Dialect Differences (y-, th-, n-)

Most of us are familiar with the alternation of y-, th-, and n- that characterize the main Western Cree dialects. In many cases, the changes between the Plains y-dialect, Woodlands (Rock Cree) th-dialect, and Swampy Cree n-dialect are fairly predictable, but not all of these dialect differences are tidy or predictable.

This post from Solomon Ratt, with input from Arok Wolvengrey (for y-dialect), and Cameron Adams (for n-dialect) outlines the changes that usually work, and a sampling of differences that aren’t really predictable at all.

Here are the general guidelines:

  • Most (but not all) ys change to th or to n.
    • These changing ys are marked with an acute accent over the ý in the print edition of nêhiyawêwin: itwêwina Cree: Words by Arok Wolvengrey. Regina: University of Regina Press (2001).
  • There is no ê sound in the th-dialect.
    • Most of the ê’s found in the y-dialect will change to î.
    • When ê is followed by y, it changes to i.
    • When an initial ê is followed by k, the ê usually changes to i.
  • Verb forms with î in y-dialect third-person forms keep the î in the first and second person forms, but change to â in the third person form. For example: mâcîw – he/she hunts.
    • In the y-dialect, this form keeps the î: in first and second person forms:
      • nimâcîn – I hunt; kimâcîn – you hunt.
    • In the th-dialect the î in mâcîw changes to â in the first and second person forms:
      • nimâcân – I hunt; kimâcân – you hunt.
      • All third person entries from the itwêwina dictionary that have the same ending as ‘mâcîw’ follow this change.

The following list shows that not all changes are predictable, nor do all words follow the same form from one dialect to another.

(Photo: Sol’s favourite Sasquatch espresso cup, a gift from his grandchildren)

