Cherokee language

From Academic Kids

Cherokee is an Iroquoian language spoken by the Cherokee people. It is the only Southern Iroquoian language that remains spoken.

Cherokee (Tsalagi)
Spoken in: United States
Region: Oklahoma and the Cherokee Reservation in Great Smokey Mountains, North Carolina
Total speakers: 15,000 to 22,000
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Iroquoian

 Southern Iroquoian

Official status
Official language of: -
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1-
ISO 639-2chr
See also: LanguageList of languages


Template:IPA notice Cherokee only has one labial consonant, being , which is relatively new to the language, unless you count Cherokee w as labial instead of velar.



  • a or
  • e or
  • i or
  • o or
  • u or
  • v (nasal schwa)


Cherokee has only one diphthong native to the language:

  • ai

An exception is the modern Oklahoma use of the word "automobil," with the sound and sound of English.


Cherokee, (or Tsalagi, its name in its own language) like most Native American languages, is polysynthetic. As in the case of German or Latin, units of meaning, called morphemes, are linked together and occasionally form very long words. Cherokee verbs, constituting the most important word type, must contain as a minimum a pronominal prefix, a verb root, an aspect suffix, and a modal suffix. For example, the verb form ke:ka, "I am going," has each of these elements. The pronominal prefix is k-, which indicates first person singular. The verb root is -e, "to go." The aspect suffix that this verb employs for the present-tense stem is -k-. The present-tense modal suffix for regular verbs in Cherokee is -a. Verbs can also have prepronominal prefixes, reflexive prefixes, and derivative suffixes. Given all possible combinations of affixes, each regular verb can have 21,262 inflected forms.


Cherokee is written in a syllabary invented by Sequoyah (a.k.a. George Guess). In his system, each symbol represents a syllable rather than a single phoneme. While the number of syllables in English (tens of thousands) defy the use of a syllabary, the 85 characters in the Cherokee syllabary provide a suitable method to write Cherokee. Some symbols do resemble Latin alphabet letters, but the sounds are completely different (the form of the letter for "a" resembles Latin D, for example). Sequoyah had seen English writing, but didn't know how to write it; in all known cases where a person invented a script after seeing phonetic writing, but without knowing how to write, the results have been syllabaries.

(Note that v is a nasalized vowel in the following chart.)

Missing image


Cherokee has a robust tonal system in which tones may be combined in various ways, following subtle and complex tonal rules that vary from community to community. While the tonal system is undergoing a gradual simplification in many areas (no doubt as part of Cherokee's often falling victim to second-language status), the tonal system remains extremely important in meaning and is still held strongly by many, especially older speakers. This is called Tone sandhi. It should be noted that the syllabary does not normally display tone, and that real meaning discrepancies are rare within the native-language Cherokee-speaking community. The same goes for transliterated Cherokee ("osiyo," "dohitsu," etc.), which is rarely written with any tone markers, except in dictionaries. Native speakers can tell the difference between tone-distinguished words by context.

Computer representation

Cherokee is represented in Unicode, in the character range U+13A0 to U+13F4.

Cherokee fonts come with Mac OS X, version 10.3 (Panther). Cherokee is also supported by free fonts found at, and the shareware fonts Code2000, Everson Mono.

See also

External links


de:Cherokee-Alphabet eo:Ĉeroka lingvo sv:Cherokesiska


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