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Ojibwe Pronunciation and Spelling Guide (Chippewa, Ojibway, Ojibwa)

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

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Ojibwe Vowels

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Ojibwe pronunciation:
a     Like the a in what.
aa  á, â  a Like the a in father.
e  ee  e Like the e sound in Spanish, similar to the a in gaze.
i    I Like the i in pit.
ii  í, î  i Like the ee in seed.
o  u ~ o Like the u in put. Sometimes it sounds more like the o in note.
oo  ó, ô o~u Like the o in lone. Sometimes it sounds more like the u in tune.

Ojibwe Nasal Vowels

Nasal vowels don't exist in English, but you may be familiar with them from French (or from hearing people speak English with a French accent.) They are pronounced just like oral ("regular") vowels, only using your nose as well as your mouth. To English speakers, a nasal vowel often sounds like a vowel with a half-pronounced "n" at the end of it. You can hear examples of nasal vowels at the end of the French words "bon" and "Jean," or in the middle of the word "Français."

In Ojibway pronunciation, all vowels automatically become nasal before ns, nsh, ny, nz, or nzh. For example, makoons is pronounced [makõ:s], not mako:ns. In some Ojibway dialects, long vowels (aa, e, ii, and oo) also become nasal after an m or n but before s, sh, z or zh, so that moos is pronounced [mõ:s]. Those nasal vowels are a normal part of a native speaker's accent--like English speakers automatically pronouncing the letter "l" differently at the beginning and end of a word--so they are not written. When nasal vowels appear somewhere else in a word, they are important to the meaning of the word and are represented like this:

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol:
aanh  ą, aa ã
enh  ę, e
iinh  į, ii ĩ
oonh  , oo õ

Ojibwe Diphthongs

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Ojibwe pronunciation:
aw    aw Like ow in English cow.
ay    aj Like English eye.
ew    ew This sound doesn't really exist in English. The Ojibway 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!
iy    ij Like the ee in see.
ow    ow Like the ow in show.

Ojibwe Consonants

We Use:
Also Used:
IPA symbol: Ojibwe pronunciation:
b  p  b ~ p Like b in bill or p in spill (see Voicing, below).
ch  c, č, hc  t Like ch in chair, only held longer, like the ch sh in which shoes.
d  t  d ~ t Like d in die or t in sty (see Voicing, below).
g  k  g ~ k Like g in gate or k in skate (see Voicing, below).
h    h Like h in English hay.
j  c, dj  d~t Like j in jar or ch in char (see Voicing, below).
k  hk  kh~kh Like k in key. Sometimes it is pronounced long, like kc in bookcase.
m    m Like m in English moon.
n    n Like n in English night.
p  hp  ph~ph Like p in pick. Sometimes it is pronounced long, like the p-p in hip pad.
s  hs  s Like s in see, only held longer, like the ss s in chess set.
sh  š   Like sh in shy, only held longer, like the sh sh in fish shape.
t  ht  th~th Like t in take. Sometimes it is pronounced long, like the tt in nighttime.
w   w Like w in English way.
y    j Like y in English yes.
z  s  z ~ s Like z in zoo or s in Sue or (see Voicing, below).
zh  ž, sh   ~ Like the ge sound at the end of mirage, or like sh in shy (see Voicing, below).
    A pause sound, like the one in the middle of the word "uh-oh."

Ojibwe Dialect Variation

Ojibwe is spoken over a broad range in both Canada and the United States, and so there are multiple dialects of the language. The pronunciation guide above is based on Southern Ojibwe (the dialect spoken in Minnesota, where we are based.) However, Ojibwe vowels are pronounced a little differently in the different dialects. In Ottawa, for example, aw is pronounced the same as ow, like the "ow" in "bowl." In Northern Ojibwe, there's no pronunciation difference between g and k at the beginning of a word. In both Eastern Ojibwe and Ottawa, unstressed short vowels are not pronounced at all, so the word makak is pronounced mkak in Eastern Ojibwe, or the word mashkodiisimin is pronounced mskodiismin. There are many other examples of dialect differences between Ojibwe communities.

However, speakers of these different dialects don't have any trouble understanding each other, any more than English speakers from Minnesota, Toronto, and Atlanta do (despite equally significant differences in their vowel systems.)

Ojibwe Consonant Voicing

In both English and Ojibwe, the consonants b, d, and g are unaspirated (pronounced without a breath of air) and the consonants p, t, and k are unvoiced (pronounced without the vocal chords vibrating.) However, in English, voicing is more important to the language while aspiration is variable, and in Ojibwe, aspiration is more important to the language while voicing is variable.

In English, the main difference between consonants like b and p is that b is voiced. 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." This is true whenever you pronounce a b in English. However, p is sometimes aspirated and sometimes not, depending on where it is in the word. 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."

Ojibwe is just the opposite. The letters p, t, and k are always aspirated in Ojibwe. However, the letters b, d, and g (and also j, z, and zh for most speakers) are sometimes voiced and sometimes not, depending on where they are in a word. At the beginning of a word and before or after a voiceless consonant, these consonants are voiceless. Between vowels and before or after a voiced consonant, they are voiced. At the end of a word, they are usually voiced (except in the Ottawa dialect.)

It is much more important to get the aspiration of an Ojibwe word correct than the voicing. If you pronounce the voicing wrong, your accent will just sound bad. If you pronounce the aspiration wrong, it can change the meaning of a word. If you are not proficient at Ojibwe pronunciation yet, it is always better to pronounce an unaspirated g as English "g" than as English "k."

Ojibwe Stress

Word stress in Ojibwe is regular, but it's very complicated. If you divide each word into iambic feet, counting long vowels (aa, e, ii, and oo) as an entire foot, then the stress is usually on the strong syllable of the third from last foot--which, in words that are five syllables long or less, usually translates in practical terms to the first syllable (if it has a long vowel) or the second syllable (if it doesn't.) Then the strong syllables of the other feet each have a secondary stress.

So for example (marking primary stress in blue and secondary stress in red):


That description is an oversimplification, however-- here is a link to a webpage about some of the intricacies of the Anishinabe (Ojibwe and Algonquin) stress system.

Ojibwe/Chippewa Pronunciation and Vocabulary Resources

   Ojibwe words
   Chippewa animals
   Ojibwe body
   Ojibway colors
   Ojibwe numbers
   The Ojibway alphabet
   Chippewa alphabet and pronunciation
   Algonquian peoples
   Woodland Native American languages
   Minnesota American Indians
   Chippewa legends

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