Cherokee/Printable version


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Cherokee is an Iroquoian language, the sole extant member of the Southern Iroquoian branch. The Northern Iroquoian branch consists of the languages of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, historically known by the exonym “Iroquois.” These consist of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. Of the Iroquoian languages, Mohawk has the most speakers, at around 3,500. Cherokee has the second highest number of speakers, at around 2,000. The other Iroquoian languages are severely endangered, and Cherokee and Mohawk also unfortunately face a moribund trajectory unless revitalization efforts are successful.

Within Cherokee, there are two extant dialects, the North Carolina (Middle, or Kituwah) and Oklahoma (Overhill, or Western) dialects. There was historically a third dialect, the Lower dialect, spoken near the South Carolina-Georgia border, but it is now extinct.


The Cherokee most likely arrived in present-day Tennessee, the Carolinas, Alabama, and Georgia 3,000 years ago from the Great Lakes region, isolating themselves from the rest of the Haudenosaunee. During the Trail of Tears, most of the Cherokee (16,000) were forcibly removed to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) from1836 to 1839, along with their slaves, resulting in around 4,000 (likely more) deaths. Other Native American groups were also relocated during this time. Today, the Cherokee Nation is one of the three federally recognized tribes of Cherokee, located on nearly 7,000 square miles of land in northeastern Oklahoma, the capital being Tahlequah. The other two tribes are the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, also headquartered in Tahlequah, and the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), located in western North Carolina.

The residential school system in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States and Canada caused many indigenous children to lose their mother tongue, as teachers discouraged and even punished students for speaking any language but English. The Cherokee were no exception. For example, the Cherokee Boarding School in Cherokee, North Carolina operated from 1890 to 1954. Some elders today (and certainly many in their parents’ generation) were former students at such boarding schools. As the school system instilled a sense of shame for speaking Cherokee, many elders refrained from passing down the language to their children, instead raising them speaking English.


Since 2001, the Cherokee Nation has operated the Cherokee Immersion School in Park Hill, Oklahoma, serving grades K-8. The EBCI also runs a K-6 immersion school since 2004, the New Kituwah Academy. Beyond these immersion schools, language classes for adults exist, as well as master-apprentice programs that pair beginning learners with fluent speakers.

Unfortunately, the generation gap—referring to the current parents’ generation who did not grow up speaking Cherokee—makes it difficult for children to use Cherokee on a daily basis outside of school. Adult learners also have significant trouble achieving proficiency in Cherokee due to the lack of good resources in language classes.


Before you continue with learning the Cherokee language, it is important to be able to read and write in Cherokee. That is what this lesson will help you with.

The Cherokee language does not use a alphabet, but a syllabary. That means each Cherokee symbol represents a syllable, not just a consonant or a vowel. Because of this, Cherokee symbols are arranged in a chart, with a column for each Cherokee vowel and a row for each Cherokee consonant.

Below is a chart of the Cherokee Syllabary:


Sounds Represented by Vowels

IPA-sound-representations in [].

a (as in father, or short as in rival)[a~ɑ]
e (as in hate, or short as in met)[ɛ~e]
i (as in pique, or short as in pit)[i~ɪ]
o (as in law, or short as in not)[ɔ~o]
u (as in fool, or short as in pull)[ʊ~u]
v (as in but, nasalized)[ʌ̃]


/Yet to come: A good exercise would be to have a whole bunch of words in Cherokee syllabary, and the student can transliterate them, and then check the answer's--and vice versa./

  • Example: o-si-yo (hello). First write the syllable for o then si then yo.
  • Example 2: ᎠᎹ(a-ma') (water). First write the syllable for Ꭰ(a) and then for Ꮉ(ma).

Learning the Cherokee Syllabary is a important part of learning the Cherokee language. Hopefully after these exercises you have gotten familiar with them. You'll continue to get more and more familiar with constant use, and all the next lessons will be in the Syllabary. Don't get discouraged though, if you don't completely know the Syllabary yet. The next few lessons will have the Latin transcription side by side with the syllabary to help you. But pay attention to the syllabary, as the transliteration will slowly be phased out.

One of the better ways to learn the Syllabary is by writing the letters out individually by dictation.

One source of Cherokee Syllabary dictation is:

Lesson 1

Note: You must be using Cherokee Unicode Supported Fonts to view this site. Information on obtaining and installing Cherokee Unicode Fonts for Windows 2000 and Windows XP is available on the Cherokee Unicode page. Mac OS X from version 10.3 (Panther), Windows Vista and some Linux Operating System's include default support for displaying the Cherokee Language in syllabary.

