Story of Sequoyah : the man who made a writing system independently



Sequoyah or George Gist, was a Cherokee who used to work with silver. He was born in 1770, at a time when the indigenous peoples of the America and Europe had frequent, often unpleasant, contact.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/35/Sequoyah.jpg
A Lithograph of Sequoyah

He is famous for creating the Cherokee syllabary. Despite having no previous exposure to any writing system and being illiterate. This is particularly worth taking a note of since very few individuals in recorded history have been able to do so. He completed making his writing system in 1821 and the Cherokee Nation officially adopted it in 1825.

Despite the fact that they initially suspected it to be sorcery, they soon surpassed their neighbouring European-American settlers in literacy.

Before Sequoyah’s endeavour, Cherokee was solely a spoken language, which was not written down.
His initial experiments were with logograms, but he soon gave up on that idea. Partly because it felt impractical to do so, and partly because his wife suspected him to be doing witchcraft and burned his initial work. He spent a whole year experimenting with logograms, leaving his fields without seed.
He then analysed a spelling book (or a dictionary) and copied some glyphs he found interesting and modified some of them to make his own. So, something looking like “CWy” spells “Tsalagi” (Cherokee). While they may resemble the Latin, Greek or Cyrillic alphabets, there is no relationship between their appearance (in other languages) and their sounds (in Cherokee).

Due to the belief that “talking leaves”, or written documents, were sorcery, adults were unwilling to learn his new syllabary. He first taught it to his 6-year-old daughter, Ayokeh.
He then travelled to another Indian Reserve in the west to attempt to convince the elders about the usefulness of his system. With the help of his daughter, he demonstrated the system (and the power of the written word) to the elders and gained the permission to teach the system to a few more people.
Upon completion of his lesson, he had them write dictated letters and read dictated responses to convince the rest of the people that he really did make a writing system. Thus dispelling the doubts that he was doing some manner of witchcraft on them.

He used his success with the western Cherokee to convince the eastern Cherokee to learn the script as well, by the means of a written speech from one of the western Cherokee leaders.

He had further plans to create a universal writing system for the indigenous people of the Northern American Subcontinent but he could not achieve his objective as he died in 1843.