The Sounds of Cree

In Plains (and 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, not using ē).

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.