Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In December of 2016, the board of trustees at Western Carolina University decided to rename a campus residence hall “Judaculla Hall.” Judaculla is an Anglicization of the Cherokee name Tsulgala. According to Cherokee accounts, Tsulgala was a mythical pre-historic giant who was a steward of the Southern Appalachian ecosystem and taught the Cherokees how to care for the region. The board of trustees requested that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians be consulted for the proper Cherokee language spelling of the word for the building’s signage. Fluent Cherokee speakers met to discuss the proper spelling in the Cherokee syllabary and simple phonetics. Two different spellings were proposed and the speakers voted for their preferred version. A few weeks later, several reversed their decision and demanded that the alternative spelling be used. This paper explores how negotiations of Cherokee orthographic choice and spelling occur at the intersection of sound, meaning, and affect. Due to the polysynthetic nature of Cherokee, the same word root will be connected across nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech. Where certain vowel sounds are silent, the Cherokee syllabary can reveal or obscure related words depending on the choice of syllabic spelling. Also, without established spelling conventions, variations can be associated with certain individuals and families, creating felt attachments to form in the visual presentation of words. Spellings for signs and other public displays can therefore signify whose “voices” are “heard,” even where spelling variations have the same pronunciation when read aloud.