Cherokee language

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Tsalagi Gawonihisdi
Pronunciation [dʒalaˈɡî ɡawónihisˈdî]
(Oklahoma dialect)
Native to United States
Region Oklahoma and the Qualla Boundary, North Carolina
Ethnicity 140,000 Cherokee people
Native speakers
10,400, may be up to 16,000 [1]  (2010)[2]
  • Cherokee
Cherokee syllabary, Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-2 chr
ISO 639-3 chr
Original distribution of the Cherokee language
Current distribution
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ Tsalagi Gawonihisdi) is the Iroquoian language spoken by the Cherokee people. It is the only Southern Iroquoian language that remains spoken.[3] Cherokee is a polysynthetic language and uses a unique syllabary writing system.


The North American origins and eventual English language form of "Cherokee" were researched by James Mooney in the nineteenth century. In his Myths of the Cherokee (1888) he reports:

"It first appears as Chalaque in the Portuguese narrative of De Soto's expedition, published originally in 1557, while we find Cheraqui in a French document of 1699, and Cherokee as an English form as early, at least, as 1708. The name has thus an authentic [sic] history of 360 years."[4]

The Cherokees' own name for their language is Tsalagi or Tslagi.


Cherokee has three major dialects. The Lower dialect became extinct around 1900. The Middle or Kituhwa dialect is spoken by the Eastern band on the Qualla Boundary. The Overhill or Western dialect is spoken in Oklahoma and by the Snowbird Community in North Carolina.[5] The Overhill dialect has an estimated 9,000 speakers.[6] The Lower dialect spoken by the inhabitants of the Lower Towns in the vicinity of the South Carolina–Georgia border had r as the liquid consonant in its inventory, while both the contemporary Kituhwa or Ani-kituwah dialect spoken in North Carolina and the Overhill dialects contain l. Only Oklahoma Cherokee developed tone. Both the Lower dialect and the Kituhwa dialect have a "ts" sound in place of the "tl" sound of the Overhill dialect. The English word "No" is ᎥᏝ (ə̃tˤɑ or [ə̃tl̥á]) in the Overhill dialect, but ᎥᏣ (ə̃sɑ) in both the Lower and Kituhwa dialects.

Language drift[edit]

There are two main dialects of Cherokee spoken by modern speakers. The Giduwa dialect (Eastern Band) and the Otali dialect (also called the Overhill dialect) spoken in Oklahoma. The Otali dialect has drifted significantly from Sequoyah's syllabary in the past 150 years, and many contracted and borrowed words have been adopted into the language. These noun and verb roots in Cherokee, however, can still be mapped to Sequoyah's syllabary. In modern times, there are more than 85 syllables in use by modern Cherokee speakers. Modern Cherokee speakers who speak Otali employ 122 distinct syllables in Oklahoma.[citation needed]


Though Cherokee has no official status in the United States of America, it remains an integral part of Cherokee history and culture.[7] The Cherokee language currently retains between 10,400 [8] and 22,500 speakers,[9] though a figure of about 16,000 appears to be most widely accepted.[1] Cherokee is currently one of only five indigenous languages of Oklahoma still spoken by children [10] and it is the most populous native language in the states of Oklahoma and North Carolina.

Because use of Native American languages is now regaining interest from community members after a generation of language discontinuation, most Cherokee speakers are over 50 or under 5 years of age.[11]


The Cherokee language has been tenuously preserved by its speech communities through a number of different practices. However despite its considerable vitality (with respect to other indigenous languages), the language exhibits vulnerability. In August 2002, the Cherokee Nation conducted a survey of 115,026 Cherokee citizens who live in the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation to evaluate the status of the language. Of those surveyed, 91% reported that they at least heard the language being used in the public domain; 18% heard the language used in hospitals, 14% reported hearing the language in church, 12% used/heard the language at home, 9% heard it in stores, 8% heard it at work, 7% heard it at school, 7% heard it on grounds, 6% heard it in courts, and 8% heard it in other settings. In the home, Cherokee was only used by 17% of survey respondents; the overwhelming majority spoke only English in the home setting. 18% of the surveyed persons spoke Cherokee as a first language, and 5% had learned both Cherokee and English jointly as first languages.[7] Results from this survey and others indicated a decline in usage. To revert this, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation has invested $3 million into opening schools, training teachers, and developing curriculums for language education, as well as initiating community gatherings where the language can be actively used.[12]

