Stoney Nakoda developing a written tradition

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 29, 2013


The Stoney Nakoda alphabet follows the keyboard tradition used on most North American computers and smart phones. Vowels fall into two categories: oral and nasalized, as in French. The combination /ch/ is pronounced about like the “ch” in the English word “church.” The symbols /r/ and /rh/ represent guttural “h”-ish sounds lacking in English; their pronunciation is best learned by listening to a native speaker.


The Stoney Nakoda dialect of Sioux spoken along the Alberta foothills at Morley, Eden Valley and Big Horn has traditionally been an unwritten language.

In recent years, however, all that is changing. I’ve been privileged to be part of that change.

This week I’m donning my linguist’s hat and facilitating a workshop for Stoney staff at the Morley school. The workshop is focusing on the history and classroom applications of the Stoney Nakoda writing system developed by the Stoney linguistics team over the past 45 years.

Since many of the community’s non-Stoney neighbours have shown an interest in the writing system, I thought I’d provide a look here at the alphabet chart we’re using in the workshop.

The writing system follows a phonetically consistent one-to-one correlation between sound and symbol (letter). That is, unlike English writing, each symbol is always pronounced the same way every time it occurs, and each sound is always represented by one symbol only. For example, /i/ is always pronounced like the “i” in the English word “ski,” but never like the “i” in “hit” or “high.”


© 2013 Warren Harbeck

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