Cherokee is the first Native American language to have their own writing system, invented by a Cherokee man named Sequoyah. Its history is somewhat like that of Korean Hangul, as they are both invented scripts created by individuals to write their native languages accurately for the first time, raising suspicions from the establishment before they were widely adopted and embraced by their compatriots.
As the only syllabary besides Japanese kana to be widely supported on major OSes, I decided I had to learn the Cherokee syllabary. And with 86 characters total, it was definitely a worthwhile challenge to learn.
To adapt any script for a different language for English, we must consider its features and limitations. As English language consonants are somewhat different from the Cherokee language’s consonants, I had to change some things around for maximum efficiency.
The Cherokee writing system uses 6 vowels – A /a/, E /e/, I /i/, O /o/, U /u/, and V /ə̃/. (In romanised Cherokee, ‘V’ is a vowel sound.) These are relatively easy to map to their most common English equivalents:
- Ꭰ -> /a/
- Ꭱ -> /ɛ/
- Ꭲ -> /ɪ/
- Ꭳ -> /ɔ/
- Ꭴ -> /ʊ/
- Ꭵ -> /ə/
To represent the other common English vowels and diphthong sequences, digraphs are used in a largely intuitive manner:
- ᎠᎥ -> /æ/
- ᎢᎢ -> /iː/
- ᎣᎣ -> /ɔː/
- ᎤᎤ -> /uː/
- ᎠᎢ -> /aɪ/
- ᎡᎢ -> /eɪ/
- ᎣᎢ -> /ɔɪ/
- ᎤᎥ -> /ʊə/
- ᎠᎤ -> /aʊ/
- ᎢᎥ -> /ɪə/
- ᎣᎤ -> /oʊ/
To write a consonant followed by a diphthong, use the relevant syllable for the first part of the diphthong.
- /mæ/ = ᎹᎥ (‘MA’ + ‘V’)
- /haɪ/ = ᎭᎢ (‘HA’ + ‘I’)
- /noʊ/ = ᏃᎤ (‘NO’ + ‘U’)
At first, the Cherokee syllabary’s 17 consonants appear to be fairly intuitive, covering most of the consonants also present in English. Then you find out that:
- Not all consonant series cover all vowels. For instance, while there is a letter for each possible N-series syllable (NA Ꮎ, NE Ꮑ, NI Ꮒ, NO Ꮓ, NU Ꮔ, NV Ꮕ), there are only 5 letters for each M-series syllable (MA Ꮉ, ME Ꮊ, MI Ꮋ, MO Ꮌ, MU Ꮍ, but no letter for MV in many fonts), 3 letters for each T-series syllable (TA Ꮤ, TE Ꮦ, TI Ꮨ), and only 1 consonant for K-, HN-, and DL-.
- There is no bilabial stop (P B) or R-like consonant in the Cherokee language.
- There is a QU-series representing syllables with /kʷ/, though.
Some extra work will be required, but it’s not too hard to deal with. In this adaptation, the following changes were made:
- The QU series (/kʷ/) becomes the P series, as written Cherokee uses the QU series to represent /p/ in loanwords
- The L series (/l/) becomes the R (/ɹ/) series, as R is more common than L in English
- The TL series (/tˡ/) becomes the L series, as English does not have /tˡ/ and I wanted a distinct set for the /l/ sound.
- All letters representing -V syllables (e.g. NV Ꮕ, HV Ꮂ) have their vowels removed, effectively behaving like an alphabetic letter: Ꮕ = /n/, Ꮂ = /h/, etc.
- If the series does not have a syllable ending in -V, the last letter in the series becomes an alphabetic letter: MU Ꮍ = /m/, TI Ꮨ = /t/.
- If there is only 1 element in the series, it becomes an alphabetic letter: KA Ꭷ = /k/.
- HNA Ꮏ is used to write NG /ŋ/.
- DLA Ꮬ is used to write DH /ð/.
In addition, I use the following 2 diacritics to indicate additional consonant series, which are also increasingly been used in Cherokee texts.
- ̣ (dot below) – indicates a shift to a closely related consonant. The shift either changes from voiced consonant to unvoiced, or the other way round, depending on the series. E.g. GE Ꭸ -> KE Ꭸ̣, SO Ꮠ -> ZO Ꮠ̣, PA Ꮖ -> BA Ꮖ̣, WA Ꮹ -> VA Ꮹ̣.
- It is also used for indicating that the M letter Ꮍ is to be pronounced with its original vowel: MU Ꮍ̣.
