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Writing, the Cherokee Syllabary, and the nature of Language Richard A. Rhodes University of California Berkeley.

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Presentation on theme: "Writing, the Cherokee Syllabary, and the nature of Language Richard A. Rhodes University of California Berkeley."— Presentation transcript:

1 Writing, the Cherokee Syllabary, and the nature of Language Richard A. Rhodes University of California Berkeley

2 Cherokee Writing The first decades of the 19th century were a time of great social change for the Cherokee nation. They were located in what is now western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. The tribe was under pressure from the United States to relocate from their traditional homeland and move west of the Mississippi.

3 Cherokee Writing There were significant social changes among the Cherokees, adapting to white pressures on their culture. In the 1820’s a remarkable thing happened in the Cherokee tribe.

4 Cherokee Writing In 1821 an illiterate Cherokee man introduced a writing system for the Cherokee language. Once the initial sketicism of Cherokee leaders was overcome, the use of the writing system spread quickly and widely.

5 Cherokee Writing By 1824 most Cherokee could read the system. Currently ca. 10,000 of 15,000 Cherokee speakers use the system.

6 Cherokee Writing The man’s English name was George Guess or Gist. But he is better known by his Cherokee name, Sequoyah. He had an English name because he had a white ancestor. He was raised as Cherokee and didn’t speak any English.

7 Cherokee Writing Sequoyah was a silversmith by trade. In 1809, he became obsessed with the idea of “talking leaves”. Paper with writing on it. He had seen whitemen’s writing but he didn’t speak English, so couldn’t read at all.

8 Cherokee Writing Neglecting other responsibilities, Sequoyah experimented with developing a writing system. He began with the idea that there should be a symbol for each word. The immensity of the task, that there were thousands of words, convinced him that another approach needed to be found.

9 Cherokee Writing Eventually he settled on a system which has a distinct symbol for each combination of a consonant with a following vowel. Such a system is called a SYLLABARY. For example,... càlàki: ‘Cherokee’ [dzàlàgi:] = ca, = la, = ki

10 Cherokee Writing Cherokee has six vowels and thirteen consonants. Vowels: i e a o u ə ə is a nasal vowel, like the vowels in uh-huh Consonants: t k kw c tl s m n l w y h ʔ This should add up to 78 symbols. But the combination m ə doesn’t exist So, 77 symbols

11 Cherokee Writing Cherokee has six vowels and thirteen consonants. Vowels: i e a o u ə ə is a nasal vowel, like the vowels in uh-huh Consonants: t k kw c tl s m n l w y h ʔ This should add up to 78 symbols. But the combination m ə doesn’t exist So, 77 symbols

12 Cherokee Writing However, the Cherokee syllabary has 85 symbols.

13 Cherokee Writing

14 However, the Cherokee syllabary has 85 symbols. The extra symbols: Some common consonant clusters have their own symbols: thi the tha, kha, hna, tlha there is a letter for the syllable nah and there is a letter for the single consonant s

15 Cherokee Writing The Cherokee syllabary doesn’t match the sound structure of the language exactly. Not only does the syllabary have “excess” symbols there are crucial features of Cherokee pronunciation which the syllabary doesn’t distinguish.

16 Cherokee Writing Most instances of h after a consonant. Sounds to English speakers like the difference between t and d or k and g. hatəə̀ka‘you did it’ hathəə̀ka‘you hung it up’ Length in vowels cikowhthíha‘I see it’ ciikowhthíha‘I see him/her.’

17 Cherokee Writing Tone kiihla‘dog’ (low tone on a long vowel) kiíka‘blood’ (rising tone on a long vowel) akíína‘young’ (high tone on a long vowel)

18 Cherokee Writing Some syllable final consonants are written as whole syllables tehlkə́ə́ ʔ i ‘tree’ as if it were tehlukə́ə́ Syllable final glottal stops aren’t written at all. ata‘wood’ á ʔ ta ‘young animal’

19 Cherokee Writing The Cherokee syllabary doesn’t completely match the sound structure of the language. But the important fact is it works well enough.

