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Chickasaw Pronunciation and Spelling Guide

Welcome to our Chickasaw alphabet page! The following charts show the pronunciation for the Chickasaw orthography we have used on our site, as well as some alternate spellings that you may find in other books and websites.

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Chickasaw Vowels

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Chickasaw pronunciation:
a  v, υ, ạ  a ~ Like the a in father or the a in what.
aa  a, á, ā  a Like the a in father, only held longer.
a  a, an, ą, ã  ã Like a only pronounced nasally. In English, it slightly resembles the on in conch.
i    i ~  I Like the i in police or the i in pit.
ii  e, í, ī, i  i Like the i in police, only held longer.
i  i, in, į, ĩ  ĩ Like i only pronounced nasally. In English, it slightly resembles the een in teensy.
ia iha  æ Like a in cat.
o  u, oo  o ~ Like the o in note or the u in put.
oo  ó, ō, o  o Like the o in note, only held longer.
o  o, on, , õ  õ Like o only pronounced nasally. In English, it slightly resembles the on in don't.

Chickasaw Diphthongs

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: How To Pronounce It:
aw au, ao  aw Like ow in English cow.
ay ai  aj ~ ej Like English eye. Before a consonant, it is sometimes pronounced like ay in day.

Chickasaw Consonants

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Chickasaw pronunciation:
b    b Like b in bill.
ch  č, c  t Like ch in chair.
f    f Like f in far.
h    h Like h in hay.
k    kh Like k in kite.
l    l Like l in light.
lh  hl, ł  ł This sound is a lateral fricative that doesn't really exist in English. It sounds like the "ll" in the Welsh name "Llewellyn." Some English speakers can pronounce Chickasaw "lh" well if they try to pronounce the "breathy l" in the word clue without the c in front of it.
m    m Like m in moon.
n    n Like n in night.
ng     Like ng in sing.
p    ph Like p in pie.
s    s Like s in see.
sh  š   Like sh in shy.
t    th Like t in tie (see Voicing, below).
w   w Like w in way.
y    j Like y in yes.
 ?, h   A pause sound, like the one in the middle of the word "uh-oh."

Chickasaw Double Consonants

When a Chickasaw word is spelled with double letters, like issi' (deer) or hattak (man), the consonant must be pronounced with double length. For an English speaker, the easiest way to pronounce a Chickasaw 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 issi', and the t sounds in "night-time" are pronounced like the ones in hattak.

Chickasaw Tense and Lax Vowels

The short vowels a, i and o have two different possible Chickasaw pronunciations. In a syllable that does not end with a consonant (an open syllable), they are usually pronounced tense, like the a in father, i in police or o in note. But in a syllable that does end with a consonant (a closed syllable), they are usually pronounced lax, like the a in what, i in pin or the u in put.

So niha, "fat," is usually pronounced [niha], while nittak, "day," is usually pronounced [nIttk].

However, some Chickasaw speakers frequently pronounce short vowels lax even in open syllables.

Chickasaw Stress

Chickasaw 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 Chickasaw pronunciation, 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 a Chickasaw word.

Chickasaw Rhythm and Vowels

Chickasaw is a very rhythmic language. This can make it difficult for English speakers to learn to pronounce the language properly, because the pronunciation of a word changes depending on the context. In general, every second syllable is pronounced as a "strong" or "heavy" syllable in Chickasaw pronunciation. If a second syllable is already "heavy"--it ends in a consonant, has a long or nasal vowel, or both--then it already fits the rhythm of the language. But if it is not, then the short vowel in that syllable (a, i, or o) is naturally lengthened to a long vowel (aa, ii, and oo). The exception is vowels at the end of a word, which are normally never lengthened.

So a verb like pisa, "see," is pronounced [pisa]. But pisali, "I see," is pronounced [pisa:li]. And ilipisa, "she sees herself," is pronounced [ili:pisa].

Some Chickasaw speakers even carry this effect over into whole phrases, not just single words. So although losa is the general Chickasaw word for "black" and is pronounced [losa] by itself, nashooba losa, "black wolf," is sometimes pronounced [nao:ba lo:sa].

Chickasaw Indian Pronunciation and Vocabulary Resources

   Chickasaw vocabulary
   Chickasaw picture dictionary
   Chickasaw colors
   Chickasaw numbers
   Chickasaw alphabet and links
   Muskogean language family
   Southeast Woodlands languages
   Tribes of Mississippi
   Chickasaw legends

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