Invented more than 100 years ago, the Yugtun script is evidence that it is possible for indigenous people to create their own means of written communication. In the case of Uyaquq, who was a Yup’ik Shaman who created this ideogrammic syllabary in 1900.
Uyaquq The Yup’ik Shaman-Turned-Christian
He only invented what would become a syllabary when he converted to the Alaska Moravian Church. Because he was not educated on the English language and the Latin script, he created pictograms to memorize passages. When he found he was limited in his education, he and his assistants created a consistent script based on the mnemonic characters he wrote.
In some ways, Uyaquq resembles that of Sequoyah. Both were indigenous men who invented a script for their own nation. And like Sequoyah, he was not educated in English, yet he was influenced enough by the curvature and straightness of Latin characters. In Uyaquq’s case, he was inspired by Christian missionaries preaching from the Bibles they brought.
Pictograph Or Syllabary?
If you are familiar enough with linguistics, you probably are confused about whether the Yugtun script was meant to be a pictograph or a syllabary. Apparently, it started as a pictograph before Uyaquq and his assistants turned it into a syllabary. This was probably done to create consistent conventions for Uyaquq, but also to note the distinctions typically not found in the English language that are found in Yup’ik.
For example, the [k] and [q] have separate characters as they are pronounced differently.
- Coulmas, Florian (1999). “Yupik writing”. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems. Blackwell Publishers. pp. 572–573.
- James, Ian, “Yugtun script”, Sky Knowledge, April 2012
- Omniglot. Cherokee Language.