Cherokee artist Roy Boney Jr., who grew up speaking the Cherokee language, has created a graphic story for Indian Country Today showing the history of the Cherokee syllabary over the last two centuries, from the “curvilinear, free-flowing” handwritten version it started with to today’s Unicode and digital media. It’s as good a brief presentation as I can imagine, and I thank overeducated_alligator for creating the MetaFilter post that brought it to my attention.


  1. A good idea, but I think it’s a bit of a missed opportunity graphically.

  2. I’ve never come across anybody else foolhardy enough to say it, but isn’t the Cherokee script the ugliest in the world? By a long way?

  3. David Marjanović says

    I think some versions of blackletter are worse.
    In general, the 1930s were ugly.
    But the 1970s were “an epoch characterized by brutal ugliness” as the Austrian news magazine profil once put it.

  4. michael farris says

    I kind of agree that Cherokee script won’t win any beauty contests. I’ve seen uglier though. Go look at the script section of Omniglot, there are some really bad looking alphabets there.
    Amharic script isn’t so much ugly as …. ungainly? Its use of assymeterical descenders (among other things) means it always looks crooked on the page

  5. @michael: OMG, you’re right – there are some brutal scripts at Omniglot. But Cherokee is still the ugliest script in everyday use. By a long way.

  6. It doesn’t have to be ugly. It’s just young.
    The Russian printed alphabet, for example, is based on brutal mutilation of the Roman one: backwards letters, mixing lower case and upper case letters, a graphical auto wreck. But with enough years and typographical experimentation, type designers learned how to tame it, and there are very elegant Russian typefaces now. Give the Cherokee script some time, and people will discover pleasing proportions for all those protruding curlicues.

  7. David Marjanović says

    …provided there’ll be enough people speaking and writing Cherokee left.

  8. Cherokee isn’t any worse than Greek. Tamil doesn’t win any beauty contests either.
    Youth of the script – compare the butt-ugly Shang script with the heart-breakingly beautiful calligraphy from the Tang and Song periods.

  9. Personally I think that Klingon is the world’s ugliest script.

  10. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that if the Cherokee had somehow managed to drive the invaders back to Europe and established a prosperous nation with books and periodicals rolling off the presses by the millions, the script would have evolved considerably more by now (and the world would probably be better off, but I digress).

  11. Clearly someone hasn’t read their Orson Scott Card alternate histories very closely!
    I don’t see the ugliness myself. Is it just because all of the letters look like capital letters from the viewpoint of a Roman alphabet user, such that everything in Cherokee SEEMS TO BE SHOUTED?
    I guess some of the characters do look a bit impractical (curlicues and trills and so on), but then again, I live in Japan. When it comes to script practicality and throwing stones, Japan isn’t so much a glass house as a glass lean-to at the edge of a yawning precipice surrounded by glass-eating bears.

  12. Haha.

  13. David Marjanović says

    Personally I think that Klingon is the world’s ugliest script.

    For some definitions of “world”. 🙂
    (In Star Trek, as in Star Wars, “world” tends to mean “planet”. See “their homeworld”.)


    You’ve been on the Internet too long 🙂

  14. As far as I know, the Klingon script is used on only one world, Earth. Which is a good thing, because its ductus strongly suggests that it was originally written using stamps carved out of potatoes. I mean, can you imagine making the Klingon digit 8 by hand? I can manage to write it with five strokes, but then you have to scribble in the central blob. I think the best characterization of it is “a right-to-left script written left-to-right”.

  15. David Marjanović says

    then you have to scribble in the central blob

    There is no blob. Interpret it as )|( instead of as X with | through it.

Speak Your Mind