East Cree Orthography

Two writing systems

East Cree has two writing systems (or ORTHOGRAPHIES):

A roman orthography is a writing system that uses letters from the Latin (or roman) alphabet: English and French also use roman orthographies, and so do many First Nations and European languages.

In contrast, the Cree syllabary was developed especially for Cree. (Languages like Inuktitut also use a syllabary that is based on the original Cree one.) You can find out more about the origins of the Cree syllabary on Wikipedia. Today, there is an exact correspondence between the standard East Cree syllabary and the standard roman orthography. In fact, to create Cree syllabics on their computers, most people today type in roman, which is then automatically converted into syllabics. More on Cree fonts.

Letters versus sounds

The letters of the East Cree alphabet stand for sounds that are unique to East Cree. For example, the last vowel sound in the Northern East Cree word ᑯᑣᔥᒡ Click here to hear this word kutwaashch exists in East Cree but not in Canadian English. This sound is spelled with the letter combination WAA in East Cree.

As this example shows, letters must be different from sounds: in this instance, a combination of three letters (WAA) stands for a single sound rather than for three separate sounds.

The East Cree writing systems are more straightforward than the English orthography. For example, the ‘sh’ sound is always spelled with SH in East Cree. In contrast, the same sound can be spelled in many different ways in English (‘SHe’, ‘SCHmuck’, ‘naTIon’, etc.).

In this website, the letters in the East Cree roman system will be written in capital letters. For example:

  • T means ‘the roman letter T in the East Cree writing system.’

In contrast, we use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to describe the sounds that each East Cree letter represents. IPA letters are written between square brackets. Here is an example that illustrates how we describe the difference between letters and sounds:

  • East Cree WAA stands for (or represents) the [ɒ] sound.

If you want to learn more about the IPA, the website of the International Phonetic Association has interactive charts and sound files illustrating what the letters of the IPA sound like.


Letters are different from sounds. To highlight the difference between the two, we say, for example, that:

  • Cree T can sound like [ t ] or like [ d ]. (See page on Voicing for more details)