Durbin Feeling

Durbin Feeling (Cherokee: ᏫᎵ ᏚᎥᎢᏅ, romanized: Wili Duvinv; April 2, 1946 – August 19, 2020) was an American Cherokee linguist who wrote the first Cherokee–English dictionary. He is considered the greatest modern contributor to the preservation of the endangered Cherokee language.[1][2][3][4]

Durbin Feeling
Durbin Feeling.jpg
Durbin Feeling, 1964
Born(1946-04-02)April 2, 1946
DiedAugust 19, 2020(2020-08-19) (aged 74)
NationalityCherokee, American
OccupationLinguist, educator

Early lifeEdit

Feeling was born on April 2, 1946, to Jeff and Elizabeth Feeling in the Little Rock community east of Locust Grove, Oklahoma.[5][6] Cherokee was his first language; he learned English when he was in the first grade.[7][4] He began to read Cherokee syllabary when he was 12 years old.[1]

Feeling graduated from Chilocco Indian School (a Native American boarding school) in 1964 and earned an associate's degree from Bacone College in 1966.[6][8] He was drafted into the Army in 1967 and served as a door gunner during the Vietnam War.[6][9] He began to write in Cherokee syllabary when corresponding with his mother while he was in Vietnam.[4] He was awarded a Purple Heart, and he was honorably discharged in 1970.[6][7]


Durbin began his work with the Cherokee language when he returned from Vietnam.[4] In 1975, Feeling co-wrote the first Cherokee–English dictionary.[4][10] It remains the "standard publication for Cherokee language reference".[1]

Feeling earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern State University in 1979 and earned a master's degree in social sciences from the University of California, Irvine in 1992.[9][8][11][12]

Feeling taught Cherokee at universities including the University of Oklahoma, the University of Tulsa, and the University of California.[1] He authored or contributed to many books and research articles about Cherokee.[1][4] His materials for Cherokee language learners remain widely used, and many Cherokee language teachers learned directly from Feeling.[1][4]

Feeling worked for the Cherokee Nation from 1976 to 2020, including in its language translation and technology department.[7] In the 1980s, he added the Cherokee syllabary to a word processor.[7] He also contributed to the addition of the Cherokee syllabary to Unicode, which allows it to be widely available on computers and smartphones.[7]

Personal life and deathEdit

Feeling was a Baptist lay minister.[8][13]

He died August 19, 2020.[1]

Influence and legacyEdit

For his contributions to the preservation of the Cherokee language and Cherokee culture, Feeling was named a Cherokee National Treasure by the Cherokee Nation. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate by Ohio State University.[1][9] Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. has described Feeling as "a modern-day Sequoyah" (referring to the creator of the Cherokee syllabary) and said that "[e]verything we are doing for language revitalization is because of Durbin.”[1] In 2019, the Cherokee Nation chose Feeling as the first signatory of the Cherokee Language Speakers Roll.[7][10]

The Cherokee Nation's planned language learning center will be named the Durbin Feeling Language Center in his honor.[1] The Sam Noble Museum holds the Durbin Feeling Collection, containing his extensive Cherokee-language materials, including letters written in Cherokee to and from members of Feeling’s family.[14]

On August 4, 2021, the United States Senate Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed the Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act of 2021. The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Chuck Hoskin, Jr. remarked "This bill is named in honor of the largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah, the late Durbin Feeling, who advocated tirelessly for Native language and revitalization efforts. No one is more worthy of this honor than Durbin."[15]

Selected worksEdit

  • Feeling, Durbin. Cherokee–English Dictionary. Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, 1975.
  • Feeling, Durbin. A structured approach to learning the basic inflections of the Cherokee verb. Neff Publishing Company, 1994.
  • Tuyl, Charles D. Van; Durbin Feeling (1994). An Outline of Basic Verb Inflections of Oklahoma Cherokee. Indian University Press. ISBN 978-0-940392-07-6.
  • Pulte, William, and Durbin Feeling. "Morphology in Cherokee Lexicography." Making dictionaries: Preserving indigenous languages of the Americas (2002): 60.
  • Feeling, Durbin, ed. See-say-write: Method of Teaching the Cherokee Language. Cherokee Nation, Indian Adult Education, 2002.
  • Feeling, Durbin, et al. "A handbook of the Cherokee verb: a preliminary study." Tahlequah, Okla.: Cherokee Heritage Center (2003).
  • Feeling, Durbin, et al. "Why revisit published data of an endangered language with native speakers? An illustration from Cherokee." Language Documentation & Conservation 4 (2010): 1-21.
  • Feeling, Durbin; Christiansen, Lisa Christine (2015). Cherokee Hymn Book. Penguin International Publishing. ISBN 978-0-692-47367-2.
  • Herrick, Dylan, Marcellino Berardo, Durbin Feeling, et al. "Collaborative documentation and revitalization of Cherokee tone." Language Documentation & Conservation 9 (2015): 12-31.
  • Feeling, Durbin. Cherokee Narratives: A Linguistic Study. University of Oklahoma Press, 2018.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Cherokee Nation mourns passing of Cherokee National Treasure Durbin Feeling, single-largest contributor to Cherokee language since Sequoyah". Anadisgoi, the Official Cherokee Nation Newsroom. August 19, 2020. Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  2. ^ Stanley, Tim (August 20, 2020). "Durbin Feeling, Cherokee linguist and 'modern-day Sequoyah,' dies at 74". Tulsa World.
  3. ^ Trotter, Matt (August 20, 2020). "Durbin Feeling, Leader in Effort to Save the Cherokee Language, Dead at 74". Public Radio Tulsa. Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Language is Everything: The Story of Durbin Feeling, Cherokee Linguist". OsiyoTV. Season 5. Episode 10. November 3, 2019. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  5. ^ "Longtime Cherokee linguist Durbin Feeling dies". Cherokee Phoenix. August 19, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d "2 vets honored for service" (PDF). Cherokee Phoenix. May 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Kemp, Adam (August 20, 2020). "Renowned Cherokee linguist Durbin Feeling dies". The Oklahoman.
  8. ^ a b c "Preaching the Gospel the Baptist Way in Cherokee". Seven Clans of the Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah of Mexico, Texas, and U.S.A. Reservation and Church. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c "Cherokees honor Vietnam vet". Muskogee Phoenix. April 27, 2014.
  10. ^ a b Baker, Bill John (April 25, 2019). "Registry strives to record all Cherokee speakers". Tulsa World.
  11. ^ Guide: A Guide to Departments, a Directory of Members. American Anthropological Association. 2008. p. 280. ISBN 978-0-9799094-4-3.
  12. ^ Feeling, Durbin (2018). Cherokee Narratives: A Linguistic Study. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-8061-6062-7.
  13. ^ Johnson, Keith (April 15, 2002). "Untitled [letter recommending Durbin Feeling for honorary doctorate]". Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  14. ^ "Durbin Feeling Collection". Sam Noble Museum. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  15. ^ "Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passes Durbin Feeling Native American Language Act". Cherokee Phoenix. August 6, 2021. Retrieved August 9, 2021.