Cherokee Alphabet

The Cherokee alphabet is technically not an alphabet but rather a syllabary. This means that each Cherokee symbol represents a syllable instead of just a consonant or vowel.

The Cherokee syllabary was invented by George Guess/Gist, also known as Chief Sequoyah, a Native American polymath from the Cherokee Nation, around the late 1810s to the early 1820s. Sequoyah was illiterate until he created the syllabary. He originally experimented with logograms but then created a syllabary. Sequoyah originally wrote it in cursive but converted it to symbols based on letters from the Latin alphabet and Western numerals.

The Cherokee syllabary was originally 86 characters but is now 85. Some characters resemble Latin, Greek, and other alphabets' characters; however, they do not represent the same sounds.

The first six characters of the syllabary represent isolated vowel syllables, followed by characters representing consonant and vowel syllables. Characters are typically arranged in a chart with one column for each Cherokee vowel and one row below them for each Cherokee consonant. Cherokee is written horizontally, left to right.

Is the Cherokee Alphabet the Same as the English Alphabet?

No, the Cherokee alphabet is not the same as the English alphabet. Even though there are a lot of symbols in the Cherokee alphabet that look similar to the English alphabet, there are some significant differences. The biggest difference is that the Cherokee alphabet is syllabic. That means that every symbol in the Cherokee alphabet represents a syllable, not a consonant or a vowel. For example, in English, the Cherokee word for water would be AMA, spelled using the letters A, M, and A. In contrast, in the Cherokee alphabet, this might only be written with 2 characters. Therefore, it does take some adjustment for someone moving from the English alphabet to the Cherokee alphabet.

How Is the Cherokee Alphabet Typically Displayed?

Because the Cherokee alphabet is syllabic, not just a single symbol for consonants and vowels, it is typically displayed in the form of a chart. For example, when you are making a chart of all of the symbols in the Cherokee alphabet, there might be one column for each vowel in the chart. There might be one column for all of the Cherokee symbols that include the vowel A. Then, there might be another column for all of the Cherokee symbols that include the vowel E. This would make it easier for someone who is transitioning from the English alphabet to learn about the different symbols in the Cherokee alphabet.

Is the Cherokee Alphabet Still Used Today?

Yes, there are some situations where the Cherokee alphabet might still be used. For example, the Cherokee alphabet is still commonly used on reservations, which is where a lot of native Cherokee Indians live. Many Cherokee Native Americans have since assimilated into the society of the United States. As a result, they might be more comfortable with the English alphabet when compared to the Cherokee alphabet. On the other hand, the Cherokee alphabet can still be found in museums, which is where a lot of native Cherokee artifacts ended up. Even though the Cherokee alphabet might not be as common today as it once was, it is still used to this day.

What Is the Best Way To Learn the Cherokee Alphabet?

Learning the Cherokee alphabet can be a significant challenge, particularly for people who have not been exposed to it before. It takes a while to get used to the chart, particularly since the Cherokee alphabet is syllabic. When taking a look at all of the Cherokee symbols, every symbol begins with a consonant and ends with a vowel. Even though there are some situations where the “I” might be silent, this is not something that is very common. When learning the Cherokee alphabet, the symbols are written from left to right. Therefore, it does make it easier for some people to learn the Cherokee alphabet. Just like learning any foreign language, it takes a bit of practice. As a result, the best way to learn the Cherokee alphabet is to practice.

Cherokee Alphabet