Lesson 1: Basic GreetingEdit

Perhaps this lesson should be expanded.


Jane: ᎣᏏᏲ, ᏙᎯᏧ? o-si-yo, to-hi-tsu? (English:hello, how are you?)
John: ᎣᏍᏓ, ᏂᎯᎾ? o-s-da, ni-hi-na? (English:good, and you?)
Jane: ᎣᏍᏓᏛ o-s-da-dv (English:good)
John: ᎰᏩ! ho-wa! (English:alright!)
Jane: ᎦᏙ ᏕᏣᏙᏩ? Gado detsadowa? (English: What is your name?)
John: ᏣᏂ ᏓᏩᏙᎠ tsa-ni da-gwa-do-a (English: I am called John)
Jane: ᎭᏢ ᎯᏁᎳ? hatlv hinela? (English:Where do you live?)
John: ᏓᎵᏩ ᏥᏁᎳ. daliwa tsinela (English:I live in Tahlequa --lit. Tahlequa live I)


Unless you have printed this out, get a clean piece of paper. Without looking at the top, fill in the Cherokee words. (In syllabary as far as you remember, and in Latin)

Jane: (1)_______________ (hello, how are you?)
John: (2)_________________ (good, and you?)
Jane: (3)________ (fine) (in reply to the second person)
John: (4)_______ (alright!)

Answers: Here are the answers for questions 1-4: (1) ᎣᏏᏲ, ᏙᎯᏧ? o-si-yo, to-hi-tsu (2)ᎣᏍᏓ, ᏂᎯᎾ? o-s-da, ni-hi-na? (3)ᎣᏍᏓᏛ o-s-da-dv (4)ᎰᏩ! ho-wa!

Notes for those who correct the bookEdit

  • ᎣᏏᏧ (O-si-tsu) mean "I am fine"
  • ᏂᎾ (ni-na) or ᏂᎯᎾ (ni-hi-na) for And You?
  • ᏓᏩᏙᎠ da-wa-to-a or ᏓᏩᏙ 'da-wa-do

Lesson 2

Note: You must be using Cherokee Unicode Supported Fonts to view this site. Information on obtaining and installing Cherokee Unicode Fonts for Windows 2000 and Windows XP is available on the Cherokee Unicode page. Mac OS X from version 10.3 (Panther), Windows Vista and some Linux Operating System's include default support for displaying the Cherokee Language in syllabary.


1 ᏌᏊᎢ saquui
2 ᏔᎵ tali
3 ᏦᎢ tsoi
4 ᏅᎩ nvgi
5 ᎯᏍᎩ hisgi
6 ᏑᏓᎵ sudali
7 ᎦᎵᏉᎩ galiquogi
8 ᏧᏁᎳ tsunela
9 ᏐᏁᎳ sonela
10 ᏍᎪᎯ sgohi
11 ᏌᏚᎢ sadui
12 ᏔᎵᏚᎢ talidui

Days of the weekEdit

Monday ᎤᎾᏙᏓᏉᏅᎢ unadodaquonvi
Tuesday ᏔᎵᏁᎢᎦ talineiga
Wednesday ᏦᎢᏁᎢᎦ tsoineiga
Thursday ᏅᎩᏁᎢᎦ nvgineiga
Friday ᏧᏅᎩᎶᏍᏗ tsunvgilosdi
Saturday ᎤᎾᏙᏓᏈᏕᎾ unadodaquidena
Sunday ᎤᎾᏙᏓᏆᏍᎬᎢ unadodaquasgvi



Lexical IndicationsEdit

  • [A]: Set A verb.
    • [A-ga]: Set A verb that takes ga- instead of a- for the third person singular subject.
  • A-: Set A noun, a lexical feature commonly used to denote humans. The entry is a noun, listed as its root, with "A-" preceding to indicate that a Set A pronominal prefix always precedes the root. Coincidentally, the 3rd person singular (he/she/it) Set A prefix (for such nouns) is a-. (Thus I thought it was ingenious to use the notation "A-".)
  • [B]: Set B verb.
  • [D]: Verb takes the distributive prefix lexically. For the PRC, INC, and CMP stems, the form deex́- or its variants are used. For DVN, di- or its variants are used. For IMM, deex́- is used for past and future tenses; for commands di- is used instead.
  • [INC, IMM, CMP, DVN]: For verbs, the 4 stems in addition to the present continuous (PRC) stem used as citation form, namely the incompletive, immediate, completive, and deverbal noun stems.
  • s.o.: Someone (animate object).
  • Something (inanimate object).

