Cherokee Language Lessons

Lee Uwoyeni Billingsley

We say ‘hello’ in Cherokee by saying ‘si-yo.’ (shee-yo) The response is usually ‘si-yo.’
Then it’s usually ‘how are you?’  ‘o-si-gwo-tsu?’ (oh-shee-gwoe-chew?)
The response is usually ‘I’m fine, and you ’ o-si-gwo, ni-hi-na?’ (nee-hee-nah?)
The response is usually ‘o-si-gwo.’ Then one might say ‘what is your name?’:

DO-DE-TSA-DO-A?  (doe-day-dzah-doe-ah?)

The Cherokee language is built out of 85 separate syllables flying around in the air. When we say something in Cherokee, we pull those syllables out of the air & put them in a meaningful order. Each syllable in a Cherokee word carries its own meaning.

DO-DE-TSA-DO-A?  (doe-day-dzah-doe-ah?)
DO   /   DE   /     TSA   /   DO   /   A
Question?/ multiple/ pronoun / verb root/ tense
How?/ often / you / called / are
In Cherokee: How are you often (or usually) called?
In English: What is your name?

The Cherokee speaker changes the meaning of the word by changing syllables before & after the verb root, which here is “DO.’  Change the pronoun from ‘you’ to ‘he’ or ‘she’ by using ‘U’ instead of ‘TSA’ before the verb root. One word in Cherokee carries the meaning of a whole sentence in English when syllables are added like this. 

DO-DU-DO-A? (doe-doo-doe-ah?)
DO   /   D   /   U   /   DO   /    A
question/ multiple/pronoun/verb root/tense
how? /  usually  /  he (she) / called  /  is
In Cherokee: How is he (or she) usually called?
In English: What is his (or her) name?

The Cherokee speaker changes the tense by changing the syllable following the verb root. Use ‘s-gv’ here for past.
DO-DU-DO-S-GV? (doe-doo-doe-skuh?)
In Cherokee: How was he (or she) usually called?
In English: What was his (or her) name?

The Cherokee speaker adds ‘da’ at the beginning, & ends with ‘s-ge-s-di’ to make the future tense here. Notice that ‘du’ becomes ‘tsu’ here (just because it is easier to say ‘tsu’ than to say ‘du,’ or [dee-you] following ‘da.’ )

DO-DA-TSU-DO-S-GE-S-DI (doe-dah-chew-doe-skay-stee?)
DO  /  DA  /  TS  /  U   /   DO   /  S-GE-S-DI
How? /  will  / usually /  he (she) / called  / will be
In Cherokee: How will he (or she) be called?
In English: What will his (or her) name be?

By changing syllables like this, Cherokee speakers can change the meaning of what they are trying to say.
DA-GWA-DO-A (dah-gwah-doe-ah)
My name is ..
DE-TSA-DO-A (day-dzah-doe-ah)
Your name is  ..
DU-DO-A (doo-doe-ah)
His (or her) name is ..
DO-DE-TSA-DO-S-GV? (doe-day-dzah-doe-skuh?)
What was your name?
DA-TSU-DO-S-GE-S-DI (dah-chew-doe-skay-stee)
His (or her) name will be ..

          Each small piece of Cherokee, each syllable, carries its own meaning. You will need to think of a     whole sentence in English in order to translate your ideas into just one Cherokee word. But doing this is  much easier by learning the pieces, the syllables. Become familiar with the pieces of the language, then put them together to say what you want.


We say 'hello' in Cherokee by saying 'si-yo'. (shee-yo) The response is usually 'si-yo'.
Then it's usually 'how are you?':
'O-SI-GWO-TSU?' (oh-shee-gwoe-chew?)

The response is usually 'I'm fine, and you?: 'o-si-gwo, ni-hi-na?' (nee-hee-nah?)
The response is usually 'o-si-gwo'.  Then one might say, 'what is your name?':
DO-DE-TSA-DO-A? (doe-day-dzah-doe-ah?)

