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What is the Lewis & Clark Phonetic Alphabet?

Sometimes, when I think the likely audience will not be linguistically inclined, I use what I call the Lewis & Clark Phonetic Alphabet (LCPA), which writes things syllable by syllable, making systematic appeals to English pronunciation.  Pronounce each syllable as if it might be English and you've got it.  Or something vaguely like it.  

The name of this orthographic scheme recalls and honors the sometimes execrable transcriptions of the late Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and others of their time and also more recent ones, in which Native American languages were often written with the syllables separated.  OK, so I made up the name.  But Messrs. Lewis & Clark are famous for their orthographic innovations, both in English and in the transcription of Native American languages.  

In my somewhat refined version of their practice the syllables are separated by dashes, and the accented syllables are spelled in capital letters.  Any final n's are probably really nasalized vowels, so try a French accent on syllables with final n or m.   Kum-PRON-day VOO?** Lewis and Clark didn't actually come up with or use the sis-tum of spel-ling ev-ree thing in A-mer-kin with dash-ez. They preferred doing it in American without dashes, though this makes a lot harder to figure out what they meant.  The dashes are due to later practitioners.  They actually help a lot.  Maybe I should call it the Dashed Fine Phonetic Alphabet.

In popular American consciousness Native American languages are distinguished from those of Europe and elsewhere as languages in which the syllables of a word are written and presumably therefore pronounced separately.  The tendency to write American Indian languages with the syllables separated like this does not actually reflect any characteristic of their phonology.  It's just that English orthography is so ambiguous that in the days before special phonetic alphabets people trying to use it to write new languages were driven to the ingenious expedient of representing each syllable in a target word with an orthographically separate pseudo-word.  Thus umaNhaN becomes oo- ma- ha or oo-mah-hah, or as Lewis & Clark put it, mahar (understanding the gap to come between the first a and the h). 

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What is NetSiouan?

It's an overblown name for my attempt at representing the standard Siouanist orthography of today within the bounds of ASCII.  In representing standard Siouanist practice I'm somewhat handicapped by the want of a scheme on the Web for supplying fonts from the browsed site.  You're limited to what you have at your end, so I can't show you text in the extended alphabets Siouanists and other Americanists use to indicate the pronunciation of words in various Native American languages.  I don't even know what sort of system you have (Unix, Windows, Mac, or ?), and that has a big effect on what character set you're using and so on which of the 'standard' Web characters you can actually see.  Essentially we're restricted to ASCII, which is to say, A-Z and a few common punctuation marks.  So, here's NetSiouan, the scheme I use for representing Siouan languages in ASCII.**   If you want a font better suited to Siouan, see the Standard Siouan Fonts.

In NetSiouan we represent things as follows.

labials p, b, m, ...
dentals t, d, n, ...
apicosibilant affricates c, j, ...
apicopalatal affricates and palatoalveolars c^, j^, n^ (enye), s^, z^, ...
(sometimes n~ or nh for n^)
velars k, g, G (eng), x, g^, ...
(often gh for g^)
unaspirated voiceless stops or affricates p, t, c, c^, k
voiced stops or affricates b, d, j, j^, g
aspirated stops ph, th, ch, c^h, kh
tense/geminate stops pp, tt, cc, c^c^, kk
ejective stops p?, t?, c?, c^?, k?
voiceless or tense fricatives f, t^ (theta), s, s^, x
voiced or lax fricatives v, d^ (or dh) (edh), z, z^, g^
(often gh for g^)
glottalized fricatives t^?, s?, s^?, x?
nasal sonants m, n, n^ (enye), G (eng)
oral sonants w, r, l, dh (edh), y
laryngeals h (fricative), ? (glottal stop)
oral vowels a, e, i, o, u, u"
nasal vowels add N or add ~
accented vowels add '

Generally speaking following ^ represents hacek or some other diacritic (like tilde) or otherwise indicates an alternative use of the preceding character.  Following h is used to mark aspiration of stops or alternative uses of characters in digraphs where h is so used in some language.  Capitalization is used where the other approaches don't seem to work, as with with following N for nasalization. 

