Western Cree syllabics

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Western Cree syllabics
Winnipeg Forks - Plains Cree Inscription.jpg
LanguagesPlains Cree, Woods Cree, western dialects of Swampy Cree
Time period
Parent systems
Devanagari, Pitman Shorthand (disputed)
  • Western Cree syllabics
Child systems
Eastern Cree, Blackfoot, Slavey, Dogrib, Beaver, Sayisi (Chipewyan), Carrier
ISO 15924Cans, 440
Unicode alias
Canadian Aboriginal
Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics, U+1400–167F (chart)

Western Cree syllabics are a variant of Canadian Aboriginal syllabics used to write Plains Cree, Woods Cree and the western dialects of Swampy Cree. It is used for all Cree dialects west of approximately the ManitobaOntario border in Canada, as opposed to Eastern Cree syllabics. It is also occasionally used by a few Cree speakers in the United States.

Phonology of languages using Western Cree Syllabics[edit]

Western syllabics use only those characters needed to write the phonemes of the western dialects. In this article, Cree words and sounds will transcribed using the Standard Roman Orthography used to teach Plains Cree.

There are four basic vowels in Plains and Swampy Cree: a, i, e and o. The a, i and o sounds also have long versions: â, î and ô. The vowel e is always long and is written as ê. In Woods Cree, ê has merged with î, so only three basic vowels are used in that dialect. Woods Cree also has the phoneme th /ð/ (the th from the English word that). For more on Cree dialects see the article on the Cree language.

Standard Roman Orthography consonants sound for the most part like their English equivalents, except that they are never aspirated. (/p/ sounds like the "p" in "spot", not "pea".) The letter c sounds like the "ts" in "bits". Long vowels can be written either with a macron or a circumflex.


A proof from freshly made Cree typeface

Cree syllabics uses different glyphs to indicate consonants, and changes the orientation of these glyphs to indicate the vowel that follows it. The basic principles of Canadian syllabic writing are outlined in the article for Canadian Aboriginal syllabics.

Western Cree syllabic character table
Initial Vowels Final
ê [1] i o a î ô â
y ᕀ (ᐝ) [2]
th [3]
w [4]
h ᐦᐁ ᐦᐃ ᐦᐅ ᐦᐊ ᐦᐄ ᐦᐆ ᐦᐋ
hk [5]
l [6]
r [6]


[1] The vowel sound ê has merged with î in Woods Cree. In this dialect, syllables containing the vowel î are written with the ê-series characters. For example, ᑫ is /kê/ in Plains Cree, but /kî/ in Woods Cree. Consequently, the î-series is not usually written in Woods Cree.
[2] Final y was originally a raised dot, but was discontinued in favour of ᕀ.
[3] th-series only present in Woods Cree.
[4] A dot following any syllable indicates that the vowel is preceded by a w, which comes between the initial consonant and the vowel.
[5] hk is a very common consonant cluster at the end of words because it is part of the morpheme used for the locative case. It is used so frequently that it has its own final.
[6] l and r only appear in loan words in western Cree dialects. They may appear before or after a syllable as necessary to indicate the pronunciation of the borrowed word. A Roman Catholic variant has full series for these consonants:
Roman Catholic additions
Initial Vowels Final
ê i o a

Note that the th-series closely resembles the y-series characters. The th phoneme in Woods Cree appears where a y is found in Plains or an n in Swampy Cree. Recognising the relationship between the th and y sounds, Cree writers use a modification of the y-series.

In addition to these characters, western Cree syllabics indicates the w phoneme by placing a dot after the syllable. (This is the revers of the Eastern Cree convention.) Thus, the syllable wa is indicated with , pwi by and so on. The dot used to mark the w can be combined with the dot marking length. The syllable is marked as and pwî as . The dot used to indicate w is placed before the syllable in Eastern Cree syllabics. This and the way finals are written are the two principal differences between eastern and western Cree syllabics.

The dot placed above syllables with long vowels is often dropped in real texts unless necessary to disambiguate the word. Long and short vowels may be written identically and require context to disambiguate.

Also, western Cree writers may use the character to indicate the end of sentence, instead of the Roman alphabet period so that it is not confused with the diacritic indicating the w sound.

An example of Plains Cree written in western syllabics:[1]

ᑳᒫᒋᐲᑭᐢᒁᑎᑯᐟ ᐆᐦᐃ ᐅᐢᑳᔭ ᐁᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᔨᐟ᙮ ᒫᑲ ᓇᒨᔭ ᓂᓯᑐᐦᑕᐍᐤ ᐊᐘ ᐅᐢᑭᓂᑮᐢ ᑖᓂᓯ ᐁᐃᑘᔨᐟ ᐋᑕ ᐏᐢᑕ ᐁᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐟ᙮

In Standard Roman Orthography:

kâ-mâci-pîkiskwâtikot ôhi oskâya ê-nêhiyawêyit. mâka namôya nisitohtawêw awa oskinikîs tânisi ê-itwêyit âta wîsta ê-nêhiyawêt.

English translation:

The young people then began to speak in the language of his ancestry – Nêhiyawêwin (Plains Cree language). Unfortunately the young man could not make out what they were saying even though he was of the same nation; Nêhiyaw (Plains Cree people).

External links[edit]


  1. ^ [1]

ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ: ᐃᑘᐏᓇ / nēhiýawēwin: itwēwina / Cree: Words Compiled by Arok Wolvengrey. Canadian Plains Research Center, University of Regina, Saskatchewan. 2001. ISBN 0-88977-127-8