Potawatomi Orthography and Pronunciation


Potawatomi is primarily an oral language, although there is a system of syllabics that is used and remembered by some of the older speakers.  That system is not taught here.  


To write the language, we have borrowed English letters because they are familiar to most people.  This does not mean that the sounds are the same as in English.  


On this site, we use the WNALP system of writing.  There are other writing systems, and none of them are wrong.  Scholars may find the history of the “writing down” of the language rather interesting.


Potawatomi uses 5 major vowel sounds, plus a few uncommon vowel sounds and plenty of diphthongs.

Potawatomi Vowel Sounds:

        Ah        Eh     Ee       Oh     Uh

Written in letters:

           A       é        i         o        e

The consonants we use in writing are:

            b, c, d, g, h, j, k, m, n, p, s, t, w, y, and z.  

We do not use f, l, v, r, or th because these sounds do not exist in Bodewadmi.  We also do not use q or x to avoid confusion in sounds.

There are certain sounds that are interchangeable in letters, because the sounds themselves are not what the English letters say they are.  For example, the “d” and the “t” are not pronounced as they are in English.  In English, the letters d and t represent two distinct sounds that come off the tip of the tongue and the teeth. In Potawatomi, those letters represent one sound that comes off the tongue and the ridge of flesh just behind the top teeth.  This is a unique Potawatomi sound, and is only approximated by the D or T.  

Over time, and using English convention as best as possible, many words have developed alternate spellings, which are just as correct as what is written in this book.  Bkweshgen and Pkweshgen are the same word, pronounced the same, just spelled in a different way.  This language was never meant to be written in English letters, so don’t be concerned about spelling…the correct pronunciation is WAY more important than the correct spelling!  This is the first lesson in getting one’s mindset out of English and into Potawatomi.

Consonant sounds that can be interchanged in spelling are:

    B and P            D and T        Ch and J         G and K

Which means that acceptable spellings of the word for “no” are Cho, Jo, and also Ttho.  Ttho is written in an older form of orthography in which “tth” was used for the Ch or J sound.