The mystery of why the Cherokee syllabary sucks.

8 Apr

I really hope I can capture how interesting this topic is to me.

First off, the Cherokee syllabary that we know of today is rubbish. Even people who speak Cherokee don’t use it unless they want to be fancy. Who can blame them. The characters are difficult to write. In more than one instance the only difference between two characters is whether or not the character has serifs or some other minor detail.

Quick, which of these two words says Tsalagi (the Cherokee word for Cherokee)?

The answer is… I think I got them both wrong. Could you imagine writing a grocery list like this?

Note that I am not criticizing the Cherokee language. Anyone who has every learned even a little bit about the Cherokee language knows that it’s so different from how you would expect a language to work that it will change the way you think. For instance in Cherokee transitive verbs conjugate by subject and object. The example that immediately jumps to mind is the word for “we love each other”, “gungeyu”. These verb conjugation tables are so ornate that they take forever to learn, but once you learn them you think differently, you see things that you are unable to express in English, simple things, goofy things, like how in English you say, “We’re leaving”, but you mean you and the dude you arrived with, not the person you’re talking to. Once you know the conjugation of the Cherokee verb that means “to go” you will know a word that means, “We’re leaving, in that I am going with someone else, but not you who I am talking to.”

My only criticism of the Cherokee language is that it is too interesting, too much fun, to be so useless in actually communicating with anyone. Nobody speaks Cherokee as their first language anymore. Unless you are taking a Cherokee class, with people, then you probably know absolutely nobody to practice with.

This lack of people using the language also hurts the educational materials. Cherokee educational materials always present Cherokee in English terms, nouns, adverbs, verb, adjectives, etc. Arabic text books don’t do this. They present Arabic on Arabic terms, ism, fe’el, harf, that’s it.  In Cherokee there are nouns, but then there are nouns that conjugate. So you can hold “a shell”, but you cannot talk to “a grandmother”. There is no Cherokee word for “a grandmother”. She’s someone’s grandmother, and you therefore have to conjugate the word “-lisi” based on whose grandmother she is. I only remember the vocative conjugation, off the top of my head, “Elisi”, meaning, “you who are my grandmother”. Nouns and conjugating nouns should be presented as two different parts of speech, but since everyone who speaks Cherokee also speaks English first (and usually only English), the idea that Cherokee should have it’s own parts of speech isn’t reflected in the teaching materials.

So Cherokee language, awesome, fun, fascinating. I guarantee, everyone who knows it even a little wishes there were some way to present it that made it easier to learn and more people that would learn and use it with them. Cherokee syllabary, not awesome, annoying. But it seems like it shouldn’t suck. Japanese uses two syllabaries that function in almost exactly the same way as Cherokee. Why is Cherokee such an annoying, unused, unloved script?

There’s actually a bit of a mystery to that.

Oil on canvas painting of Sequoyah with a tabl...

Image via Wikipedia

The Cherokee script seems to have been invented by a Cherokee guy named George Gist, who signed his name as Ssiquoya. Today we write the name Sequoyah. None of those are Cherokee names.

Sequoyah was interviewed by the press for his remarkable accomplishment, devising a syllabary even though he could not read or write previously. His picture was drawn for the press. There are rumors that Sequoyah suffered violent persecution by ignorant people afraid of his new invention, but the pictures that were drawn of Sequoyah show none of the scars he was rumored to have, so either the artist didn’t really meet Sequoyah, or the rumors of scars were lies, or he did meet Sequoyah and the man was disfigured but the artist drew him without scars, out of concern for Sequoyah’s image.

There are even those who claim that Sequoyah didn’t invent the Cherokee syllabary, but that it existed in some form for the past 500 years or so.

Why they might be right: European diseases absolutely wrecked the populations of the Americas. After the De Soto Expedition, it was several decades before more Europeans were able to visit North America again. These explorers reported entire towns deserted, the populations wiped out by disease. Less than a hundred years after Hernando de Soto, and the explorers that followed him already understood what had been lost.

But the Cherokee seemed to weather the spread of European diseases better than surrounding communities. If the Cherokee had a scribe society that was able to communicate between villages and organize a community response to the plagues, that would certainly explain Cherokee towns being less devastated by plague. Even something as simple as knowing to hold off on accepting refugees until after most harvests were in would make a huge difference. If you get a written communication that tells you accepting one sick person will make the whole town sick then you know to do that after you have food saved up and before it gets too cold.

