Trying To Save a Language Before It’s Too Late
by Michael Overall
June 17, 2012
Ten years ago, the Cherokee Nation took an extensive survey about the language, and the results shocked even the most pessimistic officials.
Only 10,000 fluent speakers remained alive, almost all of them past middle-age.
"People under 30 you could count on your fingers," said Wyman Kirk, who was one of the lead researchers.
"For all practical purposes, the language would be dead within 30 or 40 years."
The tribe's solution focused on an immersion program, where pre-school and elementary students would hear and speak nothing but Cherokee all day.
"If you're going to have a school," Kirk said, "where are you going to get your teachers? We didn't have a textbook for the language itself, much less a textbook for teaching math in Cherokee."
With NSU's help, the tribe came up with an entire grade-school curriculum from scratch, "reinventing the wheel," as Kirk put it.
Now he can have a bilingual conversation with his 6-year-old son, who recently finished first grade.
Read the full article and see a multimedia presentation about Cherokee language initiatives at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=709&articleid=20120617_11_A1_ULNStt946670