The Alabama alphabet and key to pronunciation.


Letter Name










































`man, male'












`to know'








`to bark'




`to believe'

The order of letters in the chart represents the alphabetical order in Alabama. A few loans from English include English sounds not found in Alabama (such as d and e) which occur in their usual alphabetical order. Long vowels (`double vowels') occur in the regular alphabetic order and are considered a sequence of sounds. (As in English dictionaries, spaces between words in compounds are ignored for purposes of alphabetization.)

All letters are pronounced more or less as in English with the following exceptions:

1. English vowel letters are pronounced in a number of ways in the spelling of English words. The vowels in Alabama are much more consistent and pronounced more `purely', more or less as they would be in a European language such as Spanish, French or German.

a is closest to the vowel in the English word pot or father, or, rarely, as in sofa.

i is closest to the vowel in the English word pit, or if long, more like the vowel in feet.

o is closest to the vowel in the English word vote, but occasionally sounds closer to the vowel in put, especially following the consonant [y].

Alabama also has long vowels contrasting with short vowels--the vowel is simply held a little longer. So:

oobi means `hollow or hole' but obi means `thigh'
aapihchi means `body' but apihchi means `handle or stalk'
iisa means `house' but isi means `to take'

The sequence ay generally sounds like that in (non-Southern) American English I, aye, and buy but for some speakers in certain words may sound more like the vowel in English hay.

2. Sometimes vowels in Alabama may have either a high level tone (written as á, í, or ó) or a high falling tone ( written à, ì, or ò) and these tones must sometimes be marked for words in the dictionary. For instance, many words for kin or relatives must be written with an accent mark. Otherwise, words are usually accented on the last syllable and since this is predictable, final accent is not written. So,

foosi means `bird' but fósi means `grandfather'

If the accent is on a long vowel, only the first is marked, but a level high tone persists for the whole syllable, and a high falling tone has the fall in pitch on the second vowel.

3. The s sound in Alabama (phonetically a voiceless apico-alveolar fricative) may sometimes sound to an English speaker more like the sh sound in English shear, or may sound somewhat `hissier' than the English /s/ or as though it is produced with a faint `whistle' effect. This is because it is pronounced with the tongue in a slightly different position than for English /s/. Alabama does not actually have a sh sound contrasting with s.

4. The sound ɬ, which is written as a barred l (phonetically a voiceless lateral fricative) is found in many languages, for instance, Creek and Choctaw. It is pronounced with the tongue in position for an [l], but with air released around the tongue to create a hissing sound and without the vocal chords vibrating--much like making an [h] immediately followed by an [l] or `whispering' an [l]. A good idea of how this sounds is the pronunciation of [l] in English in words that begin with the sounds [k] followed by [l], e.g. klutz, clutter. The closest English sound to ɬ is probably the voiceless th sound as in breath; this is why some Alabama speakers occasionally use ɬ for th when speaking some English words and why some younger people learning to speak Alabama may substitute English th for Alabama ɬ.

5. In addition to long vowels written as a sequence of two identical vowels, Alabama has long consonants, written as a sequence of two identical consonants. Unlike English spelling which often uses double consonant letters to represent a single consonant sound (as in ladder), the Alabama spelling contrasts a single consonant with a double consonant. When two like consonants are written, both are pronounced or held longer, as in the following contrasting words:

hasi sun; day, daylight; month
hassi grass

6. Just as in an English word like sink, the sequence of [n] followed by [k] is pronounced as ng [ŋ] followed by [k]. In Alabama, this is true also of an /m/ before /k/ as seen in the common prefix am- `my', pronounced as [aŋ] in ankati `my cat'. We write these with an n, however, to simplify the spelling. An /m/ coming before a t or ch is pronounced n and is written as n in those forms; for instance, the second person form of the verb akkami `to do' is akkanchi `you do'.
Some words are written with a raised n [ⁿ] following a vowel to indicate that the vowel is pronounced nasally, that is, with air escaping through the nose. This sound is rare in Alabama and occurs much more frequently, for instance, in Chickasaw and Koasati. Nasalized vowels are produced when the nasal consonant m occurs before certain sounds, notably f, s, h, and ɬ, but only when the sequence results from word formation processes, such as verb inflection. The m is replaced by a nasalized version of the vowel that precedes it. So for instance am- `my' plus fósi `grandfather' is written aⁿfósi `my grandfather', but the m remains in lomhi `to hide'. The one other place where vowel nasalization is important is on the final syllable in questions and the next to last syllable in emphatic verb forms. Nasalization is generally light in Alabama and not as strong or noticeable as in Koasati. The raised n is alphabetized as though it were a regular n.

7. Occasionally, when certain prefixes ending in long vowels are added to words beginning with vowels, the usual rule that deletes the first of two vowels coming together does not apply. In this case both vowels are pronounced and separated by a transitional y which we write. So aa- oolimpa `table (lit. place for eating)' is written aayoolimpa. If the transitional y is followed by i, the i is not pronounced, as in [ibaa- /intohno] which we write ibaayintohno. (We write the y and i in these cases for the sake of consistency).

8. In fast speech it is quite common for an h following a vowel not to be pronounced. This occurs usually in two situations. If the h occurs between two vowels in careful speech, often the h is not pronounced in faster speech, as in ahicha and its variant aicha `to watch over'. If the h occurs as the last sound in the next to last syllable of verb stems in careful speech, the vowel preceding the h may be lengthened and the h not pronounced, as in wihli and its variant wiili `to look for'. For the reader familiar with the language who cannot find a word under a spelling with a long vowel, we suggest trying to find the word under a spelling with a short vowel followed by h, if this sounds like an acceptable pronunciation. For words very commonly pronounced without the h, we may list the variant without the h, as in the cases mentioned here.

9. Many words include a prefix that has the basic shape ist-, pronounced without the t if the prefix occurs before a consonant. It is quite common for words with this prefix to be pronounced in fast speech without the initial i, as though they began with an s. So, for instance, istafinapka `key' is often pronounced stafinapka. We write all such words with the i, noting here that the prefix can be pronounced as beginning with an s (unless followed by a stem beginning with an s). Since this variation only applies to this prefix (and, by analogy, to certain loan words beginning with an s followed by a consonant), we do not list the pronunciations without the i as separate variants. Readers familiar with the language need to note that words they may pronounce as beginning with an s followed by a consonant will be found under the i's and not under the s's.