Cherokee Language: Interesting Facts & Resources

Today we showcase the Cherokee language! We’ve gathered some background information and interesting facts about the language. We also share information on our newest Cherokee children’s books.

Where is Cherokee spoken?

Cherokee, a member of the Iroquoian language family, is spoken by the indigenous, Cherokee Nation of North America. Originating from the southeast region of North America, the largest Cherokee speaking population now lives in a tribal territory in Oklahoma. Altogether, about 2,000 people still speak Cherokee today. 

How is Cherokee being preserved?

In 2019, the Cherokee Nation voted to invest in the preservation of their language and culture. With a $16 million commitment, the Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act is the biggest language investment in the history of the Cherokee Nation. Then, just this past spring, Congress introduced the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2021. This piece of legislation would provide important “health checks” for the preservation and revitalization of native languages in the United States.

Interesting Facts About Cherokee

In its written form, the language uses Cherokee syllabary. This means that in place of an alphabet, Cherokee employs 85 distinct characters. Therefore, each character represents a discrete syllable.

The Cherokee Phoenix is the first newspaper published by Native Americans in the United States. Also, because they printed their newspaper in both English and Cherokee, they became the first newspaper to ever be published in a Native American language.

Cherokee is composed mostly of verbs. While about 25% of all words in the English language are verbs, almost 75% of Cherokee words are verbs.

The Cherokee Nation offers free resources for educators and language learners interested in learning Cherokee.

Cherokee Books – Bilingual Children’s Books

If you interact with children who speak Cherokee, or are learning the language, you may want suggestions on some of the best bilingual children’s books. Language Lizard offers How Totsuwa Became Cherokee, a coming of age story of the Cardinal bird. 

This bilingual children’s book tells the story of how Totsuwa noticed his feathers were turning red. Then, Yona, the old bear, and Kananesgi, the wise spider, help Totsuwa overcome anxiety and fear through courage and action.

The author, Virginia Hamby, is a Cherokee Nation citizen and grew up in a home where only the Cherokee language was spoken. She is proud to speak and maintain her heritage language today.

Are you interested in learning about other languages as well?  Check out our series of posts on world languages, including Oromo, Nepali, Hmong, Russian, and Japanese!

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