American Indian languages
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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.
|| a ~
||Like the a in father. Before a double consonant or long consonant cluster, it sounds more
like the a in what.
|| â, a:, á
||Like the a in father, only held longer.
|| e ~ ε ~ æ ~ aj
||Varies between the vowel sounds in bate, bet, bat, and bite.
|| ~ aw
||Like aw in caw. Sometimes it sounds more like
ow in cow
|| i ~ I
||Like the i in police. Before a double consonant or long consonant cluster, it sounds more
like the i in pit.
|| î, i:, í
||Like the i in police, only held longer.
||Like the o in note. Before a double consonant or long consonant cluster, it sounds more
like the u in put.
||Like oy in boy.
|| ô, o:, ó
||Like the o in note, only held longer.
|| c, ch, č
||Like ts in tsunami or cats.
|| 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.
||Like the soft, unaspirated k in skate.
||Like the soft ks at the end of asks.
||Like m in English moon.
||Like n in English night.
||Like the soft, unaspirated p in spin.
||Like s in see.
|| t ~ d
||Like the soft, unaspirated t in star.
||Like w in English way.
||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.
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 written language
Algonquian speaking tribes
Northern Plains region
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