- ̤ (double dot below) – indicates additional fricatives not found in Cherokee, such as /f/ and /θ/. e.g. PA Ꮖ -> FA Ꮖ̤, TA Ꮤ -> THA Ꮤ̤, SA Ꮜ -> SHA Ꮜ̤.
This shows how the diacritics are used:
- B-series is derived from P-series with a dot.
- F-series is derived from P-series with double dots.
- V-series is derived from W-series with a dot.
- TI, TO and TU are derived from D-series with a dot.
- THA /θa/, THE /θɛ/, and TH are derived from T-series with double dots, while THI /θɪ/, THO /θɔ/ and THU /θʊ/ are derived from L-series with double dots.
- DHA /ða/, DHE /ðɛ/, DHI /ðɪ/, DHO /ðɔ/ and DHU /ðʊ/ are derived from D-series with double dots.
- KA, KE, KI, KO and KU are derived from G-series with a dot.
- NGA /ŋa/, NGE /ŋɛ/, NGI /ŋɪ/, NGO /ŋɔ/, and NGU /ŋʊ/ are derived from N-series with a dot.
- Z-series is derived from S-series with a dot.
- SH-series /ʃ/ is derived from S-series with double dots.
- ZH-series /ʒ/ is derived from C-series with double dots.
Special cases ᏍᏇᏒ̤ᎥᏢ Ꭸ̣ᎢᏒᎥᏍ
There are 2 forms of alphabetic /s/:
- Ꮝ – the default one to be used, e.g. /wans/ = ᏩᏅᏍ.
- Ꮢ – this variation is always used before Ꭵ /ə/, e.g. /səɹ/ = ᏒᎥᎸ. This was done because Ꮢ is more compact than Ꮝ in many Cherokee fonts.
Note on MV
I did not use the ‘obsolete’ letter for MV Ᏽ as many fonts still do not support it yet.
Table of syllables ᏖᎢᏋ̣ᎥᏢ ᎣᏋ̤ ᏏᏢᎥᏋ̣ᎥᏢᏍ
This shows all syllables that can be represented with Cherokee Script for English.
Syllable usage examples ᏏᏢᎥᏋ̣ᎥᏢ ᏳᏏᏨ̣ ᎡᎬᏌ̣ᎽᏋᎥᏢᏍ
|–||/a/ Ꭰ (up, ᎠᏋ)||/ɛ/ Ꭱ (end, ᎡᏅᏛ)||/ɪ/ Ꭲ (it, ᎢᏘ)||/ɔ/ Ꭳ (on, ᎣᏅ)||/ʊ/ Ꭴ (ooze, ᎤᏍ̣)||/ə/ Ꭵ (again, ᎥᎨᏅ)||.|
|P||/pa/ Ꮖ (putty, ᏆᏗ̣)||/pɛ/ Ꮗ (pen, ᏇᏅ)||/pɪ/ Ꮘ (pin, ᏈᏅ)||/pɔ/ Ꮙ (pot, ᏉᏘ)||/pʊ/ Ꮚ (put, ᏊᏘ)||.||/p/ Ꮛ (up, ᎠᏋ)|
