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Arts and Humanities

Soaking in the Cherokee language

Open-door coffees, which includes Cherokee immersion, are offered in Abernathy Hall on Tuesdays during the fall and spring semesters.

Each Tuesday, a group of Carolina students and a professor have been fighting the midafternoon energy spiral with a steaming pot of coffee, cookies and a dose of Cherokee language immersion.

Benjamin Frey, a professor in the College of Arts and Science’sDepartment of American Studies, dreamt up the idea of an out-of-class language experience while he was working on his post-doctoral studies.

“I envisioned it originally as an opportunity for my students in Cherokee language classes to come and use the language in an informal setting,” Frey said.

That was in 2013. Today, the open-door coffees are still offered in Abernathy Hall at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays during the fall and spring semesters.

Each session, up to a dozen students, faculty and staff members file in with notebooks, preparing to learn a language which Frey said has been spoken in North Carolina for 11,000 years. Each class begins as soon as Frey asks students their names and if they would like a cup of coffee — all Cherokee.

“I have people speaking by the first lesson,” said a grinning Frey.

Students say they like that the class is so immersive – and they learn so much, so quickly.

“Now I can tell first, second, and third-person,” said Jay Raleigh, a recent Carolina graduate. “And I know the words for salt and water.”