Gmail launches Cherokee language setting

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Keeping a historic language alive could come down to new technology.

Google launched a setting in Gmail on Monday that allows users to communicate in Cherokee. 2NEWS found the innovation is bringing generations of Cherokees together.    

You can send emails in more than 50 languages using Gmail, from French to Chinese. Now Cherokee joins the list as the first Native American language available.

Eleven-year-old Jolie Morgan, a language immersion student, was one of the first people to use it.

"I sent my first email to my mom. I think I asked her what time it was," she said.

Morgan can now communicate with her elders like never before.

"Now I can hold a conversation with my grandma and some of my aunts and uncles," she said.   

Many Cherokees believe communicating with new technology like this will keep the language alive for younger generations.

Jolie's mom, Candessa Tehee, is learning Cherokee along with her three kids.

"It is hugely exciting. It is hugely exciting to see Cherokee language on these different forms of Cherokee technology," Tehee said.

Tehee says she's committed to learning Cherokee so she can pass the language on to younger generations. But this also allows her to communicate with her elders in a way she wasn't able to before.

"To be able to text my elders and to be able to text my kids and my friends every day in the Cherokee language, and have that language localized on my phone and on my computer, it gives me so many tools with which to practice my language," she said.

In 2002, a Cherokee Nation survey found no one under 40 spoke Cherokee.

But that's quickly changing thanks to modern technology like cell phone and tablet applications, and even the ability to translate Facebook into Cherokee.

Click here to learn how to type in Cherokee on your iPhone.

Simple messages that take time to transcribe by hand can now be sent in seconds.

"There's so much information encoded in every single word. It's so descriptive. And it tells you a lot about Cherokee people and about how we look at the world," Tehee said.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker believes this step, along with strong language immersion programs, will take learning to another level.

"Now we're graduating kids every year that are fluent Cherokee speakers and conversational speakers. So we're literally keeping our language alive," Baker said.

Cherokee Nation translators actually had to invent modern words like "inbox" and "spam" that didn't exist before. The Cherokee word for email, translated into English, means "lightning paper."

Here's how to send an email in Cherokee. In your Gmail account, click on "settings."

Find "language" and click on the drop down box. You'll find "Cherokee" at the very end. Once you select it, hit save, and it will take a few seconds to load.

You can find a Cherokee language keyboard inlay at the Cherokee Nation gift shop in Tahlequah. They cost about $30.

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