Written by Mary ᎺᎵ Rae, Art by Miriam Rae-Silver

1. Introduction

Communication among Cherokees has changed over time. Once, information was passed along orally, and elders shared their knowledge with young people. Sequoyah’s alphabet changed all that, and Cherokee people were able to communicate by written word. They could communicate across long distances using letters. They could gather and discuss and write their own laws. They could post notices of importance to the community. And they could record stories that had been passed down orally for countless generations.

It is easy to write and send messages by phone today, and some young people may have little experience with letter writing. It may be difficult to appreciate how much a letter from afar meant to someone before there were telephones or even telegraphs. Family members separated by circumstance would find letter writing a life-line to keep them connected.

Even though letters may be written more rarely today, most people are still familiar with the basic form of a letter.

Think about how you would you begin a letter you were writing to your mother. What would the greeting be, and would you include any other information before the greeting?

Next, look at the beginning of the first three DOLLIE DUNCAN LETTERS (one, two, three). Write the date and the greeting for each letter in syllabary in the spaces below.

Look at the original text of the first Dollie Duncan letter to answer the following:

1. Who is the letter from?

2. Where is the person who is sending the letter writing from?

3. What relationship is Dollie Duncan to the person writing the letter?

Write your answers to the following in the spaces below.

1. How does the writer address his mother in these letters?

2. How is this different from the way you would address a letter?

Read the second Dollie Duncan letter using the story section, then answer the following:

1. Who did the actual writing of this letter?

2. Does this explain the way Walter addresses his mother? Write any thoughts below.

2. Reading

ᏘᎪᎵᏯ tigoliya Read!

If you were to write a letter or email today in Cherokee, you might begin with: osiyo tohitsu.

ᎣᏏᏲ osiyo and ᏏᏲ siyo are very commonly used as Cherokee greetings, whether in person or in text. But the usage may be relatively recent. Consider this statement by Rev. Samuel Worcester, written around 1836.

Worcester, Rev. S.A. “Notes on The Select Sentences,” Archaeologia Americana : Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society : American Antiquarian Society. Internet Archive Web. June 6, 2021

“Anciently, at common meetings of acquaintances, no salutation was used. When friends met after a separation of considerable time, they expressed their joy by exclaiming, ‘We see each other!'”

One possible example of this greeting may be found in New Testament:

Matthew 26:49
‘And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail master; and kissed him.’

You will recognize “Hail,” as a greeting. The words which translate as “Hail” are:

tohiyi denadagowatv/denadaquowatv
‘In peace we just saw one another.’

3. Mother and Father

ᎠᎩᏥagiji/agitsi‘my mother’how you would refer to her when talking about her
ᎡᏥeji/etsi‘mom’what you call her when speaking to her
ᎠᎩᏙᏓagidoda‘my father’how you would refer to him when talking about him
ᎡᏙᏓedoda‘dad’what you call him when speaking to him
Fill in the blanks with the correct words using phonetics.

1. agiji/agitsi, eji/etsihadlv gihli
‘Mom, where is the dog?’

2. uwoduhiagiji/agitsi, eji/etsi
‘My mother is pretty.’

3. agiji/agitsi aleunohlaagidoda, edoda
‘My mother and father are at home.’

4. ni jisgwogwo/tsisquoquoagidoda, edoda
‘Look Dad! A Robin!’


ᏣᏥjaji/tsatsi‘your mother’
ᎤᏥuji/utsi‘his or her mother’
ᎤᏂᏥuniji/unitsi‘their mother’
ᏥᎷ ᎤᏥjimi/tsimi uji/utsi‘Jimmy’s mother’
ᎤᏬᏚᎯuwoduhi‘he, she or it is pretty/beautiful’
ᏧᏃᏚᎯjunoduhi/tsunoduhi‘they are pretty/ beautiful,’ referring to animate, living things
ᎤᏬᏝuwohla‘he or she is at home,’ ‘he or she is sitting’
ᎤᏃᏝunohla‘they are at home,’ ‘they are sitting’
ᏥᏍᏉᏉjisgwogwo/tsisquoquo‘a robin’
ᏡᏡtlutlu‘a purple martin’
ᎡᎵᏔᎻelitami‘a wren’
ᎭᏢhadlv‘where,’ ‘Where is it?’
ᏩᎴᎳwalela‘hummingbird,’ used as a name
ᎩᏟgihli‘a dog’

ᏙᏪᎸᎦ tohwelvga Write!