20 Writing Systems It turns out that significant problems in successful writing systems are common... Hebrew and Arabic barely write any vowels at all. Haaretz (a major Israeli newspaper) ‘The World’ ה = /h/,א = / ʔ /, ר = /r/, ץ = (word final)צ = tz

21 Writing Systems It turns out that significant problems in successful writing systems are common... French and English have spellings that are based on pronunciations that are so archaic as to be unrecognizable. eau ‘water’ = 14th cent. French /e ɑ w/ lake = 15th cent. English /l ɑ :kə/

22 Writing Systems It turns out that significant problems in successful writing systems are common... Japanese writing uses a huge character set for the words that bear most of the meaning and supplements it with, not one but two, syllabaries to deal with things that have no corresponding characters. kanji (borrowed Chinese characters, 2000 in common use, 6000 counting technical terms) hiragana (for native Japanese words not covered by kanji, and for grammatical uses, like the endings of verbs) katakana (for foreign words and for emphasis ≈ italics)

23 Writing Systems The reason that flawed writing systems are nonetheless successful tells us a lot about nature of writing and about language in general.

24 Properties of Language Language is highly redundant. The estimate is about 50% Steven Pinker: “Thanks to the redundancy of language, yxx cxn xndxrstxnd whxt x xm wrxtxng xvxn xf x rxplxcx xll thx vxwxls wxth xn "x" (t gts lttl hrdr f y dn't vn kn whr th vwls r)”.

25 Properties of Language Redundancy is what makes it possible for children to learn language.... for people to communicate in noisy environments.... for people to be able to complete one another’s sentences.... for writing systems, even bad ones, to be adequate.

26 Properties of Language But the fact that language is highly redundant belies a deeper truth one that is more relevant to the profession of writing. Language is at the same time information poor. Typically much more information is communicated than is spelled out in the words of the communication.

27 Properties of Language The folk theory is that language is a coding of thought that transfers meaning from one person to another. That’s how we talk about it. He’s having trouble putting it into words. She’s good at getting her ideas across. I don’t get your meaning. Even many beginning linguistics texts have some version of this view.

28 Properties of Language It turns out that the encoding view of language is simply a metaphor. What really happens is much more complicated, and it crucially depends on shared knowledge.

29 Properties of Language Excerpt from a column by Dave Barry, Sunday, July 17, 1994 Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph As executive director of the Bureau of Consumer Alarm, I am always on the alert for news stories that involve two key elements: 1. Fire 2. Barbie

30 Properties of Language So I was very interested when alert reader Michael Robinson sent me a column titled “Ask Jack Sunn” from the Dec. 13, 1993, issue of the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger. Here’s an excerpt from a consumer’s letter to this column, which I am not making up:

31 Properties of Language “Last year, my two daughters received presents of two Rollerblade Barbie dolls by Mattel. On March 8, my 8-year-old daughter was playing beauty shop with her 4-year-old brother. After spraying him with hair spray, the children began to play with the boot to Rollerblade Barbie. My little girl innocently ran the skate across her brother’s bottom, which immediately ignited his clothes.”

32 Properties of Language The letter adds that “There are no warnings concerning fire on these toys... I feel the need to warn potential buyers of their danger.” In his response, Jack Sunn says, cryptically, that “Mattel does not manufacture Rollerblade Barbie any more.” He does not address the critical question that the consumer’s letter raised in my mind, as I’m sure it did yours, namely: Huh?

33 Properties of Language I realized that the only way to answer this question was to conduct a scientific experiment.... The problem was that I did not have a Rollerblade Barbie.

34 Properties of Language The segue from scientific experiment to I did not have a Rollerblade Barbie seems completely natural. But what if I ask you to explain WHY it’s natural. What information do you have to appeal to, even though it is unstated?

35 Frames What is an experiment? What does performing an experiment entail? The complex conceptual structures evoked by terms like experiment are called FRAMES. Do not confuse the technical term frame, a potentially quite complex cognitive entity, with the general use of the term as in... This is how he framed the discussion.

36 Frames Much of the way we communicate involves referencing frames. Frames often entail cultural or technical knowledge. restaurant bus commercial transaction Frames allow us kinds of “shorthand”. Make conventional mention of a frame and all the parts become “available”.

