Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ) is a Southern Iroquoian language spoken mainly in North Carolina (Tetsas / ᏖᏣᏍ) and Oklahoma (Asgaya gigageyi / ᎠᏍᎦᏯ ᎩᎦᎨᏱ) and Arkansas (Geiyi / ᎨᎢᏱ) in the USA. Between 1,500 and 2,100 people speak Cherokee, and the majority are over 40 years old. Few children are growing up with the language [source].
According to the 2018 Cherokee Nation Tribal Survey there are 1,200 speakers of Cherokee in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, 217 speakers in the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina, and 101 speakers in the United Keetoowah Band of Oklahoma and Arkansas [source].
There are two main dialects of Cherokee. The Eastern dialect is spoken in the Qualla Boundary or The Qualla, an area of western North Carolina purchashed by the Cherokee tribe in the 1870s. It is also known Middle or Kituwa (ᎩᏚᏩ) dialect. The Western dialect is spoken in eastern Oklahoma and North Carolina. It is also known as the Overhill or Otali dialect. Until about 1900, the Southern or Lower dialect of Cherokee was also spoken in South Carolina and Georgia.
Cherokee is well documented, with more literature than any other Native American language. There are Cherokee dictionaries and grammars, translations of parts of the Bible, and a Cherokee newspaper.
The Cherokee Nation has a plan, instigated in 2008, to increase the number of fluent speakers through immersion programs in schools, and encouraging people to speak Cherokee at home. In 50 years their goal is for 80% or more of the Cherokee people to speak their language fluently. Parents are taught the language along with their children, and it is possible to study Cherokee at a number of universities in Oklahoma and North Carolina.
The Cherokee syllabary was invented by George Guess/Gist, a.k.a. Chief Sequoyah, of the Cherokee, and was developed between 1809 and 1824. At first Sequoyah experimented with a writing system based on logograms, but found this cumbersome and unsuitable for Cherokee. He later developed a syllabary which was originally cursive and hand-written, but it was too difficult and expensive to produce a printed version, so he devised a new version with symbols based on letters from the Latin alphabet and Western numerals.
Sequoyah's descendants claim that he was the last surviving member of his tribe's scribe clan and the Cherokee syllabary was invented by persons unknown at a much earlier date.
By 1820 thousands of Cherokees had learnt the syllabary, and by 1830, 90% were literate in their own language. Books, religious texts, almanacs and newspapers were all published using the syllabary, which was widely used for over 100 years.
Today the syllabary is still used; efforts are being made to revive both the Cherokee language and the Cherokee syllabary, and Cherokee courses are offered at a number of schools, colleges and universities.
You can hear the sounds of Cherokee at:
Download a Cherokee script chart (Excel)
Sequoyah designed numerals for his script, however the Cherokee council voted not to adopt them.
Nigada aniyvwi nigegudalvna ale unitloyi unadehna duyugadv gesvi. Getsinela unadanvtedi ale unotlisadi ale squu gesv tsunilvwisdanedi anatlinvtlv adanvdo gvdi.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Information about Cherokee
Online Cherokee lessons
Phrases in Cherokee
Numbers in Cherokee
Cherokee transliteration system
Sequoyah Birthplace Museum
Echota Tsalagi Language Revitalization Project
Cherokee Observer - online Cherokee newspaper
Cherokee Publications - Native American books, tapes, etc.
Place names of Cherokee origin
Bamum, Caroline Island Script, Celtiberian, Cherokee, Cypriot, Dunging (Iban), Eskayan, Hiragana, Iberian, Katakana, Kpelle, Loma, Mende (Kikakui), Mwangwego, Ndjuká, Nüshu, Nwagụ Aneke, Vai, Yi, Yugtun
Page last modified: 01.06.21
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