The Cherokee language
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Excerpt about the Cherokee language from the documentary Voices of North Carolina, produced by Neal Hutcheson and the North Carolina Language and Life Project.
This video is one in a series that also includes:
- African American English
- Dialect in Southern cities
- Lumbee English 1
- Lumbee English 2
- Mountain Talk
- Outer Banks English
- Spanish and English in the American South
- [Singing in Cherokee]
- Narrator (00:29)
- The isolation that contributed to the formation of some mountain dialects also helped Native Americans preserve their heritage in the rising tide of European culture.
- Mandy Swimmer (00:39)
- [Speaks Cherokee] It talks about where the Indians used to use a cloth to make a medicine, when they used to use — They had to have a cloth to put their medicine on. And that’s what he’s talking about on that song.
I’m going to set it right here. This is ** my frog bowl. [Speaks Cherokee] That’s “I was making pottery.”
- Herman Wachacha (01:31)
- And my name in its Cherokee language: *Maga-wod-again* [Speaks Cherokee] “I’m alright.” [Speaks Cherokee] “I worked all time.” And that’s the Cherokee language right there. [Speaks Cherokee] “I’ll see you again.”
- Albert Welch (01:52)
- My youngest one, he, that’s all he knew when he first talked, is Cherokee, and he picked up English from these other kids before he even started school.
- Mandy Swimmer (02:03)
- I speak all the time, I don’t care if they didn’t understand me, I get after them if I speak English, I said I always tell them, I speak in Cherokee.
- Albert Welch (02:13)
- Well I use Cherokee anytime I’m talking to a Cherokee, it don’t matter where it’s at. I’d rather talk Cherokee than English. [Singing in Cherokee]
- Mandy Swimmer (02:40)
- Now me and my grandchildren, I talk to them in Cherokee, and I name them with Cherokee names myself so I can call them. They name these babies so hard names, I ain’t never heard in my life. And I can’t say their names, so I just name them myself an Indian name. Well that’s the way it was anyway long time ago, they had the name of an Indian name. Now they don’t even know what their Indian name is.
- Narrator (03:19)
- Prior to colonization, that area that would become North Carolina was home to numerous native language groups, including Iroquoian, Algonquian, and Siouxan language families. In 1870, the United States government established mandatory boarding schools for Indians across the country. Young Indians were forced to live apart from their parents in the federal schools. Their hair was cut, their clothes were replaced by school uniforms, and the use of their native language was punished severely. All of these children were assigned new English names.
- Myrtle Driver (04:14)
- They wanted to civilize us, I suppose. They were punished for being — for speaking Cherokee, so I think that was when it became endangered. Of course, you know, we feel the effects of it now because there are so many that don’t speak the language.
- Bo Parris (04:37)
- Every time someone that spoke Cherokee dies — there’s been quite a few more and more, as I get older, makes me feel kind of bad. So now, we use it some here, not like we did. We only have one preacher that could preach Cherokee without any English, only one left. We had two, and one died a few months ago.
- Mandy Swimmer (05:01)
- They did speak in Cherokee, mostly all of them, way back when I was growing up. There weren’t too many people that speak in English, just a few of them. And you’d go to the home, they’d all speak in Cherokee, everywhere you went. And now, you can’t go nowheres, and they’d say, “I don’t know how to speak it.”
- Cherokee language is almost gone, there’s probably less than 300 Cherokees that speak fluent Cherokee, you know. When I was a kid, I was very much aware of that cadence in the craft shops. I worked in the craft shops down there from the time I was fourteen — it was probably against the law — clear up to when I graduated college. I’d go back in the summer and work down there in the summer, when I was in college. There’s an awful lot of fake Cherokees now. Guys making a good living pretending to be Cherokees, really extroverted show people. You can usually identify a fake Cherokee by his name. If it’s a beautiful name: Floating Eagle Feather, you know, Snow Bear, beware, beware, beware. Because the Cherokee names, there are some colorful ones, but what you hear more often is *Tu-Nai,* Crow, Big Meat, Smoker, Stomper, Swimmer, that don’t have the drama that people like in a colorful… People like Princess Pale Moon: Uh-oh, look out! Of course there’s a genuine effort in Cherokee to give you the true Cherokees, but lots of time tourists aren’t interested in that, they want bloody tomahawks and scalping, they want what they’re accustomed too. They want to see Deer Slayer right there on Main Street. If you tell them that the Cherokees were sophisticated, agrarian, they raised cotton, they had their own alphabet, syllabary, their own newspaper, back in the 1820s, they get bored, that’s not really what they want. It’s not the image they want.
- Jean Bushyhead (07:31)
- The Cherokee culture and language will survive because of the great emphasis that has been going on for the last five or six years. And I think that we are getting to the children at the right time. And that is birth on. Language is culture and culture is language.
- Myrtle Driver (08:04)
- That’s who we are. Our language is who we are. Once you start learning the language, it branches out to all other areas. History, culture, traditions. So when they’re learning the language they’re learning everything about the Cherokee people as well.
- Beth Bolden (08:22)
- Not many of us can fully say things like the older people can, but we’re learning, which makes it better.
- Harley Young (08:32)
- Not many people can say they have, they can speak two different languages, especially a Native American language, and I think it’s pretty cool that we — that that’s our heritage. We’re learning our heritage.
- Pat Smith (08:48)
- And like, no offense, but if you see like white people, and stuff we can talk to each other about them and they won’t know. I don’t know, it just kind of feels good to have our own language that nobody else can understand. [Singing in Cherokee]
- Harley Young (09:21)
- All our elders know it, but if we don’t learn it —
- Beth Bolden (09:25)
- And they’re gone, then it’s going to be gone
- Harley Young (09:27)
- Nobody knows it. So if we don’t learn it, nobody know it, and it’s like our heritage is gone. [Singing in Cherokee]
- Bo Parris (09:44)
- We’ve got some here yet, that speak Cherokee, in the 40s and 50s. No kids that speak Cherokee. But they’re learning. They sing. The kids catch on quick.