The Sound of Our Language

The Sound of Our Language

Gidinwewininaan / The Sound of Our Language

Before moving forward in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) it is important to practice pronunciation and understand the most common spelling system. The double vowel system was created by Charles Fiero (working with fluent speakers) in the late 1950s and is used by Anishinaabe teachers, elders, translators, administrators, language activists, and students seeking a common Anishinaabemowin orthography. It is currently used in over 200 Anishinaabe communities in and around Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, North Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Although this is a system of writing that the Anishinaabeg use on both sides of the international boundary, we also recognize the value and importance of syllabics and folk-phonetics as part of Anishinaabe linguistic heritage.

The list below is designed to give English speakers a clear description of Anishinaabe phonetics, the way the language sounds. Time spent getting these sounds correct will help you recognize and write words you have heard and sound out new words you encounter on the page. The left column is the sound represented in the double vowel system which provides one representation for each sound unlike English where some vowels are represented multiple ways. On the right are example words in which the sound occurs, along with a translation into English. Bear in mind that dialect variation exists. Symbols enclosed in square brackets [ ] indicate the IPA symbol for the sound; this is most useful for people who have some experience using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Read through the words carefully. It is important to note when the vowels are long and when they are short, there are common mistakes English speakers make. Paying attention to this will help your pronunciation and ability to speak and read later. For example: "zh" is an uncommon sound in English, be sure you are not saying "sh". Another common mistake is to mix up the "g" and "j" sounds. "G" is always pronounced as in "good" or "great". "J" is always pronounced as in "jump."

All words are made of sound (phonemes) and meaning (morphemes). Many fluent speakers emphasize that the best way to learn the language is to be sure you are sounding out the meaning, which involves learning careful pronunciation and recognizing how sounds create meaning. For example, "minobimaadizi" means to live well. The phonemes "mi" and "no" come together to make the morpheme "mino" which always implies positive goodness when it comes at the front of a word. It is not used as a word alone and no exact word in another language will ever capture exactly what "mino" can mean in Anishinaabemowin so learning to hear and say it correctly is important.

Sometimes you will see a very long word. The language traditionally had no stress for emphasis or meaning. Speakers now will often put stress on alternate phonemes with a consonant. Sometimes the influence of English is apparent and speakers will put stress on a word based on the meaning of various word parts (morphemes) or their intended emphasis.

Whenever possible, listen to recordings of elders and teachers and record yourself to hear where you can improve. Take each word slowly, breaking it into parts or reading it backward if necessary. Most importantly, try to practice every day with words at first, and then phrases, so that you become comfortable speaking out loud.

 

Vowels

a This is the sound "schwa" as in English but, cup, among, tuba.
anishinaabe
namadabi
mazina’igan
‘anishinaabe’
‘sit down’
‘book’
 
aa In English, this sound occurs in words like father, pot, opposite. Note that slight variation may exist between speakers, and a single English speaker might not pronounce the vowels in these words exactly the same way.
gaawiin
maajtaadaa
waabamaa
‘no’
‘let’s begin’
‘see him / her’
 
e This sound has no exact counterpart in English, but occurs in the French word café. In English, we tend to pronounce café, as if it rhymes with obey or say. Try to produce a clear simple [e]. This vowel should sound a bit like the "e" in bet.
epiichi
giiwedin
biindige
‘during’
‘north’
‘enter’
 
i In English, this sound occurs in words like bit, little, sip. It is not difficult for English speakers to say, but in English this sound never occurs at the ends of words, as it does in Anishnaabemowin. Be careful not to mispronounce the single "i" at the end of a word. One "i" is always a short "i."
ikido
mawi
‘to say’
‘cry’
 
ii This sound occurs in the English word knee, peach, beat, each.
aaniin
biindigen
googii
‘hello’
‘enter, welcome, come in’
‘dive’
 
o The letter "o" in Anishnaabemowin represents a variety of sounds in English. It may sound like the "au" in caught, or the "u" in put.
opin
anokii
bagizo
‘potato’
‘works’
‘swim’
 
oo This combination represents the long "o" sound as in "boat," "know," or "toe."
oodena
goon
boozhoo
‘town’
‘snow’
‘greetings, hello’
 

Nasal Vowels

Sometimes a nasal sound is used in eastern dialects. Often the same sound is represented only by a "y" in western dialects. For example, "I am working" is spelled in the east "nokiiyaanh" while in the west it is "nokiiyaan". You may also see the "nh" at the end of double vowels in both eastern and western dialects as in "giigoonh".

