A Look at Iriquoian Languages and the Cherokee Language

Method and Conclusion. See here.

Results. A ratings system was designed in terms of how difficult it would be for an English-language speaker to learn the language. In the case of English, English was judged according to how hard it would be for a non-English speaker to learn the language. Speaking, reading and writing were all considered.

Ratings: Languages are rated 1-6, easiest to hardest. 1 = easiest, 2 = moderately easy to average, 3 = average to moderately difficult, 4 = very difficult, 5 = extremely difficult, 6 = most difficult of all. Ratings are impressionistic.

Time needed. Time needed for an English language speaker to learn the language “reasonably well”: Level 1 languages = 3 months-1 year. Level 2 languages = 6 months-1 year. Level 3 languages = 1-2 years. Level 4 languages = 2 years. Level 5 languages = 3-4 years, but some may take longer. Level 6 languages = more than 4 years.

This post will look at the Cherokee language in terms of how difficult it would be for an English speaker to learn it.

Iroquoian

All Iroquoian languages are extremely difficult, but Athabaskan is probably even harder. Siouan languages may be equal to Iroquoian in difficulty.

Compare the same phrases in Tlingit (Athabaskan) and and Cherokee (Iroquoian).

Tlingit:

kutíkusa‘áatIt’s cold outside.
kutíkuta‘áat
It’s cold right now.

In Tlingit, you can add or modify affixes at the beginning as prefixes, in the middle as infixes and at the end as suffixes. In the above example, you changed a part of the word within the clause itself.

Cherokee:

doyáditlv uyvtlvIt is cold outside. (Lit. Outside it is cold)
ka uyvtlv It is cold now. (Lit. Now it is cold.)

As you can see, Cherokee is easier.

Cherokee

Cherokee is very hard to learn. In addition to everything else, it has a completely different alphabet. It’s polysynthetic, to make matters worse. It is possible to write a Cherokee sentence that somehow lacks a verb. There are five categories of verb classifiers. Verbs needing classifiers must use one. Each regular verb can have an incredible 21,262 inflected forms! All verbs contain a verb root, a pronominal prefix, a modal suffix and an aspect suffix. In addition, verbs inflect for singular, plural and also dual. For instance:

ᎠᎸᎢᎭ   a'lv'íha 

You have 126 different forms:
ᎬᏯᎸᎢᎭ gvyalv'iha     I tie you up
ᏕᎬᏯᎸᎢᎭ degvyalviha    I'm tying you up
ᏥᏯᎸᎢᎭ  jiyalv'ha      I tie him up
ᎦᎸᎢᎭ                   I tie it
ᏍᏓᏯᎸᎢᎭ sdayalv'iha    I tie you (dual)
ᎢᏨᏯᎢᎭ  ijvyalv'iha    I tie you (pl)
ᎦᏥᏯᎸᎢᎭ gajiyalv'iha   I tie them (animate)
ᏕᎦᎸᎢᎭ                  I tie them up (inanimate)
ᏍᏆᎸᎢᎭ  squahlv'iha    You tie me
ᎯᏯᎸᎢᎭ  hiyalv'iha    You're tying him
ᎭᏢᎢᎭ   hatlv'iha      You tie it
ᏍᎩᎾᎸᎢᎭ skinalv'iha    You're tying me and him
ᎪᎩᎾᏢᎢᎭ goginatlv'iha  They tie me and him etc.

Let us look at another form:

to see

I see myself    gadagotia
I see you           gvgohtia
I see him/          tsigotia
I see it            tsigotia
I see you two       advgotia
I see you (plural)  istvgotia
I see them (live)   gatsigotia
I see them (things) detsigotia

You see me          sgigotia
You see yourself        hadagotia
You see him/her         higo(h)tia
You see it              higotia
You see another and me  sginigotia
You see others and me   isgigotia
You see them (living)   dehigotia
You see them (living)   gahigotia
You see them (things)   detsigotia

He/she sees me          agigotia
He/she sees you             tsagotia
He/she sees you             atsigotia
He/she sees him/her         agotia
He/she sees himself/herself adagotia
He/she sees you + me        ginigotia
He/she sees you two         sdigotia
He/she sees another + me    oginigotia
He she sees us (them + me)  otsigotia
He/she sees you (plural)    itsigotia
He/she sees them            dagotia

You and I see him/her/it       igigotia
You and I see ourselves            edadotia
You and I see one another          denadagotia/dosdadagotia
You and I see them (living)        genigotia
You and I see them (living or not) denigotia

You two see me              sgninigotia
You two see him/her/it          esdigotia
You two see yourselves          sdadagotia
You two see us (another and me) sginigotia
You two see them                desdigotia

Another and I see you      sdvgotia
Another and I see him/her      osdigotia
Another and I see it           osdigotia
Another and I see you-two      sdvgotia
Another and I see ourselves    dosdadagotia
Another and I see you (plural) itsvgotia
Another and I see them         dosdigotia

You (plural) see me  isgigoti
You (plural) see him/her etsigoti

They see me         gvgigotia
They see you            getsagotia
They see him/her        anigoti
They see you and me     geginigoti
They see you two        gesdigoti
They see another and me gegigotia/gogenigoti
They see you (plural)   getsigoti
They see them           danagotia
They see themselves     anadagoti

I will see datsigoi
I saw          agigohvi

Number is marked for inclusive vs. exclusive, and there is a dual. 3rd person plural is marked for animate/inanimate. Verbs take different object forms depending on if the object is solid/alive/indefinite shape/flexible. This is similar to the Navajo system.

Cherokee also has lexical tone, with complex rules about how tones may combine with each other. Tone is not marked in the orthography. The phonology is noted for somehow not having any labial consonants.

However, Cherokee is very regular. It has only three irregular verbs. It is just that there are many complex rules.

Cherokee is rated 5.5, close to most difficult of all.

2 Comments

Filed under Applied, Cherokee, Iriquoian, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics

2 responses to “A Look at Iriquoian Languages and the Cherokee Language

  1. James Schipper

    Some missionaries must have been very gifted linguistically if they managed to learn such difficult languages.

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