Why they are probably wrong: The scan of “The Original Ninety-Two Symbol Cherokee Syllabary” is a scribbly collection of symbols. It isn’t a collection of symbols that mimic painted glyphs. I know Chinese Ren-style characters so I know what your writing looks like if you mostly write the characters with paint-like ink. This isn’t a collection of symbols that mimics cuneiform. This is a collection of symbols written with pen on paper. So back in the 1500s, the Cherokee people didn’t have paper or pen, so how did they write these symbols?

Even if we allow the highly improbable assumption that members of this scribe society had writing and never painted the symbols on any pieces of wood or stone or leather or anything that archeologists have found, and never scratched the symbols into any clay items that survived for scientists to find, that still leaves us with too many questions. How did they practice writing in order to write legibly for others to be able to read their writing? Since no monumental inscriptions were found, what was the writing even for? Writing doesn’t just pop into existence from nowhere. Were there pictoglyphs or heiroglyphs, clay tablets with shaped scratches into them or pressed into them, metal items with symbols beaten into them?

And where are the numbers? I can believe that most people in a pre-printing press society would be illiterate even if they had writing, but no reasonable person could believe that they wouldn’t use numbers. In the early 1500s they still didn’t have horses. Their networks of trade and resource distribution must have been outrageously complicated. Given how often goods would have to change hands to make it work, they would put numbers on things if they had writing.

I’m not saying I know for certain, but I’m pretty sure that in the early 1800s, the guy who we call Sequoya sat down with pen and paper and thought, “If French, English, and Spanish people can use these to record their words, then I should be able to as well.” And then he figured something out, on his own. Most scripts were made up by someone who could already read and write. When St. Cyril made up Cyrillic, he used his knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Sejong The Great was quite literate, and had a team of scholars to help him invent Hangul, the Korean writing. (And it shows. It’s one of the best scripts on the planet.)

But totally illiterate people who invented a system of writing? Well there was probably a few people in the Mediterranean, maybe some Semitic or Phoenician person. Whoever invented Ogham, probably. At least one person in India. A Chinese person. A Mayan. For the entire existence of the human race, there were maybe a dozen people who’ve done this, and the only one whom history has recorded is Sequoyah.

Sequoyah wasted a bunch of time trying to come up with ideograms, but Cherokee just has too much grammar for that. When his ideogram notes were destroyed he started over again with a syllabary idea.

Then history gets sketchy again.

Some people say that he got a Bible, some that he got a school book on the English language, and that he copied some of the symbols out of those books. None of the people in his own area took him seriously, so he went out west and showed the Cherokee people there, and they gave him students and he started the Cherokee literacy movement. In the 1820s they had their first newspaper.

But I did find this interesting scan.

I was shown this scan with the assurance that it was Sequoyah’s own handwriting. Really? So he took notes equating the modern Cherokee symbols with an earlier script that doesn’t have any of the problems of the modern Cherokee syllabary? Each symbol is unique, can be written sloppily and still be read, and is easy to write, requiring at most four pen strokes?

This is outrageous! Why did they ever abandon the good syllabary?

This is what I’ve been able to piece together.

Sequoyah developed a syllabary. He taught his daughter to read and write it. Together they used it, which would have made it even better, simpler, easier to read. But nobody else would take it seriously. Sequoyah went out west to try to get some respect, and they also had no respect for the invention. Why should they use writing if they could just tell someone who could deliver a message?

But if they had writing they could say something once and record it and everyone could read it. It could be a tool for political unity and community action. Those were big priorities back then. Cherokees had laws protecting corn farmers from competition with wheat farmers. Farming wheat was easier and produced more food, but farming corn was time tested and an important cultural institution. Plus, many of the people who continued to farm corn were elderly and set in their ways, and the elders of all the Cherokee clans were keen on making sure that other old people who continued to follow old ways should be cherished and protected.