|M||/ma/ Ꮉ (mum, ᎹᎽ)||/mɛ/ Ꮊ (met, ᎺᏘ)||/mɪ/ Ꮋ (middle, ᎻᏛᎥᏢ)||/mɔ/ Ꮌ (mop, ᎼᏋ)||.||.||/m/ Ꮍ (am, ᎠᎥᎽ)|
|T||/ta/ Ꮤ (touch, ᏔᏨ)||/tɛ/ Ꮦ (ten, ᏖᏅ)||.||.||.||.||/t/ Ꮨ (at, ᎠᎥᏘ)|
|D||/da/ Ꮣ (dull, ᏓᏢ)||/dɛ/ Ꮥ (den, ᏕᏅ)||/dɪ/ Ꮧ (diss, ᏗᏍ)||/dɔ/ Ꮩ (dot, ᏙᏘ)||/dʊ/ Ꮪ (do, Ꮪ)||.||/d/ Ꮫ (mud, ᎹᏛ)|
|DH||.||.||.||.||.||.||/ð/ Ꮬ (the, ᏜᎥ)|
|N||/na/ Ꮎ (nut, ᎾᏘ)||/nɛ/ Ꮑ (net, ᏁᏘ)||/nɪ/ Ꮒ (new, ᏂᎤ)||/nɔ/ Ꮓ (knob, ᏃᏋ̣)||/nʊ/ Ꮔ (noob, ᏄᏋ̣)||.||/n/ Ꮕ (can, Ꭶ̣ᎥᏅ)|
|K||.||.||.||.||.||.||/k/ Ꭷ (class, ᎧᏝᏍ)|
|G||/ga/ Ꭶ (gull, ᎦᏢ)||/gɛ/ Ꭸ (get, ᎨᏘ)||/gɪ/ Ꭹ (give, ᎩᏮ̣)||/gɔ/ Ꭺ (gone, ᎪᏅ)||/gʊ/ Ꭻ (goose, ᎫᏍ)||.||/g/ Ꭼ (bug, Ꮖ̣Ꭼ)|
|NG||.||.||.||.||.||.||/ŋ/ Ꮏ (sing, ᏏᎿ)|
|S||/sa/ Ꮜ (sun, ᏌᏅ)||/sɛ/ Ꮞ (send, ᏎᏅᏛ)||/sɪ/ Ꮟ (sip, ᏏᏋ)||/sɔ/ Ꮠ (sock, ᏐᎧ)||/sʊ/ Ꮡ (soon, ᏑᏅ)||/sə/ ᏒᎥ (sir, ᏒᎥᎸ)||/s/ Ꮝ (as, ᎠᎥᏍ)|
|C||/tʃa/ Ꮳ (chance, ᏣᏅᏍ)||/tʃɛ/ Ꮴ (cherry, ᏤᎵ)||/tʃɪ/ Ꮵ (chip, ᏥᏋ)||/tʃɔ/ Ꮶ (chop, ᏦᏋ)||/tʃʊ/ Ꮷ (choose, ᏧᏍ̣)||.||/tʃ/ Ꮸ (hatch, ᎭᎥᏨ)|
|R||/ɹa/ Ꮃ (run, ᎳᏅ)||/ɹɛ/ Ꮄ (red, ᎴᏛ)||/ɹɪ/ Ꮅ (rig, ᎵᎬ)||/ɹɔ/ Ꮆ (rock, ᎶᎧ)||/ɹʊ/ Ꮇ (rookie, ᎷᎩ̣)||.||/ɹ/ Ꮈ (are, ᎠᎸ)|
|L||/la/ Ꮭ (lunch, ᏝᏅᏨ)||/lɛ/ Ꮮ (lens, ᏞᏅᏍ)||/lɪ/ Ꮯ (lick, ᏟᎧ)||/lɔ/ Ꮰ (lock, ᏠᎧ)||/lʊ/ Ꮱ (loop, ᏡᏋ)||.||/l/ Ꮲ (bull, Ꮚ̣Ꮲ)|
|H||/ha/ Ꭽ (hull, ᎭᏢ)||/hɛ/ Ꭾ (hen, ᎮᏅ)||/hɪ/ Ꭿ (his, ᎯᏍ)||/hɔ/ Ꮀ (horn, ᎰᎸᏅ)||/hʊ/ Ꮁ (hook, ᎱᎧ)||.||/h/ Ꮂ (lah, ᏝᎲ)|
|W||/wa/ Ꮹ (one, ᏩᏅ)||/wɛ/ Ꮺ (when, ᏪᏅ)||/wɪ/ Ꮻ (will, ᏫᏢ)||/wɔ/ Ꮼ (won, ᏬᏅ)||/wʊ/ Ꮽ (wool, ᏭᏢ)||.||/w/ Ꮾ (ow, ᎠᏮ)|
|Y||/ja/ Ꮿ (young, ᏯᎿ)||/jɛ/ Ᏸ (yell, ᏰᏢ)||/jɪ/ Ᏹ (yeet, ᏱᎢᏘ)||/jɔ/ Ᏺ (yolk, ᏲᎧ)||/jʊ/ Ᏻ (use, ᏳᏍ)||.||/j/ Ᏼ (hey, ᎮᏴ)|
Order of learning
- – series
- P W M D T G N S C R L H W Y series
- B F V DH TH K NG Z SH ZH J series
Numerals are based on select Cherokee letters representing the English pronunciations and are differentiated from normal letter sequences using the combining macron below diacritic ̱.
