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Language Information

Cherokee is spoken by upwards of 10,000 peop1e, the vast majority living near the town of Tahlequah in northeastern Oklahoma. About 1,000 speakers live in western North Carolina, on a reservation near the town of Cherokee. The Cherokee language is of the Iroquoian family, most closely related to Seneca, Mohawk, and Oneida.

Cherokee writing, pictured below, is the creation of Sequoyah, one of the great names in the history of the American Indian. Convinced that the key to the white man's power lay in his possession of a written language, he set about bringing this secret to his own people. In 1821, after twelve years of work, he produced a syllabary of eighty-six characters, representing every sound in the Cherokee language. The system was quickly mastered by thousands of Cherokees and within three years a newspaper began to be published, and a constitution for the Cherokee Nation was drawn up in the Cherokee language.

Sequoyah borrowed many of his characters from English, but since he actually neither spoke nor read English, they represent completely different sounds in the two languages. The letter D, for example, is pronounced a, while h is pronounced ni, W is pronounced la, and Z is pronounced no. But the Sequoyah syllabary has remained in use to the present day, with no modifications considered necessary in 150 years. That an unlettered hunter and craftsman could complete a task now undertaken only by highly trained linguists must surely rank as one of the most impressive intellectual feats achieved by a single man.

Cherokee is spoken/used in United States of America

Language Family
Family: American Indian
Subgroup: Iroquoian

Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.

Writing Sample

Writing Sample


The Cherokees when first discovered by De Soto in 1540 were living in the southeastern part of the United States, known today as Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, North and South Carolina. They had their own tribal government, schools, churches, and were prosperous landowners. Their forced removal in the 1830s to what is now Oklahoma is a dark episode in the history of this country. They endured great hardships during the Civil War, with its destructions, suffering, and tragedy, and finally the dissolution of their tribal government with the coming of Oklahoma Statehood. Yet they rose above these hardships and struggles, and today they contribute greatly to the wealth and stability of this nation and the world.