The Cherokee syllabary was the first writing system known to the Cherokees in recent historical times. A Cherokee man named Sequoyah is generally credited with inventing this system of Cherokee writing, which it is said took him more than a year. Some say the Cherokee always had this form of ancient writing, and Sequoyah was only the first to make it public.
An ancient Cherokee secret society of priests did have a syllabary system of writing, but it does not resemble the one produced by Sequoyah in any way. Modern scholars have speculated that perhaps Sequoyah had heard of this lost ancient writing system and used it for his inspiration.
In any event, when Sequoyah finished this writing system and introduced it to the Cherokee people, most of the Cherokee population became literate within a few short years.
The Cherokees also established the first public school system in America that was free and where attendance was manadatory for all children. They also established the first intstitute of higher learning west of the Mississippi.
The Cherokee writing syllabary developed by Sequoyah
a, as a in father, or short as a in rival
e, as a in hate, or short as e in met
i, as i in pique, or short as i in pit
o, as o in note, approaching aw as in law
u, as oo in fool, or short as u in pull
v, as u in but, nasalized
Cherokee Syllabary Pronunciation Key
The Cherokee alphabet is written in the syllabary form. A syllabary is an alphabet in which each letter in a word stands for a whole syllable (such as "ga" ) instead of a single letter (such as "g"). With the exception of the letter "s," Cherokee is a complete syllabary.
Almost all Cherokee syllables end in a vowel. When using the syllabary, Cherokee words can almost always be spelled as they are pronounced. Spelling sometimes varies when using English letters to interpret the syllables.
The Cherokee language uses the following English consonants: d g h k l m n q s t w
The following English consonants do not exixt in the Cherokee language: b f p r* t v x z.
*The Eastern or lower dialect which is now extinct used a rolling "r", which took the place of the "l" of the other dialects.
A beginning speaker should try keep the lips still, mouth slightly opened, pressing the tongue against the lower teeth.
Syallables beginning with "g" except (ga) are pronounced almost as in English, but approaching to (k).
Syllables beginning with "d" are pronounced almost as in English, but approaching to (t); do, du , dv are sounded as to, tu, tv in some words.
Syllables written with (ti) except (tla) sometimes vary to "di". The syllables "do, du, dv " are sometimes sounded "to, tu, tv."
The syllables qua, que, qui, quo, quu, quv are pronounced with a "kw" sound before each vowel.
The syllables dla, tla, tle, tli, tlo, tlu, tlv are pronounced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth and bringing it down as the syllables are spoken. The syllables written with "tl" except "tla" sometimes are pronounced "dl".
The syllabes tsa, tse, tsi, tso, tsu, tsv are pronounced a little differently depending upon the dialect. In Western Cherokee the syllables are usually pronounced as the "j" in jaw. Remember to try to keep the tongue at the bottom of the mouth, touching the bottom teeth and the "j" sound becomes softer.
At times, Cherokee syllables have unvoiced or silent vowels. At times the silent vowel may be indicated with an apostrophe as in the number seven, "ga l' quo gi" - or indicated by brackets "ga (li) quo gi." When this happens the consonant in that syllable is pronounced with the preceding syllable, "gal quo gi."
Cherokee Alphabet, from Pendelton's "Lithography," 1835
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