orthography - vocabulary

The materials are written in a phonetic alphabet, which has one main rule: Every sound has only one letter, and every letter makes only one sound, or for short: One letter, one sound.

These materials basically follow the same orthography that Russell Ultan used for his dissertation and other materials,which are online.

There are two ways the transcriptions you see here will differ from Ultan’s system:

  • Ultan uses a raised dot • to represent vowel length (see below); for simplicity of typing and copying, we use a colon : instead.
  • Ultan uses apostrophes above letters to represent glottalized consonants (see below). Since most people can’t type letters that way, we put the apostrophe just after the letter instead, as in c’, p’, t’, k’.

New vocabulary is introduced at the beginning of each lesson.

Verb roots
mówjye: roast
síʔy play
Noun roots
émuli black
mímwete all by yourself
ʔú:ti acorn
já: sky
móye that one
hó:! all right, okay
1. vowels

An example of the difference between the Konkow phonetic alphabet and English would be the way vowels are written. Most of the vowels use the same letters as English, but in English the letters can stand for various different sounds, whereas the same letter in Konkow will always stand for the same sound.

a The English letter "a" can sound like the "a" in father, or fan, fate, or alone.

The Konkow letter a always sounds like the "a" in father.

Listen to this vowel in the Konkow word for “fire”:

English: fire

e The English letter “e” can sound like the “e” in pet, female, cafe, ; or if there are two of them, peek - or it can even be silent, like in shore.

The Konkow letter e always sounds most like the "e" in pet.

Listen to the vowel in the Konkow word for “black”: ʔémuli

English: black
Konkow: ʔémuli

i The English letter "i" can sound like the "i" in pin or pine. The Konkow letter i sounds part way between the vowel sound in pin or peek.

Listen to the last vowel in the Konkow word for “black”: ʔémuli

Or the first vowel in the word for “all by yourself”: mímwete

English: all by yourself
Konkow: mínwete

o The English letter “o” can sound like the “o” in snow, or in hop, or if there are two of them, balloon. The Konkow letter o is always like the "o" in snow.

Listen to the vowel in the Konkow word for “coyote” héno

English: coyote
Konkow: héno

u The English letter “u” can sound like the “u” in hula, or put, or hut. The Konkow letter u is always like the one in hula.

Listen to the vowel in the Konkow word for “acorn”: ʔú:ti

English: acorn
Konkow: ʔú:ti

English uses 5 vowel letters to stand for over a dozen different vowel sounds! So the phonetic rule “one letter, one sound” means that different letters other than a, e, i, o, and u have to be used to represent a few other vowels sounds.

The most difficult one to get used to is a vowel sound that is not used in English. It’s a vowel that sounds sort of like a "u" but with the lips spread apart. Ultan represents that sound with the letter y

y Listen to this vowel in the Konkow word for “and”, ʔákym

English: and
Konkow: ʔàkym

It may be hard to get used to recognizing or pronouncing this sound, and also to using y to represent it – but pretty soon it will come easy to you.

The last vowel in Konkow is very rarely used. It is sort of like the a in English “alone”. It is represented in Konkow with an upside-down e – that is, ǝ The linguistic name for this letter is “schwa".

ə Listen to this sound in the Konkow word for “pine burr”, kǝlkǝli or "racoon", ə:k'a

English: pine burr
Konkow: kə́lkəli
English: raccoon
Konkow: ə:k'a
2. vowel length and stress

There are two more things to say about vowels. One thing is “vowel length.” Sometimes the vowel is held just a little bit longer than other times. The “long vowel” can actually mean something different than the same word with a short vowel.

As you have seen in some of the examples so far, we represent a long vowel with a colon after the vowel, as in the word for “acorn”: ʔú:ti

Listen to a short vowel in contrast to a long vowel, by listening to these two words:
“name”: and “sky”: já:

English: name
English: sky
Konkow: já:

The other thing to mention is the accent marks you’ve been seeing on our example words. A vowel with an accent mark just sounds a little higher than the rest of the syllables in a word. Usually it’s the first syllable that’s highest; it has “primary stress.” When a word has three or more syllables, there will be another high syllable, but not quite as high as the first; that’s called “secondary stress.”

