Your Grandmother's Cherokee

Preserving the Cherokee language, one word at a time.

Cherokee Soap Opera

Native American Man and Woman Eating, 1590. By Theodor de Bry. North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.

On Monday evening, the Cherokee language class made up this story, each person contributing one line.  We call it: Cherokee Soap Opera (in English).  

Asgaya:                       Sgigeyuhasg?

Gutiha! It is snowing!

Snow on cedar tree, photo by Barbara Duncan

Gutiha It Is Snowing

Nogow sgwisda gutiha = Now it is snowing a lot.

Sgwisda untsi = A lot of snow on the ground.

Gohi sunale uwutodi uwalenvhv’i = This morning it began to snow

New Way - Old Words

Cherokee Primer, 1846

As we tried to follow the Cherokee patterns in the Cherokee language, we kept running into two problems.  One was not having the full forms of the words.  (We’ll talk about the second problem a little later in the blog—English.)

The Old Words - written and spoken

Rev. Daniel Butrick and David Brown, A Cherokee Speller, 1819.

These sources have provided lists of Cherokee words.  We compared words, continually checked our hypotheses about the patterns, and verified our results with fluent speakers among the Eastern Band.

English - the other problem, part 1

Map of Britain by Mathew Paris, 13th century

Many people try to teach Cherokee by comparing it to English. This is like using parts from your old Edsel to try to fix your Ferrari. (English being the old Edsel that’s already had parts from different cars rigged up to make it run.

Why has no one seen this? (Or have they?)

Portrait of Stephen Peter DuPonceau by Thomas Sully, 1830

We have asked ourselves this many times, after the patterns of Cherokee became clear. The language seemed so simple, and yet so incredibly beautiful. It was logical and consistent to a degree that scholars today say is impossible.

Message from John Standingdeer

John "Bullet" Standingdeer, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

My dad used to say, water seeks its own level. If you’re lost in the mountains, follow a stream downhill, and it will come to a bigger stream, and will lead you out, because the water finds the best way down the hill. Trails are the same way.


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