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  • A North American Indian language, member of the Iroquoian family, spoken by the Cherokee people originally inhabiting Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

  • Spoken by an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Cherokee in north-eastern Oklahoma and some 1000 near the Qualla Reservation in North Carolina.

  • The second most widely used Native American language.

  • One of the few Native American languages that is spreading.

  • Cherokee was one of the first American Indian languages to have a system of writing devised for ita syllabary, so called because each of the graphic symbols represents a syllable.

  • Cherokee, (or Tsalagi, its name in its own language) like most Native American languages, is polysynthetic. As in the case of German or Latin, units of meaning, called morphemes, are linked together and occasionally form very long words. Cherokee verbs, constituting the most important word type, must contain as a minimum a pronominal prefix, a verb root, an aspect suffix, and a modal suffix. For example, the verb form ke:ka, "I am going," has each of these elements. The pronominal prefix is k-, which indicates first person singular. The verb root is -e, "to go." The aspect suffix that this verb employs for the present-tense stem is -k-. The present-tense modal suffix for regular verbs in Cherokee is -a. Verbs can also have prepronominal prefixes, reflexive prefixes, and derivative suffixes. Given all possible combinations of affixes, each regular verb can have 21,262 inflected forms.

  • Cherokee has a robust tonal system in which tones may be combined in various ways, following subtle and complex tonal rules that vary from community to community. While the tonal system is undergoing a gradual simplification in many areas (no doubt as part of Cherokee's often falling victim to second-language status), the tonal system remains extremely important in meaning and is still held strongly by many, especially older speakers. This is called Tone sandhi. It should be noted that the syllabary does not normally display tone, and that real meaning discrepancies are rare within the native-language Cherokee-speaking community. The same goes for transliterated Cherokee ("osiyo," "dohitsu," etc.), which is rarely written with any tone markers, except in dictionaries. Native speakers can tell the difference between tone-distinguished words by context.

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