Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Cherokee Syllabary

Someone asked for a post on Cherokee - about day 3 of this blog if I remember correctly. Whew. I don't know where to start.

The Cherokee syllabary was invented by Sequoyah (George Guess) who presented this writing system to his tribe in 1821.

The syllabary has many forms. First, there is the original handwritten form. In this picture one can see the typewritten forms in smaller print to the side. Soon after, 1829?, the typewritten forms, chosen by Sequoyah, were used for a newspaper, handbills and hymnbooks. Books and Bibles in Cherokee can also be viewed at this site.

The syllabary is organized in this chart by the order that the English letter corresponding to the sound has in the alphabet. It can be sorted by row or by column, although by row is the more common order. (This fascinates me. The Vai syllabary has this option as well.)

However, there is another order altogether. This page shows the "characters as arranged by the inventor" above the "characters systematically arranged with the sounds."

These are some of the finer points. The Cherokee Syllabary is best known for the role it has played in American history as a vehicle of literacy for the Cherokee Nation. With a printing press and newpaper, the syllabary was used for letters, education, communication, Indigenous knowledge and Christian religious publications.

In world history this syllabary has a pivotal role as the first of the modern indigenous syllabaries that later emerged in Canada, Africa and Asia. Sequoyah's invention was a unique contribution to the history of the world's writing systems.

Here are the Unicode codepoints for Cherokee.


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