Animated speaking: New cartoon focuses on Cherokee language

August 28th, 2020 by As a child growing up in Northeast Oklahoma, Betty Frogg grew up in a home learning to speak Cherokee first, then English. Frogg’s parents, Louise Ross Springwater and Lacy Christie, encouraged her to speak their native language at home, even as she became bilingual while attending the Seneca Indian School in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. Her father’s constant encouragement to retain her language skills continues to resonate with Frogg. “Dad always told me, ‘Don’t lose the language,’” Frogg said. “He told me I would use it someday to help people.” Now decades later, Frogg — designated by the tribe as a Cherokee National Treasure — is a basket weaver, practitioner of traditional arts, a first-language Cherokee speaker and a language teacher at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. This summer, Frogg added a new credential to her resume. She became one of four Cherokee voice actors working with the Cherokee Nation, the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, and FireThief Productions to create an animated series called “Inage’i,” which translates to “In the Woods.” The series follows the adventures of four friends who live in the forests of Turtle Island — Iga Daya’i, a mischievous rabbit; Juksvsgi, a gruff wolf; Anawegi, a conscientious deer; and Kvliwohi, a wise bear. Frogg portrays Iga Daya’i. The other actors are Harry Oosahwee, another first-language Cherokee speaker; and Lauren Hummingbird and Schon Duncan, two second-language speakers. All are part of the Cherokee Nation Film Office’s Native American talent database. The series, which draws from Cherokee storytelling tradition, was funded through the tribe’s Durbin Feeling Language Preservation Act, a measure designed to preserve and revitalize the Cherokee language. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. hopes the animated series achieves several goals, including encouraging a new generation of Cherokees to learn their native language and giving them a way to make a living using their knowledge. “Preserving and perpetuating the Cherokee language for future generations requires new avenues that allow us to both share and teach the language,” Hoskin said. “This partnership has produced an animated series pilot that I believe will grab the attention of children and adults alike. Whether they are introduced to the Cherokee language for the first time or reintroduced to a language that they are already familiar with, we are excited about the groundbreaking possibilities this series will create for the Cherokee language in the years to come.” The pilot is set to debut during Labor Day weekend at the Cherokee National Holiday. While much of the celebration is virtual this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people will have a chance to view the cartoon and other multimedia projects during a “drive-in” theater performance. It will also be featured online at after the presentation. Frogg said she hopes people of all ages watch the cartoon and fall in love with the characters. “I’m totally pumped,” Frogg said. “I can’t wait for people to see it. Kids are going to see something they’ve never seen before. Things being said use everyday language. I hope kids fall in love with it.” Read more: The Joplin Globe

Saving an Endangered Language

April 10th, 2018 by Walk past Abernethy Hall Room 102 on any given Friday afternoon during the semester and you’ll likely hear sounds of an endangered language wafting through the halls. “Siyo.” (Hello.) “Osigwotsu?” (How are you?) “Osigwo.” (I am fine.) “Ihina?” (And you?) “Osda!” (Great!) It’s “AniKahwi,” Cherokee Coffee Hour, for students interested in learning to speak Cherokee. American studies assistant professor Ben Frey ’05 started the coffee hour in 2013 after returning to UNC-Chapel Hill as a Carolina Postdoctoral Fellow for Faculty Diversity. It is one of many ways he is working to revitalize the Cherokee language. Indigenous people have spoken Cherokee in North Carolina for 11,000 years. Now, only 238 people — 1.4 percent of the 17,000 citizens of Eastern Band of Cherokees — speak the tribe’s Kituwah dialect. Most of them are 65 and older. Preserving a culture’s language is important for many reasons, Frey said. Unique knowledge and traditions held by these cultures can offer solutions for today’s pressing challenges, from environmental sustainability to health care. Connecting to one’s heritage helps individuals and communities understand who they are. Fortunately, Frey’s research on how language use declines — or shifts — offers a path forward to revive this endangered language. Frey’s Cherokee language education began while he was a German and linguistics major at UNC in the early 2000s. A citizen of the Eastern Band, Frey grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Cherokee was not taught at home. His grandmother was among the Cherokee youth removed from their homes, placed in boarding schools and punished for speaking the language by a U.S. government bent on eradicating native cultures. While she and Frey’s great-grandmother spoke Cherokee to each other when they didn’t want the children to understand, they did not pass on the language. Read more: Carolina Arts & Sciences