- 1 – Ꮹ̱ (from /wan/ ᏩᏅ)
- 2 – Ꮪ̱ (from /tʊ/ Ꮪ̣)
- 3 – Ꮅ̱ (from 2nd syllable of /θɹɪ/ Ꮨ̤Ꮅ)
- 4 – Ꮙ̱ (from /fɔɹ/ Ꮙ̤Ꮈ)
- 5 – Ꮖ̱ (from /faɪv/ Ꮖ̤ᎢᏮ̣)
- 6 – Ꮟ̱ (from /sɪks/ ᏏᎧᏍ)
- 7 – Ꮜ̱ (originally from /sɛvən/ ᏎᏮ̣ᎥᏅ, except that /sɛ/ Ꮞ was changed to /sa/ Ꮜ since /sɛ/ looks too much like the numeral 4)
- 8 – Ꭱ̱ (from /eɪt/ ᎡᎢᏘ)
- 9 – Ꮎ̱ (from /naɪn/ ᎾᎢᏅ)
- 0 – Ꮆ̱ (from 2nd syllable of /zɪroʊ/ Ꮟ̣ᎶᎤ)
For example, ‘1’ is Ꮹ̱, and 2019/07/20 is Ꮪ̱Ꮆ̱Ꮹ̱Ꮎ̱/Ꮜ̱/Ꮪ̱Ꮆ̱.
Syllable structure ᏏᏢᎥᏋ̣ᎥᏢ ᏍᏘᎳᎧᏨᎥᎸ
Letters are arranged linearly, just as Latin does.
E.g. /stɹɐkt/ = ᏍᏘᎳᎧᏘ (literally ‘S’, ‘T’, ‘RA’, ‘K’, ‘T’)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
ᏳᏂᏮ̣ᎥᎸᏒᎥᏢ ᏗᎧᏝᎥᎴᎢᏒ̤ᎥᏅ ᎣᏋ̤ ᎯᎤᎽᎥᏅ ᎳᎢᏘᏍ
ᎣᏢ ᎯᎤᎽᎥᏅ Ꮘ̣ᎢᎿᏍ ᎠᎸ Ꮙ̣ᎸᏅ Ꮛ̤ᎵᎢ ᎠᎥᏅᏛ ᎢᎫ̣ᎥᏢ ᎢᏅ ᏗᎬᏂᏗ̣ ᎠᎥᏅᏛ ᎳᎢᏘᏍ. Ꮥ̤Ꭲ ᎠᎸ ᎡᏅᏓᎤᏛ ᏫᏘ̤ ᎵᎢᏒ̣ᎥᏅ ᎠᎥᏅᏛ Ꭺ̣ᏅᏒ̤ᎥᏅᏍ ᎠᎥᏅᏛ Ꮡ̤Ꮫ ᎠᎥᎧᏘ Ꮩ̣ᎤᏮᎥᎸᏛᏍ ᏩᏅ ᎥᎾᏜᎥᎸ ᎢᏅ Ꭵ ᏍᏈᎵᏘ ᎣᏋ̤ Ꮛ̣ᎳᏜᎥᎸᎱᏛ.
(ᎠᎸᏗ̣ᎧᎥᏢ Ꮹ̱ ᎣᏋ̤ ᏜᎥ ᏳᏂᏮ̣ᎥᎸᏒᎥᏢ ᏗᎧᏝᎥᎴᎢᏒ̤ᎥᏅ ᎣᏋ̤ ᎯᎤᎽᎥᏅ ᎳᎢᏘᏍ)
Excerpt from a short story I wrote a while ago
