Cherokee: A Tongue of Constructed Writing

Cherokee: A Tongue of Constructed Writing

Chances are if you’re watching this video,
you speak English as your native tongue. It’s also likely accurate to state that
English is the only language that you know with reasonable command. Literacy rates in English speaking sovereign
states today are remarkable and exceedingly high. It is estimated that nearly 98% of the United
States is literate and able to read. English’s literacy rates exist because in
English there is a way to write words. However, not all languages have ways to write
their words. Imagine English was only a spoken language. You have no way to write things down, and
the only way to record stuff is to remember it. Sounds Difficult, but this was the reality
of the Cherokee Language and most indigenous languages of the United States prior to the
present day. Cherokee is a language that belongs to the
Iroquoian Family of languages. Other known languages belonging to the Iroquoian
family are the One-ida and Mohawk languages. Cherokee is spoken natively by about twenty
thousand people, though more commonly used by its speakers as a second language than
a primary. Cherokee once had many recognized dialects
including a dialect that used the sound of the English “R”. Though, only two dialects remain and the very
dialect which gave us the English name for the Cherokee language is now extinct. In the present day, the Cherokee people call
their language and themselves the Tsa-la-gi. The Cherokee language and people owe the preservation
of their language and histories to an uneducated tradesman named Sequoyah. Sequoyah worked as a silversmith in early
life. In 1809, when Sequoyah was in his forties,
he gathered his close friends in his shop and began the discussion regarding communication
through pictures. It was commonly believed to be a form of witchcraft,
but Sequoyah having worked with literate customers understood that it was a way to preserve words. It was around this time that Sequoyah began
to ponder upon how the Cherokee language could be preserved through non-spoken means. Around 1815, Sequoyah had begun the first
draft of the Cherokee writing system. Which at first was to have a symbol for each
word. This was not seen as practical by Sequoyah,
as the sheer number of symbols would have been far too difficult to remember. Sequoyah began to observe the spoken language
and found that there were a number of sounds that made up each word when spoken aloud. Sequoyah created a Syllabary to give each
of these sounds a symbol, resulting in 86 characters. Sequoyah taught two members of his family
to read and write in his syllabary, but was soon charged with practicing witchcraft. Sequoyah would have been put to death, but
due to a new law established in 1811, Sequoyah had the right to a trial before a council
of individuals. During this trial, Sequoyah was separated
from his daughter and they were forced to write messages to each other to prove that
their symbols represented speech. After a lengthy exchange, the council was
convinced that there was no acts of sorcery being committed and in fact that Sequoyah
had created a system of representing speech through writing. Today the Cherokee language lives on. It still uses its writing system created by
Sequoyah and preservation efforts are underway in Cherokee communities. Cherokee is classified as an endangered language
by UNESCO. With Cherokee Preservation groups investing
millions of dollars into developing curriculum, opening schools, and making Cherokee language
integration into Cherokee communities possible; the outlook for the Cherokee language is looking
good. Three public universities exist in the United
States which offer Cherokee programs to aide the revitalization of the language. It’s hard to say whether or not the Cherokee
language will live on in great capacity, but thanks to Sequoyah and his curious determination,
Cherokee is preserved for scholars to study for millennia. Thank you for watching. If you enjoyed the content of this video please
consider giving this video a thumbs up and subscribing for more content. The information used to produce this video
came from a few sources:, a website founded by the Cherokee
nation to provide an online Cherokee resource to Cherokee communities. Beginning Cherokee By Ruth Bradley Holmes
and Betty Sharp Smith published in 1977.

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great good afternoon this is Jennifer Mead from the state unit on Aging and I'm wondering if for those who

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