Cherokee script summary

Updated 4 April, 2019 • tags scriptnotes, cherokee

This page provides basic information about the Cherokee script and its use for the Cherokee language. It is not authoritative, peer-reviewed information – these are just notes I have gathered or copied from various places as i learned. For character-specific details follow the links to the Cherokee character notes.

For similar information related to other scripts, see the Script comparison table.

Clicking on red text examples, or highlighting part of the sample text shows a list of characters, with links to more details. Click on the vertical blue bar (bottom right) to change font settings for the sample text. Colours and annotations on panels listing characters are relevant to their use for the Cherokee language.

Samples (Cherokee)

Cased

Ꭰꮿꮩꮈ 1 Ꮒꭶꮣ ꭰꮒᏼꮻ ꭴꮎꮥꮕꭲ ꭴꮎꮪꮣꮄꮣ ꭰꮄ ꭱꮷꮃꭽꮙ ꮎꭲ ꭰꮲꮙꮩꮧ ꭰꮄ ꭴꮒꮂ ꭲᏻꮎꮫꮧꭲ. Ꮎꮝꭹꮎꮓ ꭴꮅꮝꭺꮈꮤꮕꭹ ꭴꮰꮿꮝꮧ ꮕᏸꮅꮫꭹ ꭰꮄ ꭰꮣꮕꮦꮯꮣꮝꮧ ꭰꮄ ꭱꮅꮝꮧ ꮟᏼꮻꭽ ꮒꮪꮎꮣꮫꮎꮥꭼꭹ ꮎ ꮧꮎꮣꮕꮯ ꭰꮣꮕꮩ ꭼꮧ.

Ꭰꮿꮩꮈ 2 Ꮒꭶꮫ ꭰꮒᏼꮻ ꭴꮎꮣꮒꮬ ꮎꭲ ꮒꭶꮣ ꭴꮒꮂ ꭲᏻꮎꮫꮑꮧꭲ ꭰꮄ ꮩꭿ ꭰꮥꮧꭲ ꮎꭲ ꮥꭶꭷꮕꭹ ꭿꭰ ꮧꭶꮓꮳꮃꮕꭲ, ꭴꮎꮴꮅꮫ ꮔꮎꮰꮿꮝꮫꮎ ꮎꭲ ꮒꭶꭵꮙ ꮷꮣꮄꮕꮣ, ꮥꭷꮑꭲꮝꮤꮕꭿ ꮷꮎꮣꮄꮕꮣ ꭰꮒᏼꮻ, ꮧꭸꭶꭶꮕꮧꭲ, ꭰꭸꮿ ꭰꮄ ꭰꮝꭶꮿ, ꭶꮼꮒꭿꮝꮧ, ꮷꮎꮑꮅꮧ, ꮧꮎꮩꭹꮿꮝꭹ ꭰꮄ ꮠꭲ ꮎꮒꮅꮝꭼꭹ, ꭰᏸꮅ ꭴꮎꮩꮲꭿ ꭰꮄ ᏼꮻ ꮒꮩꮣᏻꮎꮣꮄꮕꭹ, ꮔꮕꮏꮕ, ꭴꮥꮕ ꭰꮄ ꮠꭲ ꮔꮝꮧꮣꮕꭲ. Ꭴꮧꮧꮲꭲꭸꮝꮩꮧ, ꮭ ꮔꮎꮰꮿꮝꮫꮎ ꭴꮩꭿᏻꮢꮎ ꮎꮝꭹꮓ ꮧꮎꮩꭹꮿꮝꭹ ꮒꮣᏻꮅꮝꮩꮤꮕ ꮎꮝꭹ ꭴꮩꮲꮕꭲ, ꭲᏻꮎꮫꮑꮅꮣꮝꮧ ꭴꮒꮂꭹ ꭰꮄ ꭰᏸꮅ ꮪꮎꮩꮲꮢ ꮔꮝꮧꮣꮕ ꮎꮝꭹ ꮒꭼꮎꮫꭲ ꭰꮄ ꮝꭶꮪꭹ ꮎꮝꭹꮓ ꭰꮒᏼꮻ ꭰꮎꮑꮈꭹ, ꭲᏻꮓꮝꮚ ꮎꮝꭹꮎꭲ ꭴꮎꮣꮴꮅꮣ, ꭶꭸꭶꮕꮨ ꭸꮢꭲ, ꭼꮒꭼꭼ-ꭴꮹꮢ-ꭴꭶꮞꮝꮧꮥꭹ ꭽꮻꮒꮧꮲ ꮒꭶꭵ ꮠꭲ ꮕꮒᏺꭲꮝꮣꮑꮂꮎ ꮎꭲ ꭴꮒꮂ ꭴꮎꮣꮴꮅꭶꮿ.

