Writing, the Cherokee Syllabary, and the nature of Language

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Writing,
the Cherokee Syllabary,
and the nature of Language
Richard A. Rhodes
University of California
Berkeley
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.
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.
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.
Cherokee Writing
•
By 1824 most Cherokee could read the
system.
•
Currently ca. 10,000 of 15,000 Cherokee
speakers use the system.
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.
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.
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.
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, ...
• ᏣᎳᎩ càlàki: ‘Cherokee’ [dzàlàgi:]
Ꮳ = ca, Ꮃ = la, Ꭹ = ki
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
y h ʔ
This should add up to 78 symbols.
But the combination mə doesn’t exist
So, 77 symbols
w
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 mə doesn’t exist
•
So, 77 symbols
Cherokee Writing
•
However, the Cherokee syllabary has
85 symbols.
Cherokee Writing
Cherokee Writing
•
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
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.
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
hathəə̀ka
‘you did it’
‘you hung it up’
ᎭᏛᎦ
ᎭᏛᎦ
‘I see it’
‘I see him/her.’
ᏥᎪᏩᏘᎭ
Length in vowels
•
•
cikowhthíha
ciikowhthíha
ᏥᎪᏩᏘᎭ
Cherokee Writing
•
Tone
•
•
•
(low tone on a long vowel)
kiíka
•
•
ᎩᏟ
kiihla ‘dog’
ᎩᎦ
(rising tone on a long vowel)
akíína
•
‘blood’
‘young’
(high tone on a long vowel)
ᎠᎩᎾ
Cherokee Writing
•
Some syllable final consonants are written as
whole syllables
•
tehlkə́ə́ʔi
•
‘tree’
ᏕᏈᎬ
as if it were tehlukə́ə́
Syllable final glottal stops aren’t written at all.
•
•
•
ata
áʔta
‘wood’
‘young animal’
ᎠᏓ
ᎠᏓ
Cherokee Writing
The Cherokee syllabary doesn’t completely
match the sound structure of the language.
•
•
•
But the important fact is ...
... it works well enough.
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/, ‫( =ץ‬word final) ‫ =צ‬tz
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 /eɑw/
•
lake = 15th cent. English /lɑ:kə/
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)
Writing Systems
•
•
The reason that flawed writing systems are
nonetheless successful tells us a lot about
nature of writing ...
... and about language in general.
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)”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.”
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?
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.
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?
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.
Frames
•
Much of the way we communicate involves
referencing frames.
•
Frames often
knowledge.
•
•
•
•
entail
cultural
or
technical
restaurant
bus
commercial transaction
Frames allow us kinds of “shorthand”.
•
Make conventional mention of a frame and all the parts
become “available”.
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-
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.
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.
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.
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.
Scripts
• Example of a “script”.
QuickTime™ and a
H.264 decompressor
are needed to see this picture.
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?” [ðæˈɪt31] (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:
Girl:
Cashier:
Girl:
“Thank you.”
“Thank you.”
“Ya wanna bag or a receipt?”
“No.” (laughs)
Cooperation
• Communication is crucially cooperative. (Grice)
QuickTime™ and a
decompressor
are needed to see this picture.
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
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.
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.
The End
Finis
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.
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.
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.
Language Families
Iroquoian
is one of
50
Languag
e
Families
in
North
America
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