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Thursday, December 23, 2010, 12:00 pm PT (03:00 pm ET)

Apple partners with Cherokee tribe to put language on iPhones

Apple has partnered with a Native American tribe to develop Cherokee language software for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, in an effort to ensure the language is not forgotten.

Apple's work with the Cherokee tribe was highlighted in a profile published Wednesday by The Associated Press. The Cherokee people hope to spread the use of their language amongst tech-savvy children who use devices like the iPhone and iPad.

While software has already been developed for the iPhone and iPod touch, an iPad version of the application is also said to be in development. At the Cherokee Nation language immersion school in Tahlequah, Okla., teachers use the technology to text students in Cherokee after school to encourage use of the native tongue.

"Tribal officials first contacted Apple about getting Cherokee on the iPhone three years ago," the report said, adding: "After many discussions... the Cupertino, Calif.-based company surprised the tribe by coming through this fall."

Apple's legendary secrecy was even in place when it came to adding the Cherokee language to the iPhone. The tribe didn't learn that Apple had granted their request until right before iOS 4.1 was released in September.

Apple wouldn't comment on the matter, or say how much the development cost, but tribe officials claim that Cherokee is the only American Indian language supported by Apple devices.

The Cherokee language was developed in 1821 by a blacksmith named Sequoyah. The tribe is said to take particular pride in their alphabet, and obtained a printing press to publish the Cherokee Phoenix in 1828.

But today, only about 8,000 of the 290,000 Cherokee tribe members speak the language, and most of those who do are 50 or older. The tribe is concerned that their language could disappear.