Plains Cree

Sound System & Alphabet

Sounds of the Plains Cree

Each and every language has its own distinctive system of sound patterns that can be accurately represented through a written system. Many sounds identified in Cree are also heard in other languages, such as English, French, and Blackfoot. The Cree language sound system is unique, and requires a specific writing system that is custom-made to represent the individual language. The standard roman orthography (SRO) is used to represent the sound system for a majority of languages used all over the world. The Cree language, “y” dialect, also uses the SRO writing system. The SRO is used, because it is the most widely utilised form of writing system being employed in today’s Cree writing system. The syllabic writing system is also used, however people are more attuned to the alphabetic SRO. For the time being the SRO will be used to represent the Cree Language sound system. The syllabic writing system will be available in the near future if requested by an overwhelming number. The Cree phonemic system consists of ten consonants. These consonants are as follows, p, t, k, m, n, s, y, c, w, and the “h” sound.


Consonants

The first three consonants ‘p, t, k,’ are unaspirated, therefore at times these consonants may sound like the English sound of, ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘g’.
‘P’ may sound like the ‘P’ sound in English ‘spill’
Péyak = one
Poni = to stop

‘T’ may sound like the ‘T’ sound in English ‘still’

Tanisi = how
Tawaw = welcome

‘K’ may sound like the ‘k’ sound in English ‘skill’
Kitwam = again
kispin = if

The ‘c’ corresponds with ‘ch’ as in the English sounds of, church, chum, champ, or tch as in catch, patch, match, to the sound of ‘ts’ as in cats, pats, mats. The ‘c’ character usually represents the ‘tch’ sound in the Plains Cree dialect. The ‘c’ sound is also unaspirated as with the p, t, and k sounds.
Ciman = canoe
Ciskwa = just a minute / second

There is a tendency to hear these four consonants as being pronounced with the voiced phonemes of English b, d, g, and j, when they occur between vowels.
The ‘p’ sounds like the English ‘b’
Cipay (cheebay)= ghost
Saponikan (saboneegun) = needle

The ‘t’ sounds like the English ‘d’
Miton ( midoon) = mouth
Otapotwiw (odapooteew) = to be pulled/sucked into the current
The k sounds like the g in words as follows
Masinahikan ( masinahigun) = a book/ letter, a written document
Mahikan (maheegun) = wolf
The ‘c’ sounds like the English ‘j’
Nicosim (neejosem) = my nephew / sister’s son
Wisahkicahk (wesakeyjack) = the trickster of Cree legends

The other consonants (m, n, s, y, w, h) will sound similar to the English
pronunciation.

The ‘m’ sounds like the ‘m’ in; Moose, mouse and mom.

There is hardly any difference between the Cree ‘m’ and the English ‘m’

Moswa = moose
Mita = wood/fire wood
Mama = mom

The ‘n’ in Cree is quite similar to the ‘n’ in English. The sound is an alveolar nasal stop ‘n’.

Namoya = no
Niya = myself
Namwac = a negation

The ‘s’ is an unaspirated voiceless affricate that sounds similar to the English ‘s’ skip, some, soon.
The Plains Cree do have a strong unaspiration for the ‘s’ sound. Words like Sheila, shall, shag are pronounced as seila, sall and sag.

‘S’ Words in Cree are as follows

Sísíp = duck
Sikak = skunk
Sípiy = river

The ‘y’ is a palatal glide that sounds similar to the English ‘y’ sound in these words: Yarn, yard, and you.

In Cree these words are most frequent in today’s speech

Soniyáw = money
Yaho = oops
Péyak = one

The ‘w’ in Cree is also pronounced quite similar to the English ‘w’ in words like wow, wet, wild, word and world.

Cree words for the ‘w’ sound are as follows

Wápos = rabbit
Wáhyaw = far
Wacask = muskrat

The Cree ‘h’ sound is most similar to the English ‘h’ sound. The ‘h’ sound rarely occurs at the beginning of Cree wording. The ‘h’ is a glottal, fricative that appears quite commonly before consonants and between vowels. A breath of air or an aspiration is very important to significantly deter words in spoken Cree. It will give a distinct difference in meaning between words. Example of words with the ‘h sound’ articulated in different parts of a word that gives a distinct meaning;

Nitih = my heart
Nihtiy = my tea
Nitiy = my bum

Here are some examples of the dialect differences in Saskatchewan
The word for “wind” in the three Cree dialects is as follows.

Thotin - ‘th’ dialect
Yotin - ‘y’ dialect
Ñotin - ‘n’ dialect

Word for the third person is as follows (him/her/it);

Witha
Wiya
Wiña

The negator or using the word ‘not’ is as follows;

Namotha
Namoya
Namoña

The word for ‘one’ is as follows;

Píyak
Péyak
Péyak

The ‘y’ sound remains constant except for the vowel in the woods Cree, which differs slightly.
Pending on one’s location and the articulation of the vowels, the vowel sounds will range within each community of spoken Cree. In most cases of the Plains Cree vowels are as follows.

There are long vowels and short vowels;
The short vowels are - a, i, o
The long vowels are - á, í, ó, é

The short ‘a’ vowel sound is almost equivalent to the English initial ‘a’ sound in the word. Cree sample words,
Api - Sit,
Atim - Dog,
Apisis - A little / A small amount.

