Skip navigation

Cherokee Language Story

The Cherokee language itself is calledᏣᎳᎩ (tsalagi) and our Cherokee people today are most commonly called ᎠᏂᏣᎳᎩ (anitsalagi) however long ago the Cherokee people used to go by the name of ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ (anigiduwagi). Today the Cherokee Nation primarily uses the Cherokee language for government business.

ᏣᎳᎩ (Cherokee language) is the sole member of the Southern Iroquoian language family, it is Iroquoian and under the greater Macro-Siouan Language family. ᏣᎳᎩ is polysynthetic, tonal and concrete. The orthography was developed by ᏍᏎᏉᏯ (Sequoyah) from 1809-1823 and was ratified by Cherokee Nation’s council in 1825. Sequoyah was not an English speaker and he could not read or write any written language; his accomplishment was astonishing. He is still remembered with great honor by all the Cherokee people.

ᏣᎳᎩ, like all respective indigenous languages, is the foundation of its people’s cultural identity. We as Cherokees harbor a direct connection to the language through family and community. Even Cherokee citizens that have not had Cherokee speakers in their families for many generations, take note of their last speaking Cherokee speaking relative. Often Cherokees will identify themselves by their own relationship to the closest Cherokee speaker in their family. The traditional beliefs about our language remind us that it is more than communication, but also a way to create and renew reality and the world in which we live.

At this time, among all three Federally recognized Cherokee tribes, there are just under two-thousand first language, fluent Cherokee speakers. However, Cherokee Nation has many more people learning Cherokee as a second language, all with varying levels of proficiency, but there are less than twenty highly proficient Cherokee language learners at this time. The total number of Cherokee members from The Cherokee Nation (The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) is approximately 400,000. That would make our ᏣᎳᎩ language speakers less than .5% of our tribal population, and that .5% is mostly composed of the elderly Cherokee generation.

ᏩᏙ ᏩᏕ (wahde)