Tag Archives: Cherokee Syllabary

Supporting Sooners and Cowboys with Syllabary

Going into the weekend, the Oklahoma State Cowboys were considered the second-best team in college football, and their in-state rivals the Oklahoma Sooners were ranked fifth. Neither team’s Saturday went as planned, with the Cowboys falling in overtime to the unranked Iowa State Cyclones (and dropping to fourth in the BCS rankings) and the Sooners losing a nail-biter to 22nd-ranked Baylor (and dropping to ninth in the BCS rankings). Though its importance may be diminished by these losses, the December 3rd end-of-season matchup between the two teams will be no less intense; the rivalry (dubbed “Bedlam”) is one of the fiercest in college sports.

As reported this summer, Oklahoma State leads the nation in the number of Native Americans receiving bachelor’s degrees, and the University of Oklahoma comes in third—so it is perhaps a simple matter of supply and demand that has given rise to university-branded apparel featuring Cherokee syllabary, now available at CherokeeGiftShop.com. “Cherokee people have had a passion for sports for hundreds of years and these new products allow us to showcase our tribal heritage and culture while supporting the schools we love,’” said Molly Jarvis, vice president of cultural tourism at Cherokee Nation Entertainment, in a statement.

Syllabary caps and T-shirts are also available for Northeastern State University, the school that graduates the second-most American Indians in the country.

Toddlers Can Learn Lakota With New App

Lakota Language App Corn 270x405 Toddlers Can Learn Lakota With New App

A screen capture from the Lakota Toddler app.

Lakota Toddler, a new free app available in the iTunes store, is an easy to use, fun way for toddlers to learn Lakota words.

The app has two options on the menu screen —learn and play. The learn option gives users a colorful flashcard with a picture of an object or number, the Lakota word and the English translation. When the screen is tapped, the word is spoken by Dollie Red Elk, reported the Rapid City Journal.

Currently the app has three categories—numbers, food and body—and it says new lessons are coming soon. App creators Isreal Shortman, Navajo, and Rusty Calder, owners of tinkR’ labs, are excited about expanding their latest app and creating new ones.

Their first app, Navajo Toddler, came out last year and started with the same three categories. It now includes animals, colors and phrases.

“We are hoping to expand the Lakota version to have just as much functionality as the Navajo version,” Calder said. “We will be adding new game features to keep score and more lessons to the Navajo version shortly and will then launch those features and lessons in the Lakota once all the audio is collected.”

Currently the one game in both apps shows the user three objects and one word in Lakota or Navajo, the user then picks which object that word goes with.

Users have responded well to both apps from tinkR’ labs.

“I’m kind of old for it, but still fun,” commenter Ohanzi said on February 28 about the Lakota app. “I wish this was around like 45 years ago.”

A Paiute commenter, Mathew Oakie, called the Navajo app “wonderful,” on February 11 and said he “loved it as soon as I started it up.”

Shortman and Calder feel using this technology is a good way to contribute to the preservation of Native American languages.

“We believe it is very important for the next generation to come and we wanted to bridge the gap between the indigenous culture along with modern technology,” Shortman said. “We want to create an app that will help influence the younger generation to be fully engaged in the language/culture. The numbers [of fluent speakers] are decreasing year by year with the language.

“The apps we are creating are extremely important for the preservation of language because it is our youth that is the future, and our youth are becoming more and more involved with technology as a means for learning and every day use,” Shortman said. “Games are also being used more and more. If we can get the language in front of the children and get them using it, it is the only way to keep it around in the future.”

Shortman first thought to create the Navajo app to introduce his daughter and niece to the Navajo language.

“They both live off the reservation and really have no access or exposure to the language,” he said. “There are many indigenous families that live off the reservation among the Navajo people and their children are not exposed to the language or the culture.”

The idea for the Lakota app came from Shortman’s friend Arlo Iron Cloud, a radio DJ on KILI Radio in Porcupine, South Dakota.

“People are always saying we live in a third world country and we don’t have a lot here, but somehow a lot of us manage to have iPhones,” Iron Cloud told the Rapid City Joural. “This is one area that has never been tapped into as far as language revitalization goes.”

The market for Native language apps is increasing though. There is an app for the Cherokee language by Thornton Media, Inc. that includes the Cherokee syllabary and Native American Public Telecommunications recently released one as well.

What about future endeavors for tinkR’ labs?

