Early Cherokee syllabary symbols found in cave

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Sequoyah_commons_imageIn the 1820s, a syllabary of the Cherokee language became widely used. It’s inventor had a birth name of George Gist (or Guess), but by this time went by a Cherokee name pronounced something like Sikwayi or Sogwali, although it is commonly spelled Sequoyah.

John Noble Wilford, in the 22 June New York Times, reports that archaeologist Kenneth B. Tankersley, of the University of Cincinnati, has found fifteen identifiable characters from the syllabary carved into the wall of a cave in southeast Kentucky. Apparently, Sequoyah made several visits to the region, and spent time in the caves seeking inspiration.

These may be the earliest known examples of the syllabary, which Sequoyah may still have been developing. This written language is known as a syllabary because the symbols (analogous to the letters we use in English) represent syllables, not individual sounds. Sequoyah’s Cherokee syllabary has 85 characters.

Read Wilford’s New York Times article “Carvings From Cherokee Script’s Dawn” here.

Read Ted Wadley’s article on Sequoyah in the New Georgia Encyclopedia online here.

Read the Wikipedia entry on the Cherokee syllabary here.

Sequoyah image courtesy WikiMedia Commons, here.