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About the Cherokee Syllabary

The Cherokee alphabet is written in the form of a syllabary. Unlike a traditional alphabet, where each letter represents a single sound, a syllabary is a form of writing in which each letter in a word stands for a whole syllable (such as "ga" ) instead of a single letter (such as "g"). With the exception of the letter "s," Cherokee is a complete syllabary.

The Cherokee syllabary consists of 83 of these characters as shown below.

In the columns below, the Cherokee symbol appears to the immediate left of its English phonetic representation. It is this English phonetic form that most people see that cannot read the cherokee characters, mostly non CXherokee speaking people. it is also used whenever the Cherokee font is not available.

Cherokee Syllabary Pronunciation Key

Almost all Cherokee syllables end in a vowel. When using the syllabary, Cherokee words can almost always be spelled as they are pronounced. Spelling sometimes varies when using English letters to interpret the syllables.

The Cherokee language uses the following English consonants: d g h k l m n q s t w

The following English consonants do not exixt in the Cherokee language: b f p r* t v x z.

*The Eastern or lower dialect which is now extinct used a rolling "r", which took the place of the "l" of the other dialects.

A beginning speaker should try keep the lips still, mouth slightly opened, pressing the tongue against the lower teeth.

Syallables beginning with "g" except (ga) are pronounced almost as in English, but approaching a (k).

Syllables beginning with "d" are pronounced almost as in English, but approaching to (t); do, du , dv are sounded as to, tu, tv in some words.

Syllables written with (ti) except (tla) sometimes vary to "di". The syllables "do, du, dv " are sometimes sounded "to, tu, tv."

The syllables qua, que, qui, quo, quu, quv are pronounced with a "kw" sound before each vowel.

The syllables dla, tla, tle, tli, tlo, tlu, tlv are pronounced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth and bringing it down as the syllables are spoken. The syllables written with "tl" except "tla" sometimes are pronounced "dl".

The syllables tsa, tse, tsi, tso, tsu, tsv are pronounced a little differently depending upon the dialect. In Western Cherokee the syllables are usually pronounced as the "j" in jaw. Remember to try to keep the tongue at the bottom of the mouth, touching the bottom teeth and the "j" sound becomes softer.

At times, Cherokee syllables have unvoiced or silent vowels. At times the silent vowel may be indicated with an apostrophe as in the number seven, "ga l' quo gi" - or indicated by brackets "ga (li) quo gi." When this happens the consonant in that syllable is pronounced with the preceding syllable, "gal quo gi."

Vowel Sounds

a, as a in father, or short as a in rival
e, as a in hate, or short as e in met
i, as i in pique, or short as i in pit
o, as o in note, approaching aw as in law
u, as oo in fool, or short as u in pull
v, as u in but, nasalized


In addition to the vowels, there are a number of other symbols that effect the pronounciation of some words: