Navajo Alphabet


Irvy Goossen


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
ch´ ch´ah hat ----
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
gh hooghan hogan ----
h háadi where ----
hw bil hweeshne´ I told him like wh in when
j jádí antelope like j in jug
k shoe like k in kitten
k´ad now ----
kw kwe´é right here like qu in quick
l lájish glove like l in lazy
l lid smoke ----
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
t tin ice ----
t´eesh charcoal ----
tl tlah ointment ----
tl´ tl´ízí goat ----
ts tash needle like ts in hats
ts´ ts´ah sagebrush ----
w Wááshindoon Washington, D.C. like w in wash
y 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.