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Cree Pronunciation and Spelling Guide

Welcome to our Cree phonology page! The Cree language has its own syllabic writing system which is distinct from English and other European alphabets. You can see a chart of the Cree syllabary on this page. The language is also frequently written alphabetically, using a modified English alphabet. The following charts show the pronunciation for the alphabetic Cree 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 Cree relates to other languages from the Algonquian family.

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Cree Vowels

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Cree pronunciation:
a     ~ Like the a in what. After w it sounds more like the au in taut.
â  aa, á  a ~ Like the a in father. After w it sounds more like the aw in saw.
e  ê, ee  e Like the e sound in Spanish, similar to the a in gaze.
i    I Like the i in pit.
î  ii, í  i Like the ee in seed.
o  u Like the u in put.
ô  oo, ó o Like the o in lone.

Cree Diphthongs

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Cree pronunciation:
aw    w~aw Similar to the aw in awake. In some dialects it's pronounced like the ow in cow.
âw    aw Like ow in English cow.
ay    aj Like English eye.
ew    ew This sound doesn't really exist in English. It sounds a little like saying the "AO" from "AOL" quickly.
ey    ej Like the ay in hay.
iw    uw~ow Like oe in shoe. In some dialects it is pronounced like ow in show.
îw    iw Like a child saying ew!
iy    ij Like ee in see.
ow    ow Like the ow in show.
oy    oj Like the oy in boy, especially the way it's pronounced in Australian English.

Cree Consonants

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Cree pronunciation:
c  ch, ts, č, dj ts~t~d Like ts in tsunami or ch in chair, or like j in jar (see Voicing, below).
h    h Like h in English hay.
k  g  k ~ g Like k in skate or g in gate (see Voicing, below).
kw   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.
l    l Like l in English light.
m    m Like m in English moon.
n  ñ  n Like n in English night.
p  p  p ~ b Like p in spill or b in bill (see Voicing, below).
s    s Like s in see.
sh  š   Like sh in shy.
t  d  t ~ d Like t in sty or d in die (see Voicing, below).
th    ð Like th in English this.
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."

Cree Dialect Variation

Cree is spoken all throughout Canada, and so there are multiple dialects of the language. The main difference between Cree dialects is that the consonant that is pronounced l in Moose Cree is pronounced th in North Cree, y in Plains and Eastern Cree, and n in Swampy Cree. So the word for "wind" is pronounced lôtin in Moose Cree but yôtin in Plains Cree, nôtin in Swampy Cree, and thôtin in Northern Cree. Also, speakers further to the west pronounced s instead of sh, and speakers to the east and north pronounce î or â instead of e. Nonetheless, speakers of different Cree dialects are able to understand each other, just like English speakers from America, Canada, and Australia can (despite significant differences in their accents.)

Cree Consonant Voicing

Some pairs of consonants that are distinct in English are merged in Cree. These pairs of consonants are:

k and g
p and b
t and d
c and j

When they come between two vowels, these consonants are always pronounced voiced (as g, b, d, and j.) Anywhere else in a word, these consonants are pronounced voiceless (as k, p, t, and c.)

For example:

pâkân is pronounced pâgân
sohkan is pronounced sohkan
kaskatin is pronounced kaskadin

There are some exceptions to this rule, but they're complicated. Since the same consonant is always pronounced the same way in the same position, you can never make an error with voicing that could confuse a Cree word's meaning. The worst it can do is make your accent sound bad.

Strong h's

In Cree, unlike in English, the letter h is pronounced before a consonant as well as between vowels. For some Cree speakers, it is pronounced like any other h here (you can get the hang of pronouncing an h before a consonant by practicing the sound you make breathing on glass to fog it up.) But for other Cree speakers, h becomes a stronger sound when it is pronounced before a consonant:

1) Before a k, h can be pronounced gutturally, like the ch in the German word ach.
So sohkan is pronounced [sohkn] by some speakers, and [soxkn] by others.

2) Before a t, h can be pronounced like the th in think.
So mahti is pronounced [mahti] by some speakers and [maθti] by others.

3) Before a c, h can be pronounced like the sh in sheep.
So kihci is pronounced [kihti] by some speakers and [kiti] by others.

4) Before a p, h can be pronounced like the f in feel.
So pâhpowin is pronounced [pa:hpwin] by some speakers and [pa:fpwin] by others.
This is the rarest of the four.

Not all Cree speakers pronounce their h's this way, and you don't have to use these pronunciations yourself, but it's good to be aware of them.

Cree Indian Pronunciation and Vocabulary Resources

   Cree words
   Cree picture dictionary
   Cree numbers
   Cree alphabet and syllabary
   Cree alphabet converter
   Algonquians
   Woodland Native Americans
   Quebec Indians
   Cree mythology

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