The only thing Sequoyah had to do was go to a print shop that had a printing press and work out a deal so that Cherokee people could have printed materials. So Sequoyah showed the print shop owner his script and the guy said, “No way. When we print a page of text we typeset it. We stack up these dies in the tray. Each die has a letter on it. Then we put ink on it and press the paper onto it. And I don’t have dies with all these sqiggly shapes on them.”

So Sequoyah went to the metal smith and asked him to make dies that had Cherokee symbols on them, and that guy told Sequoyah how much it would cost. It was a lot of money. Alright… how about start by making a few dies for symbols that don’t come up much. Sequoyah quickly jotted down less flowery versions of the symbols for “ma”, “qui”, “wo”, stuff like that.

Then he went back to the print shop. “I can’t afford dies for all these symbols. What else can we do?”

“Could you make do with what I already have in the shop? Here’s all the dies I already own.”

“There’s a a whole drawer of this symbol (E). If we use this to mean the sound gun, I could save myself a lot of money. Alright this is starting to be possible again. We could actually have a Cherokee newspaper. Give me pen and paper. I’m going to take some notes.”

And that is the scan that you saw up there. Apparently Sequoyah thought that people would learn both syllabaries, the one that’s easy to read and write with pen and paper, and the one that he had to use in printed material. But that proved to be too much for most people, so the handwritten form died out quickly.

But the typeset syllabary continued to this day. As soon as it was developed, Sequoyah trained a group of students to be Cherokee typesetters, and the Cherokee Phoenix was born.

I thought, what a tragedy. The syllabary that Sequoyah wanted to use at first was so much better. Well we have true type fonts now, so using Sequoyah’s own handwriting from that scan up there I made the true type font in the Box widget over on the right there. I have no illusions about Sequoya’s original syllabary ever catching on. As I said before. This is nobody’s first language anymore. If I wrote my grocery list in Sequoyah’s syllabary, I would have to pick up the groceries myself, since I don’t know anyone else who is into it.

“What is this?” – “It says ‘sal’. We need to pick up sal.” – “Salt?” – “No, persimmons, alright.  I ate the last dried persimmon. For some reason when I wrote it I thought it would save me effort if I wrote the two characters that form the Cherokee word for persimmon but now that I’ve taken all this effort to explain it, I should have just written persimmon.”

But I’m apparently not the only one who thinks it’s cool. Over at they also have a font based on Sequoyah’s early syllabary. Theirs is prettier than mine, but I didn’t work to make mine calligraphy, just as an exercise in making something interesting for posterity.

So that is my theory of why the Cherokee Syllabary sucks, because they didn’t have enough money to make the good syllabary into something that could be used to print a newspaper.

EDIT: I hate editing my blog posts once they accumulate comments. People that come later have no idea what the comments are referring to. For example, below, the mysterious, mentions, “I don’t have the time to try to correct all the many falsehoods stated here, but they are many.” You have no idea what he’s referring to. Maybe I say the Cherokee word for persimmon wrong. If I hadn’t mentioned his comment, you might think he is referring to this paragraph, so I’m closing comments, that way you know that all the comments refer to the essay appearing above this paragraph.

Anyway, I have to edit this post because can no longer support the widget that used to be over on the right, so you have no way of downloading the font that recreates Sequoya’s original syllabary keeping as much as possible to his actual handwriting. I have to fix that, so here it is: Hooray! Fixed!


25 Responses to “The mystery of why the Cherokee syllabary sucks.”

  1. Shaun 24 June 2011 at 8:51 am #

    I love this post–your style is fun to read (and informative). Just found your blog when I was searching for something about Sequoyah’s handwriting–if we had any examples of it or if he kept any kind of a journal. Thanks!

    • Li Luyi 17 January 2012 at 1:32 am #

      Oh … a “PS” on my ani-kutani site. I had to remove the Cherokee seal (and create my ow version) because the CNO called me and complained that I was using their logo.

      Also, I had physical threats to myself and my home in reference to my use of the term “Ani-Kutani.” That is why I translated the site into Esperanto. It had been English before that, but I could not risk my home being threatened/jeopardized. I had to protect my family, so I made the translations to avoid persecution.

      • Sheikh Jahbooty 17 January 2012 at 9:26 pm #

        Naming your website about Cherokee history and culture “Ani-Kutani” is kind of like making a website about Roman history and culture and naming it “Tarquin”. Definitely an odd choice. I can see how it might attract a troll or two.

