The Kashaya Alphabet


The following letters and special symbols are used in writing Kashaya words:

a b c cʰ cʼ d e f h i k kʰ kʼ l m n o p pʰ pʼ q qʰ qʼ r s sʼ š t tʰ tʼ ṭ ṭʰ ṭʼ u w y ʔ

The Kashaya-to-English part of the dictionary is arranged alphabetically according to this order. At the very end are some special symbols that only occur with a few grammatical items ( · ʼ Ø ˆ ˇ ˉ ). These can be ignored by most users.

Because the sounds of Kashaya are very different from those of English, we need to use special symbols to make the right pronunciation clear. Although these are unfamiliar to most people, they were adopted by Robert Oswalt following the lead of most linguists who have studied the native languages of North America.

The vowels a i e o u are pronounced as in languages like Spanish, not as they sometimes are in English (which has much more erratic spellings of vowels). There are no silent vowels in Kashaya.

a as in father
e something between ay in bay and e in bet
i as in ski, sometimes a little closer to the i in bit
o close to the o in go, but without as much lip rounding at the end
u similar to oo in too

All the vowels can be short or long. When accompanied by a raised dot, a· i· e· o· u·, the vowel should be dragged out. It's a bit like the difference between English bid and bead, or look and loon, but the difference is mainly how long you say the vowel rather than the way your tongue and lips are positioned, which is the case in English.

Some consonants are similar enough to English that we don't need to discuss them in detail: b d f h l m n r s w y. Many other do require more comment.

The spelling š is not used in English but the sound is: this is what we write as sh. Since it is a single sound, not two in a row, linguists usually choose a single letter to represent it, rather than a "digraph" (two letters interpreted as one sound). The same is true for c, a single letter used to write what in English is ch.

The letter ʔ is like a question mark without the dot underneath, but represents a specific sound that often occurs also in English, called a glottal stop. This is common when English speakers say a word like uh-oh; the little "catch" in the throat before the oh is basically the same as in the Kashaya word hoʔo, which means "tooth". Every word of Kashaya that seems to start with a vowel actually starts with this sound, so the most accurate spelling includes this symbol. Thus the word for "I" sounds like ah, but because it has the glottal stop at the beginning, it's written ʔa. In English we usually pronounce words like ah with a glottal stop anyway, so that should be pretty easy to say, but in Kashaya it's also written.

Now we come to some special sounds of Kashaya. Consonants that involve completely stopping the flow of air are called stops. We have these in English in sounds like p t k. Kashaya has lots of these sounds, and some special distinctions among them. Here they all are at once, and then some, with the technical terms used to describe them.

Plain Aspirated Ejective
Labial (with the lips closed, like English p) p
Dental (tongue against the back of the teeth, near where we make th) t
Alveolar (tip of tongue a bit further behind the teeth, more like English t) ṭʰ ṭʼ
Palatal (technically an affricate, like ch) c
Velar (with the back of the tongue, like English k) k
Uvular (further back than k) q

First let's consider the rows in this table, which differ by what linguistics call Place of Articulation. The consonants in the series written p c k are pronounced at the same place in the mouth as English p ch k, but the others require special comment.

There are two kinds of t-sounds, written plain t and with a dot underneath. This is an important distinction in Kashaya; the closest comparison to English is that plain t, pronounced with the front part of the tongue up against the back of the teeth, is somewhat like our sound th, except that it is a stop like t (cutting off the airflow) rather than a fricative like th (which allows the air to continue to flow during the consonant). The dotted is more like a regular t in English, with the tip of the tongue touching the top of the mouth a bit behind the teeth. These are best learned by listening to a native speaker and practicing.

The remaining special letter is q which is a "uvular" stop. The uvula is the little thing dangling down in the back of the throat, and this consonant is made by raising the very back of the tongue up to the area of the uvular to make a closure. It's like k but further back, which makes a distinctive sound. Again, it's best to listen to a native speaker to get the hang of it.

Now let's look at the three columns in the table, using p as an example. The plain p is similar to English p but without a puff of air (called "aspiration") after it as in English pin; it's more like spin, where it doesn't have that aspiration. But when we write the raised h as in , then there is a strong puff of air, like pin but even more strongly aspirated. These are different sounds in Kashaya, so it's important to pay attention to this little ʰ in order to get the right pronunciation. This is true for all the different places of articulation (every row).

Finally, the "ejectives" in the last column, such as , are very distinctive sounds found in a lot of Native languages from California to the Northwest (and elsewhere). They're formed by building up significant air pressure in the mouth (while raising the larynx) before releasing the stop, which gives them a kind of popping sound. These are also best learned with a speaker.

The last sound we haven't discussed is , which is an ejective version of s. It often sounds like ts but also with the same popping sound when it's released.

A final word about alphabetical ordering. The usual order of the English alphabet is followed, with the modified letters š and right after plain s and t. For consonants that can be aspirated or ejective, those occur in that order after the plain letter; so, for example, one chunk of the alphabet is ordered s sʼ š t tʰ tʼ ṭ ṭʰ ṭʼ. Some letters, such as g and z, are not used in Kashaya so they don't occur in the list. The letters f and r occur in borrowed words (mostly from Spanish) and so they are in the list.

The vowels a e i u occur in the list of pages because some suffixes start with a vowel (but always end up preceded by a consonant in the full word). There are no suffixes in Kashaya that start with o, so that letter does not begin any entries.