Cherokee traffic sign in Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Immersion schools have kept children speaking and acquiring the language.[13] The Kituwah Preservation & Education Program has been initiated by the Eastern Band of Cherokees to help stabilize the language, offering classes to over 75 students ages seven months to seven years in which the Cherokee language is the medium of instruction.[14] The Cherokee Nation sponsors a language preservation project,[8] offering online classes for Cherokee language levels I, II, and III.[15] Participants can test their knowledge of the language online at the Cherokee Learning Center, also sponsored by the Cherokee Nation.[16] Classes for adults who do not yet speak the language are offered in many locations.[8]

Students from the Cherokee Language Immersion School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma did especially well in competition in 2012 at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History's Annual Oklahoma Native American Language Fair.[17]

As of 2014, elderly monolingual Cherokee speakers are assisting in language revival efforts.[18]

Several universities offer Cherokee as a second language, including the University of Oklahoma,[8] Northeast Oklahoma University,[8] and Western Carolina University. Western Carolina University has partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) to promote and restore the language through the school's Cherokee Studies program, which offers classes in and about the language and culture of the Cherokee Indians.[19] The University and the EBCI have initiated a ten-year language revitalization plan, constituting of: (1) a continuation of the improvement and expansion of the EBCI Atse Kituwah Cherokee Language Immersion School, (2) continued development of Cherokee language learning resources, and (3) building of Western Carolina University programs to offer a more comprehensive language training curriculum.[19]

Language development[edit]

Bilingual notice in English and Cherokee, published in the Cherokee Phoenix, New Echota, Georgia, 1828

As of 1986, the literacy rate for first language speakers was 15%–20% who could read and 5% who could write (according to the 1986 Cherokee Heritage Center);[20] its is quite possible that literacy has increased since the development of numerous immersion schools for children. According to the 1986 Cherokee Advocate, the language is taught in both schools and churches.[20] There is a Cherokee dictionary and grammar as well as translated portions of the New Testament of the Bible from 1850–1951.[20]

Other resources helping to expand and develop Cherokee include books and technology.

Books in Cherokee[edit]

  • Awi Uniyvsdi Kanohelvdi ᎠᏫ ᎤᏂᏴᏍᏗ ᎧᏃᎮᎸᏗ: The Park Hill Tales. (2006) Sixkiller, Dennis, ed.
  • Baptism: The Mode
  • Cherokee Almanac (1860)
  • "Christmas in those Days"
  • Cherokee Driver's Manuel
  • Cherokee Elementary Arithmetic (1870)
  • "The Cherokee People Today"
  • Cherokee Psalms: A Collection of Hymns in the Cherokee Language (1991). Sharpe, J. Ed., ed. and Daniel Scott, trans. ISBN 978-0-935741-16-2
  • Cherokee Spelling Book (1924). J. D. Wofford
  • Cherokee Stories. (1966) Spade & Walker
  • Cherokee Vision of Elohi (1981 and 1997). Meredith, Howard, Virginia Sobral, and Wesley Proctor. ISBN 978-0-9660164-0-6
  • The Four Gospels and Selected Psalms in Cherokee: A Companion to the Syllabary New Testament (2004). Holmes, Ruth Bradley. ISBN 978-0-8061-3628-8.
  • Na Tsoi Yona Ꮎ ᏦᎢ ᏲᎾ: The Three Bears. (2007) Keeter, Ray D. and Wynema Smith. ISBN 978-0-9777339-0-3
  • Na Usdi Gigage Agisi Tsitaga Ꮎ ᎤᏍᏗ ᎩᎦᎨ ᎠᎩᏏ: The Little Red Hen. (2007) Smith, Wynema and Ray D. Keeter. ISBN 978-0-9777339-1-0.

Computer and smartphone usage[edit]

For years, many people wrote transliterated Cherokee on the internet or used poorly compatible fonts to type out the syllabary. However, since the fairly recent addition of the Cherokee syllables to Unicode, the Cherokee language is experiencing a renaissance in its use on the Internet.[21] For example, the entire New Testament[22] is online in Cherokee Syllabary, and there is a Cherokee language Wikipedia featuring over 400 articles.[23] Since 2003, all Apple computers come with a Cherokee font installed.[24]

Cherokee Nation members Joseph L. Erb, Roy Boney, Jr., and Thomas Jeff Edwards worked with Apple to bring official Cherokee language support to the iPhone and iPod Touch in iOS 4.1[24][25] (released 8-Sept-2010) and for the iPad with iOS 4.2.1 (released 22-Nov-2010).

