on July 22, 2002
This is a fascinating book that everyone interested in Native American cultures should read, regardless of whether they have a particular interest in the Cherokees, or their language, or their writing system, which is the oldest living writing system native to the New World.
What makes this book fascinating is that not only does this book show how literacy (in its many functions) was invented by and is adapted to the perspectives of a living Native culture, but it also reveals many insightful things about that culture -- everything from ideas about modern tourism in the area, to the very very complex community attitudes toward what the "real Cherokee" language is -- whether it's the Cherokee of the Bible (and there's lots of religious attitudes involved in how the community thinks about the syllabary), or the Cherokee of spelling pronunciations, or of the faraway (from the Eastern Cherokee of this boo) Oklahoma Cherokee dialect.
My only real criticisms of the book are that it felt short (I liked it so much that I wanted more), and also that it occasionally descended pointlessly into overwrought prose and unrevealing semiotics jargon. For example: "In Cherokee tourism in the mid-1990s, semiotic potency, use-value, and exchange-value intersected in compelling ways. Syllabic objects were differentiated in terms of their semiotic use potential. The distinction had to do with whether syllabic objects were considered to possess symbolic use-value, which, in the case of texts, meant that they were considered to have significant and specific meanings or performative powers." So the bad news is that now and then, the book pops up with a few irritating sentences like that. But the good news is that the rest of the book is nice and clear.
Besides being great for reading on your own, this book is great reading for any university-level class involving sociolinguistics, Native fieldwork and Native community relations and literacy teaching, and maybe even modern Native cultures in general.
on December 21, 2006
Let me start by saying I find the subject matter of this book fascinating -- contemporary use of the Cherokee syllabary among Eastern Cherokees -- but I had to force myself to finish this book. With the research Bender performed, she could have given us a vivid account of how the language is used today. But only limited quotes or paraphrases of actual Cherokees make their way into the book, along with very few specific examples of the syllabary in use. Rather the book is an endless series of repetitions of her personal conclusions. Her dichotomy of "Christian" and "pagan" (spelled plainly on p. 37) is not only errant but also insulting.