Language of the week: Cherokee

This week’s language of the week is Cherokee. Cherokee (Tsalagi, ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ) is a Southern Iroquian language spoken in Oklahoma and North Carolina. Tsalagi is apparently a Creek word meaning ‘people with another language’ (what Creek people called Cherokees). As the writer of the native-languages.org entry put it, “it’s quite amazing how many times white settlers always managed to learn some other tribe’s name for any group of Indians.” They learnt the Creek name for Cherokee but not the Creek name for Creek (by the way, in the same vein, Mohawk is an Algonquian name, not a Mohawk name).

There’s a huge amount of information about Cherokee on the net. Here’s a small linkfest:

The Cherokee syllabary was invented by Sequioa, who developed it after seeing English writing (but he himself did not speak English). Wikipedia has a note that in all cases where a writing system has been invented from scratch where the person did not have direct experience with alphabetic writing, the result was a syllabary. That’s very interesting, if it’s true.

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5 responses to “Language of the week: Cherokee

  1. don’t get me started on syllabaries. I heart them. they are so well suited to a lot of Australian languages. I wish Australia’s colonisers used a syllabary instead of the stinkin roman Alphabet, I’m sure vernacular literacy in Aboriginal languages would be much higher (plus you don’t get much worse colonisers than us English mob). Can you imagine a language like Warlpiri written with a syllabary? I sit with fascination with my Tamil friend watching her use the Tamil syllabary (with a phonemic inventory very much like your standard Aboriginal language). I drove a linguist friend of mine nuts one afternoon by writing sentence after sentence in whatever Aboriginal language we could think of using the Tamil syllabary.

  2. Glad I wasn’t that linguist friend! Though, I probably would have found it really cool. What about gemiate stops etc, and other syllable-boundary/morphophonemic phonotactics/phonology?

  3. I seriously considered using Devanagari for Bardi at one point. It’s almost perfect. Not quite enough rhotics but we could adapt… Actually, Vedic had another lateral s that might serve.

    There are ways of dealing with geminates and clusters in syllabic scripts. In Devanagari there are combination characters. Consonant-final words have a “cancel” mark on them to show that the final vowel isn’t pronounced.

  4. Is there a Cherokee word for the word REALITY?

    If so what is it ?

    Thank you Susan Morgan

  5. I don’t know – I don’t speak Cherokee.

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