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Abenaki Orthography and Pronunciation [archive]

French version

This article has been archived, with the author's permission, from the now-defunct La Piste Amérindienne site (http://www.autochtones.com/). Contents are the property of the author; translation to English is ours. Please visit our Article Archive Index for further information. If you are the author of another article you would like us to add to our archives, please contact us.

The Abenaki language is part of the Algonquian linguistic family. As with the majority of the native languages of Canada, Abenaki is an endangered language that risks becoming extinct. In fact, this language is spoken by only a few people -- 3% of the Abenaki population.

The name Abenaki comes from the word "wabanaki", which means dawn or morning land - the rising sun. Wabanaki is also the name of the national grouping of all Abenaki.

This language is spoken in the communities of Odanak and Wôlinak, which are found on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River, opposite Trois-Rivières.

Spelling and pronunciation in Abenaki

Since the Abenaki language has always been transmitted orally, there are no hard and fast spelling rules. The earliest missionaries tried to get this language down on paper as best they could, according to whatever they could understand. Later, a few literate Abenaki tried their best to reproduce this language by transcribing it the way it is pronounced. Examples are Henri-Lorne Masta and Joseph Laurent, with their grammar book and dictionary. Modern Abenaki draws heavily from those earlier works, and it is the modern version that is described here.

The following consonants are pronounced the same as in French or English : B - D - K - L - M - N - P - S - T - Z

The vowels A - E - O are pronounced similar to French vowels.
In English, A is pronounced like the A in "father," E is pronounced like the E in "broken," and O is pronounced like the O in "no."

The letter "I" is pronounced similar to I in the English word "hit."
If two "I"s follow each other in a word, then the first is pronounced like the I in "hit" and the second like the EA in "heat." .

The letter "W" is pronounced differently according to its position in the word and the letters that accompany it. If it is followed by a vowel, such as A - E - I - 8, then it is pronounced like the "W" in French and English. However, if it is not followed by a vowel, then it is pronounced like the Abenaki "O."

The letter "J" is pronounced "dz".

The letter "G" is always pronounced with the hard sound, like the "g" in the english word "girl". It is never pronounced like the "g" sounds in "general" or "mirage."

The letter "H" is always aspirated (breathed, not voiced).

The letters "CH" put together are pronounced "ts".

The letter "Ï" is pronounced like the french "aï", which is like the english "aye".

The sign "8" is a vowel sound that doesn't really exist in French or English. The sound is similar to the vowel in the English word "dawn," but is also nasalized like the vowel in French words such as "Jean" or "bon." This "8" sound occurs a lot in the language, and is sometimes written as "ô".

--written by Philippe Charland

Additional Reading

 Abenaki pronunciation
 Indian Tribes
 The Abanaki
 Abenaki Bands
 Gluskabe Legends
 Vermont Native Americans

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