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Blackfoot Pronunciation and Spelling Guide (Siksika, Blackfeet)

The following charts show the pronunciation for the Blackfoot 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 Blackfoot relates to other languages from the Algonquian family.

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Blackfoot Vowels

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Blackfoot pronunciation:
a    a ~ Like the a in father. Before a double consonant or long consonant cluster, it sounds more like the a in what.
aa  â, a:, á  a Like the a in father, only held longer.
ai    e ~ ε ~ æ ~ aj Varies between the vowel sounds in bate, bet, bat, and bite.
ao     ~ aw Like aw in caw. Sometimes it sounds more like ow in cow
i    i ~ I Like the i in police. Before a double consonant or long consonant cluster, it sounds more like the i in pit.
ii  î, i:, í  i Like the i in police, only held longer.
o   o ~ Like the o in note. Before a double consonant or long consonant cluster, it sounds more like the u in put.
oi    oj Like oy in boy.
oo  ô, o:, ó o Like the o in note, only held longer.

Blackfoot Consonants

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Blackfoot pronunciation:
ts  c, ch, č ts Like ts in tsunami or cats.
h  x, ch  h ~ x Before a vowel, it is pronounced like the h in English hay. Before a consonant, most Blackfoot speakers pronounce the h more raspily, like the j in jalapeño.
k  g  k Like the soft, unaspirated k in skate.
ks  x  ks Like the soft ks at the end of asks.
m    m Like m in English moon.
n  ñ  n Like n in English night.
p  b  p Like the soft, unaspirated p in spin.
s    s Like s in see.
t  d  t ~ d Like the soft, unaspirated t in star.
w   w Like w in English way.
y    y Like y in English yes.
    A pause sound, like the one in the middle of the word "uh-oh."

Blackfoot Dialect Variation

Blackfoot people from different bands pronounce their language a little differently, just as English speakers from different regions speak with different accents. The most noticeable dialect difference is the diphthong ai. Most Blackfoot speakers pronounce this sound like the ay in way, with a shorter sound like the e in wet before double consonants or long consonant clusters. But on the Kainai (Blood) reserve, they usually pronounce this sound like the a in bag. And on the Piikani (Peigan) reserve, many people pronounce it more like the English word eye. There are some other pronunciation differences as well--Kainai people pronounce many words with extra s's, for example. These are minor differences and Blackfoot speakers don't have any more trouble understanding each other than English speakers in Canada and the US do.

Blackfoot Double Consonants

When a Blackfoot word is spelled with double consonants, like nisskán (my younger sibling) or mottaka (shadow), the consonant must be pronounced with double length. For an English speaker, the easiest way to pronounce a consonant with double length is to imagine a word break between the two consonants. The s sounds in "dress suit" are pronounced like the ones in nisskán, and the t sounds in "hot tub" are pronounced like the ones in mottaka.

Blackfoot Stress

In English, a stressed syllable is primarily pronounced louder than other syllables in a word. In Blackfoot, a stressed syllable is pronounced a little louder, but also higher pitched than other syllables surrounding it. In Blackfoot, as in English, there is no way to predict which syllable of a word is stressed. You just have to learn it when you learn the word. Many Blackfoot language teachers try to help their students by placing accent marks over the stressed syllable, like this:

nínaawa (the man)
aakííwa (the woman)

We have also done this on our site. However, when native speakers of Blackfoot are writing, they do not usually write down accent marks. Just like fluent English speakers, they remember where the stress in each word is automatically and do not spend their time marking it on every word.

One other important note about stress: in English, an unstressed vowel is often shortened or weakened to a schwa. (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.) In Blackfoot, it is important not to shorten or change the sound of an unstressed vowel. The difference between a long and short vowel often changes the meaning of a word in Blackfoot, and changing a vowel sound to a schwa can make the word incomprehensible.

Blackfoot Indian Pronunciation and Vocabulary Resources

   Blackfoot dictionary (Amazon affiliate link)
   Blackfoot (Siksika) words
   Blackfoot picture dictionary
   Blackfoot body parts
   Blackfoot colors
   Blackfoot written language
   Algonquian speaking tribes
   Northern Plains region

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