1. There are basically four vowels in the Navajo alphabet. The vowels are as follows, the first example being a Navajo word; the last, the closest approximation in an English word.
|a||gad - juniper||art|
|e||e´e´ahh - west||met|
|i||sis - belt||sit|
|o||hosh - cactus||note|
2. Vowels may be either long or short in duration, the long vowels being indicated by a doubling of the letter. Actually, there are three regular vowel lengths, a short, a long and an extra long. The latter occurs regularly in syllables closed by a stop consonant, usually "d" or "´" (glottal stop). The length does not affect the quality of the vowel, except that "ii" is always pronounced as "i" in machine.
|sis - belt||the vowel is short|
|siziiz - my belt||the second vowel is long|
3. Vowels with hooks under them are nasalized. Some of the breath passes through the nose in their production.
tsinaabaas - wagon
naadáá´ - corn
bizees - his warts
háádéé´ - from where
ashiih - salt
shilíí´ - my horse
so´ - star
dlóó - prairie dog
4. When there is a tone mark on a letter, raise your voice in pitch on that syllable. Say the first words of the examples given below, and then the one across from it, after hearing a Navajo say them.
|ni - you||ní - he says|
|azee´ - medicine||azéé´ mouth|
|nilí - he is||nílí - you are|
|doo - not||dóó - and|
Notice the difference in the meanings of the words in the two columns. The tone alone indicates the difference.
5. The diphthongs are as follows: ai; aai; ao; aoo; ei; eii; oi; ooi.
|ai||hai - winter||something like kite|
|ei||éí - that one||day|
|oi||deesdoi - it is warm||buoy|
6. When only the first element of a vowel or a diphthong has a mark above it, the tone is falling. When the last element is marked, the tone is rising.
bilasáana - apple
deídíiltah - we will read it
dóola - bull
litsxooí - orange
7. (´) This is the most common consonantal sound in Navajo. It is called a glottal stop and sounds like the break between the two elements of the English expression "oh, oh." The difference between "Johnny yearns" and "Johnny earns" is that the latter has a glottal closure between the two words.
e´e´ahh - west
a´áán - a hole
8. Following are the rest of the consonants and their English equivalents, as much as they can be given.
|b||bááh||bread||like p in spot|
|ch||chizh||firewood||like ch in church|
|d||dibé||sheep||like t in stop|
|dl||dlóó´||prairie dog||like dl in paddling|
|dz||dzil||mountain||like dz in adze|
|g||gah||rabbit||something like k in sky|
|hw||bil hweeshne´||I told him||like wh in when|
|j||jádí||antelope||like j in jug|
|k||ké||shoe||like k in kitten|
|kw||kwe´é||right here||like qu in quick|
|l||lájish||glove||like l in lazy|
|m||mósí||cat||like m in mosquito|
|n||naadáá´||corn||like n in new|
|s||sin||song||like s in soon|
|sh||shash||bear||like sh in shoe|
|ts||tash||needle||like ts in hats|
|w||Wááshindoon||Washington, D.C.||like w in wash|
|y||yá||sky||like y in yes|
|z||zas||snow||like z in zero|
|zh||bízhi´||his name||like z in azure|
As printed in Larry Evers, ed. The South Corner of Time. Tucson, Ariz.: The University of Arizona Press, ©1980, p. 48.