        I kind of always just assumed you thought it was cool that there was all this past that wasn’t really “history” in the academic sense (nobody to write it down at that time), but that we still know about.

        I cannot understand anyone taking it beyond trolling though. What were they thinking? Who in their right mind would think, “I’m going to go punch Lee in the face.”? Were people ashamed? It wasn’t weird to have a clan of despotic priest/kings. The Natchez had their Sun Clan, right? It’s our history.

        Well, I’m first generation American so you could make the argument that it’s not my history but if we call it American History or World History then it’s our history.

  2. Li Luyi 17 January 2012 at 1:12 am #

    I am inspired by this. It says what I have been trying to say for so many years. (And I am the one who owns and created the site). Wado! Thank you! You have spoken well!!

  3. Brian Wilkes 17 January 2012 at 6:25 am #

    I have to agree with much of what you wrote. I’ve moved away from using the syllabary at all in teaching the language. At the early stages, at least for most people, it’s more of an obstacle to learning than an aid. It’s clumsy at best. Especially with our Net culture, people end up writing or pasting syllabary but not speaking.

    Interesting that the federal government, when printing mandated documents in Cherokee, uses romanized words rather than syllabary, because so few actually read the latter.

    • ᎦᎴᏴᏍᎬ ᎤᎨᏓᎵᏴ 12 April 2013 at 2:09 pm #

      I do agree that it can be an obstacle, but from my personal experience with Cherokee, Greek, Russian, Hebrew and Chinese , it is more of an obstacle to exclude it. It creates a linguistic crutch and people can’t get past that. My friend from Serbia told me that his teachers used the Cyrillic Alphabet punish students, forcing them to write their papers with it, although the Serbian government ousted the Cyrillic alphabet to distance themselves from the Croatians who basically speak the same language. Many Chines speakers I know in Holland can’t even read the language even though that is the only language they speak at home, Yet because they are schooled in Dutch they are literate in the language and even obtain university degrees while their first language is limited. They can’t even read sales ads from chines shops.

      Flash Cards, plus the introduction of new words written in the syllabary helps to get beyond this obstacle. And oh yes, writing exercises!

  4. ᎦᎴᏴᏍᎬ ᎤᎨᏓᎵᏴ 12 April 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Personally I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion but when based on falsity, opinions tend to look like mere babble in attempt to make some noise. Personally, I have never had any issue with the syllabary other than the painstaking task of memorizing the position of the keys on the keyboard in efforts to type. Secondly The Cherokee language has a rich inventory of books and documents written in the so-called modern syllabary, which is indeed just as modern as the original, since it was modified in order to make printing easier by carving and adding pieces onto existing letter blocks. I DO agree with you here, SUCKS! This was just sheer laziness. Although some of the changed characters if you really look at them, are portions of the original, just not the whole thing that is… However any confusion with the characters is no different than that a child experiences when beginning to write! And really it only took me only days with flash cards and a little practice to memorize the syllabary. and the differences between Ꮯ (tli) and Ꮳ (tsa); Ꮤ (ta) and Ꮃ (la); Ꮍ (mu) and Ꭹ (gi) are quite clear to me. Third – the fancy Cherokee hypothesis is 100% false. The differences is between those who use it and those who don’t can be best compared to literate in a language versus illiterate in a language, or those who speak the language and those who don’t, or a combination of the two. It was only with the decline in literacy following the American intrusion after the Civil War, and policies which led to internalized shame that people stopped reading because they stopped teaching in the language and eventually practically a whole generation grew up without it. And furthermore the sans-serif font which I detest are even more clear. And if a 4 or 5 yr old child can learn to read it without thinking that it sucks due to confusion, An adult can to. The arguments presented here are reminiscent of my francophone Belgian roommate’s complaint about learning his significant other’s language Russian. Learning another alphabet is always an obstacle but that doesn’t mean that those who use the writing system are just trying to fix it.

