The Sounds of nēhiýawēwin / Plains Cree
In Plains (and western Swampy) Cree, there are 17 distinct sounds, yielding the following Plains Cree Alphabet:
a ā c ē h i ī k m n o ō p s t w y
The system that uses these particular symbols to represent Cree is often called the Standard Roman Orthography (SRO), since it is a writing system (Orthography) which uses the Roman (or Latin, or English) alphabetic symbols, and it is meant to help write Cree across dialects in a standard way in order to facilitate easier communication in written form. However, it can just as well be referred to as the Standard Cree Alphabet (SCA).
This alphabet consists of 10 consonants (c, h, k, m, n, p, s, t, w, y) and 7 vowels (a, i, o, ā, ē, ī, ō). The western Cree dialects are largely defined by slight changes in the sounds found in each dialect. For instance, Woods Cree adds an additional [ð] or “th” sound to its list of consonants, but Woods Cree and northern Plains Cree also only use 6 of the vowels (merging ē and ī to just ī).
In the following sections on Plains Cree Sounds, we will look at the Consonants, the Vowels, various patterns that arise when consonants and vowels occur in Combination (or “Phonotactics”), and the importance of placing Stress on the correct syllables. All of these contribute to being able to pronounce Cree like fluent speakers do, and to being able to use the standard spelling system. Throughout these pages, wherever you see the audio/sound icon (such as above beside the Plains Cree Alphabet), you can click on the icon to hear the corresponding audio file.
Portions of the descriptions that follow, and additional information, can be found in the following book, which can be downloaded for free from the links provided.
Jean Okimāsis and Arok Wolvengrey. 2008. How to Spell it in Cree. Regina: miywāsin ink.