   There are different ways of asking questions in Cherokee.  Use 'tsu' or 's-go' at the ends of sentences or 'do' to the beginning.  How can you tell which of these to use?  This is when you go by the way it sounds when you say it.  Switching the way we asked questions in this exchange will demonstrate what is meant by that:

DO-O-SHEE-GWO?  (doe-oh-shee-gwow) sounds like you did something wrong (oh oh)
DE-TSA-DO-A-TSU (day dzah doe adzoo) sounds like a sneeze.

So we say:  'O-SI-GWO-TSU?' and 'DO-DE-TSA-DO-A?' because it just sounds better that way.  Also, a Cherokee speaker makes 'tsu' & 's-go' sound very similar when spoken.

Or you can use the different questioning words out there:

KA-GO (kah goe) = who?
GA-DO-I-YU-S-DI (gah doe ee you stee) = what?
DO (doe) = what? (like huh?  What did you say?)
DO-U-S-DI (doe oost) = which?
DO-HNO (doe hnoe) - why?
GA-TSV (gah dzuh) = where? (Eastern)
HA-TLV (hotluh) = where? (Western)
HV-GA I-YV (huh gah ee yuh) = when?
HV-GA (huh gah) = how much or how many?
HV-GA I-YU-WA-NE-LA (huhgah eeyoo wah nay luh) = what time is it?
HV-GA I-GA (huh gah ee gah) = how many things? (like pencils)
HV-GA I-YA-NI (huh gah eeyah nee) = how many living things? (like birds)

  There are different ways of saying what you want to in Cherokee, as in English.  The most important thing is that you and your listener understand each other.  A Cherokee speaker is delighted that you are trying to learn their language so will be patient until both of you are satisfied with the conversation.  So if it sounds right, literally, then that is the right word to use.

  1 - sagwo  (shah gwow)
  2 - tali  (tah lee)
  3 - tsoi  (choe ee)
  4 - nvgi  (nung gee( (rhymes              with 'monkey')
  5 - hisgi  (hee ski)
  6 - sudale (shoe dah lay)
  7 - galvgwogi  (gall gwow ghee)
  8 - tsanela  (chah nay lah)
  9  tsonela  (choe nay lah)
  10 - sgoi  (sko ee)
For the tens, add '-sgo' (skow) to the number.

  20 - talasgo
  30 - tsosgo
  40 - nvgisgo
  50 - hisgisgo
  60 - sudalisgo
For then teens, add '-du.' (ah doo)
Some of the numbers change a little.

  11 - sogadu
  12 - taladu
  13 - tsogadu
  14 - nigadu
  15 - hisgadu
  16 - daladu
  17 - galvgwogadu
  18 - neladu
  19 - tsogadu
  'hudalula' = before  (hooo daah loooo laaah) you can have fun saying this
  'ulotsvdi' = after (oo low chust)
  'hvga iyuwanela' = What time is it?  (hung gah ee yoo wah nay lah?)

  hvga is a general questioning term meaning 'how much, ' 'how often'.

  iyuwanela is from a word meaning 'strike' or  'hit'.  You are asking in Cherokee, literally, "How often has the       clock struck the hour?"

  idvwostane (eat duh woe stannuh) = minutes

  iyuwanela = hour

  iga (ee gah) = noon

  ayeli (ah hyay lee) = half or middle.  This is also the Cherokee word for 'cut'.  Usually you cut something in       half or down the middle.

  If it is 7:30, you can say it in different ways:
galvgwogi tsosgo (7 30)
tsosgo hudalula tsanela (30 before 8)
tsosgo ulotsvsdi galvgwogi (30 after 7)
ahyeli galvgwogi (half past 7)

Our teacher would not let us break for lunch until we told him what time it was using minutes & hours, he did not let us off easy.

hvga iyuwanelv?
What time is it?

hvgi    idawostane   ulotsvsdi   taladu   iyuwanela
Four       minutes       past        twelve           hour
12:04  We're late!!

Hunger is a great motivator, and we learned quickly.

Idalisdayvhv ga (ee doll styuh huh gah) = Let's eat!




Each of the links below is a separate language lesson.  Click on each link for that lesson.  They are in PDF format for easy printing.