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Quick Facts
LocationAmericas > North America
Time1821 CE to Present
DirectionLeft to Right

The Cherokee syllabary was invented by a member of the Cherokee nation named Sequoya around 1821. The appearance of some of the signs indicate visual borrowing from the English alphabet, but the phonetic values of these signs do not correspond to their counterpart in English. In other words, Sequoyah simply took the shape of these English letters and assigned new syllabic values to them. The other signs do not resemble any English letter, and therefore were likely completely invented by Sequoya.

The following chart lists all 85 signs in the Cherokee syllabary.

Traditional transliteration letters are used as follows:

  • The vowel written as v is really pronounced as a nasalized schwa. (Similar to en in taken, but without the [n] sound...and feel the vibration in the back of your nasal cavity)
  • g stands for an unaspirated [k], like the k in sky. Similarly, gw is really unaspirated [kw] like qu in squash. The one instance of the syllabic symbol ka is pronounced aspirated, phonetically [kh], very much like how the British say the word 'car'
  • d is an unaspirated [t], like t in stop, while t is aspirated, like t in to
  • dz can either be like the ts in cats, or ch in church

The Cherokee syllabary gained almost universal acceptance in the Cherokee community after its introduction in 1821. Cherokee was used in both printed as well as hand-written media, and included publications such as newspapers, magazines, and books. The syllabary has survived as a living script until the modern day, but its use has been greatly reduced. In the modern world, a very important application of the Cherokee syllabary is to preserve Cherokee religious works and traditional medicine.

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