Comments on Cheyenne vowel marks

On the Alphabet page we mentioned that the 3 Cheyenne vowels (a, e, o) can have high pitch (, , ) or be voiceless (whispered), as in ȧ, ė, ȯ. Cheyenne is famous for having very many voiceless vowels. The last vowel of any utterance, even if it is a single word, is always voiceless (whispered). Because this devoicing is automatic, it is not marked with the dot symbol. However, many other vowels inside of words also are whispered. These are marked with thedot symbol.

A mark, which has been used for 100 years, to indicate whispering of a vowel is a dot or small circle over a vowel. Since some viewers of this page will not have a dot symbol to indicate vowel whispering, we sometimes have substituted the upside-down "v" (the symbol ^, called a caret) for the dot, as in Cheyenne mhpeva meaning 'in the water (with the dot the word is mȧhpeva).

Even though there are a few words differentiated only by pitch, Cheyennes have demonstrated that they do not need the pitch (accent) marks for reading their language. In fact, pitch marks can makes things look overly complicated, making the reading task for native speakers more difficult. However, pitch marks are needed by non-Cheyenne speakers so that they will give the right pitches to each vowel. Sometimes a mistake on a pitch can make a word completely different from the one intended.


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