Uncased

ᎠᏯᏙᎸ 1 ᏂᎦᏓ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᎤᎾᏕᏅᎢ ᎤᎾᏚᏓᎴᏓ ᎠᎴ ᎡᏧᎳᎭᏉ ᎾᎢ ᎠᏢᏉᏙᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎤᏂᎲ ᎢᏳᎾᏛᏗᎢ. ᎾᏍᎩᎾᏃ ᎤᎵᏍᎪᎸᏔᏅᎩ ᎤᏠᏯᏍᏗ ᏅᏰᎵᏛᎩ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏓᏅᏖᏟᏓᏍᏗ ᎠᎴ ᎡᎵᏍᏗ ᏏᏴᏫᎭ ᏂᏚᎾᏓᏛᎾᏕᎬᎩ Ꮎ ᏗᎾᏓᏅᏟ ᎠᏓᏅᏙ ᎬᏗ.

ᎠᏯᏙᎸ 2 ᏂᎦᏛ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᎤᎾᏓᏂᏜ ᎾᎢ ᏂᎦᏓ ᎤᏂᎲ ᎢᏳᎾᏛᏁᏗᎢ ᎠᎴ ᏙᎯ ᎠᏕᏗᎢ ᎾᎢ ᏕᎦᎧᏅᎩ ᎯᎠ ᏗᎦᏃᏣᎳᏅᎢ, ᎤᎾᏤᎵᏛ ᏄᎾᏠᏯᏍᏛᎾ ᎾᎢ ᏂᎦᎥᏉ ᏧᏓᎴᏅᏓ, ᏕᎧᏁᎢᏍᏔᏅᎯ ᏧᎾᏓᎴᏅᏓ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ, ᏗᎨᎦᎦᏅᏗᎢ, ᎠᎨᏯ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏍᎦᏯ, ᎦᏬᏂᎯᏍᏗ, ᏧᎾᏁᎵᏗ, ᏗᎾᏙᎩᏯᏍᎩ ᎠᎴ ᏐᎢ ᎾᏂᎵᏍᎬᎩ, ᎠᏰᎵ ᎤᎾᏙᏢᎯ ᎠᎴ ᏴᏫ ᏂᏙᏓᏳᎾᏓᎴᏅᎩ, ᏄᏅᎿᏅ, ᎤᏕᏅ ᎠᎴ ᏐᎢ ᏄᏍᏗᏓᏅᎢ. ᎤᏗᏗᏢᎢᎨᏍᏙᏗ, Ꮭ ᏄᎾᏠᏯᏍᏛᎾ ᎤᏙᎯᏳᏒᎾ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᏗᎾᏙᎩᏯᏍᎩ ᏂᏓᏳᎵᏍᏙᏔᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ ᎤᏙᏢᏅᎢ, ᎢᏳᎾᏛᏁᎵᏓᏍᏗ ᎤᏂᎲᎩ ᎠᎴ ᎠᏰᎵ ᏚᎾᏙᏢᏒ ᏄᏍᏗᏓᏅ ᎾᏍᎩ ᏂᎬᎾᏛᎢ ᎠᎴ ᏍᎦᏚᎩ ᎾᏍᎩᏃ ᎠᏂᏴᏫ ᎠᎾᏁᎸᎩ, ᎢᏳᏃᏍᏊ ᎾᏍᎩᎾᎢ ᎤᎾᏓᏤᎵᏓ, ᎦᎨᎦᏅᏘ ᎨᏒᎢ, ᎬᏂᎬᎬ-ᎤᏩᏒ-ᎤᎦᏎᏍᏗᏕᎩ ᎭᏫᏂᏗᏢ ᏂᎦᎥ ᏐᎢ ᏅᏂᏲᎢᏍᏓᏁᎲᎾ ᎾᎢ ᎤᏂᎲ ᎤᎾᏓᏤᎵᎦᏯ.

Usage & history

From Scriptsource:

The Cherokee script was created by a Cherokee man named Sequoyah (also known as George Guess or George Gist) who believed that the key to the colonialists' success and power lay within their 'talking leaves', the written correspondence they used to exchange information and ideas. Although Sequoyah was illiterate, he noted the shapes of the letters in an English Bible and based the shapes of the Cherokee letters on them. For this reason, many of the letters resemble Latin letters and numbers, although there is no relationship between their sounds in English and in Cherokee. Sequoyah spent 12 years devising the Cherokee syllabary, and presented it formally in 1821. It achieved almost instant popularity and by 1824 most Cherokee were literate in the script. In 1828 Sequoyah collaborated with Rev. Samuel A. Worcester to modify the script to facilitate the creation of a printing press. The letters they created together are somewhat different from Sequoyah's original set, and are the letters in use today. ...

