One way ᏍᏏᏉᏯ /Sequoyah/ went about convincing Cherokees to adopt the syllabary was to write letters to friends who had removed to the Arkansas territory in the mid 1820's. When his friends replied to him using the syllabary, all doubts about its usefulness were laid to rest. Cherokees, without mass education and print, became fluent in reading and writing using the 86-character syllabary within three years. Sequoyah's invention provided an immediate and lasting decolonial alternative to the imperialist imperative of alphabetic writing — the more Cherokee writing traveled across distances, the more value it accrued, and the more it secured a lasting legacy of Cherokee story, history, and language.
Traveling, translanguaging, migrating, organically growing and restoring— these longstanding and ongoing movements of language and literacy and the circulations of value that accrue (or do not accrue) from these movements reveal the global forces still shaping languages and literacies in people’s lives and communities. The outstanding articles in this, the inaugural issue of Mary Juzwik's and my editorship of Research in the Teaching of English, collectively testify to readers’ and writers’ ongoing struggles to achieve, make meaning, rewrite histories, and realize hope in everyday acts of linguistic perseverance.
Click here to read more from the introduction to this issue.
Click here to receive a complimentary copy of Vicki Purcell Gates's article.
Many thanks to the tremendous authors, reviewers, the RTE team, and the NCTE team for all you've done to make this first issue possible.
Presented to the Cherokee tribal council in 1821, Sequoyah's invention of this 86 character writing system is what Walter Mignolo might call epistemic de-linking. When it was invented in longhand, none of the characters resembled alphabetic characters (click on the image to check out the longhand characters on the left side of each cell).
Sequoyah seems to have understood the power of writing in the alphabet. He had seen letters, books, the bible, and had signed a treaty all before finalizing his creation. Interviews with him and second-hand accounts from relatives revealed that he had tried out a number of symbolic systems before he settled on the syllabary as we know it.
From the jump, Sequoyah ruptured the colonial work of literacy, that is, reading and writing with the letter to show you're learned and civilized. He developed a completely unique writing system that works in and on Cherokee language and logics. “One strategy of de-linking is to de-naturalize concepts and conceptual fields that totalize A reality” (Mignolo Delinking 459). Because it was intentionally made without reference to the alphabet, along the instrumental logics of Cherokee designs and language, the invention of the Cherokee syllabary denaturalized the concept of literacy— it's no longer just about the letter.
Despite the tremendous pressure at the time to adopt western writing and/or alphabetic orthographies for writing native languages, Sequoyah single-highhandedly ruptured the conceptual fields of civilization, humanity, and knowledge associated with what it means to be literate, "lettered," as in knowledgeble and learned. Ironically, when the tribe was said to have learned the new script in 3 years, they were widely praised as newly 'litearte,' (thus civilized), even though they were writing in characters and reading and writing Sequoyan.
His invention was the initial rupture that changed the terms of the conversation about what it meant, indeed what it means, to be literate. It's only fitting that the first entry for this blog be about such an important American Indian activist and change agent in American history.
Models of change, change agents, teaching, learning, expressive tools, and everyday struggles for dignity, resources, respect, and cultural perseverance.