Building a Digital Archive of Historical Cherokee Manuscripts

Presenter: Taylor Snead

Research Category: Humanities and Arts
College: Khoury College of Computer Sciences
Major(s): Computer Science
Student Type: Undergraduate
Graduation Date: 2021
Award Winner Category: Data and Digital Storytelling

The goal of the DAILP is to translate stories, letters, and governance documents written in the Cherokee syllabary into English and make them accessible to all Cherokee people online. Cherokee (___ ______) is an Iroquoian language spoken by a few thousand people primarily in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Cherokee has a long literary tradition expressed in its unique writing system that was developed in the early 1800s. As native speakers are lost, it is increasingly important to interpret historical Cherokee manuscripts for non-native speakers to understand and study. To preserve their full meaning, we cite each word to an existing dictionary entry or catalogue it as a newly attested word. Over the Fall 2020 semester, I built the technical infrastructure for managing translations, converting between phonetic representations, connecting dictionary entries, and communicating this information on a website. This includes a searchable database of Cherokee words recorded throughout the last three centuries, which forms the basis of an etymological dictionary, a resource that groups historically related words in multiple languages. Etymological resources are particularly important for language revitalization efforts because words missing in one language can be reconstructed using similar words from the past or related languages. There are currently no etymological resources for Iroquoian languages, making our efforts urgent in preserving their histories. As such, we also work with community partners to gather older and previously forgotten words. Moving forward, we hope to expand into other Iroquoian languages and collaborate with teachers to integrate DAILP into their curricula.