    • ukunaka 4 May 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      I agree with you cherokee syllabary is easy to learn i don’t even speak much cherokee and i had no problem learning it in a few weeks, i even write english in syllabary because i hate english’s spelling system since its based on what language the root word came from instead of any standerdized spelling system like phonetic alphabet, i also added diacritics that make writing in any foreign language very easy, though only i use them… i would however like to learn the old script style but i can’t find any graphs that are more legible than this one if anyone could help me contact me on facebook ( )

      • Sheikh Jahbooty 5 May 2013 at 2:49 am #

        You write English using the Cherokee syllabary? I’d actually be kind of interested in seeing this. How would you write the word, “strength”? Or “posh”? Your system is almost a brand new invention, and might be worth sharing with us. You should post it somewhere or blog about it on your own blog and give us a link here.

        Cherokee doesn’t have a lot of consonant clusters, but when we do need them, we usually write them with the “i” column of the syllabary. Cherokee likes to ellid the vowel “i”. I suppose every syllabary has a vowel that is often ellided. In Japanese it is “u”. Daiski (Love) is written da-i-su-ki. In Gurumuki I seem to recall that the ellided vowel is often short “a”.

        Do you differentiate between the sound at the beginning of the word “three” from the sound at the beginning of the word “this”? “Three” is unvoiced, and “this” is voiced. In Welsh, Icelandic, Swahili, Arabic, and Vietmanese, they specify the difference between these sounds, but we don’t in English.

        Also, in the Cherokee syllabary we almost never specify aspirated vowels. There are only two symbols that do specify aspiration, both relating to the sound “na” that are included in the syllabary. This doesn’t mean that we don’t pronounce aspirated vowels, just that we don’t write them, because it doesn’t lead to confusion. Are there any English words you write differently than how they are pronounced, either for ease, or because it doesn’t make a difference for understanding?

      • ukunaka 9 May 2013 at 12:57 am #

        OK ill explain ( id address your questions in order but it might be easier to explain out of order for me atleast)

        ill start with the question you asked about dh and th which are both written as th in enlish and explain how i write foreign consanants at the same time. I use a diacritic used in japanese syllabaries to change the consants value it looks like a circle just above and right of the symbol i also use a dot in the same place so their can be two other consanants per symbol. For th and dh i use t and d, t is used for th(as in thigh) and d for dh(as in Thy)

        as for your question about pronounciation i spell all phoneticaly here is an example, not according to english spelling

        ill address your question on aspirated vowels and explain the diacritics for dipthongs, alternate/short, and silent vowels
        I use a dot underneath to write short vowels and aspirated vowels (a goes from kahn to cat e goes from bay to ben i goes from seen to sin o i dont use an alternate form u goes from pool to pull and v goes from a nasalized uh to an unasalized uh as in what) the dot underneath is one of the only diacritics used in cherokee already but ive only seen it used in the gospel ,

        for silent vowels i take the dot and add a hook to it in the opposite direction of the symbol its merged to ( example in group which would be spelled grup id put gi with a dot underneath and the hook would be to the left meaning gi word merge right with ru making gru if it was the other way as th ND in stand the hook would be right on the n and d symbols also for some east african languagese with names like ndege where the n is a standalone consanant there would be a dot with hooks on both sides

        i know from reading this it may seem overly complicated but for me it is very simple and i can write faster and shorter than if i wrote it in egnlish or even phonetically

        if you want me to explain anything in further detail i will , i would also take a picture of an example if you want, just tell me what to write it may make more since to see then to try to understand my explanation

      • ukunaka 9 May 2013 at 1:50 am #

        Here is a link to strength and posh

        first i should say that their spelled phoneticlly shchrength and pash (atleast phonetically according to how its pronounced where i live) and i should explain the alt. Consanants used , sh is the primary alt. of s , r is primary alt. of l , and p is the primary alt. of h everything else should have been explained in my first reply i think…

        as you can see in the photo strength goes from 8 characters in english to six and posh goes from 4 to 2 so when i write them normal (i enlarged the cherokee to make it easier to read) they would take less space and are quicker (atleast for me)

    • Justin Pratt 7 August 2013 at 2:12 am #

      As an English speaker, it is very easy to mix up tli and tsa, or mu and gi. In our native language, they are just different kind of c’s and y’s, so it’s very easy to see them that way. Even with practice, they are understandably very similar. To make it even more confusing, the Cherokee language is a terrible language to use a syllabary simply because it is so clumsy to work around the cherokee root system. The morphemes become unclear when the last phoneme of a root blends with the first phoneme of the next root.

