Keeping Native Languages Alive

smartphoneApple and tribal leaders from the Cherokee Tribe have developed Cherokee language software for use on iPhones, iPods and tribal school computers. To encourage technologically-savvy youth to learn and retain their native language, the tribe approached the company in 2007 with the idea to include the Cherokee language. Out of thousands of languages, iPhone software was available for about 50—and none were American Indian dialects. Now, software supporting the 85 character Cherokee alphabet is helping the tribe keep their language alive.

Other Native languages also are being preserved through children’s books and television programs. In 2010, the Lakota Language Consortium translated several episodes of the Berenstain Bears television cartoon into the Lakota language. The episodes will eventually air on public television in South Dakota.

Language instruction leader Rosetta Stone is in the process of teaming with several Alaskan organizations to develop a product that will teach the Inupiaq dialect. Currently there are approximately 1,500 fluent Inupiaq speakers. The goal with the new Rosetta Stone product will be to preserve and increase use of the language throughout the region.

There also has been recent legislation to address this issue as two states passed measures to help preserve tribal languages:

  • California Assembly Bill 544 requires the Commission on Teacher Credentials to issue an American Indian Languages eminence credential to teachers who have demonstrated fluency in that language. Teachers with such a credential are authorized to teach the language in public schools and in adult education courses.
  • Michigan Senate Bill 1014 allows teachers, who may not possess a valid Michigan teaching certificate, to teach a Native American tribal language and culture class if they have demonstrated mastery of the tribal language either through a credential issued by a federally-recognized Native American tribe, or other means considered suitable by the Department of Education.