It’s a holiday present from Microsoft -- the gift of language.
The Windows giant has added support for the Cherokee language into Windows 8, more than 20 years after Tracy Monteith, a Cherokee from North Carolina who worked for Microsoft, asked his employers to make the settings, pull-down menus and error messages speak his language.
It marks the first time that a Native American language has been “fully integrated” into the operating system -- and the addition of 180,000 words is the largest translation project by the tribe since the New Testament was translated in the 1800s.
“The history made by these Cherokee speakers today will be discussed 200 years from now, just as Sequoyah’s syllabary or operating the first newspaper is now,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Microsoft will not make millions off this project, but they will help keep our language alive. We’re grateful they saw value in our language preservation efforts and wanted to help us combine Cherokee and technology.”
Microsoft executives from Redmond, Wash., visited Tahlequah, Okla., on Dec. 19 to award 14 Cherokee translators for their work on the multiyear project.
Earlier this year a team of translators was assembled, ranging from tribal employees, speakers in the community and even Cherokee college students. Lois Leach, a 56-year-old Cherokee Nation roads department clerk, would go home after work with a list of words to translate into Cherokee. She logged more than 12 days’ worth of volunteer hours to finish the project.
“You don’t look at yourself really doing anything that huge until you see it come together,” Leach said. “There were just a few of us, and now our work is all over the world.”
Microsoft has 108 translated languages total. The company’s next project is to translate Microsoft Office into Cherokee.
“We really hold the Cherokee Nation on a pedestal for how to do things right when it comes to the use of language through technology,” said Don Lionetti, tribal government account manager for Microsoft.
In recent years, Cherokee has been translated for Gmail in Google, Google Search and settings for the iPhone and iPad.