Online classes, modern textbooks helping revitalize Cherokee language

May 5th, 2017 by Recent research focusing on Native American languages and how they are taught is helping revitalize the Cherokee language, in part, through online courses and modern textbooks developed by the Cherokee Nation. Using these updated methods, the Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Language Program continues to have a far-reaching impact, with up to 3,000 students taking online courses and around 400 taking community classes each year. Participating students are from all ages and all corners of the world. “There are so many people interested in preserving the language,” said Ed Fields, an online instructor with the Cherokee Language Program who has taught courses for more than a decade. Fields teaches a 10-week, online Cherokee language course in the spring and fall each year, with participants gathering online one hour per day, two days a week. His spring course started April 10 and fall class will start Sept. 11, with registration opening Aug. 28. Through a live camera, students see Fields as he uses his own curriculum and life experiences to teach Cherokee. Online Cherokee language classes are offered for free from the Cherokee Nation website Read more: Cherokee Nation

Study shows children learning Cherokee are part of ongoing language renewal

December 8th, 2016 by Cherokee has been one of a number of endangered Native American languages to see a renaissance in recent history. A group of University of Kansas researchers has co-authored a study demonstrating that the ways children learn and speak the language in a Cherokee immersion school are an ongoing process of renewal rather than a return to an idealized notion of "speakerhood." Researchers gathered data on students' Cherokee in oral, listening, reading and writing skills at Tsalagi Dideloquasdi, a Cherokee language immersion school in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, that is a core part of Cherokee Nation's revitalization efforts. They found the school to be a "quintessential translanguaging space," in which students' competencies are formed by the students, teachers, parents and members of the community, as well as the historical fluidity of Cherokee-English bilingualism. In other words, as their language skills develop, the students communicate in an innovative hybrid form of Cherokee rather than adhering to rigid language rules. "We've looked meticulously at how they're piecing together this complex morphology of the Cherokee language, which is very different from English," said Lizette Peter, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching. "We view these students as language boundary crossers. They don't see English and Cherokee as two distinct, separate languages. They're creating linguistic possibilities never before seen in the acquisition of Cherokee." Read more:

Cherokee Look for Ways to Save Their Dying Language

March 1st, 2016 by WHITTIER, N.C.—In a cozy house in a bucolic valley, a handful of students gather weekly to learn how to speak the language of their Cherokee ancestors. The Cherokee people once occupied a large swath of the southeast U.S. Most Cherokee, as well as neighboring tribes, were forcibly relocated by the federal government in the 1830s to what is now Oklahoma, an event known as “the Trail of Tears.” Some Cherokee avoided or escaped the removal and stayed in North Carolina, forming the basis for what is today the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, a federally recognized tribe. But only 200 or so people are fluent now around the mountain town of Cherokee, N.C., out of the roughly 14,000 Cherokee who live in the area. “We’ve somehow got to learn some of it, because it’s part of who we are,” said student Louise Taylor Goings, 68 years old, who remembers hearing her parents speak to each other in Cherokee when she was little. Read more: The Wall Street Journal‎

How the Cherokee language has adapted to texts, iPhones

September 15th, 2015 by Whenever a new communication technology was introduced into society, the Cherokee people have ensured that their written language could adapt. From the printing press and the typewriter to today's readily available digital technologies like computers and smart phones, the Cherokee language is fully functional thanks to the help of tireless advocates and activists. As one of the most actively used native languages in the US, the Cherokee language is spoken by populations in North Carolina and Oklahoma, as well as other states across the country. While more people are now able to write the Cherokee language with syllabics — written characters that each represent a syllable — retaining and encouraging more speakers of the language continues to be a high priority. And the use of technology has been one way to attract increased interest. Read more: PRI