Y- dialectTH-dialectN-DialectEnglish
aýoskan athôskan anôskan Raspberry
-ýiwa-thiwa -niwaThe indicative VAI ending when the subject is 3 person obviative (her/his _____)
âha îhî êhêYes
âkaýâsîmow âkathâsîmow âkanâsîmow S/he speaks English.
âkaýâsîmowin âkathâsîmowin âkanâsîmowin English language.
âkaýâsîw âkathâsîw âkanâsîw An Englishman.
askipwâwi napatâk askipwâwi Potato
aýîkis athîkis anîkis Frog
ayiwinisaayânisa ayiwinisaClothing
cêskwa cîskwa cêskwa Wait
cihcipayapisikanis kâ-wâskâwîpiskaht nîsokâcêsBicycle
cîhkêýihtam cîhkîthihtam cîhkênihtam S/he likes something; s/he is happy.
êkosi ikosi êkosi So, in that way
êkospî ikospî êkospî Then, at that time
êkota ikota êkota There
êkwa ikwa êkwa And, let's go
êkwâni ikwâni êkwâni That’s all
êkwaýikohk ikwathikohk êkwanikohk That is enough.
êtikwê îtokî êtikwê Apparently, I guess
êwako iyako (w changes to y here)êwako That one
êwakonik iyakonik (w changes to y here)êwakonik Those ones
êýik îthik ênik An ant
isiýihkâsow isithihkâsow isinihkâsow Her/his name is…
iskwêsis iskwîsis iskwêsis Girl
iskwêw iskwîw iskwêw Woman
ispaýin ispathin ispanin It happens. It comes about.
ispîhk ispî ispîhk When
iýikohk ithikohk inikohk So much, that much.
iýinimin ithinimin ininîmin Blueberry
iýiniw ithiniw ininiw A first nations person
kâ-isiwêpahk kâ-isi-kîsikâk kâ-isi-wêpahk OR kâ-isi-kîsikâkWeather
kâsîýâkanêw kâsîthâkanêw kâsînâkanêw S/he dries dishes.
kaskitê-osâwâwwîskwastîwinâkwanosâwinâkwanIt is brown. (for NI)
kaskitê-osâwâwisiw wîskwastîwinâkosiw osâwinâkosiwIt is brown. (for NA)
kâwiýakâwitha kâwinaDon’t
kimiwan kimowan kimiwan It’s raining.
kimiwasin kimowasin kimiwasin It’s drizzling
kisîpêkinastêw sîpîkinastîw kisîpêkinastêw S/he bathes.
kisîpêkiýâkanêw sîpîkithâkanîw kisîpêkinâkanêw S/he washes clothes.
kîsitêpow piminawasow kîsitêpow S/he cooks.
kiýa kîtha kîna You
kiýânaw kîthânaw kînânaw Us/we (inclusive)
kiýawâw kîthawâw kînawâw You (plural)
maci-kîsikâwmaci-kîsikâwmaci-kîsikâw It is bad weather; it is a bad day.
mâýi-kîsikâw mâthi-kîsikâw mâni-kîsikâw It’s a bad day.
mihkosiw mithkosiwmihkosiw It is red. (for NA)
mihkwâw mithkwâw mihkwâw It is red. (for NI)
minihkwâcikan othâkanis minihkwâkan Cup
minôs pôsîs pôsîsCat
miýo-kîsikâw mitho-kîsikâw mino-kîsikâw It’s a good day.
miýwêýihtam mithwîthihtam minwênihtam S/he is happy; s/he likes something.
namôýa namôtha (namôwitha)namôna No, not
nâpêsis nâpîsis nâpêsis Boy
nâpêw nâpîwnâpêw Man
nêhiýaw nîhithaw nêhinaw A Cree person
nêhiýawêw nîhithowîw (note the change in the a to o before the w)nêhinawêw S/he speaks Cree
nêhiýawêwin nîhithowîwin nêhinawêwin Cree language
nêwo niyo nêwo Four
nîpâmâýâtan sîpihkomithkwâw mihko-cîpêhtakwâwIt is purple. (for NI)
nîpâmâýâtisiw sîpihkomithkosiw mihko-cîpêhtakosiwIt is purple. (for NA)
nitisiýihkâson nitisithihkâson nitisinihkâson My name is…
niýa nîtha nîna Me/I
niýanân nîthanân nînanân Us/we (exclusive)
ôhi ôho ôhi These (for NI)
ôki ôko ôki These (for NA)
osâwâw atôspîwinâkwan mihkonâkwanIt is orange. (for NI)
osâwisiw atôspîwinâkosiw mihkonâkosiw It is orange. (for NA)
oýakan othâkan onâkan Dish/plate
pahkisimotâhk pahkisimonohk nêkahpêhanohk West
pêyâhtak piyâhtak pêyâhtak Carefully, quietly, slowly
pêyak piyak pêyak One
pêyakwan piyakwan pêyakwan The same
pêyakwâw piyakwâw pêyakwâw Once
pîhtokwêw pîhtokîw pîhtikwêw S/he enters.
pimipaýiw pimipathiw pimipaniw S/he drives
piýêsîs pithîsîs pinêsîs Bird
piýisk pîthisk pînisEventually
sâkâstênohk mâci-kîsikanohk wâpanohk East
sêhkêpayîs otâpânâsk otâpânâsk Car
sisonê wâsakâm wâsakâm Along, around the edge (Th)
sôhkiýowêw sôhkithôwîw sôhkinowêw It’s very windy.
tânimaýikohk tânimathikohk tânimanikohk How much?
tânispîhk tânispî tânispîhk When?
tâniýikohk tânithikohk tâninikohk How much?
wâhýaw wâhthaw wâhnaw Far
wâhýawês wâhthawîs wâhnawêsA bit of a ways
wâposâwâw osâwâw osâwâw It is yellow. (for NI)
wâposâwisiw osâwisiw osâwisiw It is yellow. (for NA)
wâsênikan wâsênamân wâsênamâwin Window
wâýahcâw wâthahcâw wânahcâw Valley
waýawîtimihk wathawîtimihk wanawîtimihk Outside
waýawîw wathawîw wanawîw S/he goes out.
wiýa wîtha wîna She/he
wiýawâw wîthawâw wînawâw They/them
ýêkaw thîkaw nêkaw Sand
yîkatênam îkatînam wîkatênam (I have to look)S/he takes something aside
yîkowan kaskawan nikowan It’s foggy
ýîkwaskwan thikwaskwan nikwaskwan It is cloudy
ýôtin thôtin nôtin It’s windy.
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