Translate these sentences into Cherokee using the above vocabulary.

‘Mom is home now.’

‘Look! A purple martin!’

‘Where is Charlie now?’

‘Walela is pretty.’

‘My mother and father are at home.’

‘Where is her mom?’

‘Dad and Charlie are home now.’

‘Look! It’s Walela’s mom!’

‘Look! A wren and a robin!’

‘The humming bird is beautiful.’

‘Where is the dog?’

‘Their mother is pretty.’

‘Hummingbirds are pretty.’

‘Where is your mother?’

‘She is at home.’

‘They are at home.’

Make four more sentences of your own.

4. Dictionary Study

ᏘᎪᎵᏯ tigoliya Read!

For the next section you will need to use Durbin Feeling’s Cherokee-English Dictionary Feeling, Durbin. Cherokee-English Dictionary. Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, 1975. If you don’t have a copy, you can use the online version.

Look up ᎪᏪᎵᎠ gohwelia ‘he’s writing it’ in the dictionary. Looking back to what you’ve already learned about the dictionary, find the following:

First person singular, present tense,I am writing it’

Third person singular, past tense, ‘he or she wrote it’

Third person singular present habitual tense, ‘he or she always writes it’

Third person singular infinitive, ‘he or she to write it’



ᎪᏪᎵgohweli‘a letter’
ᎰᏪᎵᎠhohwelia‘you are writing it’
ᎠᏆᏪᎶᏗagwohwelodi/aquohwelodi‘I to write it’
ᏦᏪᎶᏗjohwelodi/tsohwelodi‘you to write it’
ᎠᏆᏚᎵᎭagwaduliha/aquaduliha‘I want it’
ᏣᏚᎵᎭjaduliha/tsaduliha‘you want it’
ᎤᏚᎵᎭuduliha‘he or she wants it’
ᎤᏚᎸᎲᎢudulvhvi‘he or she wanted it’
ᏣᏚᎸᎲᎢjadulvhvi/tsadulvhvi‘you wanted it’
ᎠᏆᏚᎸᎲᎢagwadulvhvi/aquadulvhvi‘I wanted it’
ᎰᏪᎸᎦhohwelvga‘Write it!’ (You)

ᏙᏪᎸᎦ tohwelvga Write!

Translate the following sentences into Cherokee using phonetics. For example: ‘I am writing a letter’ gohweli gowelia or ‘She wants to write a letter’ gohweli uwohwelodi uduliha

1. ‘Write a letter!’

2. ‘I want to write a letter.’

3. ‘You wanted to write it.’

4. ‘You are writing a letter.’

Write two more sentences in syllabary using what you have learned:

5. About Translation

hadan(v)tvli Think!

Translation from one language into the other is usually not word-for-word. As a reader, it is important to be looking for the meaning in the context, rather than just trying to match up one Cherokee word with one English word.

Here is a phrase from the second Dollie Duncan letter:

agwvsa/aquvsa agwohwelanv/aquohwelanv

agwvsa means ‘myself’ or ‘by myself.’ Knowing that, how would you interpret the whole phrase?

Using the pronunciation tab, find that phrase near the end of the second letter. Write the translation below:

Does this translation differ from your first interpretation? If so, how and why? Write your thoughts below.


6. Word Study

ᏘᎪᎵᏯ tigoliya Read!

