I wonder what it was like to be Cherokee when the European American settlers first moved into their lands. While the Cherokee cherished their oral traditions, they had no way of writing or reading their own language. When they saw that white settlers recorded ideas and read them back, they called their strange markings, talking leaves. Isn’t that a lovely way to think of an alphabet?
One Cherokee man, Sequoyah aka George Gist, was quick to see the value in creating a system for reading and writing Cherokee. With little encouragement, he labored until he arrived at an alphabet (a syllabary) of 86 characters, each one of which represented a syllable in the Cherokee language.
Some of his characters appear to be borrowed from Latin, and some are similar in look to characters in the Greek, Cyrillic, and Roman alphabets. However, the similarity is in look only; the characters have uniquely Cherokee pronunciations.
The Cherokee adopted Sequoyah’s system, which he completed in 1821. Rapidly, his people became literate. Sequoyah is the only person, so far as we can know, of a preliterate people to develop an effective writing system from scratch.
To unlock the power of the written word for others is a powerful thing.