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Cherokee Colors

Updated on January 6, 2011

About Me

As I've mentioned before I am somewhat of an anthropologist.  The reason I say somewhat is because I actually specialized in the field of linguistics.  Linguistics was a two-part field of study for me.  I studied Phonemics, which is the process of taking the sounds in a given language and reducing it to writing.  I also studied Grammar.  When you talk about grammar in linguistics you are talking about the rules that exist in a language that aren't taught.  It's the patterns in a language that you have to know intuitively is order to be able to communicate effectively.  While finishing my studies I went to Oklahoma to spend some time with native Cherokee speakers so I could practice what I had learned in the classroom.


Early on in Cherokee I was focusing mainly on getting some nouns. Nouns are a good place to start when doing phonemics. What I'm about to explain to you caught me off guard as I had never considered it. Before my session with a Cherokee speaker I would get a bunch of pictures on my computer for him to tell me what they are called in Cherokee. You have to be careful when you do this because it is easy to get confused. If you have a picture of a man playing guitar, you may be looking for the word for man, but your speaker may think that you want the word for guitar...or playing the guitar for the matter. I figured some non-ambiguous ones would be colors so I got some pictures of just colors on the computer.

When we got to the picture of orange, my helper said nothing. He then broke a smile and said "I can talk all around it, but we don't have a word for that color." He said he could describe it, or say it was the same color as a certain flower...but there is no word in Cherokee for orange. He then volunteered that there was no word for gray either. For the Cherokee there are only 8 colors. It's not that they don't see the other colors, there just aren't words for them. I had always assumed humans everywhere had words for all the same colors. I guess I was wrong.

In case you're wondering, these are the following colors in Cherokee (per my phonemic data):

black (ɡʌ³hnʌ̦³ɡe³Ɂi³)

blue (sʌ³ko'²ni²ɡe²)

green (Ɂi³če'²yu³sdi¹)

red (ɡi'²ɡʌ¹ɡe¹)

white (Ɂu'³ne²ɡɑ³)

yellow (dʌ³lo'²ni²ɡe²)

brown (Ɂu³wo'³di²ɡe²)

purple (Ɂu³we'³di²ɡe²)


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      thequast 6 years ago

      Glad you found it useful! I hope to share more things in the future from my experience doing research on the language. I will always look on my time in Cherokee as an experience I would never take back.

      Might I suggest the color green to be an expression of your heritage. The word for green (ee-chay-used) is an interesting word. At one time in Cherokee history I believe it was actually two words that over time became one because of its frequent use. The first part (ee-chay) means "new" by itself. Then the second part (used) is something they use to make a comparison. A possible definition is "like/similar to". Therefore the two words separately would have a literal meaning of "like new". That is very fitting considering the mental image of green being new life on the trees and things like that. Over time the two words were used so often together that they fused into one word.

      This rebirth or like-new-ness plays into a value of the Cherokee of keeping balance and harmony. You can read about it in my hub on stompdance.

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      Taywi (Terry) 6 years ago


      I'm a Native American Indian of Cherokee heritage. And I was seaching the internet looking for a bedroom wall color to express a Cherokee theme . I was happy to find your article on your study of the Cherokee language, and colors. Your article was very helpful to me. I would like to Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the Cherokee colors on your site.

      Thank You,