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Eight weeks won't teach anyone everything he needs to know about the Cherokee language. But according to Lawrence Panther, that block of time can provide a very good start.

And considering the declining number of Cherokee speakers, it's a worthwhile cause, he says.

FAQ

Cherokee Language Courses

WHEN — 6-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays; begins this Tuesday and continues through Nov. 4

WHERE — Cherokee Casino & Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla.

COST — Free, but space is limited

REGISTRATION — 918-353-2980 or email pantherl@nsuok.edu

Panther will lead a free eight-week course on the Cherokee language at Cherokee Casino and Hotel in West Siloam Springs, Okla. The courses there are similar to the ones he teaches at Stilwell High School, also in Oklahoma, but if anything, the free classes provide an additional challenge: He speeds through the curriculum in the public sessions because he doesn't have a full academic year as he does in a school setting.

The number of Cherokee speakers is hard to gauge, but Ethnologue.com says about 10,000 still use the language, based on 2010 census data. Cherokee started as a spoken language only, but a Cherokee named Sequoyah developed a syllabary for the language in 1820.

It might not be a foreign language, considering it developed on native soul, but it is foreign to most American, English-speaking tongues and has its own alphabet.

It is the tone of the language that Panther says tests beginners. The vowel sounds lead the flow of the language, not consonants. Learning that was Panther's own key to capturing the language.

"I needed to understand how I spoke first," he says.

The upcoming series of fall classes, which begin Tuesday and continue through early November, follows a successful introduction of the coursework at Cherokee Casino this spring. About 20 showed up for the session, and about 12 finished the course. There is room for 25 students in the upcoming fall session. Students will work on making vowel sounds and phonetics and also take a look at the written Cherokee language. There are several examples of where that language shows up -- there's a Cherokee Bible, and traffic signs in Tahlequah are bilingual, too. Still, there's no need to know any words before stepping into the class. The course aims to teach, not dissuade. Cherokee needs all the speakers it can get, Panther argues.

Alicia Buffer, a spokeswoman for the casino, says more classes may be offered later, depending on the success of this fall's session.

NAN What's Up on 09/12/2014

Print Headline: A Native Tongue

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