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What is the LaFlesche Orthography?

The LaFlesche Orthography is a system for writing the Omaha-Ponca language and (with modifications) the Osage language.  It was developed by Francis LaFlesche, a member of the Omaha tribe who was for some years an ethnographer with the Bureau of American Ethnography (BAE).  The BAE collections are now held by the Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution.  Before his BAE period LaFlesche had worked for what is now the BIA.   LaFlesche had learned the existing Hamilton Orthography as a young man, and initially used it in writing the Omaha language.  It appears that he also became familiar later with one or more of the schemes used by the BAE ethnographer James Dorsey.  Probably the second; maybe the third.  Subsequently, in the course of writing the book The Omaha Tribe with Alice Fletcher he developed his own orthography for the Omaha(-Ponca) language, and it was this that he adapted for use in his Osage fieldwork and publications. 

Two hallmarks of the LaFlesche system are the use of c-cedilla to write the s and z phonemes, and the use of a following superscript n to represent vowel nasality.  This approach to writing nasality is materially simpler than that used by James O. Dorsey, but has some precedent in the similarly consistent use of engma (tailed n) in the Riggs Dakota Orthography and the use of raised n in some contexts in the Dorsey system.   

In the LaFlesche Orthography the c-cedilla represents the Omaha-Ponca /s/ and /z/ phonemes.  LaFlesche, however, describes it as representing a voiceless interdental fricative (theta, or the sound of th in with), which seems to have been the pronunciation of /s/ favored by at least some residents of the Omaha village in which LaFlesche was raised, WiNj^a'ge.  This is attested in passing by Dorsey (ms notes) and reflected in the amateur transcriptions of Fletcher (thee for si 'foot', etc.).  Dorsey seems to have normalized in favor of the s variant in his transcriptions.  It appears that the theta pronunciation was the less common one.  It may have disappeared in modern Omaha-Ponca.  I haven't met anyone who uses it or who knows anyone who uses it, but I haven't done enough fieldwork to have much confidence in this assessment.  

When LaFlesche's Omaha pronunciation key was adopted for use in his Osage works (e.g., the Osage Dictionary) without modifying his comment on c-cedilla, this misled later Siouanists like Hans Wolff and Hu Matthews into believing that the theta pronunciation was being attributed to Osage.  However, it appears that it was never characteristic of Osage at all. 

Using c-cedilla to represent theta was a practice LaFlesche probably picked up from Dorsey.  In so doing LaFlesche was simply asserting his own pronunciation of the /s/ phoneme as primary.  He might have used th for this, as he was using digraphs to represent certain other sounds:  sh for the sound s^ (s-hacek) and zh for the sound z^ (z-hacek).  But as he was also using th for dh or d^ (edh), Omaha's r-like (or l-like) sound, he needed something else for theta.  Dorsey's use of c-cedilla provided a handy alternative.  

To complicate matters, it seems likely that there was a voiced form of c-cedilla, corresponding to the /z/ phoneme of the majority Omaha dialect, Osage, etc.   Certainly all modern s-speakers distinguish si 'foot' from zi 'to be yellow'.  But LaFlesche chose not to represent this distinction for some reason.  

One reason he may have done this was that it would have clashed with his decision, inherited from Dorsey, to recognize the Omaha-Ponca liquid (r or l) phoneme (let's call it /r/) as an edh, the sound of th in English this.  In effect, both /z/ and /r/ as rendered by speakers of his dialect resembled to some extent the English edh, at last from the standpoint of an English speaker.  In spite of this they contrasted in Omaha-Ponca, for whereas /z/ was a voiced interdental fricative (the nominal pronunciation of English edh), the /r/ usually written edh is a retroflex lateral, rather closer to the alveolar tap that often replaces edh in American English dialects.  The resemblance of Omaha /r/ to an interdental edh in the ears of American English speakers is more a matter of acoustics and English dialect articulation than English standard articulation. 

