Cheyenne spelling rules and alphabets discussion

Read these other pages for further background on Cheyenne alphabets and spelling:

History of the Cheyenne alphabet
Different ways to spell Cheyenne

The modern Cheyenne alphabet is not perfect, but it can perfectly write every Cheyenne word. That may sound like a strange sentence, but it might make more sense if we explain that there are some aspects to writing with the modern Cheyenne alphabet which are difficult and require time and effort to master. For some purposes, or at least for some words, it sometimes seems better to write more informally, spelling words in a way that can be read by any Cheyenne who knows how to read English (and that is nearly every Cheyenne today). But there are also very important advantages to using the modern alphabet and the spelling rules that go with it, since doing so best honors the patterns which already exist in the Cheyenne language . See the second page listed above about different ways to spell Cheyenne for further discussion of these issues.

For anyone wishing to learn to write using the modern alphabet, here are the seven most important rules for spelling. If you try to follow each of these rules, you will soon be writing Cheyenne quite well. (Note: pitch marks have been left off of these words. Cheyennes who have learned to read the modern alphabet have clearly shown that they do not need the pitch marks, at least on most words.)

Cheyenne spelling rules

1. Only use the 14 letters of the Cheyenne alphabet approved by the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council (1997): a, e, h, k, ', m, n, o, p, s, , t, v, x. The letter "" has the same sound as the English letters "sh". The glottal stop (written with the apostrophe, ') is frequent in Cheyenne; it separates the syllables of English "uh-oh".

2. Every word must end in a consonant plus one of the three vowels ("a", "e", or "o"). If you cannot hear a vowel at the end of a word, the word may simply end with the two letters "he":

Navoomo I see him.
estse'he shirt (or, coat)
Navooma He sees me.
Etoneto It's cold.
hohpe soup (or, broth)
nahkohe bear
emesehe He ate
he'ama up

3. A dot over a vowel means that the vowel is whispered (voiceless). The last vowel of anything you say, including a single word pronounced by itself, will always be whispered. Since this is automatic, you don't need to mark this end-of-word vowel with a dot.

4. Any vowel you mark with a dot needs to be followed by either "h", "s", "", or "x", or also a "tse" at the end of a word. You can actually hear the "s", "", "x", or "tse". You cannot hear "h" which follows a vowel with a dot if the "h" comes before another consonant, but be sure to write it:

nameme my grandfather
amke grease
ksovaahe young man
vo'stane person
mentse berries
mhpeva in the water
notxeo'o warriors
Etomhtana He erected it.

5. If you hear "s" before a "t", there must be an "e" before the "s":

Estsehnstse! Come in!
ve'keemahpstse candy
hestahke twin

6. If you hear "" before a "k", there must be an "e" before the "":

heke his (or, her) mother
ka'kone child
amke grease

7. If you have four letters in this order: consonant, a dotted vowel, "h", then a regular vowel, the "h" will make the consonant have a "hard" (aspirated) sound [regular Cheyenne consonants have a "soft" (unaspirated) sound]. All four letters will be pronounced as a single syllable. They are underlined in these examples:

mheo'o house
phoeesttse cradleboard
thohko hammer
Nanha'ena I caught it.
vhe'so nest
nathoo'ohtse I'm going home.
mhtamhaahe old woman
khamaxe stick

8. If you hear "", there must be the vowel "e" after it. If there is a vowel before "", it must also be "e".

9. You can hear the English sound "w" between the vowels "o" and "a". You can hear the English sound "y" between the vowels "e" and "a", and also between "e" and "o". These "w" or "y" sounds are printed as (phonetic) superscripts in these examples, but they are not part of Cheyenne, so do not write them in your own spelling:

Ehotowanato It's difficult.
meyaneva in the summer
meyo'o road
hotowa'e buffalo
heyama on the side
nahkheyo'o bears

10. The Cheyenne letter "v" often sounds like English "w" when it is next to "a" or "o", but it is still the same letter "v" of the Cheyenne sound system. The following examples show this English "w" sound (boldfaced), but do not write "w" in your own spelling:

Evo'komo [ewo'komo] It's white.
vaotseva [waotseva] deer
hovahne [howahne] animals
Naovee [naowee] I went to bed.
Naovaxe [naowaxe] I dreamed.
voaxaa'e [woaxaa'e] bald eagle

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Latest page update: June 10, 1999

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