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Penobscot-Abenaki Pronunciation and Spelling Guide

Welcome to our Abenaki alphabet page! The Penobscot-Abenaki language is not a difficult language for English speakers to learn to pronounce--with only one exception, all of its sounds are similar to sounds that exist in English. However, spelling can sometimes cause problems for language learners. Penobscot-Abenaki was not originally a written language, and there have been multiple different alphabets used to write Abenaki and Penobscot words.

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The following charts show the pronunciation for the Abenaki orthography we have used on our site, as well as some alternate spellings that you may find in other books and websites. You may also like to visit our Algonquian languages homepage to see how Penobscot-Abenaki relates to other languages from the Algonquian family.

Abenaki Vowels

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Abenaki pronunciation:
a     Like the a in father.
aa  a:   Like a only held longer.
e  ' or omitted  ə ~ ε Schwa sound like the e in roses. Sometimes, especially in the beginning of a word, it is pronounced more like the e in mess.
i   Midway between the vowel sounds in hit and heat.
ii  i:  i Like i only held longer.
o  w  o ~ u Long o as in note. Sometimes, especially in the beginning of a word, it is pronounced more like the "oo" in "root."
oo  o:  o Like o only held longer.
ô  8, on, o, ou   This vowel does not exist in English. It sounds a little like aw in dawn, nasalized like the end of the French words bon and Jean.

Abenaki Diphthongs

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Abenaki pronunciation:
ai ay, ï  aj Like English eye.
aw ao, au  aw Like ow in English cow.
iw    iw Like eu in the English word reunion.
oi oy  oj Like oy in English boy.

Abenaki Consonants

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Abenaki pronunciation:
b    b Like b in English boy.
c ch, ts  ts~t Like the ts at the beginning of tsunami, or the middle of Betsy. Very rarely, in only a few words, it is pronounced like the ch in church. Some people spell those exceptions with a capital C to differentiate them.
d    d Like d in English dog.
g    g Like g in English go.
h    h Like h in English heart.
j dz, ds dz~d Like the ds at the end of roads, or the middle of Edsel. Very rarely, in only a few words, it is pronounced like the j in juice. Some people spell those exceptions with a capital J to differentiate them.
k    k Like a strong English k in a word like pickle.
l    l Similar to l in English light.
m    m Like m in English moon.
n    n Like n in English night.
p    p Like a strong English p in a word like ripple.
s    s Like s in English see.
t    t Like a strong English t in a word like nighttime.
w   w Like w in English way.
y    j Like y in English yes.
z    z ~ s Like z in English zoo. At the end of a word, it sounds the same as s.
kw ku kw~kw Usually it is pronounced like qu in English queen, but at the end of a word, it is pronounced more like a k with a puff of air after it.
gw gu gw~gw Usually it is pronounced like gw in Gwen, but at the end of a word, it is pronounced more like a g with a puff of air after it.

Abenaki Stress

Abenaki-Penobscot has less pronounced word stress than English does. In English, unstressed vowels are often weakened to schwas, which makes the stress sound very strong. (An example of this is the word "rebel." When "rebel" is a noun, the stress is on the first syllable and the word is pronounced REH-bəl. When "rebel" is a verb, the stress is on the second syllable and the word is pronounced rə-BELL.) But in Abenaki-Penobscot, all vowels are pronounced fully regardless of stress. If you weaken an unstressed vowel to a schwa you will often change the meaning of the word, so be careful not to do this!

Although stress is less pronounced than it is in English, it is still present. Generally speaking, the stress is on the last syllable of an Abenaki-Penobscot word.

Abenaki-Penobscot Pronunciation and Vocabulary Resources

   The Language of Basket Making
   Abenaki words
   Abenaki animal words
   Abenaki body words
   Abenaki colors
   Abenaki numbers
   The Abenaki alphabet
   The Algonquians
   Eastern Woodlands languages
   Native Americans of Vermont

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