From the 1870s until the early 20th century, the US government implemented formal assimilation policies with the intention of 'civilizing' Native Americans. Native American children were forcibly removed from their families and sent to mandatory boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their language, practice traditional ways or visit their homes, sometimes for three or four years at a time. As a result, a generation of Cherokee people grew up unable to speak the Cherokee language, and it is now estimated to be spoken by fewer than 10% of Cherokee people. Among those who do speak the language, the script is widely used for writing letters, recipes, folktales, diaries, and for personal record-keeping. It is also used in some legal, governmental and religious documents and, in some areas, public signage. Efforts are being made to revive both the language and the script; to that end it is used in a limited capacity in education. Knowledge of the script is considered a prerequisite for full Cherokee citizenship. Two widely used publications in the script are a Cherokee New Testament and a hymnal. Although the orthography has never officially been standardized, many regard the spellings in these books as a standard for formal language.

From Wikipedia:

The Cherokee syllabary is a syllabary invented by Sequoyah to write the Cherokee language in the late 1810s and early 1820s. His creation of the syllabary is particularly noteworthy as he could not previously read any script. He first experimented with logograms, but his system later developed into a syllabary. In his system, each symbol represents a syllable rather than a single phoneme; the 85 (originally 86) characters provide a suitable method to write Cherokee. Although some symbols resemble Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic letters, the relationship between symbols and sounds is different.

Key features

Cherokee is a syllabary. Letters typically represent a combination of consonants and vowels. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features, taken from the Script Comparison Table.

Text is normally written horizontally, left to right, and the visual forms of letters don't interact. There are no combining characters or diacritics.

There is no standard spelling. The way a word is written may vary, according to the pronunciation of the writer, or choices they make for dealing with consonant clusters.

Words are separated by spaces.

In yellow boxes, show:

Character lists

The Cherokee script characters in Unicode 10.0 are spread across 2 blocks (not counting shared characters, such as punctuation):

The following links give information about characters used for languages associated with this script. The numbers in parentheses are for non-ASCII characters.

For character-specific details see Cherokee character notes.

Syllables

There are 85 characters in the syllabary, of which 6 represent syllables that start with either no consonant or with ʔ (Ꭰ Ꭱ Ꭲ Ꭳ Ꭴ Ꭵ), and one character represents the non-syllabic consonant sound s (). The rest nominally represent a combination of consonant plus vowel, though the actual practise is a little more nuanced, and there is a degree of vagueness in the script when it comes to phonetically transcribing spoken sounds.d

Characters in the syllabary:

Ꭰꭰ␣Ꭱꭱ␣Ꭲꭲ␣Ꭳꭳ␣Ꭴꭴ␣Ꭵꭵ
Ꭶꭶ␣Ꭷꭷ␣Ꭸꭸ␣Ꭹꭹ␣Ꭺꭺ␣Ꭻꭻ␣Ꭼꭼ
Ꭽꭽ␣Ꭾꭾ␣Ꭿꭿ␣Ꮀꮀ␣Ꮁꮁ␣Ꮂꮂ
Ꮃꮃ␣Ꮄꮄ␣Ꮅꮅ␣Ꮆꮆ␣Ꮇꮇ␣Ꮈꮈ
Ꮉꮉ␣Ꮊꮊ␣Ꮋꮋ␣Ꮌꮌ␣Ꮍꮍ
Ꮎꮎ␣Ꮏꮏ␣Ꮐꮐ␣Ꮑꮑ␣Ꮒꮒ␣Ꮓꮓ␣Ꮔꮔ␣Ꮕꮕ
Ꮖꮖ␣Ꮗꮗ␣Ꮘꮘ␣Ꮙꮙ␣Ꮚꮚ␣Ꮛꮛ
Ꮜꮜ␣Ꮝꮝ␣Ꮞꮞ␣Ꮟꮟ␣Ꮠꮠ␣Ꮡꮡ␣Ꮢꮢ
Ꮣꮣ␣Ꮤꮤ␣Ꮥꮥ␣Ꮦꮦ␣Ꮧꮧ␣Ꮨꮨ␣Ꮩꮩ␣Ꮪꮪ␣Ꮫꮫ
Ꮬꮬ␣Ꮭꮭ␣Ꮮꮮ␣Ꮯꮯ␣Ꮰꮰ␣Ꮱꮱ␣Ꮲꮲ
Ꮳꮳ␣Ꮴꮴ␣Ꮵꮵ␣Ꮶꮶ␣Ꮷꮷ␣Ꮸꮸ
Ꮹꮹ␣Ꮺꮺ␣Ꮻꮻ␣Ꮼꮼ␣Ꮽꮽ␣Ꮾꮾ
Ꮿꮿ␣Ᏸᏸ␣Ᏹᏹ␣Ᏺᏺ␣Ᏻᏻ␣Ᏼᏼ

One syllable is archaic and not used.

