The Education of Little Tree: how linguists can help expose fake Indians

The other day I picked up a copy of The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter; it’s a well-known fraud.

little tree


Let me show a linguist’s small contribution to the question of its authenticity.

Here are <Carter’s “Cherokee” words>, with actual words from the Cherokee Nation’s website in “phonetics” and Tsalagi syllabics.

spring [of water]: <lay-nah> (p.5)

a-ma-ga-nu-go-gv ᎠᎹᎦᏄᎪᎬ

little deer: <awi usdi> (p.5)

a-wi-i-na-ge-e-hi [deer] ᎠᏫᎢᎾᎨᎡᎯ

quail-hen: <min-e-lee> (p.5)

gu-que [quail] ᎫᏇ

crow: <kagu> (p.5)

go-ga ᎪᎦ

hawk: <tal-con> (p.9)

ta-wo-di ᏔᏬᏗ

bee: <ti-bi> (p.9)

wa-du-li-si ᏩᏚᎵᏏ

turkey: <tel-qui> (p.10)

gv-na ᎬᎾ

(Mother) earth: <mon-o-lah> (p.12)

e-lo-hi ᎡᎶᎯ

Only two of these (deer and crow) show much resemblance to the Cherokee Nation words.

Granted, I’m not a student of Cherokee and I haven’t bothered locating additional resources to evaluate the words Carter throws around.

But this preliminary view of the evidence inclines me to think Carter knew a couple of words of Cherokee that someone had told him — and then maybe he made up the rest.

So on the basic forensic linguistic evidence (totally aside from the facts of Carter’s white-supremacist life!) it seems pretty safe to assign The Education of Little Tree to the “Indian literary hoaxes” category, along with the Walam Olum  and other inspired foolishness.