For comparison, you can view the original one here.
ᎠᎢ ᎭᎥᏛ Ꭵ ᏍᏘᎴᎢᏅᏨ̣ ᏛᎵᎢᎽ Ꮣ̤ᎥᏘ ᎾᎢᏘ.
ᎢᏅ Ꮣ̤ᎥᏘ ᏛᎵᎢᎽ, ᎠᎢ Ꮖ̤ᎤᏅᏛ ᎹᎢᏎᏢᏋ̤ ᎥᏪᎢᎧᎥᏂᎿ, ᏝᎢᎢᎿ ᎣᏅ ᏐᏋ̤Ꮨ ᎬᎵᎢᏅ ᎬᎳᏍ, ᎢᏅ Ꭵ Ꮖ̤ᎥᏅᏘᎥᏏ Ꭱ̱-Ꮘ̣Ꮨ ᏮᎥᎸᏢᏛ ᏒᎥᎳᎤᏅᏛᎥᏛ Ꮖ̣Ꭲ Ꭺ̣ᎽᏈᎤᏘᎥᎸᏍ. ᏜᎥ ᏡᎻᏅᎥᏅᏍ ᎣᏋ̤ Ꮛ̣ᏟᎿᎩ̣Ꮏ ᎼᎤᏕᎽᏍ ᎠᎥᏅᏛ ᏬᎣᎽ, ᏥᎥᎸᏊ̤Ꮲ ᏥᏋᏗ̣ᎤᏅ ᎻᎤᏏ̣Ꭷ Ꮘ̤ᏢᏛ Ꮧ̤ ᎡᎸ. ᎣᏢᏙ̤Ꭴ ᎡᏮ̣ᎵᏟ̤Ꮏ ᏡᎧᏛ Ꮛ̣ᏠᎩ̣Ꭲ ᎠᎥᏅᏛ ᏍᎧᏪᎸ, ᎢᏘ Ꮛ̣ᎶᏘ Ꮋ Ꮖ̣ᎥᎧ Ꮪ̣ Ꮩ̤ᎤᏍ̣ ᏕᎢᏍ. ᎣᏋ̤ ᎣᏢ ᏜᎥ Ꭺ̣ᎽᏈᎤᏘᎥᎸᏍ ᎠᎢ ᏐᎣ, Ꮹ̱ ᎣᏋ̤ Ꮥ̤Ꮍ ᏮᎥᏍ ᏋᏞᎢᎢᎿ ᎹᎢ Ꮗ̤ᎢᏮ̣ᎥᎸᎥᏘ ᏐᎿ! ᎠᎢ Ꮳ̣ᎽᏋ ᎠᎥᏅᏛ ᏟᎢᏋ ᎢᏅ Ꮶ̣Ꭲ ᎣᎤᏮ̣ᎥᎸ ᏜᎥ ᏌᎢᏘ. ᎠᎢ Ꮥ̤Ꮕ ᏐᎣ ᎹᎢ ᎭᎤᏍ, ᎠᎥᏅᏛ ᎠᎢ ᏎᏛ “ᎭᎢ” Ꮪ̣ ᎹᎢ Ꮗ̣ᏍᏘ ᎺᎢᏘᏍ, Ꮁ ᏮᎥᎸ ᏪᎢᏗ̣Ꮏ ᎠᎤᏘᏌᎢᏛ. Ꮻ ᏬᎣᎧᏛ Ꮪ̣ᎨᏜᎥᎸ, ᎭᎥᏫ̣Ꮏ Ꭵ ᏥᎥᎵ ᏣᎥᏘ ᎥᏆ̣ᎤᏘ ᏜᎥ Ꭺ̣ᎽᏈᎤᏘᎥᎸ ᎨᎢᎽ ᎠᎢ ᏮᎥᏍ ᏮᎥᎸᎩ̣Ꮏ ᎣᏅ ᎥᎸᏟᎥᎸ.
“ᏐᎤ ᏩᏘᏍ Ꮣ̤ᎥᏘ Ꭻ̣Ꮲ ᎨᎢᎽ ᎪᎾ Ꮘ̣ ᎥᏆ̣ᎤᏘ, ᎡᎢ?” ᏩᏅ ᎣᏋ̤ Ꮥ̤Ꮍ ᎠᏍᎧᏛ.
“ᎢᏋ̤ Ᏻ ᏢᎥᏮ̣Ꮫ ᎹᎵᎣᎤ, ᏳᏢ ᏢᎥᏮ̣ Ꮧ̤Ꮝ!” ᎠᎢ ᏎᏛ.
“ᎣᎣᏒᎥᎽ!!! Ꭶ̣ᏅᏘ ᏪᎢᏘ Ꮪ̣ ᏏᎢ ᎢᏘ!” ᎢᏅᏌᎢᏛ ᎻᎢ ᏜᎥ Ꮖ̤ᎢᎥᎸ Ꮪ̣ Ꭹ̣ᎢᏋ ᎻᎢ ᎪᎤᎢᎿ Ꮘ̣Ꭸ̣ᎢᎽ ᏍᏘᎶᎿᎬᎥᎸ.
Ꮻ ᏬᎣᎧᏛ ᎢᏅᏚ̣ Ꭵ Ꮻ̣Ꮻ̣Ꮫ ᏌᏅᏎᏘ. ᎠᎢ ᎴᎻᏂᏍᏛ ᏜᎥ ᎺᎼᎵᏍ ᎣᏋ̤ ᏆᏍᏘ ᏌᎽᎥᎸᏍ, ᏋᏞᎢᎢᎿ ᎴᏘᎶᎤ Ꮻ̣ᏗᎣᎤ ᎨᎢᎽᏍ ᎢᏅ ᏜᎥ Ꭻ̣Ꮲ Ꮞ̤ᎢᏛ, ᎢᏮ̣ᎥᏅ Ꮩ̤Ꭴ ᏜᎥ ᏌᏅ ᎠᎤᏘᏌᎢᏛ ᏈᎢᎧᏛ ᎠᎥᏘ Ꮙ̱Ꮪ̱ ᏗᎬᎵᎢᏍ ᎠᎥᏅᏛ ᎺᏢᏘᎥᏛ ᎡᏮ̣ᎵᏟ̤Ꮏ ᎡᏢᏍ.