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Cree syllabary


Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


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A script invented around 1840 by missionary James Evans for the Cree-speaking peoples of northern Canada. The system makes use of an extremely small set of basic signs ( table 16 ). Most Cree dialects can be written in this script using 12 signs or fewer. Each sign indicates a CV syllable or an independent V. The great economy of signs is made possible by exploiting the orientation of each sign's position as a distinctive feature. For example, independent vowel quality is indicated by a triangle. Depending on whether it faces south, north, east or west, the vowel is /e/, /i/, /o/ or /a/, respectively. In the same manner, each CV sign changes its vowel quality with its orientation. Since Cree has seven vowels rather than only four, a few diacritical marks are needed to indicate the three additional vowels. For example, a large dot placed over the CV sign modifies the vowel quality by marking length. A set of ‘finals’ is employed to indicate syllable-final consonants. Table 16 The Cree syllabary Although not an indigenous creation, the syllabic script was adopted enthusiastically by the Cree people. Within a short time virtually the entire community became literate in this script. The ingenious simplicity of the system clearly played a part in this achievement. However, it is also thought that the four orientations contributed to the system's acceptability, because the number four ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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