Office in Cherokee

In celebration UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day on February 21st, we honor the efforts of the Cherokee Nation for embracing their language. The Cherokee Nation Language Program’s goal is to ensure Cherokee language lives on for future generations. “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. 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.” says Roy Boney, Cherokee language program manager.

Today’s post was written by Alfred Hellstern, senior international project manager at Microsoft.

When the Cherokee Nation wanted to continue to expand technology to their users with localized versions of applications and services that they use every day, the Microsoft Local Language Program was a perfect fit. Having already localized Windows 8, they wanted to bring the familiar Microsoft Office applications—Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote—to all Cherokee tribal members in their native language. Office Online in Cherokee was first released early last year, and is being continuously updated as new features come online. It was localized into Cherokee in a collaboration between the Microsoft Local Language Program, the Microsoft Office division and the Cherokee Nation’s Language Program. Jeff Edwards, language technology specialist working on this project on a daily basis, notes that, “Technology is an important tool in revitalizing our language. The partnership between Cherokee Nation and Microsoft made a digital Cherokee environment possible where we can create original Cherokee language content in the Office applications.

I was part of the international team at Microsoft who worked with the Cherokee Nation on the Office project. But, the Cherokee translation team (including the author of the definitive Cherokee-English dictionary, Durbin Feeling) had the hardest job: not only did they need to juggle their other projects with translating software, but they needed to invent new terms for new technical concepts. They also needed to keep technical concept terminology consistent between the Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote applications.

A few terminology examples:

Cherokee  Pronunciation  Literal Translation  Term/Word
ᎠᎾᎦᎵᏍᎬ ᎪᏪᎵ a-na-ga-li-s-gv go-we-li lightning paper email
ᏗᏩᏛᏙᏗ di-wa-dv-do-di used to find it bookmarks
ᎠᎦᏙᎥᎯᏍᏗ ᎠᏍᏆᏂᎪᏗᏍᎩ a-g(a)-t(o)’-v-hi-s-di a-s-qua-ni-go-do-di storer of knowledge computer
ᎠᏍᏓᏩᏛᏓ a-s-da-wa-dv-da to shadow someone to follow

In this video, entitled, “Cherokee Nation: Helping Save a Language,” produced by Microsoft, in collaboration with the Cherokee Nation, Roy Boney talks about how English-language TV and radio coming to the community really hurt the language. “However, now instead of technology hurting us, we’re using technology to make our language better, revitalize it and keep it going,” said John Ross, Cherokee National Treasure and one of the lead translators on the project. He continues, “To save the language, that’s our main priority … I believe with this technology that we have now, thanks to Microsoft, we’re able to save a lot of things for our youth.”

Having also worked with Microsoft on the Gadugi Cherokee language font, used for the interface in Windows 8, Roy notes that, “What’s unique about it is that it’s the very first font that was actually designed in real close collaboration with fluent Cherokee speakers. Cherokee kids have been picking up on it pretty quickly because they live in the digital world, and for them to have access to their language in a modern way with a font like that, to them, they expect it.”

The Cherokee font can be seen a few times when the video shows the user interface of the Office Online apps. Cherokee-localized apps are available to any OneDrive user when they select ᏣᎳᎩ – Cherokee in the language selector at the bottom of the page and then click any Office document in the OneDrive file library.

I am honored to have worked on this project and appreciate the impact that bringing technology to people in their native tongue has. Most impressive to me was witnessing firsthand how important this effort is to the Cherokee Nation, continuing their efforts to use technology as part of their language preservation strategy.

To learn more about International Mother Language Day, and what Microsoft is doing to support technology on this front, please visit the Official Microsoft Blog.

— Alfred Hellstern