Most Linux distributions support Cherokee input and display in any font containing the characters in Unicode environments.

On March 25, 2011, Google announced the option to perform searches in Cherokee.[26] As of November 2012, Gmail is supported in Cherokee.[27][28]

Windows 8, the first Windows release in Cherokee, contains "nearly 180,000 words and phrases" in Cherokee, and is the first Windows release in a Native American language.[29]

A number of Cherokee language apps are available for iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices.[30][31][31][32][33]

A video game for learning the Cherokee language, "Talking Games", was released in March 2013.[34]

Usage in popular culture[edit]

The theme song "I Will Find You"[35] from the 1992 film The Last of the Mohicans by the band Clannad features Máire Brennan singing in Cherokee as well as Mohican.[36] Cherokee rapper Litefoot incorporates Cherokee into songs, as do Rita Coolidge's band Walela and the intertribal drum group, Feather River Singers.[37]

The Cherokee Nation now has a radio show called "Cherokee Voices, Cherokee Sounds"[38] that plays songs in the Cherokee language, interviews speakers of the Cherokee language, and releases news and podcasts in both Cherokee and English. The show is hosted by Dennis Sixkiller and has been in operation since 2004. "Cherokee Voices, Cherokee Sounds" currently airs on the radio in the Tahlequah area on Lakes Country 102.1 FM on Sundays from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. and on Classic Country KTLQ 1350 AM from 12 p.m. until 1 p.m. and Wednesdays from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m. In the Claremore area, the show airs on the Rogers State University radio station, KRSC – 91.3 FM, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and Sundays from 12 p.m. until 1 p.m. The show also airs on Siloam Springs , AR , station KUOA – 1290 AM, on Sundays from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m.[39] The show only operates in the state of Oklahoma.

Military usage[edit]

Cherokee troops of the American 30th Infantry Division used the language to transmit messages during the Second Battle of the Somme in 1918.

Cherokee Phoenix[edit]

See main article: Cherokee Phoenix

The Cherokee Phoenix (ᏣᎳᎩ ᏧᎴᎯᏌᏅᎯ, Tsalagi Tsulehisanvhi) was the first newspaper published by Native Americans in the United States and the first published in a Native American language.[40][41] The first issue was published in English and Cherokee on February 21, 1828, in New Echota, capital of the Cherokee Nation (present-day Georgia). The paper continued until 1834. The Cherokee Phoenix was revived in the 20th century, and today it publishes on the Web.


Cherokee only has one labial consonant, m–which is relatively new to the language. The Lower dialect lacked this sound, having "w" in its place. The language thus lacks p and b. In the case of p, qw is often substituted (as in the name of Cherokee Wikipedia, Wiɣiqwejdiʃ).


As with many Iroquoian languages, the consonant inventory is very simple. The consonants for North Carolina Cherokee are given in the table below. The consonants of all Iroquoian languages pattern so that they may be grouped as (oral) obstruents, sibilants, laryngeals, and resonants (Lounsbury 1978:337). Obstruents are non-distinctively aspirated when they precede h. There is some variation in how orthographies represent these allophones. The orthography used in the table represents the aspirated allophones as th, kh, and tsh. Another common orthography represents the unaspirated allophones as d, ɣ, and dz and the aspirated allophones as t, k, and s (Scancarelli 2005:359–62). The unaspirated plosives and affricate are optionally voiced intervocally. In other dialects, the affricate is a palatal (like ch in "church"), and a lateral affricate (like tl in "atlas") may also be present.

North Carolina Cherokee consonants
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive t k ʔ
Affricate ts
Fricative s h
Nasal m n
Approximant l j (y) ɰ (w)


There are six short vowels and six long vowels in the Cherokee inventory. As with all Iroquoian languages, this includes a nasalized vowel (Lounsbury 1978:337). In the case of Cherokee, the nasalized vowel is a schwa, which most orthographies represent as v and is pronounced [ɜ] as "u" in unstressed "but"; since it is nasal, it sounds rather like French un. Other vowels, when ending a word, are often nasalized. Vowels can be short or long.[42]

Front Central Back
Close i   u  
Mid e   ə̃   ə̃ː o  
Open a  


Cherokee has only one diphthong native to the language:

  • ai  /ai/

Another exception to the phonology above is the modern Oklahoma use of the loanword "automobile", with the /ɔ/ sound and /b/ sound of English.


