FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It’s a language only a few thousand people in the United States know, but the University of Arkansas is hoping to change that by offering students the chance to learn Cherokee.
“This is one of the hardest languages to learn, they say. It ranks up there with the Chinese and Japanese language,” said Cherokee language teacher Lawrence Panther.
This fall will be the second year that Panther has taught the Cherokee language and syllabary to college students.
“It’s a lifelong process to learn this language," he said. "I’m a fluent speaker and I’m still learning. Anybody else that’s a fluent speaker, they are still learning also. There is always room for improvement."
Panther also teaches his language at Stillwell High School, but last year was his first time teaching at the college level. He had 15 students take Cherokee One in the fall and nine return for Cherokee Two in the spring. He’s hoping for even more students this fall.
“They learned quite a bit from what I saw. I was very impressed with how they learned how to read and write,” he said.
Nicole Rikard was one of his students who took Cherokee One and Two this past year and will be taking Cherokee Three this fall. She is getting her Ph.D. in indigenous literature.
“It felt like a really great opportunity seeing as the Cherokee Nation is just about 45 minutes or so from where I live, about an hour from the university. Then to be told you can have a native speaker come to the university and be available to you, just seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.
Panther says it’s essential to keep the Cherokee language alive.
"The language, it’s getting very scarce you know and just about 3,000 speakers left you know but there are abundant learners who are learning but it’s obvious they’ll never be at the fluent level,” Panther said.
If you are interested in taking Cherokee, the U of A will be offering two Cherokee One courses and one Cherokee Three course this fall.
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