Parts of SpeechEdit

  • adj.: Adjective.
  • vi.: Intransitive verb.
  • vt.: Transitive verb.
  • n.: Noun.

Floating Tones and LengthEdit

  • -x́: Previous syllable takes high tone. (<x> is a placeholder.)
  • x́-: Following syllable takes high tone.
  • -xx: Previous syllable gets lengthened.


  • NA: Not applicable.



  • -alisdáayvvhvsg- [-alisdáayvvhvsg-, -alisdàyvvhvga, -alisdáayvvhn-, -alisdàyvhd-]: vi. [A] eat a meal


  • A-chũja ᎠᏧᏣ: n. boy


  • doosvv́dáqli ᏙᏒᏓᎵ: n. ant
    • possibly derived noun


  • eeloóhi ᎡᎶᎯ: n. Earth, world


  • gaáda ᎦᏓ: n. (1) soil, dirt; (2) land
  • gansda ᎦᎾᏍᏓ: n. stick
  • ganvvnoowa ᎦᏅᏃᏩ: n. pipe
  • -gíqa [-gíisg-, -ga, -g-, -gísd-]: vt. eat (neutral/solid object)
  • guule ᎫᎴ: n. acorn


  • -ha [-h-, -héésti, -h-, NA]: vt. [B] have (neutral/solid object)
    • 3SG exceptional form: uúha (tone unexpected)



  • -xxjayoohíha [-xxjayoohih-, -xxjayoóha, -xxjayoohl-, -xxjayoost-]: vt. [A-ga] (1) prick; (2) give s.o. an injection
    • IMM stem ends in -yoóha for inanimate object but -yoqa for animate object. H/Q alternation expected, tone/length change probably linked thereto.
  • joólani ᏦᎳᏂ: n. window


  • kamaama ᎧᎹᎹ: n. (1) butterfly; (2) elephant


  • -loónéqa [-loónéesg-, -loóna, -loónéq-, -loónéed-]: vt. [A-ga] oil
  • -lvv́gwóhdi [-lvv́gwóhd-, -lvvgwohda, -lvv́gwóhd-, -lvv́gwóhdohd-]: vt. [B] like
  • [D]-lvv́hwísdàneha [-lvv́hwísdàneeh-, see note, lvv́hwísdàneel-, lvv́hwísdànehd-]: vi. [B] work
    • CED cites IMM (with distributive prefix, in command form) as diijálv́v́hwiisdàsi. This is the only IMM stem in any dictionary cited with a long vowel in the di- prefix, i.e. dii-. Should be elicited to confirm.


  • nokwsi ᏃᏈᏏ: n. star
  • nuúna ᏄᎾ: n. potato
  • nvvwóoti ᏅᏬᏘ: n. medicine


  • -oolihga [-oolihg-, -ooligi, -oolihj-, -oolihísd-]: vt. [A-ga] (1) understand; (2) recognize s.o.


  • -x́qluhga [-x́qluhg-, -qluhgi, -qlúhj-, -qlúhísd-]: vi. [A-ga] arrive


  • seélu ᏎᎷ: n. corn


  • tuúya ᏚᏯ: n. bean


  • uuwáqni ᎤᏩᏂ: n. wool


  • vvdali ᎥᏓᎵ: n. pond, lake


  • weésa ᏪᏌ: n. cat


  • -xxyeewisga [-xxyeewisg-, -xxyeéwa, -xxyeewis-, -xxyeewist-]: vt. [A-ga] sew


Here are a whole bunch of phrases we could incorporate into lessons:

Simple PhrasesEdit

Gado hadvne (what are you doing?)
dagilawisdane (I am working)
tsayosihas (are you hungry?)
v v agiyosi (yes I am hungry)
tsadulis hawiya? do you want meat?
v v hawiya aquaduli yes meat I want
kawi tsadulis? Do you want coffee? (lit: coffee you want it?)
v v kawi aquaduli yes coffee I want it
ugodidas agasga ahnai?----alot it is raining there?
tla tlayagasga-- --no it is not raining
Okay Ho wa
Thank you Wa do
Yes vv ii
No Thla
I don't know Thla ya gwan ta