Ᏽᏽ

Case

Lowercase characters were introduced in Unicode 8.0, to cover growing use of bicameral content in modern typesetting, as well as some older texts such as the Cherokee New Testament. The lowercase text above is likely to be displayed as tofu (boxes), since it is currently difficult to find a font that includes lowercase forms.

It is unusual for the majority of content to be in uppercase, and for lowercase to come in later, and implementers may need to take care in introducing the new characters. For example, Cherokee case-folds to uppercase, rather than lower. For more details see the Unicode Standard.u

The shapes of the upper- vs. lower-cased letters don't change radically (as they do in Latin or Cyrillic). The lowercase letters are often simply smaller, however they may have ascenders and descenders in some fontse5.

ᎤᎾᏕᏅᎢ vs. Ꭴꮎꮥꮕꭲ

Traditional uppercase text (left) and the newer mixed case text (right).

Tones

Spoken Cherokee has tones, but they are not shown in the text.u

Linguists who want to show tones do so using standard allocations of combining characters. The following list shows diacritics used to express tones. (Mid is the default, and doesn't need marking.)e5

Ꭰ̄␣Ꭰ̂␣Ꭰ̌␣Ꭰ̀␣Ꭰ́␣Ꭰ̋

'Vowel' characters

The six vowel characters, when they appear at the start of a word represent plain vowel sounds, eg. ᎠᎹ a-ma ama water.

Elsewhere they represent a syllable starting with ʔ, eg. ᎯᎠ hi-a hiʔa this.d

Ꭰꭰ␣Ꭱꭱ␣Ꭲꭲ␣Ꭳꭳ␣Ꭴꭴ␣Ꭵꭵ

Vowel length and tone

The vowel in a CV syllable doesn't distinguish between short and long vowel sounds, nor does it indicate tonal values, eg. ᎠᎹ a-ma ama water and ᎠᎹ a-ma aːma salt are written the same, although the vowels are of different lengths and the tones (low vs high, respectively) are different.d

Syllable final consonants

Each character may not only end with a vowel, but may also end with ʔ or h, eg. ᏑᏗ su-di suhti fishhook and ᏔᎵ ta-li tʰaʔli two are written with just two characters.

There is one distinctive pair related to syllables ending with h: na is contrasted with nah.

Syllables that end with an s sound can be written using [U+13CD CHEROKEE LETTER S], eg. ᎯᏴᏫᏯᏍ hi-yv-wi-ya-s hijə̃ːwiːjaːs Are you an Indian? 2

Syllable initial aspiration

Only 6 syllable pairs distinguish between aspirated and non-aspirated sounds at the start of a syllable.

Only one nasal syllable makes this distinction, ie. ᎬᎾ gv-na kə̃ːna I'm alive versus ᎬᎿ gv-hna kə̃ːhna she's alive. However, ᎬᏂᎭ gv-ni-ha could be either kə̃ːniha I'm striking it or kə̃ːhniha gv-ni-ha she's striking it.

There are five pairs of characters that make this distinction for stops or affricates: Ꭶ+Ꭷ, Ꮣ+Ꮤ, Ꮥ+Ꮦ, Ꮧ+Ꮨ, Ꮬ+Ꮭ. For example, it is possible to distinguish between the first two syllables of ᎧᎦᎵ ka-ga-li kʰaːkaʔli February, but not between the two meanings of ᎪᎳ go-la, ie. koːla winter and kʰoːla bone.d

Consonant clusters

With one exception, consonant clusters are managed by using a normal syllabic character but ignoring the ('dummy') vowel, eg. ᎦᎵᏉᎩ ga-li-qo-gi kaɬkʷoːki seven or ᎬᏙᎠ gv-do-a ktʰoːʔa it's hanging. The character chosen is largely up to the writer, but some words bring in etymological connections.