“We are looking to work on more games, more lessons, more curriculum around language development,” Calder said. “Our next project will be working on an app for the Mechoopda Tribe located in Chino, California. They currently only have two fluent speakers left that speak their language. It is an exciting project and we hope we can kick it off soon.”

Answer to the above question:

Lakota Language App Quiz Answer e1331321557760 Toddlers Can Learn Lakota With New App

‘Character’ Study: Author Ellen Cushman is Fascinated With Cherokee Writing

Roy Boney Jr., who put together a graphic novel for Indian Country Today Media Network about the digitizing of the Cherokee syllabary, sat down with author Ellen Cushman to discuss their mutual passion. Read the review of her book, The Cherokee Syllabary: Writing the People’s Perseverance, here.

What drew you to undertake such an inquiry into the Cherokee syllabary?

Part of my interest started when I enrolled in the online language classes the [Cherokee Nation (CN)] started, taught by Ed Fields. I was seeing so many ways the alphabet was getting in the way of learning the patterns in the verbs and phrases he was presenting. When it was in the syllabary alone, you could see the patterns of sounds and characters build. It made me wonder why we transliterate Cherokee so much. Another part of my interest came when I started to study the copy of the original syllabary chart that’s in my book, which is also in the back of Holmes and Smith’s Beginning Cherokee. The characters on the left side of the cells fascinated me, which made me wonder what had happened to them. Other parts of my interest were more personal, and I talk a bit more about that in the preface.

What were the challenges of putting together this book?

Two big challenges: honoring the richness of the writing system, the knowledge of Cherokee language speakers and teachers and the work that everyone is doing to help keep the language alive, for one. Also, translating both the Cherokee and the disciplinary knowledge bases into a language that I hope is readable, accessible to everyone, but still rich, inviting and engaging. In short, honoring and translating.

What were the biggest surprises you found while researching?

So many: That longhand was in use in some archival documents I found in the collections at the National Anthropological Archives in D.C. Sequoyah’s layout for the system is used repeatedly in these documents as well. What a legacy the original script had.

The biggest and most important, though, was how astoundingly well the writing system matches the language; how it has such a heuristic value for learning the language, especially verb phrases and nouns derived from verbs, if you know what it’s representing. That fantastic press plate in the Gilcrease [Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma], uncataloged and on a shelf! One of the volunteers showed it to me—­crazy!—and it was saying such important things that were having a major impact on Cherokee life. I was stunned to find so many amazing language preservation materials from the late 1960s and 1970s. I had no idea. I had hoped that the whole book would read like an unraveling mystery as I wrote it, but I’m not sure that still gets to the reader. The process kept revealing surprising ways in which the syllabary worked to help us persevere.

For the Cherokee script you used the Digohweli font from Chris Harvey. There are two versions of the font, one with the historical do/ which was inverted in orientation and the contemporary version of the that is upright. Why did you choose the historical inverted version of the do/ character?

Chris was kind enough to invert that Ꮩ after we talked on the phone. I had explained how some of the movement to the print seemed so arbitrary and based on the typesetter’s or Samuel Worcester’s own dispositions toward alphabetic letters. The old Ꮩ is truer to the original. If I had the nerve, I would have asked for more to be reshaped to his shorthand characters.

You compare the original handwritten Sequoyan syllables by tracing the glyphs and layering the various shapes on top of each other to show their relationships by form. What led you to this?

I wanted to trace the visual lineage of the glyphs. How did they move from longhand to shorthand? What aspects were retained? How might their visual lineage help users remember the 86 characters, when on the face of it, the print seemed so different from the script? It was that mystery of how it was learned so dang quickly and how there was no lag in reading and writing rates after it moved to print. But if to the English speaking/writing eye these characters were so different, why was there no lag in reading and writing rates among Cherokee? So many mysteries to this system and that was one of them.

You write about the evolution of the writing system and discuss how in the finalized version of the syllabary, not all syllables were included, notably the mv syllable. In the book, mv is represented as “Ꮐ.” It was my understanding that that is the nah syllable (represented in the Unicode chart as 13C0/nah). Could you clarify this?

That was me trying to find an English character for mv that was close to the print. Because mv was never put into print, I went for something that looked similar to the one I saw in his original list.

You tie the idea of peoplehood to the Cherokee writing system. Do you think the course of Cherokee history would have changed had Sequoyah not developed the system?

