The materials in these lessons 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.
Also, people can access his materials online at the California Language Archive
There are minor 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. Since most people can’t type letters that way, we put the apostrophe just after the letter instead, as in c’, p’, t’, k’.
- Ultan uses capital letters to indicate sounds that change. Here you will see (w) - in parentheses - when that sound becomes something else.
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.
You can listen to this vowel in the Konkow word for “fire”: sá
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
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”: 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
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 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 vowel 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
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” or "pine cone", kǝlkǝli or "racoon", ə:k'a
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”: já and “sky”: 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.”
In English we have a tendency to put the stress on the second syllable rather than the first. It is important to pay attention to the Konkow accent marks, because otherwise our English-speaking background may lead us to pronouncing the words wrong.
We don’t need to go over all the consonants. They follow the same “one letter, one sound” principle as the vowels do and most of them sound like what we would expect the letters to stand for. 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).
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.
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!
ʔ - glottal stop - you will often see this letter that looks like a question mark. It actually marks the momentary stoppage of all sound. We use it all the time in English without noticing it - but it is noticeable in a few words, such as in “uh-uh!” (a way of saying “no”.) That dash in the middle is the glottal stop. The glottis is the hole going through our adams’ apple where the air goes in and out for breathing and speech. It has a set of vocal cords that are usually open when we speak, to let the air through - but they can close tight in the middle of a word like “uh-uh!” In Konkow, glottal stops occur in the middle of many words, but also at the beginning of words, where they seem unnoticeable. But if a word comes before a word beginning with a glottal stop, then you can hear that it is there. For example ʔa is ‘say’; and samʔa is ‘so it is said.’
- Play the sample words for each sound and repeat them out loud. Go through the list of words several times this way.
- Find more words for each sound in the Audio Dictionary and say them out loud too.
- Print out the flash cards for this lesson and use them in games
Write the Konkow word next to it’s English translation below. If you don’t already know these words in Konkow, Click the ANSWERS key and listen to them, then try to write them down using the writing system above.
Use this lesson and the AUDIO DICTIONARY to find up to five examples each: the vowel sound y, a glottalized consonant, an imploded consonant, a long vowel, and a mid-word glottal stop. Listen for the sounds and say them aloud. Write them down so you can practice.
Click on the up and down arrows to move an item one space. When you think you have them right, click the Check button. Scramble to play again.
Want to learn more? All the Mary Jones videos lessons are available HERE
Here is the complete list of Konkow Sounds and Letters with audio examples.