Front row (L to R) Cherokee Nation translators Adaline Smith, Lois Leach, Phyllis Edwards and Anna Sixkiller; former Manager of the Language Program Candessa Tehee; translator Lula Elk. Second row (L to R) Microsoft Engineering Excellence Team Tracy Monteith; translators Durbin Feeling, Russell Feeling, Lawrence Panther, Dennis Sixkiller and David Crawler; Language Program Manager Roy Boney; translator John Ross; Language Technology Assistant Jeff Edwards, translator Ed Fields; Chief Information Officer Jon James. Back row (L to R) Microsoft Senior International Project Engineer Alfred Hellstern, Language Technology Intern Zachary Barnes and Microsoft Account Manager for Native American Accounts Don Lionetti.
Event held on International Mother Language Day
CATOOSA, OKLAHOMA —The Cherokee Nation celebrated with Microsoft officials today on the groundbreaking progress being made by translators in the Cherokee Language Program.
An event was held for 17 Cherokee translators at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa to coincide with International Mother Language Day, a United Nations event to honor the more than 6,000 diverse languages worldwide.
The Cherokee Nation is among the first tribes to start a formal translation department using its fluent speakers. Last month, they translated 150,000 modern English terms into Cherokee for Microsoft’s Office Online. For the first time, it allows users to create Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents in the Cherokee syllabary.
“When we first started out in translation, I never dreamed we would come this far with so many projects and products now offering the Cherokee language, so this is amazing,” said translator Durbin Feeling, a leading Cherokee linguist who wrote the Cherokee dictionary and worked on the Mircrosoft project. “As more people learn about us, there seems to always be new translation projects to work on.”
Microsoft’s Senior International Project Engineer Alfred Hellstern, Account Manager for Native American Accounts Don Lionetti and engineer Tracy Monteith, who is a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokees, gave the translators a plaque on behalf of the technology company.
“Microsoft put efforts into this, but the bulk of the heavy lifting was by translators at the Cherokee Nation,” Lionetti said. “You’re in a very elite group since there is no other tribal nation that has their language in the Windows operating system and Microsoft Office products, which is a testament to the translators’ passion and dedication to be able to do this.”
To date, the Cherokee Nation has worked with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yale University and the Gilcrease Museum on various translation projects.
“The Cherokee language is one of the most important aspects of who we are as a tribe, and many elements of our culture are contained in our language,” Cherokee Language Program Manager Roy Boney said. “Our language offers more than communication. It transmits cultural knowledge and a mode of thinking that is uniquely Cherokee. To lose our language would mean a huge loss of part of our heritage, and the goal of the Cherokee Nation Language Program is to ensure our language lives on for future generations.”
While the spoken Cherokee language has existed for centuries, a reading and writing system called the Cherokee syllabary was invented by Cherokee statesman Sequoyah in 1821. It is still used today by Native speakers and students at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School in Tahlequah.