By Elizabeth E. Payne
Cherokee is one of the most difficult languages to learn, according to Barbara Duncan, the education director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, N.C. But a new language program — “Your Grandmother’s Cherokee” — is changing that.
The program results from the insights of John Standingdeer, Jr., a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. He told the Asheville Citizen-Times that he did not grow up speaking Cherokee and found learning it hard.
According to Duncan, long Cherokee words contain as much information as an English sentence. But then Standingdeer discovered patterns within the words, patterns which Duncan says are “like a math equation.”
Since 2006, Standingdeer and Duncan — with computer-programing help from Duncan’s sister — have spent their free time developing the language program. In October 2015, their method was granted a U.S. patent.
“Your Grandmother’s Cherokee” teaches the language not by memorizing the complicated words, but by recognizing the patterns within them, making Cherokee easier to understand and use.
Duncan estimates that only 200 of the 15,000 members of the Eastern Band grew up speaking their tribal language, and all are over 55 years old. She feels an urgency to study this endangered language, which she stresses is “the original language of the Appalachians.”
A symposium will be held May 29 to June 2 at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, to explore using Standingdeer and Duncan’s method to preserve and teach other indigenous North American languages.
The program currently offers an online dictionary and two levels of coursework, with two additional levels expected soon. For more information visit yourgrandmotherscherokee.com