A note on choosing a system for writing Stoney Nakoda

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 18, 2010

Last week I celebrated the memory of Jimmy Kaquitts, lover of Stoney summertime and imaginative participant in developing a practical writing system for his Nakoda dialect of Sioux spoken at Morley.

This week I’d like to introduce you to the alphabet he helped develop some 40 years ago.

It was not Jimmy alone, of course, but a team of Stoney Nakoda speakers who co-operated on a visual representation for their traditionally oral language.

After analyzing what speech sounds had to be represented in writing, the team ran tests among students and elders alike.

The choice of an overall system was pivotal.

One test, developed by fellow team member John Robinson “JR” Twoyoungmen, laid to rest any thoughts of using a syllabic system similar to Cree, an approach favoured by some in the community.

Syllabics worked well for four-vowel languages, the team concluded, but not for Stoney, with its five oral and three nasalized vowels, easily represented on North American keyboards with the symbols /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/. The addition of a “nose-shaped” circumflex quite nicely handled the nasalized vowels, /â/, /î/ and /û/.

The North American keyboard approach won out. Here’s what the final alphabet looks like as developed by the team.

Click on the image for a larger version

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

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