You may have heard this word ᎤᏍᏆᏂᎩᏗ, which is pronounced usgwanikdi/usquanikdi, which means ‘interesting.’ It is often used as ‘awesome’ by learners on Facebook and other social media sites. You may have seen a similar word also, ᎠᏍᏆᏂᎪᏍᎦ asgwanigosga/asquanigosga ‘he’s amazed.’ It can be interesting to see how words are used in different contexts. Here are a number of related words that appear on this site.

1. In Willie Jumper Manuscripts: Story About a Man Named Old George Stonejug Tsatsai, this phrase is included:

hawiyai asgwanigodisge’i/asquanigodisge’i
meat or food he stored it
He stored up his food.’

2. A similar word can be found in the second Dollie Duncan letter:

usgwanigodi/usquanikdi gohusdi widagvnohiseli
amazing something I will tell you
‘I will tell you something amazing.’

3. In the Governance Documents, the Cherokee Republican Constitution has this:

usgwanigododiyi/usquanigododiyi nusdv dunilvwisdanelv
keeping that which the work
keeping all records’

4. In Willie Jumper Manuscripts: Story of the Old Man Willie Pigeon, we find this phrase:

usgwanigodiyu/usquanigodiyu gese’i
amazing was
‘It was amazing

5. In Willie Jumper Manuscripts: Story of Switch Striker, we find:

ijisgwanigodesdi/itsisquanigodesdi aya aginejv’i/aginetsv’i
you all keep I myself
‘(what) I (myself) have said’

hadan(v)tvli Think!

Looking at the words above it may at first seem they are unrelated. Read the excerpts again, and write down what the meanings may have in common. Don’t be concerned about being right or wrong, just write what comes to mind.


7. For Future Reading

From the New Testament: Tsalagi Itse Kanohedv Datlohidv Tsutsosawati Tsalagi Ale Yonega = The Cherokee New Testament, Parallel Cherokee & English: Translation Based upon the Received Text. Global Bible Society, 2015.

Matthew 8:10
jisahno/tsisahno utvganv usgwanigosei/usquanigosei
‘When Jesus heard it, he marvelled…’

Matthew 12:35
osdv yvwi, osdv usgwanigodv/usquanigodv unawiyi
‘A good man out of the good treasure of the heart…’

Luke 2:19
Melihno nasgi hia nigadv usgwanigotanei/usquanigotanei, ale nasgi udanvtehilosv judanvdvi/tsudanvdvi
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart

Luke 10:34
junisvsdiyihno/tsunisvsdiyihno adanelv utihnolei, ale usgwanigotanei/usquanigotanei
‘…and [he] brought him to an inn, and took care of him.’

Acts 7:21
ale usgwanigotanei/usquanigotanei uwasv uweji/uwetsi uyelvnei‘and [she] nourished him for her own son.’

If you are interested in learning more, visit the Cherokee Bible Project.



Section 3

1. eji/etsi
2. agiji/agitsi
3. agidoda
4. edoda

1. eji/etsi uwohla nogwu
2. ni! dludlu
3. hadlv jali/tsali nogwu
4. walela uwoduhi
5. agiji/agitsi ale agidoda unohla
6. hadlv uji/utsi
7. edoda ale jali/tsali unohla nogwu
8. ni walela uji/utsi
9. ni elitami ale jisgwogwo/tsisquoquo
10. walela uwoduhi
11. hadlv gihli
12. uniji/unitsi uwoduhi
13. walela junoduhi/tsunoduhi
14. hadlv jaji/tsatsi
15. uwohla
16. unohla

Section 4

1. hohwelia
2. agwohwelodi/aquohwelodi agwaduliha/aquaduliha
3. johwelodi/tsohwelodi jadulvhvi/tsadulvhi
4. gohweli hohwelia

1. gohweli hohwelvga
2. gohweli agwohwelodi/aquohwelodi agwaduliha/aquaduliha
3. gohweli johwelodi/tsohwelodi jadulihvi/tsadulihvi
4. gohweli hohwelia

1. remote past
2. non-experienced past
3. infinitive
4. infinitive
5. habitual