[lg policy] Carvings From Cherokee Script ’s Dawn

Kara Brown kara_dbrown at YAHOO.COM
Tue Jun 23 17:13:34 UTC 2009

Carvings From Cherokee Script’s Dawn
NYT 23 June 2009

The illiterate Cherokee known as Sequoyah watched in awe as white settlers made marks on paper, convinced that these “talking leaves” were the source of white power and success. This inspired the consuming ambition of his life: to create a Cherokee written language.

Born around 1770 near present-day Knoxville, Tenn., he was given the name George Gist (or Guess) by his father, an English fur trader, and his mother, a daughter of a prominent Cherokee family. But it was as Sequoyah that around 1809 he started devising a writing system for the spoken Cherokee language.

Ten years later, despite the ridicule of friends who thought him crazed, he completed the script, in which each of the 85 characters represented a distinct sound in the spoken tongue, and combinations of these syllables spelled words. Within a few years, most Cherokees had adopted this syllabary, and Sequoyah became a folk hero as the inventor of the first Native American script in North America.

It may be, as is often noted, that his achievement is the only known instance of an individual’s single-handedly creating an entirely new system of writing.

An archaeologist and explorer of caves has now found what he thinks are the earliest known examples of the Sequoyah syllabary. The characters are cut into the wall of a cave in southeastern Kentucky, a place sacred to the Cherokee as the traditional burial site of a revered chief. The archaeologist, Kenneth B. Tankersley of the University of Cincinnati, said in an interview recently that this was “one of the most fascinating and important finds in my career,” yielding likely insights into “the genius of Sequoyah.”

Roughly inscribed on the limestone wall, Dr. Tankersley said, were 15 identifiable characters from the syllabary. They are accompanied by a date, apparently carved by the same hand. Part of the date is hard to read, but it appears to be either 1818 or 1808, at least a year earlier than any previously known records of the script.

For full article see: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/23/science/23cherokee.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=cherokee&st=cse

Kara D Brown
Department of Educational Studies
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208


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