Cherokee Classes Keep Language Alive

The Cherokee language may no longer be in common use, but some determined efforts are being made to keep it alive and maintain the cultural heritage that it represents. Cherokee language classes are now being offered at Western Carolina University. Although it is simply a one-day class and not a full language learning course, it gives hope that the language will not simply be discarded in the face of the dominant culture. Ideally the introductory course will lead more students to take a stronger interest in the language and engage in a loner, more in-depth course of study.

One of the biggest challenges with encouraging students to learn a language like Cherokee is that it doesn’t have the same ‘practical’ value of learning a language like Arabic or Japanese, both of which have strong pragmatic functions in real-world international business. A language like Cherokee, on the other hand, is learned primarily out of an interest in the culture, or a passion for language itself.

The fact that Cherokee classes are offered at all is an achievement owed in many ways to the efforts of Cherokee chiefs like Jesse Bartley Milam. Milam was vocal in his attempts to preserve the language and culture of the Cherokee. It was his early efforts that started Cherokee languages classes in Tulsa, and the success of those early efforts lead to the spread of Cherokee language programs to several other universities. In fact, as far back as the 1940s the University of Oklahoma actually reached out to Milam for help in setting up their own Cherokee language program.

In other Cherokee news, the Miss Cherokee 2012 pageant was held recently and culminated in Karyl Frankiewicz being crowned. The pageant represents an interesting blend of cultures – the beauty pageant is a typically American and European type of event, but Miss Cherokee puts its own spin on the proceedings by emphasizing Cherokee culture and language. For example, Miss Frankiewicz sang ‘Amazing Grace’ in Cherokee for the talent section of the pageant. This is another encouraging event which proves Cherokee and other native languages can endure even as part of a new, hybrid culture.

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