The exception is [U+13CD CHEROKEE LETTER S], which is not followed by a vowel, eg. ᏍᎪᎯ s-go-hi skoːhi ten.d

ssV sequences

Some manuscripts precede syllables beginning with an s sound with [U+13CD CHEROKEE LETTER S], and Sequoyah spelled his name like that, ie. ᏍᏏᏉᏯ s-si-qo-ya.

Diacritics

Everson reports that some combining diacritical marks are now used in Cherokee text by ordinary readers and especially children.e5

These diacritics are in the Unicode Combining Diacritical Marks block. The Cherokee block has no combining characters.

̣␣̱␣̤␣̰

 ̣ [U+0323 COMBINING DOT BELOW] indicates shifts in consonant readings – such as voiced to voiceless, voiceless to voiced; for example, where is ko, Ꭺ̣ would be kʰo.

 ̱ [U+0331 COMBINING MACRON BELOW] indicates the dropping of a vowel; for example, Oklahoma could be written ᎣᎦ̱ᎳᎰᎹ o-ga̱-la-ho-ma.

When a consonant is both shifted and has its vowel dropped,  ̤ [U+0324 COMBINING DIAERESIS BELOW] is used.

Nasalisation is only very rarely marked: in such cases, it can be indicated using  ̰ [U+0330 COMBINING TILDE BELOW​].

Numbers

Sequoyah, the inventor of the script, created a set of Cherokee numbers, but they were not adopted and are not encoded in Unicode.u The shapes of the numbers can be seen on the Omniglot page.o

Glyph shaping & positioning

There is no interaction between the glyphs in Cherokee.

Font style

Cherokee users would like their fonts to have italic and bold styles, although this is not currently common. These alternate styles would be used in the same way as for the Latin script.e5

Structural boundaries & markers

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.

Phrase boundaries

Cherokee uses standard Latin punctuation.u

In some cases, it has been known for full stops to be raised above the baseline.d

Line & paragraph layout

Text direction

Cherokee is written horizontally, left-to-right.

Justification

Justification is done, principally, by adjusting the space between words.

Use the control below to see how your browser justifies the text sample here.

Ꮒꭶꮫ ꭲꮷꮃꭽꮙ ꭲꭼꮿꮨꮯ ꮎꮝꭹ ꮧꭷꮏꮹꮫꮝꮧ ꭰꮄ ꭴꮎꮣꮒꮬꮕꭲ ꮕꮰꮿꮝꮫꮎ ꮒꭶꭵ ꭰꮣꮫᏻꮴꮧ ꮎꮝꭹ ꭲꮷꮃꭽꮙ ꭼꮹꮒꮝꮥꮈꮩꮧ ꮎꮝꭹ ꮧꭷꮏꮹꮫꮝꮧ. Ꮒꭶꮣ ꭴꮎꮣꮒꮬꮕꭲ ꭲꮷꮃꭽꮙ ꭼꮹꮒꮝꮥꮈꮩꮧ ꮧꭼꮹꮎꮱꮧꮝꭹ ꮒꭶꭵ ꭰꮣꮫᏻꮴꮧ ꮎꮝꭹ ꭰꮝꭶꮕꭼꭲ ꭿꭰ ꮧꭶꮓꮳꮃꮕꭲ ꭰꮄ ꮧꭼꮹꮎꮱꮧꮝꭹ ꭰꮄ ꮒꭶꭵ ꮣꮣꮪꮄꭼ ꮎꮝꭹ ꭲᏻꮝꮧ ꭰꮣꮫᏻꮴꮧ.

TBD

Further information needed for this section includes:

Glyph shaping & positioning
    Cursive text
    Context-based shaping
    Multiple combining characters
    Context-based positioning
    Transforming characters

Structural boundaries & markers
    Grapheme boundaries
    Hyphens & dashes
    Bracketing information
    Quotations
    Abbreviations, ellipsis, & repetition
    Emphasis & highlights
    Inline notes & annotations

Inline layout
    Inline text spacing
    Bidirectional text

Line & paragraph layout
    Line breaking
    Hyphenation
    Text alignment & justification
    Counters, lists, etc.
    Styling initials
    Baselines & inline alignment

Page & book layout
    General page layout & progression
    Directional layout features
	Grids & tables
    Notes, footnotes, etc.
    Forms & user interaction
    Page numbering, running headers, etc.

References

  1. [ u ] The Unicode Standard v9.0, Cherokee.
  2. [ d ] Daniels, Peter T, Bright William, The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-507993-0
  3. [ w ] Wikipedia, Cherokee Syllabary
  4. [ e ] Michael Everson & Durbin Feeling, Revised proposal for the addition of Cherokee characters to the UCS
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