Cahto Alphabet Chart

Proposed practical orthography for the Cahto Language


Full Vowels: ii ee aa oo uu
--IPA iː i ɪː ɪ eː e ɛː ɛ æː æ ɑː ɑ ɒː ɒ oː o u o
--as in: "feet" "egg", "hat" "father" "goat" "boot"
--example: siis (river otter) see (stone, rock) yaah (cloud) goo (worm) uulaa' (his hand)
Reduced Vowels: i a o
--IPA ə ɨ ɪ ʌ ə ɞ ʊ ə
--as in: bitten" "what", "but" "thought", "put", "but"
--example: bis (river bank) yiinak' (south) tl'oh (grass)


Labial Stops: b m
--IPA p pʰ m
--as in: "boy" "Mary"
--example: bis (riverbank) deeming' (it was full)
Dental Stops: d t t' n
--IPA t tʰ tˠ t' n ŋ
--as in: "dog" "tail" (t with catch) "noon", "sing"
--example: dooyee (no!) too (water) t'eesh (coal, charcoal) nintc (your nose)
Laterals: tl' lh l
--IPA tɬ' ɬ ɮ l
--as in: (t + l + glottal catch) Welsh "llan" (breathy "l") "leap"
--example: tl'ee' (night) lhaa'haa' (one) loo (hail)
Dentals: ts ts' s
--IPA ts̪ʰ ts̪' s̪ θ
--as in: "pizza" (ts with glottal catch) "sing", "thing"
--example: lhtsoghing (Grey Fox) ts'aal (basket cradle) sai (sand)
Alveolars: dj tc tc' sh
--IPA tʃ̺ tʃ̺ʰ tʃ̺' ʃ
--as in: "jeer" (using the tongue-tip) "cheer" (using the tongue-tip) (tc with glottal catch) "sheep"
--example: djiin, djing (day) ntcee' (bad, ugly) tc'oh (blackbird) shaa (sun, moon)
Palatals: j ch ch' = sh y
--IPA tʃ kʲ k tʃʰ kʲʰ kʰ tʃ' kʲ' k' ʃ j
--as in: "jump" "chock" (ch with glottal catch) = sh "year"
--example: jaang (here) ching (tree, wood) ch'in (he said) yoo' (bead)
Velars: g k k' gh
--IPA k q kʰ kˠ qʰ qˠ k' q' ɣ ʁ ɰ
--as in: "good" "kangaroo" (k with glottal catch) (fricative g)
--example: gooyaanee' (star) kaah (goose) k'aa' (arrow) sighaa' (head hair, scalp)
Labial-Velars: kw kw' w
--IPA kʷʰ qʷʰ kʷ' qʷ' w
--as in: "quick" (kw with glottal catch) "wood"
--example: kwee' (his foot) kw'it (on it) wang (some)
Glottals: ' h
--IPA ʔ h x χ
--as in: "uh-oh" "head"
--example: naa'aa (here!, take it!) hootaah (then)

Full Vowels plus uu

Full vowels (ee, ii, aa, oo)are generally pronounced long in open syllables and shortened somewhat in closed syllables (esp. those closed by ', n or l).

Uu only occurs in a few forms: the third person singular possessive and object prefix (i.e. him/her/it, his/hers/its) uu-,uuwee ("oh yes!"), word hee'uu' ("yes"), and in a variant pronunciation of the word tc'ibee/tc'uubee ("Douglas Fir tree"). It is pronounced as in English "boot", but is short in duration. Writing it with a double letter, as if it were a long vowel, is a holdover from Goddard's transcription system.

Reduced Vowels

Reduced vowels (i, a, o) are often difficult to distinguish for English speakers (but presumably not for Kpelle or Korean speakers). This problem is compounded by the fact that each of these vowels has a range of pronunciations (which can overlap)in Cahto. These vowels are always short in duration.

Unaspirated Stops and Affricates

Unaspirated Stops

Unaspirated stops and affricates (written "b", "d", "dj", "j", and "g") are not voiced like the English letters can be: in other words, the vocal cords do not vibrate through or immediately after the sound. They are unaspirated, meaning that there is no "puff of air" at the release of the consonant. To most English speakers these unaspirated voiceless stops sound like our voiced (or unaspirated, this is not a settled issue among linguists) stops ("b", "d", "g"), but in fact they are more similar to the unaspirated voiceless stops written "p", "t", "k" or "c" in Romance languages (including French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish). The Cahto and California Athabaskan distinction between aspirated and unaspirated is the same as that in Chinese--see Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation: footnote 1.

