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Choctaw Pronunciation and Spelling Guide
Welcome to our Choctaw alphabet page!
The following charts show the pronunciation for the Choctaw
orthography we have used on our site, as well as some alternate spellings
that you may find in other books and websites.
|| á, ā, aa
||Like the a in father, only held longer.
|| an, ą, ã
||Like a only pronounced nasally. In English, it slightly resembles the on in conch.
|| í, ī, i, ii
||Like the i in police, only held longer.
|| I ~ i
||Like the i in pit or the i in police.
|| in, į, ĩ
|| ĩ ~ Ĩ
||Like e or i only pronounced nasally. In English, it slightly resembles the in in winks
or the een in teensy.
|| ó, ō, oo
||Like the o in note, only held longer.
|| on, , õ
||Like o only pronounced nasally. In English, it slightly resembles the on in don't.
|| o, oo
|| o ~
||Like the o in note or the u in put.
|| v, υ, ạ, a
||Like the u in cup.
||Like ow in English cow.
||Like English eye.
||Like b in bill.
|| č, c
||Like ch in chair.
||Like f in English far.
||Like h in English hay.
||Like k in kite.
||Like l in light.
|| hl, 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
it well if they try to pronounce the "breathy l" in the word clue without the c
in front of it.
||Like m in moon.
||Like n in night.
||Like p in pie.
||Like s in sing.
||Like sh in shy.
||Like t in tie (see Voicing, below).
||Like w in way.
||Like y in yes.
|| ?, h
||A pause sound, like the one in the middle of the word "uh-oh."
Choctaw Double Consonants
When a Choctaw 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 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.
Choctaw Tense and Lax Vowels
The short vowels i and u have two different possible pronunciations. In a syllable that does not end with
a consonant (an open syllable), they are usually pronounced tense, like the i in police or the o
in note. But in a syllable that does end with a consonant (a closed syllable), they are usually pronounced
lax, like the i in pin or the u in put.
So nihi, "seed," is usually pronounced [nihi], while
nishkin, "eye," is usually pronounced [nIshkIn].
A Spelling Ambiguity
The letter "v" is commonly used in Southeast Native American languages to represent a short "u" sound. This is a spelling
convention that came from English missionaries, who wanted to make a distinction between the "u" sound in "put" and the
"u" sound in "putt." So they used an English "u" for the vowel in "put," and a Greek "u," υ, for the vowel in "putt." Most
English speakers don't know Greek as well as those missionaries did, so it's been converted to a "v" over time.
However, the missionaries left a spelling quirk behind that can make learning to pronounce Choctaw more difficult. They consistently
spelled a letter "v" as an "a" at the end of a word and sometimes at the beginning of a word. That's because in English, the
letter "a" is almost always pronounced "uh" at the end of a word (think of names such as Sara, Nora, Sasha, etc.) and often
at the beginning of a word (above, around, again, etc.)
That means when you see a Choctaw word that ends in the letter "a," you have no way of knowing whether it really
ends in a or in v. For example, the Choctaw word for bear, "oka," is actually pronounced "okv."
But the word for lake, "okhata," truly is pronounced "okhata."
You need to remember the pronunciation of a Choctaw word that ends in "a" yourself, just as you need to remember that
the vowels in English words like "cow," "now," "low" and "tow" do not all sound the same when you pronounce them.
Choctaw 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 Choctaw, 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. Just like in English, there's no way to guess which syllable of
a Choctaw word is stressed. You just have to learn it when you learn the word. Though it doesn't change the pronunciation of a vowel,
word stress in Choctaw does have an effect on sentence rhythm.
Choctaw is a very rhythmic language. This can make it tough for English speakers to learn to pronounce it properly,
because the pronunciation of a word can change depending on the sentence surrounding it. In particular,
every second syllable in a phrase is generally pronounced as a "strong" or "heavy" syllable in Choctaw.
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
(v, i, or u) is naturally lengthened to a long vowel (a, e, and o).
So although lusa is the general Choctaw word for "black" and is pronounced [los]
in isolation, "black wolf" is nashoba losa in Choctaw, pronounced
Or nita, which means "bear" in Choctaw, is pronounced [nit],
but "one bear," nita achvffa, is pronounced /nita: tff/.
(With the "heavy" syllables marked in blue, those two phrases are nashoba losa
and nita achvffa.)
If you've ever seen the same Choctaw word written with two different spellings (like lusa and losa) or described with two different
pronunciations (like nee-tuh and nee-tah,) this is probably why. It's impossible to know what the exact pronunciation of most
Choctaw words will be without knowing what sentence you're going to be using it in.
Choctaw Indian Pronunciation and Vocabulary Resources
Choctaw picture dictionary
Choctaw alphabet and pronunciation
Southeastern Native Americans
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