I think there’s a tremendous body of Cherokee reading materials, a legacy left, that his writing system enabled early on for our tribe. It surely had symbolic capital for the tribe as well, at a time when there were great pressures upon us to be “civilized.” It still makes more of our language available to us both in terms of the artifacts and the ways we can gather meaningfulness from these. We would have lost these things and more, but I am also quite certain that we would have persevered as a people, Sequoyan or not. So yes and no.

How do you see the development of the writing system in the digital era? Do you foresee another major evolution as large as the jump from handwriting to the printing press?

Oh yes, even more now. The digital makes possible the close unification of sound, place, action, image and Sequoyan. So many of the terrific materials that the immersion school teachers that you [Boney], Joseph [Erb], and Jeff [Edwards, all of whom work for Cherokee Nation Education Services], as well as Ed Fields, Sue Thompson, Durbin Feeling and the Language Consortium team at the CN, and the faculty at [Northeastern State University] have developed can be and are disseminated through digital means.

The thing is that now Cherokee can be learned in immersion styles. Also, the digital opens up all new practices, purposes and audiences for using Cherokee: Facebook pages, online resources like the Cherokee New Testament translation project, apps, YouTube videos. It’s an exciting time for the digital era.

Still though, some things trouble me. Ed was telling our class how he used to go into town and hear Cherokee spoken in the shops and on the streets, but not so much anymore. Every word we say though—every ᏩᏙ (wa-do/thank you), ᎣᏏᏲ (o-si-yo/hello), ᏙᎾᏓᎪᎲᎢ (do-na-da-go-hv-i/until we see each other again)—every word matters. I wish we could encourage and hold each other as we take more risks to utter the words that help make us who we are.

Book Strips Away the Myth Surrounding the Cherokee Syllabary

The Cherokee Syllabary: Writing the People’s Perseverance—Book Review

It was the great Sequoyah (ca. 1770–1843) who invented the Cherokee syllabary, thereby making reading and writing in that language possible. He labored on his creation for years while his peers derided his efforts, some going so far as to denounce it as witchcraft.

However, once Sequoyah proved the viability of his system by demonstrating it in action with his daughter Ayoka, the Cherokees embraced his “talking leaves” and became literate almost overnight. In its own way, the tale is as mythic as the story of Cadmus bringing the alphabet to the Greeks.

But the actual history of the Cherokee syllabary is more amazing than any myth could ever be. Ellen Cushman’s book The Cherokee Syllabary: Writing the People’s Perseverance (University of Oklahoma Press, 2011) examines Sequoyah and the continued use of his groundbreaking writing system among the Cherokee into the modern era.

Cushman, a Cherokee Nation citizen, writes in her preface about the questions generated by a poster of the Cherokee syllabary chart that hangs in her office. Visitors ask, “Why so many characters? How is this learned? Why these shapes? Where can I find samples of writing in Sequoyan? Is it even still used? What does it all mean?”

Cushman, wondering herself, set out to answer these and other queries. Her first few chapters detail the story of Sequoyah and how the writing system evolved from handwritten script to the printing press. Then the author delves into the deeper meaning of the syllabary itself. In theorizing about how the original handwritten script may have had many linguistic meanings built into its very shapes, she actually strips down the syllables digitally to their core shapes and creates a table comparing them. All this makes for a fascinating discussion.

The narrative then flows into how the script was later adapted to the printing press. Cushman notes that despite the influence of missionary groups, the final product was not informed by the English alphabet, even though some Cherokee syllables ended up resembling English alphabetic shapes. It was a Cherokee product from start to finish.

Later chapters provide a fine chronology of the writing system, from post–Trail of Tears removal, to the Civil War, through the Reconstruction era, to Oklahoma statehood, through tribal termination policies and into the digital age. Cushman shows how the syllabary served as a common thread among the Cherokee, demonstrating that despite all the setbacks they experienced, the syllabary bound them together. The knowledge of the people was held in their writing system, and it was in that writing that the Cherokees’ collective story was saved, one page at a time.

The Cherokee Syllabary raises many issues that need further inquiry, particularly regarding the evolution of the syllable set during its development. Cushman’s volume also offers a brief discussion about the syllabary’s relevance in the digital era. Ideally, the author’s investigation would invite additional scholarly inquiry into the Cherokee writing system.

Altogether, this is a very informed chronology of the Cherokee syllabary and a comprehensive overview of Cherokee literacy. Cushman takes a story that is often given to mythologizing and puts it into a compelling, realistic narrative for scholars and general readers alike.

See ICTMN’s interview with author Ellen Cushman here.