English: river
Konkow: séwi
English: cricket
Konkow: c'ýk'èti
3. konkow consonants

We don’t need to go over all the consonants. They follow the same “one letter, one sound” principle as the vowels do. But we will go over several sets of consonants that are very different from English.

b, d - Implosives

If you listen to the sample words with b and d, they are noticeably different from English "b" and "d". Sometimes we make those sounds in a joking or derisive way – try saying “duh” mockingly, and maybe you’ll use an implosive. (They are not mocking sounds in Konkow, though!) These sounds are called “implosives” because to make them, you make a bit of a vacuum in your mouth before you release the d (or b), so that upon release the air flows momentarily into your mouth rather than out (it implodes).

English: salt
English: man or person
Konkow: májdy

t’, c’, k’, p' - Glottalized Consonants

These consonants have a little “catch” in them when they are released. When you make a regular "t" or "k" sound, your tongue closes off the air stream for a moment before you release it into a vowel. But a glottalized consonant also closes the airstream off at the vocal cords at the same time, and the vocal cords also have to open up at the same time or just after the tongue is released. That makes the little popping sound or catch.

English: bring something
Konkow: t'óje
English: rib
Konkow: c’íc’i
English: roundhouse
Konkow: k’úmi
English: feather
Konkow: p'ó:t'i

s - the Konkow s sometimes sounds more like a "sh" sound, but it’s really part way in between. Practice trying to sound like the example words with s in them, to get a good Konkow "accent".

English: sing
Konkow: solim

j - There is nothing unusual about this sound, actually.

It’s just how it’s written! Remember that the letter y is used for a vowel, so the sound that sounds much like the English "y" in “yay” has to use a different letter. The letter Ultan chose is "j", which is used in the official International Phonetic Alphabet. Just like using the y for the vowel, you’ll just have to get used seeing a j for this sound!

English: young man
Konkow: jémpo:
DOWNLOAD a printable chart for easy reference
ways to practice this lesson
  • 1 Play the sample words for each sound and repeat them out loud. Go through the list of words several times this way.
  • 2 Find more words for each sound in the / Audio Dictionary and say them out loud too.
  • 3 Print out the flash cards for this lesson and use them in games

  • 4 Click on the up and down arrows to align the matching answer. When you think you have them right, click the Check button. Scramble to play again.

man, personUPDOWN
bring somethingUPDOWN
young manUPDOWN
Hit Check to see if you have them all correct
Each lesson has a set of flashcards that can be printed and used for practice. As you work through the lessons, the sets can be combined to create more advanced sentences. There are several fun and useful games you can play using these flashcards. The cards can be printed either single or double sided depending on what and how you want to play. Three games will be outlined below.

Go Fish
This is a multiple player game. It can be played from a basic level with simply the vocabulary words, to a more advanced game where all the questions are asked in the language. At the most basic level, you can play with an open hand. The object is to get pairs and practice the vocabulary.

This can be played individually or as a multi player game. Cards can be double sided or single sided. Pictures can be facing up or hidden. You can match pictures and/or words.The object is to find matches and pronounce the vocabulary.

Flashcard Drills
This can be played individually or as a two player game. One person shows the image to their partner, who says the Konkow word. This is repeated until each player can identify and pronounce each card in the stack. The amount of cards in the stack can be increased as needed.

sounds and letters

Here is the complete list of Konkow Sounds and Letters.

sounds not in english
b (imploded)
d (imploded)
man or person
p' (glottalized)
t' (glottalized)
bring something
c' (glottalized)
k' (glottalized)
p 'pet'
food, anything you eat
t 'tent'
child or son
k 'kept'
garden, meadow
s 'said'
h 'help'
above, up above
m 'make'
n 'need'
all by myself
l 'lay'
w 'when'
It’s medicine.
j 'yay'
young man
i 'key'
all by yourself
y ''
u 'bamboo'
e 'hay'
ǝ 'alone'
pine burr
o 'snow'
a 'rah'
sound modifiers
: ''
ʔ 'uhʔoh'
é 'primary'
è 'secondary'