newspaper. Previously, students wishing to use the 85-character syllabary had to use a variety of keystrokes with the standard keyboard in order to type the Cherokee language. Users can now simply overlay the Cherokee keypad on a traditional keyboard and see the syllabary characters in their correct spaces.

The keypads go along with the use of computers used by students in the Cherokee Nation Immersion School, where only Cherokee is spoken and all coursework is done in the syllabary. The school offers classes in pre-kindergarten through fourth grades, and has been adding a grade each year. In addition to the Immersion students, the keypads will be used by the Cherokee Nation Translation Department as well as other Johnson O’Malley students and students in the Cherokee language program at Northeastern State University. Students in these programs already use computers embedded with the Cherokee language developed through a working relationship with Apple Computer, Inc.

Tribal officials said this will serve as a way for individuals, especially youth, to use the Cherokee language more in their everyday lives, noting that it will help target not only the younger students, but hit the technically savvy teenage group as well.

“The role of the keypad allows us to actually move the language initiative program away from the tribal complex and out into every community of the nation and throughout the world,” Morton said. “It also plays an important role in getting people to actually use the language in their everyday lives.”

Cherokee language experts indicate that it will help all Cherokees and others learning the language by allowing them to type directly in the syllabary itself.

“This will make the computer much more ‘Cherokee’ by allowing the user to type faster in the Cherokee language,” said Benny Smith, a respected Cherokee elder and fluent Cherokee speaker.

The keypads are also drawing rave reviews from teachers in the Cherokee Immersion School who say it will greatly enhance the learning process and allow everyone using the keypad to become better and faster at writing in Cherokee.

“Most people remember and learn things from a hands-on learning experience. All of the students and the teaching staff will benefit from the new keypads,” said Helena McCoy, Cherokee Nation Immersion School teacher.

The keypads were purchased through a contribution from the Cherokee Nation Education Corporation, a nonprofit organization that offers educational assistance to Cherokee citizens.

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