Durbin Feeling

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Durbin Feeling
Durbin Feeling, 1964
Born(1946-04-02)April 2, 1946
DiedAugust 19, 2020(2020-08-19) (aged 74)
NationalityCherokee Nation, American
Occupation(s)Linguist, educator

Durbin Feeling (Cherokee: ᏫᎵ ᏚᎥᎢᏅ, romanized: Wili Duvinv; April 2, 1946 – August 19, 2020) was a Cherokee Nation linguist who wrote the primary Cherokee–English dictionary in 1975. He is considered the greatest modern contributor to the preservation of the endangered Cherokee language.[1][2][3][4]

Early life[edit]

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 death[edit]

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

He died August 19, 2020.[1]

Influence and legacy[edit]

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]

Feeling is the namesake of the Cherokee Nation's language learning center (the Durbin Feeling Language Center)[14] and 2022 legislation protecting indigenous languages (the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act).[15]

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.[16]

Selected works[edit]

  • Feeling, Durbin. Cherokee–English Dictionary. Tahlequah: Cherokee Nation, 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 "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. Archived from the original on August 20, 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 22, 2020. Retrieved August 23, 2020.
  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]". Archived from the original on May 3, 2015. Retrieved August 5, 2021.
  14. ^ Bark, Lindsey (November 16, 2022). "CN celebrates opening of Durbin Feeling Language Center". Cherokee Phoenix. Retrieved September 12, 2023.
  15. ^ Hunter, Chad (January 10, 2023). "President Biden signs Native language acts into law". Cherokee Phoenix. Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  16. ^ "Durbin Feeling Collection". Sam Noble Museum. February 19, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2020.