Oklahoma Cherokee is a pitch accent language with six tones, two of which are level (low, high) and the other four of which are contour (rising, falling, highfall, lowfall).[43] While the tonal system is undergoing a gradual simplification in many areas, it remains important in meaning and is still held strongly by many, especially older, speakers. Tone is poorly documented in North Carolina Cherokee. The syllabary, moreover, does not display tone, and real meaning discrepancies[clarification needed] are rare within the native-language Cherokee-speaking community. The same goes for transliterated Cherokee ("osiyo", "dohitsu", etc.), which is rarely written with any tone markers, except in dictionaries. Native speakers can tell the difference between written tone-distinguished words by context.

Tone inventory[edit]

The tone name in the left-hand column displays the labels most recently used in studies of the language.[43] The second represents the tone in standardized IPA.

Tone Name IPA
Low ˨
High ˦
Rising ˨˦
Falling ˥˩
Highfall ˥˧
Lowfall ˧˩

Tone environments[edit]

The high and low tones can appear on both long and short vowels in Cherokee,[44] and remain at the same pitch throughout the duration of the vowel sound. Contour tones in Cherokee appear only in underlying long vowels.[45] At the ends of words in colloquial speech, there is a tendency to drop off a long vowel into a short vowel; this results in the highfall tone being produced as a high tone in faster speech. [46]


Highfall has a unique grammatical usage, primarily appearing with adjectives and adverbials along with most nouns derived from verbs. It only appears in verbs subordinate to another element of the sentence. When a highfall appears on a verb it changes the verbs' role in the sentence, typically to one of four main categories: agentive derivation, modal, object derivation, or subordination.[47]


Cherokee, like many Native American languages, is polysynthetic, meaning that many morphemes may be linked together to form a single word, which may be of great length. Cherokee verbs, the most important word type, must contain as a minimum a pronominal prefix, a verb root, an aspect suffix, and a modal suffix.[48] For example, the verb form ge:ga, "I am going," has each of these elements:

Verb form ge:ga
g- e: -g -a

The pronominal prefix is g-, which indicates first person singular. The verb root is -e, "to go." The aspect suffix that this verb employs for the present-tense stem is -g-. The present-tense modal suffix for regular verbs in Cherokee is -a

The following is a conjugation in the present tense of the verb to go.[49] Please note that there is no distinction between dual and plural in the 3rd person.

Full conjugation of Root Verb-e- going
Singular Dual incl. Dual excl. Plural incl. Plural excl.
1st ᎨᎦ gega – I'm going ᎢᏁᎦ inega – we're going (you + I) ᎣᏍᏕᎦ osdega – we two are going (not you) ᎢᏕᎦ idega – we're all going (3+, including you) ᎣᏤᎦ otsega – we're all going (3+, not you)
2nd ᎮᎦ hega – you're going ᏍᏕᎦ sdega – you two are going ᎢᏤᎦ itsega – you're all going
3rd ᎡᎦ ega – she/he/it's going ᎠᏁᎦ anega – they are going

The translation uses the present progressive ("at this time I am going"). Cherokee differentiates between progressive ("I am going") and habitual ("I go") more than English does.

The forms ᎨᎪᎢ, ᎮᎪᎢ, ᎡᎪᎢ gegoi, hegoi, egoi represent "I often/usually go", "you often/usually go", and "she/he/it often/usually goes", respectively.[49]

Verbs can also have prepronominal prefixes, reflexive prefixes, and derivative suffixes. Given all possible combinations of affixes, each regular verb can have 21,262 inflected forms.

Cherokee does not make gender distinctions. For example, ᎦᏬᏂᎭ gawoniha can mean either "she is speaking" or "he is speaking."[50]

Pronouns and pronominal prefixes[edit]

Like many Native American languages, Cherokee has many pronominal prefixes. But there are two separate words which function as pronouns: aya "I, me" and nihi "you".