      Example: Verb “to go”: I go, you go, you and I go= gega, hega, inega respectively. The roots G, H, and In equate to I, you, and you and I respectively, and the “ega” is the verb root; that distinction is so unclear when spelled ge-ga he-ga and i-ne-ga, Another example is the a-a=v rule when one root ends in a, and the next begins with a, they will become v, and then the roots really blend together and a learner will inevitably be confused without being able to see a clear morpheme, which the syllabary so effectively dilutes.

      So yes, a fluent Cherokee speaker used to be able to easily read and understand the syllabary, just as a fluent English speaker could learn to read English with the same syllabary, even though it’d be terribly confusing at first. But we’re talking about people learning a language to keep it alive, and the syllabary is a terrible obstruction, and probably should be relegated to more formal settings, and not be used for learning.

  5. ukunaka 9 May 2013 at 1:18 am #

    Also yes my system is basically a new system , originally i was going to make new symbols for the consananants and the three dipthongs ai ao and oi but while i was making all the symbols i realized two things 1.) People who already knew cherokee would have to learn alot of new symbols and 2.) I was going to have to make symbols for every ccv /double consanant syllable as well so i decide instead to add diacritics so that i could solve the issues i wanted to address (foreign consanants, dipthongs, ect.) But make it so someone who already knew how to write cherokee could learn the diacritics easily expanding there use of the syllabary with out haveing to learn any new symbols …

  6. Eliana 23 June 2013 at 6:45 am #

    Thanks! This is the kind of post I like to read over a couple different times; there’s that much covered here. I especially like the overview of grammar differences.
    As for the syllabary, I think it should be learned but maybe shouldn’t be the very first thing people are introduced to. (Tends to scare people off before they get to the “fun part” of speaking.)
    If it isn’t too off-topic, here’s an article I came across on a teaching method that starts with the parts of a language people would use most often:

  7. Justin Pratt 7 August 2013 at 1:50 am #

    There’s evidence to suggest that Ssiquoyah was a nickname from his mother. If I remember, it means pig-foot, or something to that effect, the reason being that Sequoya was born with a deformity of one of his legs/feet.

    Personally, I think a syllabary is a terrible system for Cherokee. An alphabet, or syllabic alphabet would have been much better. Also, the system of hyphenating in cherokee is also terrible, as it’s makes the breaks between morpheme roots quite confusing. The books on teaching Cherokee are quite terrible. As far as I understand, the Navajo have the best system of teaching a polysynthetic language (like cherokee), and even have a functional dictionary.

    The best way to describe the grammar of Cherokee through parts-of-speech of English is that there are essentially only Nouns and Verbs. Adjectives translate as verbs usually, or attach to nouns, as do adverbs attach to their verbs, and all the other crap like articles are left out (very rough explanation, obviously) . They seriously need to teach Cherokee in that regard, imho. Most of the cherokee i learned was from the appendix of my textbook, where I used the tables to understand the roots and “conjugations.” To lose these exquisite languages like Cherokee would be a travesty, as so few polysynthetic languages still exist with native speakers.

    • ukunaka 27 August 2013 at 2:24 am #

      i would just like to comment on what someone said a two posts ago about simular symbols ,when the are written correctly and not based on the 3rd generation typeset form it is much easier to tell the difference between those aparently simular characters also since you are looking at them as simular to english letters you tend to write them that way instead of how sequoyah would write them making the difference even less apparent ( example

      • ukunaka 27 August 2013 at 2:35 am #

        … example: wa which to english writers looks simular to a G will write the G and just add a hook were as i start from the middle and make two hooks making it appear less like a G and somewat like a w another example e is written as R as is another sign but the part that stickes out the bottom isnt written like an R’s it comes from the miidle of yhe loop making the proper form look more like a p with a hook

        also id like to make a quick comment on your post that cherokees use the i signs for dropped vowels that is only partially true the use the syllable that would be used in its formal form dropped vowels evolved from short vowels manly As and Is tjat is why uktena is written ukitena( the formal form of keen eye) but nanyehi is suppose to be written as nanayehi( traveler/ wamderer

