The 1904 Syllabary

In virtually every example of the Dene Syllabarium I have seen, the chart from the 1904 version of Prières, cantiques et catéchisme en langue montagnaise ou chipeweyan (ᑌᓀ ᔭᕱᐁ ᑎᐠᕃᓭ) is given.

This chart, being over a century old, does not contain the current Roman orthography equivalents of the syllabics. For people learning syllabics today who are already familiar with the Roman orthography, this chart is of no real help. Furthermore, linguists have constantly been confused by the phonetic values of the syllabics, and provided pronuncations which do not exists in the Dëne language, such as */ty/.

More difficulties have arisen from the list of “finals” which appear along the right-hand side of the chart. These finals are not in the same order as the syllabic characters, causing much misunderstanding over the years. Most notably: Unicode—the catalogue of characters (for use by computers) used by the world’s writing systems—mistakingly gave the asterisk * the value of /tth/ because it is in the same row as the /tth/ syllabics. The asterisk * is actually a punctuation marker for proper names (much like a latin capital letter), and has no phonetic value whatsoever.

Finally, this chart does not mention many of the digraphs (one sound–two characters) used in Dëne syllabics. Many have assumed that would be /cha/ in Roman orthography, however, this is actually /sha/: keeping in mind that the chart was developed by French speakers where ‹ch› is pronounced ‹sh› in English. The sound /cha/ is written with the digraph ᐟᗴ, which was not included in the chart.

Finals should be placed mid-line, not top-line. Some browsers may not be able to see the mid-line finals properly. For more information, please see the ᑌᓀᓱᐠᒼᕄᓀ Dënesųłiné syllabary page on this site.

ᐊ a ᐁ e/ë ᐃ i ᐅ o/u ᐥ ᓀᐢᐥᐃ — ʔ nesʔi
ᐮ ą ᐫ ę ᐬ į ᐭ ǫ/ų ᑊ ᗴᑯᑊ — b shagob
ᐸ ba ᐯ be/bë ᐱ bi ᐳ bo/bu ᐟ ᓭᐟᓯ — d/t/r setsi
ᑕ da/ra ᑌ de/dë/re/rë ᑎ di/ri ᑐ do/du/ro/ru ᐣ ᑌᓀᑯᐣ — n dënegon
ᑲ ga/ka ᑫ ge/gë/ke/kë ᑭ gi/ki ᑯ go/gu/ko/ku ˋ ᓀᘕˋ — nasal vowel nezǫ
ᕍ la ᕃ le/lë ᕄ li ᕊ lo/lu ᑦ ᑦᕊᐁ — x/gh/h łue
ᒪ ma ᒣ me/më ᒥ mi ᒧ mo/mu ᙆ ᒪᙆᓯ — r/gh marsi¹
ᓇ na ᓀ ne/në ᓂ ni ᓄ no/nu ᕀ ᐁᖊᓇᕀ — y eghenay
ᖍ gha/xa¹ ᖊ ghe/ghë/xe/xë ᖋ ghi/xi ᖌ gho/ghu/xo/xu ᐢ ᖊᐢᓇ — s ghesna
ᓴ sa ᓭ se/së ᓯ si ᓱ so/su ᔆ ᓂᐅᔆᐟᓯ — l niultsi
ᔭ ya ᔦ ye/yë ᔨ yi ᔪ yo/yu ᐧ ᔭᐊᐧᐢᕱ — w-combiner yawasti³
ᘔ za ᘚ ze/zë ᘛ zi ᘕ zo/zu ᐠ ᓭᓱᐢᐠᖋ — g/k sesuskʀi¹
ᗴ sha ᗯ she/shë ᗰ shi ᗱ sho/shu ᑋ ᐅᑌˈᑋ — dh/th ut’eth⁴
ᒐ dha/tha ᒉ dhe/dhë/the/thë ᒋ dhi/thi ᒍ dho/dhu/tho/thu ᒼ ᐊᑊᖍᐊᒼ — m abʀaham
ᐟᒐ ttha/ddha² ᐟᒉ tthe/tthë/ddhe/ddhë ᐟᒋ tthi/ddhi ᐟᒍ ttho/tthu/ddho/ddhu ᐤ ᐁᕳᐤ — w etthaw³
ᑕᑊ t’a ᑌᑊ t’e/t’ë ᑎᑊ t’i ᑐᑊ t’o/t’u ˈ ˈᐁˈᐁᐟᗯᐣ — h/’ hehechen
ᕮ tth’a ᕫ tth’e/tth’ë ᕬ tth’i ᕭ tth’o/tth’u * *ᐊᑕˋ — proper name Adą
ᕳ ta ᕰ te/të ᕱ ti ᕲ to/tu  

General Notes

  • Tone is not written here as it is always ignored by syllabics.
  • Spelling in syllabics has by no means been standardised, and spelling can be quite irregular. Many syllabic characters have several sound associations, and there are many overlaps. For example, /ga/ is ᑲ, /ka/ is ᑲ~ᑦᑲ, /k’a/ is ᑲ~ᑦᑲ~ᑲˈ; the sound /ła/ can be ᕍ~ᑦᕍ~ᐢᕍ. The Chipewyan syllabics page describes the syllabics with a more consistent spelling,

¹ I am using the small-caps ʀ to represent the French r-sound. Loan words from French like ᓭᓱᐢᐠᖋ “sesuskʀi” although transcribed with ‹r› in Roman orthography, may be pronounced more like Chipewyan /gh/; thus the use of the gh-series of syllabics for the French-r.

² The ᒐ ᒉ ᒋ ᒍ syllabic series was labelled /th/ and the ᐟᒐ ᐟᒉ ᐟᒋ ᐟᒍ was labelled /dh/ in the 1857 and 1865 editions of the Dëne syllabium. In the 1904 edition, the sounds were reversed. According to LeGoff’s version of 1890, ᒐ ᒉ ᒋ ᒍ was both /th/ and /dh/, while ᐟᒐ ᐟᒉ ᐟᒋ ᐟᒍ is /ddh/. LeGoff’s analysis is preferred because it is consistent with Dëne syllabics logic, and his description of the language is far superior to the other missionaries at the time.

³ When /w/ stands alone at the end of a word, the mid-ring final is used, but when following /k/ or /gh/, the mid-dot symbol is correct.

⁴ The final is pronounced /th/~/dh/ in Chipewyan Dëne, in other Dene langauges, it is syllable-final /h/.

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Last Modified: 27-Aug-2011