Table of Cherokee first person pronominal prefixes
Number Set I Set II
Singular ji-, g- agi-, agw-
Dual inclusive ini-, in- gini-, gin-
Dual exclusive osdi-, osd- ogini-, ogin-
Plural inclusive idi-, id- igi-, ig-
Plural exclusive oji-, oj- ogi-, og-

Shape classifiers in verbs[edit]

Some Cherokee verbs require special classifiers which denote a physical property of the direct object. Only around 20 common verbs require one of these classifiers (such as the equivalents of "pick up", "put down", "remove", "wash", "hide", "eat", "drag", "have", "hold", "put in water", "put in fire", "hang up", "be placed", "pull along"). The classifiers can be grouped into five categories:

1. Live
2. Flexible (most common)
3. Long (narrow, not flexible)
4. Indefinite (solid, heavy relative to size)
5. Liquid (or container of)


Conjugation of "Hand him..."
Classifier Type Cherokee Translation
Live ᎯᎧᏏ hikasi Hand him (something living)
Flexible ᎯᏅᏏ hinvsi Hand him (something like clothes, rope)
Long, Indefinite ᎯᏗᏏ hidisi Hand him (something like a broom, pencil)
Indefinite ᎯᎥᏏ hivsi Hand him (something like food, book)
Liquid ᎯᏁᎥᏏ hinevsi Hand him (something like water)

There have been reports that the youngest speakers of Cherokee are using only the Indefinite forms, suggesting a decline in the system of shape classification.

Word order[edit]

Simple declarative sentences usually have a subject-object-verb word order.[51] Negative sentences have a different word order. Adjectives come before nouns, as in English. Demonstratives, such as ᎾᏍᎩ nasgi ("that") or ᎯᎠ hia ("this"), come at the beginning of noun phrases. Relative clauses follow noun phrases.[52] Adverbs precede the verbs that they are modifying. For example, "she's speaking loudly" is ᎠᏍᏓᏯ ᎦᏬᏂᎭ asdaya gawoniha (literally, "loud she's-speaking").[52]

A Cherokee sentence may not have a verb as when two noun phrases form a sentence. In such a case, word order is flexible. For example, Ꮎ ᎠᏍᎦᏯ ᎠᎩᏙᏓ na asgaya agidoda ("that man is my father"). A noun phrase might be followed by an adjective, such as in ᎠᎩᏙᏓ ᎤᏔᎾ agidoga utana ("my father is big").[53]

Word creation[edit]

Due to the polysynthetic nature of the Cherokee language, new and descriptive words in Cherokee are easily constructed to reflect or express modern concepts. Some good examples are ᏗᏘᏲᎯᎯ (ditiyohihi) which means "he argues repeatedly and on purpose with a purpose." This is the Cherokee word for "attorney." Another example is ᏗᏓᏂᏱᏍᎩ (didaniyisgi) which means "the final catcher" or "he catches them finally and conclusively." This is the Cherokee word for "policeman."[54]

Many words, however, have been adopted from the English language – for example, gasoline, which in Cherokee is ᎦᏐᎵᏁ (gasoline). Many other words were adopted from the languages of tribes who settled in Oklahoma in the early 1900s. One interesting and humorous example is the name of Nowata, Oklahoma. The word nowata is a Delaware word for "welcome" (more precisely the Delaware word is nuwita which can mean "welcome" or "friend" in the Delaware language). The white settlers of the area used the name "nowata" for the township, and local Cherokees, being unaware the word had its origins in the Delaware language, called the town ᎠᎹᏗᎧᏂᎬᎾᎬᎾ (Amadikanigvnagvna) which means "the water is all gone gone from here" – i.e. "no water."[55]

Other examples of adopted words are ᎧᏫ (kawi) for "coffee" and ᏩᏥ (watsi) for "watch" (which led to ᎤᏔᎾ ᏩᏥ (utana watsi) or "big watch" for clock).[55]

Meaning expansion can be illustrated by the words for "warm" and "cold". They also mean "south" and "north" by an obvious extension. Around the time of the American Civil War, they were further extended to US party labels, Democratic and Republican, respectively.[56]

Writing system[edit]

Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee syllabary

Cherokee is written in an 85-character syllabary invented by Sequoyah (also known as Guest or George Gist). Many of the letters resemble the Latin letters they derive from, but have completely different sound values; Sequoyah had seen English, Hebrew, and Greek writing but did not know how to read them.[57]

Though use of the Cherokee syllabary declined after many of the Cherokee were relocated to Oklahoma, it has survived in private correspondence, renderings of the Bible, and descriptions of Indian medicine[58] and now can be found in books and on the internet among other places.

