Cherokee: An Endangered Language

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, Cherokee language, Grammatical number Pages: 6 (1864 words) Published: November 4, 2005
Gerardo Mateos
TA: Vineeta Chand
Lin 1-Sec A06
17 May 2004
Cherokee: An Endangered Language
In the United States, an emphasize in learning the dominant language, English for example, can inevitably put other languages within the country in extinction. In reality, there are many other spoken languages in the United Sates, like those spoken by Native Americans, that are becoming endangered because of the immensity of more used languages. One may ask, what is an endangered language? According to Michael Cahill (Bonvillain), who has studied and researched many different endangered languages around the world, a language is endangered when "it is in fairly eminent danger of dying out." Cahill states two ways to quickly identify when a language is on its way to becoming endangered. One is when the "children in the community do not speak the native language of their parents, and the other is when there are only a small number of people left in the ethnolinguistic community" that know how to speak the language (Bonvillain). In specific, the Cherokee language fits into the category of an endangered language in the United Sates because less and less speakers speak it and because it is taught less often to younger generations as well. Although Cherokee, a language containing its own rules in grammar, morphemes, syntax, and phonetics, was once a language spoken in vast areas around the United States by native peoples, the language struggles to survive albeit historical foreign attack and current domination of other languages such as English. The Cherokee language is spoken today by about fourteen thousand people in western North Carolina and northeastern Oklahoma. During the period in which American natives faced European invasion, three major dialects were recognized (Power Source). These dialects matched to the three main geographical divisions of the Cherokee Nation: "The Lower or Elati dialect was spoken in what is now northwestern South Carolina and the adjacent area of Georgia. The Middle or Kituhwa dialect was spoken in most of western North Carolina" (Cherokee Nation). The Overhill or Otali dialect was spoken in all the towns of East Tennessee and in the towns along the Hiwassee and Cheowa Rivers in North Carolina, as well as in northeastern Alabama and northwestern Georgia during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As a result, Cherokee became a distinct language, about thirty-five hundred years ago, spoken by different natives unified by the Cherokee language. It is why Cherokee is most closely related and forms a family with other native languages like the Iroquoian languages spoken today by members of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora communities of New York and Ontario. It is also related to a number of Iroquoian languages that became extinct during the historic period. Even with the "great temporal and spatial separation between Cherokee and the other Iroquoian languages, they do share some common features that led writers, as early as the eighteenth century, to suggest ‘intrafamilial' relationships," however, there are certain linguistic differences that sets Cherokee apart from other languages (Power Source). For example, Cherokee has a relatively small inventory of sounds, with only seventeen meaningful units—eleven consonants and six vowels. In addition, "two prosodic features, meaning vowel length and pitch accent, also affect meaning" (Native Languages). The absence of "bilabial stops and of labio-dental spirants (f and v sounds for example) leaves the bilabial nasal m sound as the only consonant requiring lip articulation" (Native Languages). The m sound is limited, it is only evident in fewer than ten aboriginal words. All of these are nouns with uncertain etymologies, which suggest that the m sound can be 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,...

Cited: Berry, Christina. "Culture Feature: Cherokee." All Things Cherokee. 2003. 13 April 2004
Masters, Ken. "Language and Songs." Cherokee Images: Tribal Art. 1996-2004. 22 February
2004 <>.
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