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Cherokee Language - - - Photo of a single white feather - - - original photo from an unknown source
Cherokee Language

The Cherokee language is spoken by approximately 10,000 people in the Cherokee Nation, as well as speakers in the Cherokee homelands (of the eastern Band of Cherokee). The western and eastern dialects are different in many ways, although extremely similar.

Within the the Cherokee Nation, which consists of a 14 county area in northeastern Oklahoma, there are many different dialects as well as slang words.

Many people, today, write Cherokee using the English alphabet and phonetics. But this is not the only way.

In the early 1800's, Sequoyah Guess invented a syllabary for writing Cherokee. The syllabary consists of 84 characters which represent the 84 different syllables used in speaking the language. Within days, Sequoyah taught his daughter to read and write her native language, and within months, hundreds of Cherokees were able to write and read their own language.

Language is very important to preserving a culture many words which are descriptive of cultural mannerisms, feelings, events, and ceremonies are only identifiable in the native tongue. There is no comparable word in the English language. In addition, all prayers and other ceremonies used at Stomp Dances and by Medicine people are in the Cherokee language.

When reading a Cherokee word written phonetically, remember these pronunciations:

  • A   as in 'father'
  • e   an 'a' sound, as in 'way'
  • I   an 'e' sound, as in 'bee'
  • O   as in 'oh'
  • U   as in 'ooh'
  • V   sounds like 'uh'
  • Ts   makes a 'j' sound

Some Cherokee Words Greetings and Courtesies:

  • Hello   O si yo
  • How are you?   To hi tsu?
  • Fine   O s da
  • And you?   Ni hi na
  • Okay   Ho wa
  • Thank you   Wa do
  • Yes   vv ii
  • No   Thla
  • I don't know   Thla ya gwan ta


(This information was provided, in part, by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center at cultural@cherokee.org.)

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This page created:
Thu, 08.Feb.2001

Last updated:
16:17, Sat, 10.May.2014

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