As is the case with most indigenous languages, the vitality of the Cherokee language has never been more precarious. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a large toll on Cherokee communities, accelerating the already rapid loss of native Cherokee speakers. It is becoming increasingly difficult for new learners to find a space where they can practice their language in their everyday life — a place where people from all walks of life can come together to practice speaking, listening, reading, and writing — and to build a deeper shared understanding of language and culture together. In partnership with UNESCO’s upcoming Decade of Indigenous Languages, beginning next year, as well as our partners in the Cherokee nations, we hope to support and extend these efforts, focusing on both language perseverance and language preservation.
The Digital Archive for American Indian Languages Preservation and Perseverance (DAILP) makes the dissemination and contextualization of historical documents part of a vital work of language perseverance, performed centrally by and for those with the most at stake. Through detailed, commented translations and linguistic resources, we will make these documents richly intelligible and accessible for language learning, scholarship, and public history. Our goal is to create an easy to use and easy to navigate interface that brings together the Cherokee syllabary, English translation, and word-by-word breakdown in a way that supports language learners of all levels to learn the Cherokee language in the context of historically and culturally meaningful documents. The documents used in this sample collection though currently available through our partners @TranscribeYale in the Kilpatrick collection are inaccessible for many new language learners wanting to practice the language while also learning about Cherokee language, culture, and history, as well as to scholars who may want to search within or across these documents. We are using the Cherokee language resources available to us in print and online, collecting them in one place, and applying them to these historical documents. Our online reading environment puts these documents in a digital format that can be accessed by language learners from anywhere online and enriches them by linking them to the dictionary and lexical datasets donated to our team by linguists and the Cherokee communities.