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Cherokee syllabary

Subject Linguistics

Key-Topics Native American

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


A writing devised around 1820 by sequoyah , who is said to have been a monolingual speaker of Cherokee, an Iroquoian language indigenous to Tennessee, but now only spoken in Oklahoma. Sequoyah was reportedly illiterate when he created his syllabary, but it is clear that he had contact with literacy and literate people. He must have been familiar with the sight of alphabetic writing, for many of the symbols he used resemble Roman letters. But he assigned these letters sound values completely unrelated to English or any other written language he might ever have seen. Thus, the signs <A>, <B>, <C>, <D> are pronounced /go/, /yī/, /tli/, /a/ respectively. Other signs resemble Greek letters Sequoyah found in a book, and yet others are of his own devising. Table 1 The Cherokee syllabary Source: Holmes and Smith 1976 (by permission of University of Oklahoma Press) The Cherokee syllabary consists of 85 signs of which one represents the consonant /s/ and six others represent independent vowels; the remaining 78 are CV syllabic signs ( table 1 ). In Sequoyah's original design there was an 86th letter which was deleted when the script was slightly modified for printing in 1827. The system is generally well fitted to the Cherokee language which has a phonotactic structure allowing almost only VCV or CV syllables. The only closed syllables end in /s/, hence the one ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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