The Cherokee Language Program at Western Carolina University is collaborating with EarlyLight Books of Waynesville to publish a bilingual and Cherokee-only version of a book titled “Animal Colors,” which is designed to teach early readers about colors and animals.
The book has already been translated into the Cherokee syllabary, is scheduled to print in February and should be available to the public in July, said Dawn Cusick, owner of EarlyLight, which specializes in science books for children and adults.
The development is significant because it is the first step in a partnership that will help the Cherokee Language Program move away from self-publishing books and focus more on the work of language, said Hartwell Francis, program director. Francis and program coordinator Tom Belt worked together to translate and edit the book’s original text by Beth Fielding. The book was designed with the unicode font “Aboriginal Serif,” available for free download from www.languagegeek.com.
The Cherokee Language Program helps produce materials for a Cherokee language immersion program on the Qualla Boundary for children from 6 months old through second grade. The program is an effort to keep alive the Cherokee language after findings indicated a small percentage of fluent speakers remained among members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and that most of the remaining speakers were older than 51.
In the past, the Cherokee Language Program has produced two books in the Cherokee language, “Grouchy Old Woman” and “Spearfinger,” both based on Cherokee legend. It also has produced children’s books with the Eastern Band’s Kituwah Preservation and Education Program, which oversees the immersion program’s early childhood component and primary grade classrooms, called the Kituwah Academy. In addition, the Cherokee Language Program also has put books online in video form and that can be printed by individuals and is working with WCU programs in entrepreneurship and computer information systems to develop a Cherokee language learning application for mobile devices.
Low-level academic books are a critical need for children learning Cherokee, said Bo Lossiah, a curriculum specialist at Kituwah Academy. “I need science books, social studies books, math books,” said Lossiah (pronounced “la-see”). Developing such work is painstaking, he said, because words sometimes don’t exist for the subject matter being covered. “The vocabulary is coming along slowly,” he said. “I’ve been working on ‘centimeter’ and ‘millimeter.’ We had a word for ‘meter’ but it wasn’t different from ‘yard.’”
The publisher, who graduated from WCU in 2008 with a master's degree in biology, envisions an audience for the book beyond schoolchildren. “I can’t imagine that tourists aren’t really tired of getting a T-shirt. The book seems like a great souvenir,” said Cusick, who founded EarlyLight after nearly two decades with Lark Books in Asheville. “The Cherokee syllabary is absolutely beautiful in its printed form. When you see it with the colors behind it, it’s just beautiful.”