Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Tennessee man who created an alphabet from scratch

Who was, so far as we know, the only man to develop an alphabet from scratch?  His name was Sequoyah, and he created the first alphabet for the Cherokee language.  

Sequoyah and other Cherokee people were fascinated that white people could use letters or symbols to read their languages.  The Cherokee termed these marks of the Europeans, "talking leaves".  Isn't that a lovely way to think of the characters of the alphabet?

Sequoyah set out to make a way for the Cherokee people to read and write their own language.  He came up with 86 characters, each of which represents syllable in the Cherokee language.  Some of these symbols were borrowed from Latin, and the alphabet is said to look something like the Roman, Cyrillic, or Greek characters, as well as Arabic numbers. However, any symbols that Sequoyah might have borrowed from other alphabets have their own sound in Cherokee and cannot be sounded out in any other language.

Sequoyah's system  enabled the Cherokee people to read and write their own language, and, using his alphabet, they rapidly became literate.

Sequoyah was born in 1770 in Taskigi, a town of the Cherokee Nation that was near present day Knoxville, Tn.  He died in 1843 in Tamaulipas, Mexico. 


  1. Wow, how interesting! Is this alphabet still taught to the Cherokees? I'd imagine since it's part of their culture, they do teach it to their children, and perhaps, still use it to some degree? Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Cecelia,

    Yes, there are some Cherokee language speakers who can read and use the syllabary that Sequoyah invented today. Some use a modified form of the English alphabet to express Cherokee words because it is easier to type. Of course, all Cherokee now speak English and use our alphabet for English, as well.

    Thanks for commenting!