Say what you will about Google, but there is something incredible about a company that once in a while does something just because it’s a cool thing to do.
For example, Google just announced it has created a version of Gmail in the Cherokee language.
There are fewer than 20,000 Cherokee speakers in the world, and perhaps only 100 or so people who speak nothing but this language. So why would Google put a bunch of engineers and linguists to work for months making an email program in Cherokee?
It began when Craig Cornelius, a Google engineer, shared a ride with a Vince Blackfox, member of the Cherokee nation. They got talking about the effort to preserve Native American languages, many of which have been dying out as fewer and fewer people speak them. A 2002 survey showed that nobody under the age of 40 spoke conversational Cherokee.
Cornelius worked with the language technology department at Cherokee Nation to figure out Cherokee words for things like “inbox” and “spam.”
The project was tricky because Cherokee uses a unique alphabet (above) created in 1821 by a Cherokee silversmith named Sequoyah (aka George Gist or George Guess). The Cherokee Nation is hoping that the Gmail in Cherokee project will breathe new life into the Cherokee language by giving young people an opportunity to use the language in their day-to-day lives.
I hope I don’t sound hopelessly naive, but is there any other company in the tech industry (or any industry for that matter) that would ever do something this awesome?
Image courtesy of Google.