Consonants – c, h, k, m, n, p, s, t, w, y
In Plains (and Swampy) Cree, there are 10 distinct consonants. [Woods Cree adds an additional [ð] or “th” sound.]
The consonants c, k, p, and t are not pronounced exactly like their English counterparts. Note the following examples:
|– varies in pronunciation. In many areas of Plains Cree, it is pronounced like the “ts” in the English word “cats”. In other dialects, it may be closer to the English “ch” sound in “catch”. This is a fact about each dialect, but the variation is not an issue for the Cree language as a whole. No meaning difference depends on the variation of “ts” and “ch” in Cree, which is to say that no pairs of Cree words will differ solely by an alternation of “ts” and “ch” sounds. Thus, only one symbol is needed and the digraph “ch” is never used. Furthermore, “c” is never used to represent a “k” sound like it does in “cook” or an “s” sound in “cent”, or both of these sounds in words like “circus” or “circle”. One symbol for the one important sound.|
|– is pronounced like the sound in English “skill”. Its sound is somewhere between the “k” in “kill” and the “g” in “gill”. Again, the exact quality may vary between what sounds like English “k” and “g” sounds, but this is not an important difference in Cree: no pair of words will ever differ in Cree by interchanging these sounds. Thus, only one of the symbols is necessary. If in doubt, use k. “g” is never used.|
|– is pronounced like the sound in English “spill”. Its sound is somewhere between the “p” in “pill” and the “b” in “bill”. As with k, the Cree p sound may vary between the two English sounds, but the difference is not important for Cree. It is an English artifact and not one that we need to pay attention to. If in doubt, use p. “b” is never used.|
|– is pronounced like the sound in English “still”. Its sound is somewhere between the “t” in “till” and the “d” in “dill”. Again, the Cree t sound may vary between the two English sounds, but the difference is not important for Cree. If in doubt, use t. “d” is never used.|
|pēhin||“wait for me!”||nāpēw||“man”||sīsīp||“duck”|
The consonants h, m, n, s, w, and y are all pronounced virtually the same as their English counterparts. As we will soon discover, h rarely occurs at the beginning of words.
|sīsīp||“duck”||nistēs||“my older brother”||nimis||“my older sister”|
The only other consonant sound in the western dialects is the “th” sound in Woods Cree. This is the only digraph borrowed from English. Ideally, it too would be replaced by a different symbol, since both “t” and “h” are used in Cree for sounds that have nothing to do with the [ð] or so-called “th” sound. (In some more recent materials, especially in Manitoba, the symbol ð has, in fact, been used).
|– is usually pronounced like the sound in English “this”, not like English “thin”.|
|thōtin||“it’s windy”||pithīw||“spruce grouse”||namīpith||“sucker”|
The [ð] sound of the Woods dialect alternates with [y] in Plains Cree and [n] in Swampy Cree. For this reason, Plains and/or Swampy materials prepared to be as cross-dialectally applicable as possible will mark the Plains [y] or Swampy [n] corresponding with Woods [ð]. For Plains Cree, this usually means placing an accent over the “y” symbol (ý), while in Swampy the “n” with tilde (ñ) or accented n () have often been used. In the Plains Cree dictionary, ý is used when appropriate, but note that not all instances of the [y] sound in Plains Cree correspond to Woods Cree [ð] or Swampy [n], while Plains Cree readers can ignore the difference between “y” and “ý”.