Feeling Voicing: Say the words "viva", "zoo", "azure" then "FIFA", "Sue", "assure" while touching your Adam's apple/larynx to feel the difference between vocal cords vibrating and not vibrating through a stop. You should feel a buzzing vibration with the sounds "v", "z", and "zh" that does not start till after the sounds "f", "s", "sh" have ended.

Seeing Aspiration: Say the words "spot", "stop", "Scott" then "pot", "top", "cot" while holding a candle or other small flame about two inches in front of your mouth (not too close, you don't want to burn your nose, do you?!). The aspiration of the "p", "t" and "c" in the words that don't start with "s" should blow the flame away from you a little bit.


The ejectives (t', tl', ts', tc', ch', k', and kw') are all like their unaspirated counterparts , except that they are pronounced with a slight glottal catch. While you are learning to pronounce these sounds you will probably exaggerate the popping of the glottal catch, but when a native speaker pronounced them it was often difficult for an English listener to hear the distinction between the unaspirated sounds (d, g, etc.) and the corresponding ejectives.


Lh is a voiceless, fricative l ("breathy l", Welsh "ll"). This type of sound is sometimes heard by English speakers like "sl", "thl" or sometimes "fl" (as in Floyd, from the Welsh name Lloyd). Here's an entire webpage on how to learn to pronounce this sound (for Welsh, but the sound is the same): Gwybodiadur: The Dreaded LL Sound

Tl' is like no sound in English. Ummm...


S is like Spanish "s" (pronounced farther forward in the mouth than English "s"), but some speakers appear to pronounce it even farther forward, almost like "th" in "thing". To learn where to put the tip of the tongue try saying "sassy", but make the tip of the tongue touch the back of the top teeth, rather than the ridge behind the teeth. It will probably sound like a mild lisp to an English speaker, but perfect to most Spanish speakers.

Ts does not normally occur at the beginning of a word in English, but it can in the colloquial form of "What's up?" pronounced "Tsup?". (Thanks to the former Croatian Language - Pronunciation page for this English example)


Dj, tc, tc' are all pronounced in almost the same way as English "j" and "ch", but the tip of the tongue is used, rather than the top of the front of the tongue. Pronounce "jeer" and "cheer", but push the tip of the tongue up. This sounds like something between a "tsy" and a "ts".

Palatals/Front Velars

J, ch, ch' are all pronounced with the tongue more or less as in English "j" and "ch". Preceding the full vowel ii the members of this series are often pronounced further back, like the k in "keep" or the "ky" sound in "cure". In this situation the letter pairs j/g, ch/k, and ch'/k' are used quite inconsistently thus far, generally emphasizing the original orthography in the source work. Since real g, k, k' only occur before ii in a few words1 little potential for confusion exists. Eventually all of these should be represented by j, ch, ch' or gy, ky, ky', leaving plain g, k, k' to represent only the "velar" series.

Gh is pronounced like g, except that the top of the tongue does not quite close off the airflow. This is roughly the same sound as "g" between vowels in many dialects of Spanish--listen to agha from Voiced velar fricative - Wikipedia.

' (glottal stop, glottal "catch") is pronounced as in the word uh-oh.

H is pronounced like English h, but a little harsher. Spanish j and x (Jesus, Mexico) are probably a little too harsh. Try for a sound between English and Spanish. Note that Cahto h is not silent when it occurs at the end of a syllable, but is light enough that some of the people transcribing Cahto consistently missed it.

K can be much harsher than English aspirated k--like k followed immediately by Spanish j or x. Have a good Klingon speaker pronounce the sound written Q (Mark Shoulson demonstrating the sound with the nonsense word "QaQaQ").

Kw is like the sound in English "quick", but somewhat harsher.

N is pronounced as in English "sing" before g, k, k', gh, ' (glottal catch) and sometimes before y and w; and as in "thin" before other consonants and all vowels. In slow, careful speech before a pause it is as in "sing". In fast speech the "pauses" are largely irrelevant.


1 These words are as follows:

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