The short ‘i’ sound is most equivalent to the English ‘i’ sound in the word ‘if’.

Cree sample word of the ‘i’ sound is;
Isko -Thus far.

The short ‘o’ vowel sound of the ‘y’ Cree dialect sounds like the English ‘o’ in the word “hook”, an example of a Cree word;
Ospwákan

Cree vowel sounds are reasonably similar to the English vowel sounds as seen above.

The long vowels “á, í, ó, and é” of the plains Cree are similar to vowel sounds found in the English language.

The ‘á’ is a long ‘a’ sound equivalent to the ‘a’ in the music note of ‘fa’ also in ‘doe’ or in the words ‘mat, fat, and mass’.

A Cree example of the long ‘á’ sound is ástam

The ‘í’sound is similar to the ‘ea’ in the word beat. The long ‘í’ has the sound of an English ‘ee’ sound. Other words in English that are equivalent to the Cree sound for the long ‘í’ is ‘me, meat, and bee’. Examples of Cree words with the long ‘í’ sound are as follows;
Sísíp – Duck.
Sípan – Durable.
Íh – Look.

The long ‘ó’ in Cree is similar to the ‘O’ in the English words, ‘over, wore, worn’. Examples of the long ‘ó’ in Cree are;
Óta
móswa
namóya


The ‘é’ vowel sound in Cree is similar to the ‘ay’ in the English words, ‘bay and lay’. Examples of the ‘é’ sound in Cree are;
Napéw - Man
Iskwéw - Woman
Ékosi – Correct / So it is.

Short vowels in Cree a, i, o,

Occurrences of short vowels in the initial, medial and final positions;

Initial
(a)
api – sit
apisís – a little/ small amount
astotin – hat

(i)
isko – thus far
ispathin – thus the way, thus take place
isi – thus there

(o)
osám – because, for
osíh – perpare
osk-áy – young person

Medial
(a)
maskwa – bear
kotak – another
nawac – more than

(i)
atim – dog
kisinaw – cold/ weather
otin – take s.o./ s.t.

(o)
kotak – another
mosóm – grandfather
óhkom - grandmother

Final
(a)
kista – you too/ also
mínisa – berries
awina – who

(i)
óki – these (animate)
óhi – these (inanimate)
póni – stop/ cease

(o)
isko – to such an extent
íwako – that one
itakiso – be counted thus

The long vowels of the plains Cree are ‘á, í, ó, é’
The occurrences of the long vowels in the initial, medial and final positions;

Initial
(á)
ániskotápán – great grandchild
ásay - already

(í)
íhí - yes
íka – not

(ó)
óki - these
óta – here

(é)
ékosi – so it is
ékwa – and/also

Medial
(á)
tánisi – hello/ how are you
awásis – child

(í)
sísíp – duck
cíki – near

(ó)
póni – cease
póna – make fire

(é)
nipéwin – bed
mwéhci – just; just then; exactly

Final
(á)
nipá
– sleep

(í)
tapasí - flee
nípí – leaf

(o)
pasikó – get up

(é)
nimisé – older sister
óté – over here/there

The Plains Cree Alphabet Chart

a
á
i
í
o
ó
é
W
wa
wi
wí
wo
P
pa
pi
pí
po
T
ta
ti
tí
to
K
ka
ki
kí
ko
M
ma
mi
mí
mo
N
na
ni
ní
no
S
sa
si
so
Y
ya
yi
yí
yo
C
ca
ci
cí
co
H
ha
hi
hí
ho

Words in Cree with the vowels sounds

The ‘a’ sound or the short ‘a’
Apisís – a little bit
Atim – dog
Astotin – hat
Pamih – tend to him/her
Pasiko – get up
Maskwa – bear
Wacask – muskrat
Píyak – one
Akohp – blanket
Anáskán – sheet

The long á sound

Ácimo – tell a story
Ásóní – in particular
Áta – although
Átot – tell about something
Átiht – some
Tánisi – hello
Nápiw – male/ man/ adult
Sikák – skunk

The short ‘i’ sound

ispí – at such time
iskwíw – female adult person
isi – thus, there
ita – there; there where
ihtako – exist
ihkin – occur, take place

The long í sound

íh – look (point with a finger and say [íh] look )
íkwaskwan – be cloudy
Níso – two
Nísta – I, too; I myself
Nípin – summer
Wícih – to help s.o.

The short ‘o’ sound

osíh – to make/ to prepare
osám – because
ohtitaw – expressly, specifically, it is meet indeed
sihko – to spit
mihko – blood
piko – must; only

The long ‘ó’ sound

óma – this
óh – from there
ómisi – in this way
tipót – discuss s.t. with authority
tótaw – do thus to s.o.

the ‘é’ sound
ékwa – and/also
éká – no; not ( a negator)
ékoni – those
kakékinam – s/he picks up

Words in Cree that sound alike, minimal pairs

sákahikan – a lake
sakahikan – a nail

askihk – a pail
askíhk – on the land/reserve

niyánan – five
niyanán – us

móniyáw – a Caucasian
sóniyáw - money

kisitíw – it is hot
kísitíw – it is cooked

póna – make a fire
kóna – snow

sihko – spit
mihko – blood

nipí – water
nípí – a leaf/ a blade of grass

tápwí – truly/really
tépwí – yell/ holler

 

 

 
Saskatchewan Indian Cultural Centre