37 Frames What things are needed for Dave Barry’s experiment? clothes hairspray Rollerblade Barbie There is a reasonable expectation that he will have access to clothes and hairspray, but not to a Rollerblade Barbie. Hence he gets to go directly from experiment to Rollerblade Barbie. (http://www-cs- students.stanford.edu/~hansell/humor/rollerblade.barbie)

38 Scripts Most social actions are structured into “scripts”: Simple friendly encounter greeting, niceties, discussion, leave taking Meeting call to order, approval of agenda, minutes, old business, new business, adjourn. Commercial interaction request to purchase, agreement on price, payment, transfer of ownership (Term SCRIPT due to Schank and Abelson 1975, cf. Pike 1967) Scripts are parts of frames. Many scripts have linguistic and non-linguistic parts.

39 Scripts Most social actions are structured into “scripts”: Simple friendly encounter greeting, niceties, discussion, leave taking Meeting call to order, approval of agenda, minutes, old business, new business, adjourn. Commercial interaction request to purchase, agreement on price, payment, transfer of ownership (Term SCRIPT due to Schank and Abelson 1975, cf. Pike 1967) Scripts are parts of frames. Many scripts have linguistic and non-linguistic parts.

40 Scripts Most social actions are structured into “scripts”: Simple friendly encounter greeting, niceties, discussion, leave taking Meeting call to order, approval of agenda, minutes, old business, new business, adjourn. Commercial interaction request to purchase, agreement on price, payment, transfer of ownership (Term SCRIPT due to Schank and Abelson 1975, cf. Pike 1967) Scripts are parts of frames. Many scripts have linguistic and non-linguistic parts.

41 Scripts Most social actions are structured into “scripts”: Simple friendly encounter greeting, niceties, discussion, leave taking Meeting call to order, approval of agenda, minutes, old business, new business, adjourn. Commercial interaction request to purchase, agreement on price, payment, transfer of ownership (Term SCRIPT due to Schank and Abelson 1975, cf. Pike 1967) Scripts are parts of frames. Many scripts have linguistic and non-linguistic parts.

42 Scripts Example of a “script”.

43 Scripts Example of a commercial transaction. Non-linguistic Girl takes candy to the cashier. opening gambit of communicative encounter Non-linguistic Girl places candy on the counter. Cashier:“That it?” [ðæ ˈɪ t 31 ] (almost inaudible) Girl:“Yep.” Non-linguistic Cashier scans package. Cashier:“99 cents.” Non-linguistic Girl pays. Non-linguistic Cashier gives change. closing gambit of communicative encounter Cashier:“Thank you.” Girl:“Thank you.” Cashier:“Ya wanna bag or a receipt?” Girl:“No.” (laughs)

44 Cooperation Communication is crucially cooperative. (Grice)

45 Cooperation Language is underspecified relative to speaker’s intent. Language is largely approximate. Speakers frequently make mistakes but hearers perceive intent. From Crosscurrents (KALW radio, Aug. 15, 2011) SHANKS: Here you can see on the Bay Bridge Project, one of our students that graduated out of the program seven years ago was deigned a superstar of the whole project... [sic] corrected in the transcript to: deemed

46 Cooperation Hearers are expected to contribute to figuring out speakers’ intents. Context provides much of the necessary information. Shared norms are crucially important. (implicit in Grice) In writer’s terms this is judging the audience. Reading is active, not passive. Readers bring their frames to the table.

47 Cooperation It is the job of the writer to activate the appropriate frames in the reader and build new ones. Success as a writer entails doing this intuitively. I hope that this talk has helped bring some of those intuitions to a more conscious level.

48 The End Finis

49 Postmodernism However,... In some kinds of monologic texts, particularly literary texts, the degree of success of the communication is less critical. Misreading Dante has far less serious consequences than misreading DANGER – HIGH VOLTAGE OK, so you might get D in Prof. Botterill’s class but you won’t end up in the hospital or worse.

50 Postmodernism Postmodernists reject the relevance theory view of successful communication. Postmodernists take an extreme relativist position: Texts are essentially ambiguous. The text means whatever it means to the reader. The fact that postmodernism grew out of literary criticism, means it isn’t immediately obvious that it has problems. The meanings examined in literary criticism are second and third order meanings. Ironically, many postmodernists see themselves involved in a larger dialogue intended to renegotiate the structure of society. This is relational communication, which requires interlocutors to understand one another’s intents. Postmodernism is incoherent even for the kind of enterprise they are pursuing.

51 Cherokee Cherokee is one of over 700 Native American languages once spoken in North America at the time of first contact. It belongs to the Iroquoian family... which includes: Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, among others.

52 Language Families Iroquoian is one of 50 Languag e Families in North America


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