    • The Uku 5 October 2013 at 10:56 pm #

      Id just like to comment on this post about sequoyahs name to explain something about cherokee names especially back then and sometimes still today men would change there name (rarely women as their name is passed to there children as a kinda of las name ex: ukunaka whos mother is meli) in fact almost all men in sequoyas time did this as in traditional religion our birth name is sacred and not always given to people not ib their clan emporer adagalkala (little carpenter) changed his name from ukunaka (white owl) and. His son he is dragging his canoe got his name when he was about 13 when his father told him he couldn’t. Go on the war path with hom unless he could carry his canoe to the river at first he couldn’t lift it so his father and his warband began to take there canoes to the creek when one of the warriors looked back and said “look he is dragging his canoe”

  8. 31 October 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    OMGS … you are so rude and crude about this. I can’t believe the nonsense you just posted on the internet for all to read. (speaking as the author of the ani-kutani site).

    There is so much you do not know and have apparently misunderstood. And other comments on this site, like mothers passing on the name to their children. I can’t believe all this misinformation. (Mothers pass on their clan … not their name … for one thing).

    You might also want to reference THE CHEROKEE PHOENIX. A Cherokee newspaper that was first published on Feb. 21, 1828. It is still in publication. Today it is more in English than Cherokee due to the sad decline of the language.

    I don’t have the time to try to correct all the many falsehoods stated here, but they are many.

    Also, I too have issues with the modern version of the Cherokee syllabary. The old script was more appropriate for the language. But if you don’t know the language, then you really cannot comment on the written form.

    A quick example. ᏯᎾᏌ (or “ya-na-sa”) is the word for “bison.” It is not pronounced “yanasa” … it is “yan’sa.”

    Before pointing the finger at Cherokee, look at English. It is written in the Roman script (and uses Arabic numerals). So many words are confusing in written English. Like “read” “red” and “reed” …

    The Cherokee syllabary was design FOR Cherokee. The Roman script was designed for Latin based languages. If you speak Cherokee … it works fine. If you don’t … you should not comment.

    • Hyperlingual 31 October 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      English’s problems have nothing to do with it. Cherokee is being discussed here.
      The design was for Cherokee, but by Sequoyah, not an expert or a linguist. Cherokee’s pitch accents (tones, in some respects) and deleted vowels should mean that Cherokee is more fit for an alphabet than a syllabary.

      Sure, I can’t say I speak it, I’m still learning, but one of the obstacles has always been the syllabary.
      My girlfriend and I are learning the language, and we tend to prefer an adapted roman alphabet, where we can add pitch, we can get rid of vowels that simply shouldn’t be in the Syllabary. If it weren’t for how amazing the syllabary looks, we probably wouldn’t even learn it.

      Oh, also, the Roman script wasn’t designed for “Latin based languages” it was designed for *Latin*. It generally fails for most other languages, which is why the alphabet is adapted for each language, and why English is non-phonetic.

      • 31 October 2013 at 11:47 pm #

        I agree. The Roman script was designed for Latin. And has carried over to other languages. Including French … which [imho] should create its own script!

    • Hyperlingual 31 October 2013 at 10:57 pm #

      All that being said, I love the Cherokee syllabary. I don’t think it “sucks”, and it fits the style it needs to. Besides, it’s a cultural decision which is very important, and it fits the language better than many writing systems do for their own language.

      But for teaching non-native speakers, it doesn’t seem to make sense, and it’d help if there were some added conventions to the system to make it easier to learn.

      No disrespect, not my language so not my decision anyway. 🙂

  9. joy 18 February 2014 at 9:45 am #

    Hi how are you
    Is it possible to help me in the translation of this word. (ᎢᎣᏌᎦ ) and I want to know all the letters of the Cherokee language interview in English
    Thank you

  10. Chimalpahin 9 April 2014 at 3:16 am #
    So, yeah it was probably Worcester that got the script into it’s current messy state, but there are better fonts and typefaces now, including Sequoyah’s own shorthand that was still distinguishable.

  11. ᎡᏙᎯ 8 August 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    There are still quite a few that speak Cherokee as a first language. Two instantly come to mind: Ed Fields, the Cherokee language instructor on; and Wes Studi, an acting professional.

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