Like many indigenous people, the Cherokees have long used a name that is foreign to them. We’ll explain that in a minute. First, let’s consider the amazing paradigm shift that hearing and speaking the language will give you.
The English language and most other Latinates separate subject, verb, and object into separate words, and require a particular word order to express those sentences. Every English sentence must have several words.
Polysynthetic languages like Cherokee and the Haudenosaunee languages can create beautiful, flexible phrases out of single words. For instance, the Cherokee phrase ᏗᏣᏓᎧᏎᏍᏕᏍᏗᏊ (dijadaksesdesdigwu) uses prefixes and suffixes to mean something like “you all, bear witness to yourselves caring for yourselves.” It’s an opportunity to apprehend an incredible store of ancient philosophical wealth. To give another example, every verb indicates whether its subject is animate or inanimate.
The language has no sex gender, and women have a critical role in guiding the people.
It is a musical language, and tonality and rhythm are essential parts of its life.
These elements revitalize our joy for the capacities of human communication, and they prepare us to face directly the challenges which threaten to destroy the language and the community.
The proper name of the people is Anigiduwagi Aniyvwiya — The people of the mother town, the people who overcome. Of course, the challenge in pronouncing this name has ensured the longevity of the name “Cherokee,” which originates in the Chahta language, of a neighboring people. It is most famous as the name of a Jeep automobile.
Anigiduwagi have been, since 1838, split into three sovereign governments, located on the lands now called Oklahoma and North Carolina. These three governments are known to the United States Department of Interior as domestic dependent nations, based on treaty law.
All three governments share family relations and a language, gawonihisdi. They also share a syllabary, introduced by Sequoyah just before the national split.
Because of the incessant political splitting and ensuing problems, we do not have reliable statistics on the number of speakers, but it is an endangered language. The foremost cause of its endangerment is the siren song of English-speaking popular culture and the fact that commerce and industry occur almost entirely in English among the people. There are fewer than 300 monolingual speakers, and because of extreme economic and political pressure, a tragically large proportion of American Indians tend to forget their own languages. The three governments offer a wide range of statistics to characterize the size of the speaking community, and they have spent large grants on it; however, there are serious faults with the “immersion programs” offered to children, primarily the fact that few families use the language in the home. Most speakers are elderly, and they mostly lack adequate health care and representation.
Andrew Dreadfulwater, in the 1960’s, spoke to then-senator Robert F. Kennedy only in his language in a senate hearing. This is the kind of performance of “Cherokeeness” that we rarely see today, as people focus on their own personal identities and physical survival rather than the revitalizing power of the language itself. We bear a great debt to Sequoyah, Durbin Feeling and other language teachers who keep the community alive. Thank you for educating yourself about this unique community.
- Lectures 52
- Quizzes 0
- Duration 4 weeks
- Skill level All levels
- Language English
- Students 1
- Certificate No
- Assessments Yes
In Week 1 you will learn to recognise and produce all the sounds of the language and to read the Cherokee syllabary. You will learn about the basic structure of the language which will help you to form basic sentences. You will also discover more about the Cherokee worldview. By the end of the week you will also be able to introduce yourself and ask basic questions.
In Week 2 you will further develop your language skills and learn to form longer sentences. You will learn about Cherokee food, gathering and the importance of food preparation to the Cherokee language. You will also learn about Cherokee medicine and connectivity. By the end of the week you will also be able to talk about your hobbies and count in Cherokee.
In Week 3 you will learn to talk about clothing in Cherokee. You will also further develop your counting skills and be able to talk about when important cultural events took place throughout history. You will learn more about the history of the Cherokee people and their nation. By the end of the week you will also be able to negate sentences, talk about clothing and ask directions in Cherokee.
In Week 4 you will learn to talk about your family in Cherokee. You will learn to use adjectives to describe objects and people in the language. You will discover more about Cherokee songs, storytelling and the traditional American stickball game. You will also learn to talk about possession. By the end of the week you will also be able to tell the time, know the days of the week, and use this knowledge to make plans with others in Cherokee.