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     Cherokee talking leaves

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The talking leaves of the Cherokee: 1821 - 1828

The magic of writing is encapsulated in an achievement of the Cherokee Indians of north America. In the early 19th century, recognizing the advantage that writing brings to the white Americans, they resolve to acquire the same benefit for their own people.

They analyze the spoken sounds of the Cherokee language and decide that it consists of eighty-six identifiable syllables. A symbol is selected for each syllable - by adapting letters in the English alphabet, and perhaps also by borrowing from fragments of Greek and Hebrew in the books distributed by missionaries.


Traditionally this exacting task has been said to be the work of Sequoyah (the illiterate son of a British trader and a Cherokee woman), helped only by his daughter. More recently it has been suggested that others invented the system and that Sequoyah's main contribution was in popularizing it. Whatever the precise detail, the achievement is an even more striking example of what Ulfilas did for the Goths in the 4th century.

Written Cherokee, described as 'talking leaves', becomes accepted with a rapidity which testifies both to the magic of writing and to the persuasive powers of Sequoyah. The system is completed in 1821. The first issue of the Cherokee Phoenix, written in the syllables, is dated 21 February 1828.


This History is as yet incomplete.


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