ᏍᏏᏉᏯ/Sequoyah/ as a Change Agent
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.
8/14/2013 10:44:03 am
I think that when Albert Gallatin observed a copy of Sequoyah's work in connection with the syllabary, Gallatin reflected on the fact that the syllabary was superior to the English alphabet. I am assuming that Gallatin's observations were not well received by Western anthropologist and linguists at that time...
Interesting. Samuel Worcester also thought it superior to alphabetic orthographies for native languages, though John Pickering was a hard sell. I'm enjoying your blog, BTW, and I admire the courage you're demonstrating in writing it. You've inspired me in this endeavor and many others. Thank you, Felix.
8/16/2013 09:32:16 am
I'm interested in the intersections of art (symbols included) and Sequoyan script. It would be interesting to know if there was art that triggered certain oral speech or song, in the culture. I'd like to know.
6/17/2022 03:19:34 pm
Thanks for a great reaad
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