Syllabics and SRO: Two sides of the same coin

I realize that nobody asked my opinion (!) but this is what a good, contemporary Plains Cree syllabic chart looks like to me, and to my colleagues at the Cree Literacy Network. This was designed by Arok Wolvengrey, and printed and distributed by First Nations University of Canada (until they ran out). Here are the most important points:

  • The columns follow the order that was used on the original Evans chart: ᐁ ᐃ ᐅ ᐊ
  • Extra columns are added to contrast the “long” and “short vowels: ᐁ ᐃ ᐄ ᐅ ᐆ ᐊ ᐋ (This is the order they should follow in a syllabic dictionary.)
  • These columns are labelled with the same vowels that are used in SRO
  • The rows show the order of consonants the way they are traditionally taught (not in English alphabetical order!)
  • This chart corresponds to the Syllabic Song that has been used for teaching for years. Here’s a link that includes the song performed by Wayne Jackson!
  • The finals are of the “reduced” type – a kind of shorthand shape for consonants that appear in isolation (without a vowel sound of their own). In this case, the “y-final” takes the shape of a plus sign. In some communities it is a dot.
  • Most important of all: Using this chart, you can convert from Syllabics from SRO – and back again! And increasingly, there are computer programs that can help with this work. But here’s a warning: Always remember the old computer programming adage: Garbage in, garbage out. Your conversion can only be as accurate as the material you begin with!

Things that might be even better:

  • If it were clearer (for beginners) that a dot on the right of any character means a w sound is inserted between the consonant and the following vowel.
  • It would also work for Woodlands Cree (th-dialect) if it had a row for ᖧ ᖨ ᖩ ᖪ ᖫ ᖬ ᖭ, the “th” syllabic characters.
  • Instead of using English words and English sounds across the top, we could use actual Cree words, the same way Arok Wolvengrey and Jean Okimâsis did on pages 7-8 of their book “How to Spell it in Cree.” Thanks to both of them, you can click through to download your own copy of the book here and learn more about spelling Cree in SRO.

For comparison, here is an older syllabic chart, photographed by Crystal Anderson, and shared by John James Spence in the FaceBook Group nêhiyawêwin (Cree) Word of the Day. This example, John James says, is from Norway House, where his grandfather was a minister. You’ll see that the *sounds* of the syllabics are really the same, even though different English letters are used at the tops of the columns. There is no “right” or “wrong” – we’re really talking about the same thing. 

7 Responses

    1. Ramona, I would be delighted if it was helpful to you. According to Sol, it is Arok Wolvengrey’s work. But I never mind having mentioned. I’d love to see your guide, too, when it’s ready!

  1. I bought a Edward S. Curtis picture at a garage sale. It is of the piegan indian Weasel tail. And underneath it us written weasel tail and then some syllabics. I was told it may be cree or black foot. Can you take a look? I’ll include a link.

    1. I can ask around, but it seems like it might say, imaha moa pîso, and that doesn’t look very Cree.

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