Basic Cahto Pronunciation Guide


The Cahto alphabet is much easier to learn to use than that of English, because each letter or combination of letters has a single basic sound and all but one of the basic sounds have a single spelling. Most of the sounds of Cahto are the same as or very similar to sounds used in English.

Wherever possible I have tried to choose Cahto and English examples that sound alike. In these cases the English word or part of a word that has the same sound as the Cahto is in bold type. For example Cahto "aal" (firewood) sounds like English "all".

LetterCahto ExampleEnglish Example
'naa'aa, here! take it!"-" in "uh-oh", a catch in the voice
aban'tc, houseflythe "schwa" sound, "a" in "what", "u" in "bunch"
aaaal, firewood"a" in "all", "father"
bbis, river bank"b" in "bus", "p" in "spy"
chching, tree"ch" in "chunk"
ch'ch'laakii, acorn woodpecker"ch" or "j" with a glottal catch
ddoo, not"d" in "dough", "t" in "stick"
djdjiing, day"j" in "Jean"
eegees, king salmon"e" in "guess", "ei" in "weigh"
ggoo, worm"g" in "go", "k" in "sky"
ghtighaat, flour"g" in Spanish "amigo"; "r" in French "rue"; a rough, guttural sound
hhang, that one"h" in "hung"
ibis, river bankthe "schwa" sound, "i" in "fir tree", "u" in "bus", "e" in "bushes"; "i" in "kiss" for other speakers
iishiing, summer"i" in "machine"
jjaang, here"j" in "John"
kkiing, him/herself"k" in "king"
k'k'ai', hazel nut"k" or "g" with a glottal catch
kwkwong', fire"qu" in "quack"
kw'kw'it, on it"kw" with a glottal catch
llaat, seaweed"l" in "lot"
l'saaldeel', huckleberries"l" with a glottal catch, cut off "l"
lhlhit, smokelike "sl" in "slurp" or "fl" in "flood", but without the "s" and "f" sounds :-)
lh'lh'ghish, rattlesnake"lh" with a glottal catch
mmain, badger"m" in "mine"
nnees-ee, it is far"n" in "nay-say"
n'daatcaan'tc, crow"n" with a glottal catch, cut off "n"
nghang, that one"ng" in "hung"
ng'k'iing', serviceberry"ng" with a glottal catch, cut off "ng"
okos, cough"o" in "come", "u" in "cuss"; "o" in "toss" for other speakers
ootoo, water"o" in "go", "ow" in "tow"
ssee, rock"s" in "say"
shshash, grizzly bear"sh" in "shush"
ttaak', three"t" in "tick-tock"
t't'ee', blanket"t" or "d" with a glottal catch
tcdiltciik, ponderosa pine"ch" in "cheek"
tc'tc'oh, blackbird"tc" or "dj" with a glottal catch
tl'tl'ee', nightlike "tr" in "tray", but with "l" instead of "r"--plus a glottal catch :-)
tstseek'ai', deer brush"zz" in "pizza", "ts" in "Tsup?" abbreviation of "What's up?"
ts'ts'ing, bone"ts" with a glottal catch
uuchuunoo', behind a tree"oo" in "cool", "ew" in "chew"
wwaakw, to one side of it"w" as in "wok"
yyoo, over there"y" in "yo-yo"

The Schwa Sound

The one sound that has multiple spellings is the "schwa" sound, and that is only in Bill Ray's dialect. "Schwa" is the sound of English "o" in "button, "i" in "fir", "u" in "bunch", "a" in "what", "e" in "hidden"). In Cahto this sound is spelled with "a", "i", and "o". The reason for using the three different letters is that these sounds are pronounced differently in the other dialects, and the sound can be lengthened or drawn out. When "a", "i", or "o" are lengthened they sound like the double version of the same letter. For example, "ching" (tree), with the schwa sound, becomes "chiin-ee" (it's a tree), with the sound of "i" in "machine"; "shash" (grizzly bear), with the schwa sound, can lengthen to "shaash", with the sound of "a" in "father"; "kwosh" (blackberry), with the schwa sound, becomes "kwoosh-yeeh" (under the blackberries). If the schwa sound were always spelled with the same letter how you could lengthen it would not be clear. The different schwa sounds also each have particular possible variant pronunciations: "a" can be more like "a" in "what"; "i" can be more like the "e" in "bushes"; and "o" can be more like "u" in "put".

Sounds with a Glottal Catch

Practice these by saying a word like "cool", but separate the "c" from the "ool" slightly, like "c-ool". Then say "c-ool" a bunch of times, gradually shortening the separation between the two parts. You should soon be producing the Cahto sound k'. We actually pronounce these sounds frequently in English, but we don't notice it since we don't distinguish them from regular sounds.

When a glottal catch or a sound with a glottal catch is at the end of a word it sounds like the sound is cut off abruptly.

Ch- and J-like Sounds

The ones that are spelled as in English are basically the same sounds as in English: Cahto "ch" is English "ch", Cahto "j" is English "j".

The ones that are spelled differently are pronounced with the tip of the tongue, rather than the top front of the tongue as in the English sounds. Try to pronounce the English word "cheek" but touch the tip of the tongue to the ridge where you would normally touch the top side of the tongue.

L-like sounds

Lh: Say a word like "sling" but change the "s" to "th" as in "thing". Practice saying "thling" and trying not to touch the teeth with tip of the tongue. Smile or grin while saying this sound to pull the corners of the mouth to the side and back.

Lh': This is just "lh" with a glottal catch.

Tl': Say a word like "tray", but change the "r" to "l". Once you can say "tlay" try adding the glottal catch by repeating "tl-ay" and shortening the separation, as above.

Questions? Comments? Email Sally Anderson (