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3 August 2006

Cherokee!?!! Surely he's having us on?
Ah, well, I can see how some people might think this is eccentric. Just let me try and explain. This grew from a general interest in Native American history, then when I realised how diverse the nations were - their languages belong to several unrelated families - a decision to study the history of one particular people. I went for the Cherokee because I could imagine travelling to their part of the world one day. Theirs is the only large reservation East of the Mississippi, in the far West corner of North Carolina. Also, it turned out that they have an interesting and significant history; and a rather special writing system.

The writing system was devised by an illiterate Cherokee of some genius called Sequoyah, and many Cherokee picked it up very quickly. It's an extraordinary story; it's why you will read that they became literate 'overnight'. There was even a proper newspaper printed in it for a few years in the 1830s. That was until the white settlers in the South Eastern states realised that though they'd told the Native Americans to become civilised, they didn't actually mean them to BE civilised, and practised some genocide.

Anyway, the script was what got me doing some study, because it fascinated me. Not just its history, but its nature. It's a syllabary, which is naturally suited to Cherokee, though that means learning 85(?) letters. I failed to learn more than a few, but managed to achieve something spectacularly futile. I actually created a crude but workable Cherokee computer font, for the computer system I was using at the time (RISCOS).

My Cherokee font
A sample of the font I made. I'm afraid the letters which look like Latin letters don't have the sound you'd expect.
Sequoyah borrowed any old symbols as and when he found them, and couldn't actually read English.

On top of that, I did pick up a few books for learning Cherokee. It's very different from familiar European languages as you'd expect, but I'll leave off further comments until such time as I return to look at it a little more. Does anything remain from that time? Only that hello is something like (Latin alphabet!) tsiyo; and for some reason the phrase gadu aguaduliha which is I'd like some bread please, although if I remember correctly this can equally well be translated as Give me some bread.


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