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As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Pronunciation Guide—By Honoré Watanabe

The following is reproduced from Honoré Watanabe, “A Note on the Sliammon Language,” in Written as I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder, by Elsie Paul, Paige Raibmon, and Harmony Johnson (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014), xiv-xvi.

Although some sounds of the Sliammon language are either identical or similar to those of the English language, many are quite different. Overall, pronunciation of Sliammon is highly distinct from English and other European languages such as French, German, Italian, or Spanish, as well as from other languages like Japanese, Chinese, or Arabic.

The Sliammon language has been passed on orally for generations. Until quite recently, there had never been a conventional writing system, or orthography. (This is nothing unusual; the majority of the world’s languages were or still are oral languages without an orthography.) Because the Roman alphabet is inadequate to convey the pronunciation of Sliammon, phonetic symbols, most commonly used by linguists, are incorporated into the orthography. The symbols represent each sound of Sliammon fairly well; however, because rhythm, speed, and intonation cannot be rendered on paper, the written forms are at best only approximations of the actual sound when it comes to longer words, phrases, or sentences. Throughout this website, the following symbols are used to write Sliammon as it is pronounced.


The following consonants have equivalent or very similar sounds in English:
č   like the first sound in “change” or the last sound in “catch”
g   like the first sound in “gum”
h   like the first sound in “hello”
ǰ   like the first sound in “jam”
k   like the first sound in “cut” or “kiss”
kʷ  the “k” sound but with the lips rounded, as in the first sound of “quiz” or “quick”
l   like the first sound in “light”
m   like the first sound in “meet”
n   like the first sound in “note”
p   like the first sound in “pin”
s   like the first sound in “sit”
š   like the first sound in “sheep”
t   like the first sound in “teacher”
θ   like the first sound in “thin”
tᶿ   the “t” and “th” sounds simultaneously, like the last sound in “eighth”
w   like the first sound in “wine”
y   like the first sound in “yard”
ʔ   a silence created by closing the vocal cords, as in the middle of “uh-oh!” This sound is called a “glottal stop,” or sometimes less formally referred to as “catch-in-the-throat.”

The following consonant sounds are not found in English:
q   like the “k” sound as in “kick” but pronounced farther back in the mouth
qʷ  the “q” sound above but with the lips rounded into an “O” shape
xʷ  like the first sound in “who” but with much more friction in the mouth
χ   (also written x̣) like the “h” sound but with much more friction in the mouth, almost like the French “r”
χʷ  (also written x̣ʷ) like the “χ” sound above but with the lips rounded into an “O” shape
ɬ   like a whispered “l” but with much more friction in the mouth; the tip of the tongue is touching the front teeth as air is blown out along the sides of the tongue
ƛ   the “t” sound and the “ɬ” sound in a quick sequence
čʼ, kʼ, kʼʷ, ƛʼ, pʼ, qʼ, qʼʷ, tʼ, tʼᶿ   The apostrophe in these nine consonants indicates a certain “popping” effect. In the case of “p’,” for example, the lips are closed as for “p”; the popping effect is made by holding the breath and then releasing the air in a burst.
lʼ, mʼ, nʼ, wʼ, yʼ   These five consonants are their corresponding consonants in combination with the glottal stop (ʔ). Depending on where they occur in a given word, they will be pronounced differently. If they come before another consonant or at the end of a word, then the “l,” “m,” “n,” “w,” or “y” sounds are cut off abruptly. If they are between two vowels, the “ʔ” comes before the “l,” “m,” “n,” “w,” or “y.”


ɑ   like the a in “father”
a   like the French a in “patte”
ʌ   like the u in “up”
e   like the a in “aim”
ɛ   like the e in “pet” or “bell”
u   like the vowel in “choose” or “who”
ʋ   like the u in “put”
i   like the vowel in “beat” or “meet” but short
ɩ   like the i in “bit” or “hit”
ə   like the o in “lemon”
Also, two stress marks and two length markers may be used over or following a vowel:
á   (acute accent) strongest stressed vowel of a word
à   (grave accent) stressed vowel but not the strongest one in the word
aː   (long) long vowel
aˑ   (half long) half long vowel
Honoré Watanabe’s research on the Sliammon language has been funded by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and by the K. Matsushita Foundation.

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