Two other scripts used to write Cherokee are a simple Latin transliteration and a more precise system with diacritical marks.[59]


Each of the characters represents one syllable, such as in the Japanese kana and the Bronze Age Greek Linear B writing systems. The first six characters represent isolated vowel syllables. Characters for combined consonant and vowel syllables then follow. It is recited from left to right, top to bottom.[60][page needed]

The charts below show the syllabary as arranged by Samuel Worcester along with his commonly used transliterations. He played a key role in the development of Cherokee printing from 1828 until his death in 1859.

Syllabary shown using an image[edit]

Cherokee Syllabary.svg


  1. In the chart, ‘v’ represents a nasal vowel, /ə̃/.
  2. The character Ꮩ do is shown upside-down in the chart, and in some fonts. It should be oriented in the same way as the Latin letter V.[a]

Syllabary shown using Unicode text[edit]

a   e   i   o u v
ga ka   ge   gi   go gu gv
ha   he   hi   ho hu hv
la   le   li   lo lu lv
ma   me   mi   mo mu  
na hna nah ne   ni   no nu nv
qua   que   qui   quo quu quv
s sa   se   si   so su sv
da ta   de te di ti do du dv
dla tla   tle   tli   tlo tlu tlv
tsa   tse   tsi   tso tsu tsv
wa   we   wi   wo wu wv
ya   ye   yi   yo yu yv

Detailed considerations[edit]

The phonetic values of these characters do not equate directly to those represented by the letters of the Latin script. Some characters represent two distinct phonetic values (actually heard as different syllables), while others often represent different forms of the same syllable.[60][page needed] Not all phonemic distinctions of the spoken language are represented. For example, while /d/ + vowel syllables are mostly differentiated from /t/+vowel by use of different graphs, syllables beginning with /g/ are all conflated with those beginning with /k/. Also, long vowels are not ordinarily distinguished from short vowels, tones are not marked, and there is no regular rule for representing consonant clusters. However, in more recent technical literature, length of vowels can actually be indicated using a colon. Six distinctive vowel qualities are represented in the Cherokee syllabary based on where they are pronounced in the mouth, including the high vowels i and u, mid vowels e, v, and o, and low vowel a. The syllabary also does not distinguish among syllables that end in vowels, h, or glottal stop. For example, the single symbol, Ꮡ, is used to represent su in su:dali, meaning six (ᏑᏓᎵ). This same symbol Ꮡ represents suh as in suhdi, meaning 'fishhook' (ᏑᏗ). Therefore, there is no differentiation among the symbols used for syllables ending in a single vowel versus that vowel plus "h." When consonants other than s, h, or glottal stop arise with other consonants in clusters, the appropriate consonant plus a "dummy vowel" is used. This dummy vowel is not pronounced and is either chosen arbitrarily or for etymological reasons (reflecting an underlying etymological vowel). For example, ᏧᎾᏍᏗ (tsu-na-s-di) represents the word ju:nsdi, meaning 'small.' Ns in this case is the consonant cluster that requires the following dummy vowel, a. Ns is written as ᎾᏍ /nas/. The vowel is included in the transliteration, but is not pronounced in the word (ju:nsdi). (The transliterated ts represents the affricate j).[62][page needed] As with some other writing systems (like Arabic), adult speakers can distinguish words by context.

Transliteration issues[edit]

Some Cherokee words pose a problem for transliteration software because they contain adjacent pairs of single letter symbols that (without special provisions) would be combined when doing the back conversion from Latin script to Cherokee. Here are a few examples:

  • ᎢᏣᎵᏍᎠᏁᏗ = itsalisanedi = i-tsa-li-s-a-ne-di
  • ᎤᎵᎩᏳᏍᎠᏅᏁ = uligiyusanvne = u-li-gi-yu-s-a-nv-ne
  • ᎤᏂᏰᏍᎢᏱ = uniyesiyi = u-ni-ye-s-i-yi
  • ᎾᏍᎢᏯ = nasiya = na-s-i-ya

For these examples, the back conversion is likely to join s-a as sa or s-i as si.

Other Cherokee words contain character pairs that entail overlapping transliteration sequences. Examples:

  • ᏀᎾ transliterates as nahna, yet so does ᎾᎿ. The former is nah-na, the latter is na-hna.

If the Latin script is parsed from left to right, longest match first, then without special provisions, the back conversion would be wrong for the latter. There are several similar examples involving these character combinations: naha nahe nahi naho nahu nahv.

