Introduction: the East Cree sound system

East Cree Consonants and Vowels

East Cree has eleven consonants and six vowels. (Southern East Cree has seven vowels.) The remainder of this page is an overview of East Cree consonants, vowels, and syllables, leading to other pages with more detailed descriptions.

Letters between slash brackets often stand for more than one sound. For example, / p / stands for three sounds, [ p ], [ b ], and [ pʰ ]. For details see the the introduction to the orthography. (For those who are curious, the sounds are organized according to linguistic categories like place and manner of articulation.)

Consonants

The eleven consonants of East Cree are listed below. The technical terms at the end of each table row are linked to more detailed descriptions of how the consonants are pronounced.

P /p/ T /t/ K /k/ (plosives)
CH /tʃ/ (affricate)
S /s/ SH /ʃ/ H /h/ (fricatives)
M /m/ N /n/ (nasals)
W /w/ Y /j/ (glides)

The / w / sound in East Cree is sometimes written with U and sometimes with W. For an introduction and further links, see the page on how to write Cree.

One sound that is often heard at the end of word ending in a vowel is the glottal stop. This sound, however, is not written and therefore doesn’t correspond to a letter in the Cree Roman alphabet.

Vowels

The East Cree vowel letters and their corresponding sounds are:

II /i/, I  /ɪ/ UU /u/, U /ʊ/
E /e/ AA /a/, A /ə/

(For the curious, the vowels are organized according to height and backness / rounding.)

In the writing system, there are three ‘long’ vowels (II or Î, UU or Û, and AA or Â) and three ‘short’ vowels (I, U, and A). Long vowels sometimes take twice as long to pronounce as short vowels. However, there are lots of exceptions: ‘long’ vowels do not always sound long, and ‘short’ vowels do not always sound short. For more details, see the page ‘Are East Cree vowels “long” and “short” or “tense” and “lax”?’.

There are other important differences between long and short vowels. See these pages for details:

  • short vowels can be silent; long vowels cannot be silent
  • long vowels tend to be tense
  • short vowels tend to be lax

East Cree also has diphthongs, which are combinations of vowels and the sounds [ w ] or [ j ]. See the page on diphthongs for details.

East Cree syllables

When we speak, we automatically group consonants and vowels into syllables. Syllables, in turn, are the building blocks of words: in one sense words are just a string of syllables; (of course, words also convey meaning whereas syllables do not). It is important to know about syllables in East Cree because rules of accent placement and silent vowels refer to syllables. Syllables are also central to the syllabary.

  • However, the only thing you need to remember about syllables is that the number of vowels equals the number of syllables in the word.

The smallest syllable consists of a vowel (V). The biggest syllable in Cree contains a consonant (C), followed by a vowel, followed by a consonant. Other syllable types are CV and VC.

Cree words can consist of any number of syllables … plus an extra consonant or two at the end of the word. Here are some examples. (A hyphen shows where the syllable boundaries are in these examples; the words would normally be written without the hyphens.)

puu-shii cat (two syllables)
kaakw porcupine (one syllable)

For more information on syllables go to Syllabification.

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