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Unicode simplifies using Cherokee language on computers
The Cherokee syllabary written in Unicode.
By Will Chavez
Fri, Apr 30, 2010
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – People interested in writing the Cherokee language on computers can benefit from technology developed by Cherokee Nation staff and others interested in advancing Native languages.
CN cultural specialists Joseph Erb and Jeff Edwards and CN curriculum specialist Roy Boney discussed technology for sharing Native languages on April 15 at the 38th Symposium on the American Indian at Northeastern State University.
Boney said for years there had been no uniform system for typing and reading Cherokee on a computer. However, he and his co-workers are now part of a movement to use one system, the Unicode system, for sharing the language.
He said the Unicode system was developed because as people created language fonts, with no uniform system available for writing and reading those fonts, the fonts appeared as “gibberish” on computers.
Boney said this occurred because computer recognizes numbers. Each character for any language, including Cherokee, has to be associated with a number or numbers, and Unicode is that numbering system.
“Unicode is the international standard for all computer technology now – cell phones, computers, video games…anything that’s digital uses Unicode to display languages,” Boney said. “Your computer is not reading a language. It’s actually reading a set of numbers.”
About 15 years ago, a European group called the Unicode Consortium decided on computer standards and a numbering system for languages, he said. Today, language fonts are still being added and are receiving numbering systems using the consortium’s standards.
“The Cherokee language is no different. It operates on that same system,” Boney said. “Cherokee has been assigned a (number) code group by the Unicode Consortium. So it is standard across the world.”
Boney said a common complaint he hears deals with random letters, characters or blank squares appearing instead of the Cherokee language when sending or receiving documents written in Cherokee. He said that happens because the Unicode font isn’t being used or the old CN font is being used.
“The Cherokee Nation font served its purpose, but it is time to update and move to this new underlying technology…if we want the language to stay relevant,” he said.
To type in Cherokee, Boney said, one should have a Cherokee keyboard or overlay and visit www.languagegeek.com to download a free Unicode Cherokee font. Apple computers come with a Cherokee keyboard and the Cherokee Unicode font pre-installed. Windows systems with Vista software also have the Cherokee Unicode font pre-installed, he said.
Erb said he encourages people who write in Cherokee to use the Unicode Cherokee font because the writings will “last a lot longer,” meaning they will be properly displayed in the future.
He said even with the shifts in technology, the Unicode font would remain intact.
Erb said he and his co-workers have successfully “pestered” online social site Facebook to incorporate the Cherokee Unicode font for its users. He also said the Unicode Cherokee font can be used with Wikipedia.
“So the opportunity for using the language is now increasing, if you use this system. If you learn a few (Cherokee) phrases, you can e-mail them now. Five years ago you could e-mail a word or two, but if you sent a sentence, it got screwed up,” Erb said. “Be involved online. Be involved on Facebook. Be involved with spreading the language with these new technologies because the next generation is going to use it.”
He said using the language with new technologies should help Cherokee to become a primary language again among Cherokee people, not a secondary one as it is now.