|Cherokee became a distinct language
about thirty-five hundred years ago. It is most closely related to the
Iroquoian languages spoken today by members of the Mohawk, Oneida,
Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora communities of New York and
Ontario. Cherokee is also related to a number of Iroquoian languages
that became extinct during the historic period.
The Cherokee writing system was devised by Sequoyah, the only person in recorded history to accomplish such a task without first being literate in at least one language. Seventy-eight of the eighty-five symbols in written Cherokee represent consonant-vowel combinations; the remainder represent the six vowels and the consonant s.
Cherokee has a relatively small inventory of sounds, with only seventeen meaningful units—eleven consonants and six vowels. In addition, two prosodic features, vowel length and pitch accent, also affect meaning. The absence of bilabial stops and of labio-dental spirants (f and v sounds) leaves the bilabial nasal m sound as the only consonant requiring lip articulation. The m sound has very limited distribution, occurring in fewer than ten aboriginal words. All of these are uninflected nouns with uncertain etymologies, suggesting that the m sound is a relatively recent addition to Cherokee. As a result, Cherokee does not have the staccato sound of English or German. All other meaningful units of sound, or phonemes, constitute regularly occurring correspondences with sounds of other Iroquoian languages.
(C) 2004 - All Rights Reserved.