Okla. A visit by linguist Michael Everson of Dublin, Ireland,
in September set in motion an effort to revisit and study Cherokee
linguist Sequoyah's numeric system.
During his visit, Everson met with Cherokee linguists and other
language specialists to discuss making a font for Sequoyah's numeric
system for printing and computers, Cherokee Nation Translation Specialist
John Ross said.
Everson told Ross and other translators that a system would
have to be created before a font could be made. Following Everson's
visit, Ross studied Sequoyah's numeric system and figured it out
in less than two days.
"If somebody really looked at it, it's simple," Ross said.
Like he did when matching sounds spoken in the Cherokee language
with symbols, Sequoyah created unique, single symbols for numbers
1 through 19 and numbers 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100.
So to create the number 31 the symbol for 30 and 1 would be used
together. To create the number 500 the symbol for 5 and 100 would
be used together.
Ross created a symbol for 0 and for 1 billion and 1 trillion.
Sequoyah's system enabled users to create numerals up to 1 million.
Cherokee Language Consortium, comprised of Cherokee speakers from
the CN, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the United Keetoowah
Band, agreed in October to use Sequoyah's numeric system as he wrote
it and to add the symbols Ross created.
"They thought it was pretty neat," Ross said.
Ross said the only reason he found as to why Sequoyah's numeric
system, created in 1830 in Indian Territory, was never used by the
tribe is that some people thought the system was too complicated.
"Really, if you look at it, it's a shortcut. You don't have
to add all those numbers for a million. Like for a billion, you
just have those (three) symbols instead of all those zeros," he
CN Language Technologist Joseph Erb said he believes because
Cherokees were already trading with the French, Spanish and British
when the system was invented, Arabic numbers were used instead of
The way that Cherokees count is how Sequoyah built his system,
"So, it makes more sense in Cherokee. It's a neat system, it's
a very Cherokee system, and it's really nice the translation team
made sure to figure out how it works," he said.
Sequoyah's numbers have been added to the 2013 Cherokee calendar.
Another use for the numeric system would be to teach it to the Cherokee
Language Immersion School students, Ross said.
Ultimately, the goal for Erb and the language technology staff
is to turn the numeric system into fonts, a "slow process," Erb
said, possibly taking two years before the system appears on smart
phones and computer systems.
(numeric system) has to be in the Unicode system, so what will have
to happen is we'll have to figure out how the numbering system works,
and then we'll have to have a paper written for it to be encoded
into the Unicode system," he said.
Unicode enables people around the world to use computers in
any language. The Cherokee numeric system would have to be turned
into a code that computers could read and analyze so the proper
Cherokee font for 12, for instance, is displayed.
After that is done, the coded language must go before the international
Unicode Consortium for approval. If the consortium approves the
code, it's up to computer companies to adopt the new code, Erb said.
The tribe worked with Everson in the 1990s to put the Cherokee
syllabary into code, which was adopted by the Unicode Consortium
in 2000. His main area of expertise is with world writing systems,
specifically in the representation of these systems in formats for
computer and digital media.
"Only few people know how to do this type of work. It's a very
specialty type of work. Michael has done several hundred languages,"
Erb said. "For us in language technology, it's pretty exciting to
see us reintroduce a numbering system, and it will be easy to use.
Our goal is to make it accessible to everybody."
This software is dedicated to the memory of the Ancient Ones who
thought, dreamt, and spoke in the Cherokee language long before
anyone tried to take it away from their descendants. May our continued
use of their beautiful language serve as a constant reminder that
America is built upon the graves of Indians - whose language and
descendants may be found everywhere today.