CHEROKEE LANGUAGE. The Cherokee homeland at the time of European contact was located in the highlands of what would later become the western Carolinas and eastern Tennessee. Contact with anglophone and, to a lesser extent, francophone Europeans came early to the Cherokee, and their general cultural response—adaptation while trying to maintain their autonomy—is mirrored in their language.
In the history of Native American languages, the singular achievement of Sequoyah, an illiterate, monolingual Cherokee farmer, is without parallel. Impressed by the Europeans' ability to communicate by "talking leaves," Sequoyah in the early nineteenth century set about, by trial and error, to create an analogous system of graphic representation for his own language. He let his farm go to ruin, neglected his family, and was tried for witchcraft during the twelve years he worked out his system. The formal similarity with European writing—a system of sequential groups of discrete symbols in horizontal lines—belies the complete independence of the underlying system. What Sequoyah brought forth for his people was a syllabary of eighty-four symbols representing consonant and vowel combinations, and a single symbol for the consonant "s." By about 1819, he had demonstrated its efficacy and, having taught his daughter to use it, what followed was a rapid adoption and development of literacy skills among the tribe. By 1828, a printing press had been set up, and a Newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, and other publications in the Cherokee syllabary were produced for tribal consumption.
The removal of the Cherokees from their homeland to Oklahoma in 1838–1839 ("The Trail of Tears") necessitated the reestablishment of the printing press in the independent Cherokee Nation, where native language literacy continued to flourish, to the point where the literacy rate was higher than that of the surrounding white population. In 1906, Cherokee literacy was dealt a severe blow when the United States government confiscated the printing press, evidently as a prelude to incorporating the Cherokee Nation into the State of Oklahoma.
The Cherokee language is the only member of the Southern branch of the Iroquoian language family. The Northern branch—which includes Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, and Tuscarora—is geographically fixed in the area of the eastern Great Lakes, and it seems likely that the ancestors of the Cherokee migrated south from that area to the location where they first contacted Europeans. Because of the substantial differences between Cherokee and the Northern languages, it may be inferred that the migration took place as early as 3,500 years ago.
Today, there are about ten thousand who speak Cherokee in Oklahoma and one thousand in North Carolina. Most are over fifty years of age.
Pulte, William and Durbin Feeling. "Cherokee." In Facts About The World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present. Edited by Jane Garry and Carl Rubino. New York: H. W. Wilson, 2001, 127–130.
Walker, Willard. "Cherokee." In Studies in Southeastern Indian Languages. Edited by James M. Crawford. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1975, 189–196.
"Cherokee Language." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cherokee-language
"Cherokee Language." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cherokee-language
Cherokee (Native American language)
Cherokee, language belonging to the Iroquoian branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic family. See Native American languages.
"Cherokee (Native American language)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 10, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cherokee-native-american-language
"Cherokee (Native American language)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cherokee-native-american-language