South Slavey Syllabarium

Below is the complete South Slavey Syllabarium as it appears in several late nineteenth century books. The syllabary is based on the English/Anglican tradition, which is also used by some speakers of the Chipewyan language.

Unicode places all finals at the top-line, where Dene requires some finals to be top-line, some mid-line, and some baseline. The location of the final is vital to correct pronunciation. Please note that your browser may not be able to accomodate the mid-line and baseline finals. Several of the English-tradition /u/ vowel syllabics are not included as distinct characters in Unicode, therefore I have used the non-spacing dot accent to attempt to put the dot above the syllabic. Note that depending on the font you are using, the dot may instead be somewhere in the middle of the syllabic instead of on-top.


Onset Vowel Final
a e i o u
Ø, h, (ʔ) ᐊᐦ -h
ch, (ch’) ᗱ̇  
(j) ᐨᗴ ᐨᗯ ᐨᗰ ᐨᗱ ᐨᗱ̇  
d, (r) ᐊᐨ
g, (gh) ᗂ̇
k, (k’)
(x) ᑲᐦ ᑫᐦ ᑭᐦ ᑯᐦ ᑰᐦ  
tl, (tl’) ᖈ̇  
l ᕊ̇
(dl) ᐨᕍ ᐨᕃ ᐨᕄ ᐨᕊ ᐨᕊ̇  
(tl) ᒡᕍ ᒡᕃ ᒡᕄ ᒡᕊ ᒡᕊ̇  
(ł) ᒢᕍ ᒢᕃ ᒢᕄ ᒢᕊ ᒢᕊ̇  
r           ᐊᐡ
s, (z)
sh, (zh) ᖙ̇  
t, (t’)
(t) ᒡᕦ ᒡᕞ ᒡᕠ ᒡᕤ ᒡᕥ  
th, (dh)
(ddh) ᐨᒐ ᐨᒉ ᐨᒋ ᐨᒍ ᐨᒎ  
tth, (tth’) ᕭ̇  
ts, (ts’) ᘕ̇  
(dz) ᐨᘔ ᐨᘛ ᐨᘚ ᐨᘕ ᐨᘕ̇  
w ᐧᐊ ᐧᐁ ᐧᐃ ᐧᐅ ᐧᐆ  
acute           ᐊ́

The 1900 Dene syllabary did not differentiate all of the distinct sounds (phonemes) of the language, e.g. the symbol could be /ttha/ or /tth’a/. In general, this likely causes little difficulty for fluent speakers who can infer the correct phoneme from context.

The “initials” in (parentheses) were not included in the 1900 chart, either because several phonemes use the same syllabic or because the sound is written with two symbols (digraph). Digraphs are written with a raised “final” (the text calls finals “smaller characters”) plus a syllabic. I’ve deduced the sounds of the digraphs by comparing the syllabic text with a Roman equivilent from a parallel text, as well as looking at syllabic texts in other Dene languages.

There are some sounds which can be written in several different ways. The sound /tla/ can appear as (transcribed as ‹kl› in the old texts) or also as a digraph ᒡᕍ which I assume is /tla/, ‹kl› represents both /tla/ and /tl’a/. In comparing old syllabic texts with those in the Roman orthography, the equivalent of ᐨᒐ is typically ‹da›. This pronunciation is highly unlikely because ᐨ is always gives a ‹d› onset to the following syllabic (ᐨᗴ, ᐨᘔ, ᐨᕍ), thus ᐨᒐ should be /ddha/. There is also the rare appearance of the digraph ᒡᕦ, which could be either /t’/ or /t/.

There is an ambiguity with the final ᐦ, which serves double duty as ‹h› and as part of the digraph ᑲᐦ ‹kha› (/xa/). However, ᑲᐦ could also be ‹kah›.

The acute accent is fully described under note 1 on the Chipewyan page.

Front vowels (e.g. /i/ /e/) without an initial consonant can be written with either the plain vowel ᐃ, ᐁ or with a y-series syllabic ᔨ, ᔦ.

Tone and nasal vowels are not written, neither is /h/ at the end of a syllable consistantly employed. The 1900 text uses the Roman period ‹.› instead of the syllabic version

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©2008 Chris Harvey/Languagegeek
Last Modified: 31-Dec-2008