In general, the Phuien writing system uses a single symbol (grapheme) to represent each distinct sound (phoneme). There are, however, seven phonemes which are represented by a combination of two symbols (digraphs): (ch, gb, kh, kp, ŋm, ph, th).
There are nine basic vowels in the Phuien sound system, thus there are nine different symbols used in the Phuien orthography to represent vowel sounds. Of these, five (a, e, i, o, u) are known to readers of English and French, since they are part of both of those alphabets. The other four (ɛ, ɩ, ɔ, ʋ) have their origins in the Greek alphabet and have been adopted by the Burkina Faso government as part of the "national alphabet," a standard to which all indigenous orthographies are required to adhere. These last four vowels appear alphabetically just after e, i, o, and u, respectively, in the alphabetical ordering.
In addition, each vowel has a nasalized counterpart, indicated by the addition of a tilde (~) above the vowel: a - ã, ɛ - ɛ̃, etc.
There are ten letters in the Phuien alphabet which are not used in English: ɓ, ɗ, ɛ, ɩ, ɲ, ŋ, ɔ, ʋ, ⱳ et ƴ. Each of these letters is used to represent a meaningful sound in Phuien, each one being necessary to avoid ambiguity when writing the language.
This is the alphabetical order used to arrange the Phuien words in this dictionary:
Like most languages in Burkina Faso, Phuien is a tonal language. Tone is indicated in the Phuien orthography through the use of diacritics. The presence of a grave accent (`) above a vowel indicates that that vowel is pronounced with a low tone. If a vowel has an acute accent (´) above it, that vowel is pronounced with a "downstepped high" tone; that is, its pitch is slightly lower than the high tone on the previous vowel. Vowels which have neither an acute nor a grave accent above them are pronounced with a high tone. Vowels pronounced with a high tone are the most common in Phuien, which is why they are the "unmarked" vowels in terms of diacritics. In alphabetical order, a letter without a diacritic occurs before one with a diacritic.
The following columns show the application of the alphabetical order presented above to certain words in the dictionary: