Miwok (Central Sierra)
Central Sierra Miwok is a nearly extinct Native American language of central California, closely related to the other Miwok languages (spoken from Marin to Yosemite) and ultimately a member of the widespread Penutian family of the west coast of North America.
Traditionally, Central Sierra Miwok was not a written language; however, it has been written by linguists using phonological notation and a few special symbols.
It has 6 vowels:
- a, e, i, o, u are all pronounced as in Spanish - that is, ah, eh, ee, oh, oo
- ï (usually written y by linguists) is a sound not found in English, halfway between the vowels in the English words "book" and "mitt". It sounds like Turkish ı or Russian ы.
Most of its consonants occur in English:
- ch (written č by linguists), h, k, l, m, n, ng (written ŋ by linguists), p, s, sh (written š by linguists), w, y (written j by linguists)
but a couple don't:
- In English there is only one t sound. In Miwok there are two: an "alveolar" t, like English t (written ṭ by linguists) and a "dental" t, like Spanish or Italian t (written t by linguists). Since the "dental" t sounds closer to English th, and there is no th sound in Miwok, it will be written "th" here.
- ^ (written ˀ by linguists) is called a glottal stop - it effectively means you don't combine the vowel before it together with the vowel after it, but stop between them instead.
If a t plus an h or an s plus an h is intended, instead of a th or sh sound, we will write s'h, t'h to remove ambiguity.
Both vowels and consonants can be doubled, like in Finnish; you pronounce aa longer than a, and tt longer than t.
Let's start with a few simple nouns:
- person: miwwï
- acorn-bread: ïlee
- acorn soup: nïppa
- say: kachchï
- eat: ïwwï
English makes a difference between "I" and "me", or "he" and "him": you say "he" if he is the one doing something (subject case), and "him" if something is being done to him (object case). In Miwok, you have to make this distinction for all nouns: you add -^ at the end of the subject, and -y at the end of the object. If you did this in English, you might say: "I eat nïppay", but "The nïppa^ spilled", for instance.
The order of words is different from English: instead of saying "man bites dog", you would normally say "man dog bites".
- The person eats acorn-bread: miwwï^ ïleey ïwwï
- The person eats acorn soup: miwwï^ nïppay ïwwï
- The person says "ah": miwwï^ "aa" kachchï