A further problem encountered in transliterating Cherokee is that there are some pairs of different Cherokee words that transliterate to the same word in the Latin script. Here are some examples:

  • ᎠᏍᎡᏃ and ᎠᏎᏃ both transliterate to aseno
  • ᎨᏍᎥᎢ and ᎨᏒᎢ both transliterate to gesvi

Without special provision, a round trip conversion changes ᎠᏍᎡᏃ to ᎠᏎᏃ and changes ᎨᏍᎥᎢ to ᎨᏒᎢ.[b]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Cherokee". Endangered Languages Project. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  2. ^ Cherokee at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  3. ^ Feeling, "Dictionary," p. viii
  4. ^ Mooney, James. King, Duane (ed.). Myths of the Cherokee. Barnes & Noble. New York. 1888 (2007).
  5. ^ Scancarelli, "Native Languages" p. 351
  6. ^ Anderton, Alice, PhD. Status of Indian Languages in Oklahoma. Intertribal Wordpath Society. 2009. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  7. ^ a b "Current Status of the Cherokee Language - DRAFT". 2002-08-13. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Cherokee language at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  9. ^ Thompson, Irene (2013-08-06). "Cherokee". Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  10. ^ "Status of Indian Languages in Oklahoma". Intertribal Wordpath Society. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  11. ^ VOA video. "North Carolina Cherokee Indians Take Steps to Preserve Language". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  12. ^ "Cherokee Language Revitalization". Cherokee Preservation Foundation. 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  13. ^ "Native Now : Language: Cherokee". We Shall Remain - American Experience - PBS. 2008. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  14. ^ "Kituwah Preservation & Education". Eastern Band of Cherokee. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  15. ^ "Language". Cherokee Nation. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  16. ^ "Welcome to the Cherokee Learning Center". Cherokee Nation. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  17. ^ Chavez, Will (2012-04-05). "Immersion students win trophies at language fair". Retrieved 2013-04-08. 
  18. ^ "Tribes draw knowledge from monolingual speakers". 2014-04-08. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  19. ^ a b "Cherokee Language Revitalization Project". Western Carolina University. 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  20. ^ a b c "Cherokee". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2014-04-11. 
  21. ^ "ᎣᏪᏅᏒ - ᏣᎳᎩ ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ ᏖᎩᎾᎶᏥ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᏒᎢ (tsa-la-gi ga-wo-ni-hi-s-di te-gi-na-lo-tsi u-na-do-tlv-sv-i / Cherokee Language Technology)". Retrieved 2013-03-24. 
  22. ^ Cherokee New Testament Online. Retrieved 12 August 2009.
  23. ^ ᎤᎵᎮᎵᏍᏗ. Cherokee Wikipedia. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
  24. ^ a b Cherokee language added to new iPhone and iPod software. Retrieved 9 Sept 2010.
  25. ^ Cherokee language available on iPhone and iPod Touch. Retrieved 24 Sept 2010.
  26. ^ . Retrieved 27 Mar 2011.
  27. ^ Gmail in Cherokee
  28. ^ Frederic Lardinois (2012-11-19). "Gmail Now Supports Cherokee, Its First Native American Tribal Language". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2012-11-29. 
  29. ^ Saylor, Ryan (2013-03-07). "Technology aids Cherokee language re-emergence". The City Wire. Retrieved 2013-03-24. 
  30. ^ "Cherokee (Tsalagi) Native American Language Lite". Retrieved 2012-09-15. 
  31. ^ a b "App Shopper: Cherokee (Tsalagi) Native American Language Basic (Education)". Retrieved 2012-09-15. 
  32. ^ "App Shopper: iSyllabary (Education)". Retrieved 2012-09-15. 
  33. ^ "App Shopper: iCherokee (Games)". Retrieved 2012-09-15. 
  34. ^ "Cherokee Language video game released". The Cherokee One Feather. 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2013-03-30. 
  35. ^ "I Will Find You" on YouTube
  36. ^ I Will Find You song lyrics. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  37. ^ Feather River Singers. CD Baby. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
  38. ^ Hauk, Alexis. "Radio Free Cherokee: Endangered Languages Take to the Airwaves". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  39. ^ "Cherokee Nation Radio Show". Cherokee Nation. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  40. ^ LeBeau, Patrik. Term Paper Resource Guide to American Indian History. Greenwoord. Westport, CT: 2009. p132.
  41. ^ Woods, Thomas E. Exploring American History: Penn, William - Serra, Junípero Cavendish. Tarrytown, NY: 2008. p829.
  42. ^ Feeling, "Dictionary," p. ix
  43. ^ a b Montgomery-Anderson, 2008, p. 49
  44. ^ Montgomery-Anderson, 2008, p. 50
  45. ^ Montgomery-Anderson, 2008, p. 51
  46. ^ Montgomery-Anderson, 2008, p. 52
  47. ^ Montgomery-Anderson, 2008, p. 54
  48. ^ Feeling et al, "Verb" p. 16
  49. ^ a b Robinson, "Conjugation" p. 60
  50. ^ Feeling, "Dictionary" xiii
  51. ^ Holmes, Ruth (1977) [1976]. "Cherokee Lesson 23". Beginning Cherokee. University of Oklahoma Press:Norman. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-8061-1463-7. 
  52. ^ a b Feeling, "Dictionary" p. 353
  53. ^ Feeling, "Dictionary" p. 354
  54. ^ Holmes and Smith, p. vi
  55. ^ a b Holmes and Smith, p. vii
  56. ^ Holmes and Smith, p. 43
  57. ^ Feeling, "Dictionary" xvii
  58. ^
  59. ^ Feeling et al, "Verb" pp. 1–2
  60. ^ a b Walker & Sarbaugh 1993.
  61. ^ "Cherokee", Font download .
  62. ^ Scancarelli 2005.
  1. ^ There was a difference between the old-form DO (Λ-like) and a new-form DO (V-like). The standard Digohweli font displays the new-form. Old Do Digohweli and Code2000 fonts both display the old-form[61]
  2. ^ This has been confirmed using the online transliteration service.


