Reading Syllabics: Lesson 2


Lesson 2

Cardinal Characters

In this lesson you will learn how to read two characters along with their superscript counterparts. You will also learn how to read new words as you work your way through the lesson. Are you ready?


The first character of this lesson is pronounced like the pe in sped, never like the pe in pet or the be in bed. This is what it looks like:

As you can see, what would take a consonant and a vowel in English is expressed as one character in Cree. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. Let’s now move on to the next character.

This character has the same shape as the first character, but it points in a different direction. This one is pronounced like the pi in spit or the pea in speak. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. When a fuller or longer vowel sound is required, a dot is place above this character, for example:

Accompanied by a dot, this character now sounds like the pee in speed. The next character also shares the same shape as the first two characters, but again this one points in another direction.

This character is pronounced like the poo in spook. Its vowel sound may also be pronounced closer to the one in book. Once again, to achieve a fuller or longer sound, a dot is placed above the vowel.

Accompanied by the overhead dot, it now sounds like the poo in spoon. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, again paying attention to the direction in which it points. Only one character left!

ᐸ ᐹ

The plain form on the left is pronounced like the pu in sputter or the pa in spat. The dotted one on the right has a fuller and longer sound, courtesy of the overhead dot. This one sounds like the pa in spam. Memorize the shape and the direction in which this last character points. You have now learned a complete set!

ᐯ       ᐱ       ᐳ       ᐸ

As you may have noticed, there are quite a few similarities between the above set and the one you’ve learned in lesson 1. For starters, both sets contain a single shape that can point in four different directions to indicate four different vowels.

This is crucial to understand!

The Cree syllabary may not contain many different shapes, but each one can be rotated in one of four directions. Once you’ve memorized the directions and their associated vowels, the rest is a piece of cake! For both sets you’ve just learn, the vowels are associated with the four cardinal directions. Here is a mnemonic device to help you remember the directions and their associated vowels.

ᐊ ᐸ ᐳ ᐅ

Now that you’ve learned two full sets and the directions in which they point, this third set below will be a breeze. Here is the first character of this set:

This character sounds like the tea of instead, never like the te in Ted or the dea in dead. Notice how this character points downwards? Do you see how a pattern is emerging? Think of the directions in which the characters of the first two sets point as you learn the following third set.

ᑌ ᑎ ᑐ ᑕ

Take your time to memorize this shape and the four directions in which it points. Listen to the audio track as many times as you need to help you remember the vowels associated with its four directions. You have now learned all the cardinal characters, meaning those that point in the four cardinal directions! Here they are assembled in the mnemonic device seen above.

ᐊ ᐸ ᑕ ᑐ ᐳ ᐅ

Remember that fuller or longer vowels can be indicated on the last three members of each of these three sets using an overhead dot. A final w indicated by the superscript circle may also follow any of these characters.

Now, let’s practice reading a few words!

1. This first one is a small creature that lives in wet places, can you make out its name?


2. This next one is how a child would talk about sleeping. Can you figure it out?


3. What would you tell a child who is standing on his chair?


4. If you don’t want someone to leave without you, what might you say?


You’ve only learned two new shapes and already you’re reading a bunch of new words! Let’s keep going, shall we?

You may have noticed how the above sets all feature syllables containing a consonant sound along with a vowel sound. In order to write a consonant sound without any accompanying vowel, the last character of any set is spelled as a superscript symbol. Notice how these superscript characters are identical to the last character of the sets you’ve just learned.

ᐯ, ᐱ, ᐳ, ᐸ, ᑉ
ᑌ, ᑎ, ᑐ, ᑕ, ᑦ

Here are two words that you can now read that make use of these smaller consonantal symbols. The first one means when he is laughing and the second one means around.

ᐁ ᐹᐦᐱᑦ

There remains one final symbol to review – the initial dot seen in lesson 1. As you may recall, placing this dot in front of a character produces an initial w. This poses no problem for the vowel set learned in lesson 1 since the w simply precedes any of the vowels that follow it. But what about the sets you’ve learned in the above lesson?

When a dot precedes a character that is composed of a consonantal sound followed by a vowel sound, the w is pronounced between the consonant and vowel. The following word means he is telling the truth. Try to read it to understand how the initial dot indicates that a vowel is pronounced within a syllable.


In this lesson, you have learned to read ten characters, eight of which represented a combination of a consonant sound and a vowel sound, and two of which were plain consonants. You’ve also learned that the vowels associated with these characters can be lengthened by the addition of an overhead dot. You’ve seen how the final superscript circle indicates that a w is pronounced after the character and you’ve also seen how an initial dot indicates that a w must be pronounced between the consonant sound and the vowel sound associated with each character. More importantly, you’ve learned that the three first sets of characters all pattern according to the cardinal directions and that the vowels associated with these directions remain constant from one set to the next. Having learned all this has allowed you to read the following words:

ᐁ ᐊᐱᑦ
ᐁ ᐹᐦᐱᑦ

And many more!


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