[the following is from the introduction to "A Cree Phrase Book"]
(The student should read this section thoroughly, but most students will probably find that it is a formidable and unrewarding task to memorize the details. It is much more important to go on and learn some Cree, than to stop here and learn about Cree.)
Cree is a written language. The symbols used to write Cree are known as the Cree syllabics. They are altogether different from the letters of the Roman alphabet which are used to write English. It only makes the task of learning to speak a language more difficult when the student has to get used to unfamiliar letter shapes right at the beginning. Therefore, all the Cree words in this book are written in Roman letters. It must be emphasized that writing Cree in Roman letters has no official status. The only correct way to write Cree is in Cree syllabics.
The following letters are used here to write Cree: a, á [a'], c, é [e'], h, i, í [i'], k, l, m, n, o, ó [o'], p, r, s, t, w, y. No capital letters are used. It is very important to remember at all times that most of these letters are not pronounced the same in Cree as they are in English! In the following paragraphs the sounds of Cree will be compared with the sounds of English, but this information must be used with extreme caution, because many Cree sounds just do not occur in English. The only good way to learn the pronunciation of these letters in Cree is to learn Cree words which contain the letters from the lips of native speakers of Cree. It should also be mentioned that English is pronounced differently in different places; the English pronunciations referred to below are those of native speakers of English in Manitoba, and may be even more misleading to persons from other parts of the English-speaking world, or to persons for whom English is a second language.
a, á [a'], é [e'], i, í [i'], o and ó [o'] are used to write vowel sounds.
a is pronounced somewhat like u in English cut, unless it follows w. After w it is pronounced more like o in French bonne 'good (feminine)', for example, niyánan [niya'nan] 'five', atimwak 'dogs'.
á [a'] is pronounced somewhat like a in English cat, perhaps more like a in French table 'table', unless it follows w. After w it is pronounced more like aw in English saw. Examples: niyánan [niya'nan] 'five', mitátaht [mita'taht] 'ten', n(i)kotwásik [n(i)kotwa'sik] 'six', niwápamáw [niwa'pama'w] 'I see him'.
(Dialects: mitáyaht [mita'yaht] for mitátaht [mita'taht] W.)
é [e'] is pronounced somewhat like e in English bed by some speakers; others pronounce it somewhat like a in English made, more like é [e'] in French été [e'te'] 'summer', for example, péyak [pe'yak] 'one', tépakohp [te'pakohp] 'seven'. (In the northern dialects é [e'] is pronounced exactly like í [i'], below.)
i is pronounced somewhat like i in English sit, for example, nisto 'three'. In Cree, unlike English, this should occurs even at the end of words, for example, api 'sit'.
í [i'] is pronounced somewhat like i in English machine, for example, níso [ni'so] 'two'.
ó [o'] is pronounced somewhat like the o in English mode, for example, nitoótém [nito'te'm] 'my friend'.
There is an important feature of the pronunciation of Cree vowels which has no parallel in English. The vowels with the acute accent, namely á [a'], é [e'], í [i'] and ó [o'], are all somewhat drawled or extended or spoken slowly, while the vowels without the accent, namely, a, i and o, are all somewhat hurried or spoken quickly. The former are like quarter notes in music, or like the dashes in Morse Code, while the latter are like eigth notes in music, or like the dots in morse code, for example:
|itwé 'say, say it'||.-
The extended vowels are often called long, and the hurried vowels are often called short.
It must be rememberd that this is what long and short refer to in Cree, namely, the length of time taken in saying the vowel. The terms long and short are used completely differently in talking about Cree and English.
The long and short vowels must be correctly distinguished, for many words are differentiated solely by the length of a vowel, for example:
n&iactue;piy [ni'piy] 'leaf' and nipiy 'water'.
nimasinahikán [nimasinahika'n] 'I am writing' and nimasinahikan 'my book'.
tán(i)s(i) étótamán [ta'n(i)s(i) e'to'tama'n] 'what am I doing?' and tán(i)s(i) étótaman [ta'n(i)s(i) e'to'taman] 'what are you (singular) doing?'
c, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, w and y are used to write consonant sounds.
