Apple, Cherokee Indians Partner on iPhone Language Capability

Apple and the Cherokee Indian tribe work together to bring the centuries-old language to the iPhone, iPod and iPad.

While the age of smoke signals as a means of rapid communication has clearly passed, a partnership between slick computer maker Apple and members of the Cherokee Indian tribe in the United States suggest the spoken language of the country's native inhabitants won't be lost to history. The tribe is currently working with the company to develop Cherokee language software for Apple's iPhone, iPod and iPad tablet devices.

"There are countries vying to get on these devices for languages, so we are pretty excited we were included," Joseph Erb, who works in the Cherokee Nation's language technology division, told the Associated Press.

Erb explained to the news agency that the language, supported by Mac computers since 2002, needs to expand into the common cultural technologies that drive today's society and particularly younger generations. These generations are to be the guardians of the language, at its peril, Erb said. "If you don't figure out a way to keep technology exciting and innovative for the language, kids have a choice when they get on a cell phone," Erb told the AP. "If it doesn't have Cherokee on it, they all speak English," he said. "They'll just give up their Cherokee, because the cool technology is in English. So we had to figure out a way to make the cool technology in Cherokee."

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith also told the AP the aim was to encourage young people to pick up their native language, using text messages to communicate to school students in Cherokee and prompt its use after school is over. "You always hear the clich??«, 'History repeats itself.' This is one of those historic moments that people just don't comprehend what is happening," Chief Smith said. "What this does is give us some hope that the language will be revitalized."

Cherokee is an Iroquoian language that uses a unique, 85-character syllabary writing system, invented by Cherokee silversmith Sequoyah to write the Cherokee language in the late 1810s and early 1820s. In addition to Apple, Wikipedia offers a page in the Cherokee language, and a project to bring the New Testament of the Bible online in Cherokee is undergoing.

While you may not come across the Cherokee language so often, Apple can also help you translate other languages around the world using the iPhone's camera. A new application called Word Lens, offered in a free demo version via Apple's App Store, translates the printed word from English to Spanish (or Spanish to English) and is being marketed as ideal for business and casual travelers.

Word Lens uses the built-in phone camera to identify text, such as a sign or a menu, in one language and have the words shown translated into another language. The words are displayed in the original context, on the original background, without connection to the Internet. Each language pack (e.g. either English-to-Spanish, or Spanish-to-English) costs $4.99. In addition, users can purchase the application for 50 percent off until Dec. 31, 2010.