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Potawatomi Pronunciation and Spelling Guide

Welcome to our Potawatomi alphabet page! The following charts show the pronunciation for the Potawatomi 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 homepage to see how Potawatomi relates to other languages from the Algonquian family.

Potawatomi Vowels

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Potawatomi pronunciation:
a    a Like the a in father.
e    ε ~ ə Like the e in set or the e in asset.
é  e', ae  æ ~ ε Like the a in lad or the e in led.
I  e  I Like the i in pit.
i    i Like the ee in seek.
o  u  o Like the o in note.
u  o, e, v   ~ Like the u in put or the u in putt.

Potawatomi Diphthongs

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Potawatomi pronunciation:
aw    aw Like ow in English cow.
ay    aj Like English eye.
ew    ew This sound doesn't really exist in English. The Potawatomi pronunciation sounds a little like saying the "AO" from "AOL" quickly.
ey    ej Like the ay in hay.
iw    iw Like a child saying ew!
ow    ow Like the ow in show.

Potawatomi Consonants

Character
We Use:
Sometimes
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Potawatomi pronunciation:
b  p  b ~ p Like b in bill or p in spill.
c  ch, č, th, tth  t ~ t Like ch in chair, or held longer like the ch sh in which shoes.
d    d ~ t Like d in dill or t in still.
g    g ~ k Like g in gate or k in skate.
h    h Like h in English hay.
j  dj, th, tth  d Like j in jar.
k    kh ~ kh Like k in keep, or held longer like the kc in bookcase.
m    m Like m in English moon.
n    n Like n in English night.
p    ph ~ ph Like p in pin or held longer like the p p in hip pad.
s  c  s ~ s Like s in see, or held longer like the ss s in chess set.
sh  š   ~ Like sh in shy, or held longer like the sh sh in fish shape.
t    th ~ th Like t in tell or held longer like the tt in nighttime.
w   w Like w in English way.
y    j Like y in English yes.
z    z Like z in zoo.
zh  ž   Like the ge sound at the end of mirage.
    A pause sound, like the one in the middle of the word "uh-oh."

Potawatomi Consonant Voicing and Aspiration

In English, the main difference between consonants like p and b is that p is unvoiced (pronounced without the vocal chords vibrating.) If you put your fingers on your adam's-apple and pronounced "b" and "p," you will see that it vibrates when you say "b," but not when you say "p." This is true whenever you pronounce a b or p in English. However, p is sometimes aspirated (pronounced with a breath of air) and other times not. Place your fingers in front of your mouth and say "pin," then "spin." You can feel more air puffing out of your mouth with the aspirated "p" in "pin" than the unaspirated "p" in "spin."

Potawatomi is just the opposite. Voicing isn't very important to Potawatomi pronunciation. The letter b is sometimes pronounced voiced, like the "b" in English "bin," and other times unvoiced, like the "p" in English "spin." At the end of a word, for example, consonants are always devoiced. Sometimes this is confusing to English speakers. However, the letter b is never pronounced aspirated, like the "p" in English "pin." Only the Potawatomi letter p can be pronounced that way. So if you are in doubt, err on the side of pronouncing b as in bin and p as in pin. A Potawatomi speaker will always be able to understand you this way (though your accent might sound bad.) If you aspirated a b by accident, you could completely change the meaning of a word.

Potawatomi Weak Vowels

In the Potawatomi orthography we are using, "weak vowels" (unstressed e, I, o and u vowels) are not written out in the spelling. That's because Potawatomi speakers drop those vowels and don't pronounce them. Older orthographies written by English speakers sometimes wrote these letters out even though they were not pronounced, to help non-native speakers remember the root of the word.

Potawatomi Dialect Variation

There are two main dialects of Potawatomi: Southern Potawatomi (which is spoken in Kansas and Oklahoma) and Northern Potawatomi (which is spoken in the Great Lakes region.) The two sound a little different from each other. For one thing, consonants at the beginning of a word are usually pronounced without aspiration in Northern Potawatomi pronunciation, so that p is pronounced (and often spelled) like a b at the beginning of a word, k is pronounced like a g, and so on. Another difference is that at the end of a word, the vowel e is pronounced like an é in Southern Potawatomi.

So kizes is pronounced [khizəs] in Southern Potawatomi but [kizəs] in Northern Potawatomi, and anwe is pronounced [anwə] in Northern Potawatomi but [anwæ] in Southern Potawatomi.

These differences are similar to the differences between dialects of American English spoken in different states, and Potawatomi speakers don't have any trouble understanding each other.

Potawatomi Indian Pronunciation and Vocabulary Resources

   Potawatomi words
   Potawatomi picture dictionary
   The Potawatomi alphabet
   Potawatomi alphabet and texts
   Algonquian people
   Woodlands tribes
   Michigan Indian tribes
   Potawatomi stories



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