p is pronounced somewhat like p in English pin, still more like p in French pas 'step' or like p in English spin; between vowels it is sometimes pronounced like b in English bin, especially after long vowels, for example, péyak [pe'yak] 'one', tépakohp [te'pakohp] 'seven'.
t is pronounced somewhat like t in English tin, still more like t in French toi 'you' or like t in English sting; between vowels it is sometimes pronounced like d in English dull, especially after long vowels, for example, tépakohp [te'pakohp] 'seven', mitátaht [mita'taht] 'ten'.
c is pronounced somewhat like ts in English cats, or like ch in English chin, for example, kékác [ke'ka'c] 'almost', mácíw [ma'ci'w] 'he is hunting'.
k is pronounced somewhat like k in English kin, still more like c in French car 'because' or like k in English skin; between vowels it is sometimes pronounced like g in English good or, more often like g in Spanish pagar, especially after long vowels, for example, [ke'ka'c] 'almost'.
s is pronounced much like s in English sing, for example, sísíp [si'si'p] 'duck'.
h between vowels is pronounced much like h in English hat, for example, wáskahikan [wa'skahikan] 'house'.
h before p is also generally pronounced much like h in English hat, but in some eastern dialects hp is pronounced like f in English four, for example, tépakohp [te'pakohp] 'seven'.
h before t is pronounced somewhat like th in English think, for example, mitátaht [mita'taht] 'ten'.
h before c is pronounced much like s in English sing, for example, anohc 'today'.
hk is pronounced like ch in German lachen 'to laugh' or in Scotch English Loch, for example, áhkosiw [a'hkosiw] 'he is sick'.
In some dialects, h before a consonant is silent in certain positions in a word, and preceding a, i or o are then pronounced like á [a'], í [i'] and ó [o'] respectively.
m is pronounced like m in English more, for example, mitátaht [mita'taht] 'ten'.
n is pronounced like n in English now, for example, niyaacute;nan [niya'nan] 'five'.
In some places where other Manitoba dialects have n, the northern dialects have a sound much like th in English this, for example, for the second (but not for the first) n in nína 'I'. Hereafter, the n's that are pronounced th in the northern dialects will be written ñ [n~], and the n's that are pronounced n in the northern dialects will be written n, for example, níña '[ni'n~a] I'.
w is pronounced like w in English will, for example, niwápamáw [niwa'pama'w] 'I see him', itwé [itwe'] 'say, say it'. But after a consonant before a or á [a'], w is almost or entirely silent, its presece indicated by the specail sound of the a or á [a'], for example, n(i)kotwásik [n(i)kotwa'sik] 'six', atimwak 'dogs'.
y is pronounced like y in English yes, for example, ayéskosiw [aye'skosiw] 'he is tired'.
l is pronounced much like l in English leaf, for example, alikwacás [alikwaca's] 'squirrel'.
r is pronounced much like r in english reach, for example, aríkis [ari'kis] 'frog'.
r and l are very rare except in words taken from English or French.
(Dialects: anikwacás [anikwaca's] for alikwacás [alikwaca's] and añíkis [an~i'kis] for aríkis [ari'kis] W. and N.)
Note the sounds of the vowels in combination with a following w:
ow resembles o in English mode, for example, míc(i)sow [mi'c(i)sow] 'he is eating', míc(i)sowak [mi'c(i)sowak] 'they are eating'.
áw [a'w] resembles ow in English how, that is , it is the sound of Cree á [a'] followed by the sound of Cree w, for example, niwápamáw [niwa'pama'w] 'I see him', niwápamáwak [niwa'pama'wak] 'I see them'.
aw, éw [e'w] and íw [i'w] consist of the sound of Cree a, é [e'] and í [i'] followed by the sound of Cree w. They resemble aw in English away, ay w in English stay well, and eew in English peewee, but in Cree these combinations are frequent at the ends of words, where they never occur in English. Examples: n(a)tohtaw 'listen to him', n(a)tohtawik 'listen to them', atoskéw [atoske'w] 'he is working', atoskéwak [atoske'wak] 'they are working', mácíw [a'ci'w] 'he is hunting', mácíwak [a'ci'wak] 'they are hunting'.
iw either resembles oo in English or is pronounced exactly like Cree ow, for example, kawaciw 'he is cold', kawaciwak 'they are cold'.
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