Consonants
b bakade
aniibiish
gizheb
‘hungry’
‘leaf’
‘morning’
ch michaagami
miigwech
‘it is a big body of water’
‘thanks’
d debwe
biidoon
waagaakwad
‘tells the truth’
‘bring it!’
‘ax’
g giin
waagosh
ikwewag
‘you’
‘fox’
‘women’
h howah
nahaaw
‘oh my!’
‘okay’
j jina
onjibaa
biingeji
‘a little while’
‘to be from a place’
‘feel cold inside’
k makizin
amik
‘moccasin’
‘beaver’
m miinan
jiimaan
miijim
‘blueberries’
‘kiss, canoe’
‘food’
n naanan ‘five’
p opin
baapi
‘potato’
‘laugh’
s asin
wiiyaas
‘stone, rock’
‘meat’
sh ashigan
animosh
‘bass’
‘dog’
t tawag ‘ear’
w waabang
bizindaw
‘tomorrow’
‘listen to someone’
y wiiyaw
nday
‘someone’s body’
‘my dog’
z ziibi
zid
aakozi
‘river’
‘foot’
‘to be sick’
zh zhaabonigan
izhinikaazo
biizh
‘needle’
‘to be named’
‘bring someone!’

Consonant Clusters

sk miskwaa ‘is red’
shp ishpiming ‘up above, in heaven’
sht shtigwaan ‘head’
shk ishkode
gaayaashk
‘fire’
‘gull’
mb wiimbaa ‘it is hollow’
nd aanind ‘some’
nj biinji-ayi’iing
nininj
‘inside’
‘my hand’
ng bangii
waabang
‘a little bit’
‘tomorrow’
 

Reading Practice

To confidently move forward with the language, practice saying words every day. As you hear or read new words you need to train your ear to differentiate between the long and short vowel sounds and to recognize the common combinations in Anishinaabemowin. The audio sets below are designed to include the full range of sounds. You can also read the text explanation of how these sounds compare to English.

Reading Practice 1

anishinaabe
namadabi
mazina’igan
gaawiin
maajtaadaa
waabamaa
epiichi
giiwedin
biindige
ikido
mawi
aaniin
biindigen
googii
‘anishinaabe’
‘sit down’
‘book’
‘no’
‘let’s begin’
‘see him / her’
‘during’
‘north’
‘enter’
‘to say’
‘cry’
‘hello’
‘enter, welcome, come in’
‘dive’
 

Reading Practice 2

opin
anokii
bagizo
oodena
goon
boozhoo
nokiiyaanh/nokiiyaan
giigoonh
bakade
aniibiish
gizheb
michaagami
miigwech
debwe
‘potato’
‘works’
‘swim’
‘town’
‘snow’
‘greetings, hello’
‘I am working’
‘a fish’
‘hungry’
‘leaf’
‘morning’
‘it is a big body of water’
‘thanks’
‘tells the truth’
 

Reading Practice 3

biidoon
waagaakwad
giin
waagosh
ikwewag
howah
nahaaw
jina
onjibaa
biingeji
makizin
amik
miinan
jiimaan
‘bring it!’
‘ax’
‘you’
‘fox’
‘women’
‘oh my!’
‘okay’
‘a little while’
‘to be from a place’
‘feel cold inside’
‘moccasin’
‘beaver’
‘blueberries’
‘kiss, canoe’
 

Reading Practice 4

miijim
naanan
opin
baapi
asin
wiiyaas
ashigan
animosh
tawag
waabang
bizindaw
wiiyaw
nday
ziibi
‘food’
‘five’
‘potato’
‘laugh’
‘stone, rock’
‘meat’
‘bass’
‘dog’
‘ear’
‘tomorrow’
‘listen to someone’
‘someone’s body’
‘my dog’
‘river’
 

Reading Practice 5

zid
aakozi
zhaabonigan
izhinikaazo
biizh
miskwaa
ishpiming
shtigwaan
ishkode
gaayaashk
wiimbaa
aanind
biinji-ayi’iing
nininj
bangii
waabang
‘foot’
‘to be sick’
‘needle’
‘to be named’
‘bring someone!’
‘is red’
‘up above, in heaven’
‘head’
‘fire’
‘gull’
‘it is hollow’
‘some’
‘inside’
‘my hand’
‘a little bit’
‘tomorrow’