Sequoyah and the Cherokee Language

The Sequoyah Syllabary
The Sequoyah Syllabary

The Creation of the Syllabary

 

The Cherokee alphabet is called a "syllabary". It is said to have been created by a Cherokee named Sequoyah, American name John Gist or Guess and presented to the Cherokee people in 1821. There were 86 symbols in the original syllabary. The original syllabary was modified by Samuel A. Worcester, who collaborated with Sequoyah to reshape the characters into forms that would allow the creation of type for a printing press. The reshaped syllabary characters have been in use since 1828 and have come to be known as Sequoyah's syllabary. The font we use today follows the tradition set by that "old style" litho font.

When reading a Cherokee word written phonetically, remember these pronunciations:

A as in 'father'

E an 'a' sound, as in 'way'

I an 'e' sound, as in 'bee'

O as in 'oh'

U as in 'ooh'

V sounds like 'uh'

Ts makes a 'j' sound

In addition to the vowels, there are a number of other symbols that effect the pronounciation of some words:

' means syllable is accented.

? between syllable indicates glottel stop (as in o.k.)

: means vowel is held longer.

* pronounce carefully- can change meaning of the word.

Portrait of Sequoyah painted by Charles Bird King
Portrait of Sequoyah painted by Charles Bird King
The fireplace by which Sequoyah   once cooked and warmed   himself on cold days is among   the preserved features in his   original cabin.
The fireplace by which Sequoyah once cooked and warmed himself on cold days is among the preserved features in his original cabin.
Statue of Sequoyah at Sequoyah's Cabin Historic Site
Statue of Sequoyah at Sequoyah's Cabin Historic Site
Sequoyah High School originated in 1871 with 1 building on 40 acres as an orphan asylum. Name changed in 1925 to honor Sequoyah. Today occupied over 90 acres and a dozen buildings. Located 5 miles southwest of Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Sequoyah High School originated in 1871 with 1 building on 40 acres as an orphan asylum. Name changed in 1925 to honor Sequoyah. Today occupied over 90 acres and a dozen buildings. Located 5 miles southwest of Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Who is Sequoyah?

Born in 1776 in the village of Tuskegee, near Fort Loudoun on the Tennessee River as John Gist or Guess, he was given the name "Sikwoya". He served under Andrew Jackson in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1812 and fought with Cherokee regiment against the Creek Redsticks during 1813-1814.

In 1816, he migrated with others to Cherokee country of the Skin Bayou region of Arkansas before moving on to Indian territory in Oklahoma. Due to the rapid deterioration of communicative ability of the Cherokee and increasing influence of non-native languages among them, Sequoyah was motivated to resue the Cherokee language.

While unable to read or write in any other language, Sequoyah realized that the Cherokee's language was made up of particular clusters of sounds and certain combinations of vowels and consanents. He began his work in 1809 and spent several years trying to represent old Cherokee writings in available print symbols. It took a dedicated 12 years for Sequoyah to complete the syllabary that represented almost all of the sounds then in use in the Cherokee language. During this time, he was ridiculed by his people for his preoccupation with the syllabary.

Sequoyah, a peace-loving man and leader of Western Cherokee, strived to make his people literate and made substantial effort to reunite them. He retained his customary turban and long clothing, even while in Washington, DC for treaty negotiations. His famous portrait was done by Charles Bird King in 1828 while in Washington, DC.

Bronze by Vinnie Ream (completed by G. Julian Zolnay).  Given in 1917.  Location: National Statuary Hall
Bronze by Vinnie Ream (completed by G. Julian Zolnay). Given in 1917. Location: National Statuary Hall
Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee
Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee
The Redwood Forest is pure majestic beauty. Redwood trees provide a thick canopy that blocks all but the strongest sun rays from reaching the forest floor. The Redwood forest is a natural cathedral; full of mystery and awesome beauty.
The Redwood Forest is pure majestic beauty. Redwood trees provide a thick canopy that blocks all but the strongest sun rays from reaching the forest floor. The Redwood forest is a natural cathedral; full of mystery and awesome beauty.

Teaching the Language

In 1842, Sequoyah left his home in Oklahoma for Mexico with the intention of teaching his syllabary to his fellow Native Americans. His travel route involved hostile territories and he faced several unfortunate events on the way.

Sequoyah died in 1843 near San Fernando, Tamaulipas in Mexico. His grave was never located. Sequoyah lived during the most difficult period of the Native American history. The towering redwood trees in northern California were named after Sequoyah and his statue is displayed by the state of Oklahoma in the Sanctuary Hall of the National Capitol.

The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee hosts excellent exhibits of the life of Sequoyah as well as portraits, live demonstrations of basket weaving, pottery making and drum making. The museum also holds workshops and a music festival.

My Prayer for You

"Equa adanvdo adadolisdi nigadv gago ayvsdi ahan"

Great Spirit bless all who enter here.

High Mountain's Music by Lana Chapel

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Comments 9 comments

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA

Makes me cringe to think about the Cherokee Removal. The Cherokees had developed their own alphabet, written language, newspapers, schools, churches, and the Supreme Court even ruled against moving the Cherokees out of Georgia. Nevertheless, they were still removed and there was not reason for it all, the Cherokee Nation was one of the most peaceful and organized in the world. It is very sad what happened and I am glad you are writing these hubs to educate the world about it. Thank you!


Bonnie Ramsey profile image

Bonnie Ramsey 8 years ago from United States Author

Sweetiepie,

Thanks for coming by and posting. The only reason for the Cherokee removal was pure greed and control. Much of what still rules this country even today. All we can do is support them as much as possible. I am 1/8 Cherokee and have only just begun to learn in depth about my heritage. My only regret is that I was raised in the white culture rather than Cherokee.

Bonnie


donnaleemason profile image

donnaleemason 8 years ago from North Dakota, USA

Excellent Bonnie as usual, thanks for the info.

Donna


Bonnie Ramsey profile image

Bonnie Ramsey 8 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, Donna! I am thinking the next one will be the history of the 7 clans of the Cherokee but I gotta do a bit more research on it today. I am really glad you enjoyed it!

Bonnie


NVRToLte 7 years ago

Bonnie I'm so exicited that i just by chance while researching my heritage that i ran across ur hub my favorite song my entire life has always been amazing grace and to listen to it in the cherokee language brought tears to my eyes It was so beautiful to hear. Both of my great great grandparents on mom and dads side were full blooded cherokee according to my mother her great grandmother was a cherokee princess how exciting for me to learn that I'd better let you go now for your a very busy woman one whom i admire and greatly respect for taking the time from your life to help educate people such as myself thank you so much fo sharing


gary rich 5 years ago

would like to begin a 50 year journey living and working in "america" but I of cherokee and choctaw blood and really interested in learning the language of my forefathers moving to missouri in three weeks will try to reach out to others w/my same heritage to try to learn the language of my people. my email address if gary rich 48@yahoo.com. I am trying to reAch out to my brothers and sisters and learn my true roots and speak for them in y journeys called life. if anyone out there has a ideas as to how and when and where PLEASE. God Bless. Yah ta ha., my brothers and sisers.


Justsilvie 5 years ago

Really Enjoyed this Hub. Thank You!


oneblockeast 4 years ago

There is a lawyer professor that's head of the school of law at the University of Arkansas and he is a Cherokee.

Bonnie i am 1/4 cherokee,1/4 Black choctow ,1/4 scottish and 1/4 i don't know , my Grand mother was fullblood Cherokee hang in ther Bonnie


carl krebs 3 years ago

this is my very first time learning anything of my cherokee heritage at all.thank you all for the time and knowledge . valued time for me .

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