  • Feeling, Durbin. Cherokee-English Dictionary: Tsalagi-Yonega Didehlogwasdohdi. Tahlequah, Oklahoma: Cherokee Nation, 1975.
  • Feeling, Durbin, Craig Kopris, Jordan Lachler, and Charles van Tuyl. A Handbook of the Cherokee Verb: A Preliminary Study. Tahlequah, Oklahoma: Cherokee Heritage Center, 2003. ISBN 978-0-9742818-0-3.
  • Holmes, Ruth Bradley, and Betty Sharp Smith. Beginning Cherokee: Talisgo Galiquogi Dideliquasdodi Tsalagi Digohweli. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976.
  • Montgomery-Anderson, Brad (2008-05-30). "A Reference Grammar of Oklahoma Cherokee". 
  • Robinson, Prentice. Conjugation Made Easy: Cherokee Verb Study. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Cherokee Language and Culture, 2004. ISBN 978-1-882182-34-3.
  • Scancarelli, Janine (2005). "Cherokee". in Janine Scancarelli and Heather K. Hardy (eds.). Native Languages of the Southeastern United States. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press in cooperation with the American Indian Studies Research Institute, Indiana University, Bloomington. pp. 351–384. OCLC 56834622.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bruchac, Joseph. Aniyunwiya/Real Human Beings: An Anthology of Contemporary Cherokee Prose. Greenfield Center, N.Y.: Greenfield Review Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-912678-92-4
  • Cook, William Hinton (1979). A Grammar of North Carolina Cherokee. Ph.D. diss., Yale University. OCLC 7562394.
  • King, Duane H. (1975). A Grammar and Dictionary of the Cherokee Language. Ph.D. diss., University of Georgia. OCLC 6203735.
  • Lounsbury, Floyd G. (1978). "Iroquoian Languages". in Bruce G. Trigger (ed.). Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15: Northeast. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 334–343. OCLC 12682465.
  • Montgomery-Anderson, Brad (2008-05-30). "A Reference Grammar of Oklahoma Cherokee". 
  • Munro, Pamela (ed.) (1996). Cherokee Papers from UCLA. UCLA Occasional Papers in Linguistics, no. 16. OCLC 36854333.
  • Pulte, William, and Durbin Feeling. 2001. "Cherokee". In: Garry, Jane, and Carl Rubino (eds.) Facts About the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages: Past and Present. New York: H. W. Wilson. (Viewed at the Rosetta Project)
  • Scancarelli, Janine (1987). Grammatical Relations and Verb Agreement in Cherokee. Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles. OCLC 40812890.
  • Scancarelli, Janine. "Cherokee Writing." The World's Writing Systems. 1998: Section 53.

External links[edit]