Sequoyah and the Cherokee Language
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.
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.
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.