Another factor in failing to distinguish /s/ and /z/ may have been that, in general, voiced fricatives contrast only minimally with voiceless ones in Omaha-Ponca  and other Mississippi Valley Siouan languages.  There are only a few minimal pairs.  Otherwise, voiceless fricatives tend to be morpheme initial and in clusters before voiceless sounds, while voiced ones tend to be morpheme internal and in clusters before voiced sounds.  In fact, just as he collapses /s/ and /z/ as c-cedilla, LaFlesche also collapsed /x/ and /gh/ (the voiceless and voiced velar fricatives) as x.  And, though LaFlesche does signalize the contrast of /s^/ and /z^/ (as sh vs. zh), this contrast is more prominent in Dhegiha languages, because many instances of /z^/ derived from Proto-Siouan *y, and *s and *y and their modern derivatives contrast strongly. 

Another hallmark of the LaFlesche orthography has already been mentioned in passing.   This is the use of th to represent /r/, the lateral sound conceived of as edh (dh in NetSiouan) by LaFlesche and others.  Dorsey preferred the edh symbol, but, as the Government Printing Office fonts lacked edh, he settled for cent-sign, sometimes writing dh in outside publications.   

It is worth mentioning here that another symbol that has been used for edh is c-cedilla.  Franz Boas did this in his Omaha-Ponca work..  Boas wanted to use cent-sign, to preserve Dorsey's usage, but had to settle for c-cedilla.  This is rather awkward, given that LaFlesche used c-cedilla for /s/ (and/z/)!  However, Boas's major work on Omaha-Ponca was published under the auspices of the International Congress of Americanists, and the Canadian printer used by the ICA didn't have a cent-sign in its type case.  They did have a c-cedilla for handling French.  Thus dhe'ze=dhaN 'the tongue' is written the'ce thoN by LaFlesche and ceze caN by Boas (c representing c-cedilla, N representing the superscript n).  It's just one of  life's little ironies that I can't use a c-cedilla character in discussing the whole conundrum on the Web.  

In his own work, LaFlesche distinguished the tense stops (e.g., pp of ppai 'be sharp') from the aspirates (e.g., ph of aN'phaN 'elk').  Initially he tried writing bp, dt, gk for the tense stops, and p, t, k for the aspirates.  Examples of this scheme can be found at several points in The Omaha Tribe, suggesting (a) that the linguistic material in this book was not very attentively edited, since it mixes systems, and (b) that the book was prepared over a period in which his ideas were changing.  By the time this work was finished, however, he had definitely switched to a scheme of writing a small dot under tense stops.  

The LaFlesche underdot is almost certainly a development of the small cross that Dorsey wrote under the tense stops (which he called sonant surds) in his fieldnotes.  In actual publication Dorsey preferred an unfortunate scheme of inverting the letter. Almost nobody can tell an inverted p from an upright d, even though Dorsey thoughtfully used inverted capital P instead of inverted lower case p, having noticed the difficulty.  The awkwardness of inverting letters has led the Comparative Siouan Dictionary Project to employ the LaFlesche underdot to represent not just underdots (as in Riggs), but also Dorsey's 'undercrosses' and inversions.  The BAE seems to have come to the same conclusion itself after Dorsey's death, as underdots were used in Swanton's publication of Dorsey's Biloxi materials.  

I know that LaFlesche developed the underdot for use in Omaha-Ponca, because underdots appear in some limited manuscript materials for The Omaha Tribe that I have seen at the National Anthropological Archives (the river name list), and were used more or less consistently in his Osage Dictionary and various text collections.  Unfortunately, the published edition of The Omaha Tribe blithely omits the dots, and it is in this mutilated form that the LaFlesche orthography is now familiar to modern Omahas.  (Poncas seem more or less unaware of it.)  The loss of the underdots is a pity, because with the underdots it's quite a workable scheme, even allowing for the merger of /s/ and /z/ or /x/ and /gh/.  (It's also a pity that circumstances have made it less well known to the Poncas.)

I attribute the omission of the underdots, perhaps unjustly, to Fletcher, since both LaFlesche and the Government Printing Office (for Dorsey and for LaFlesche alone) seem to have been content with diacritics.  The underdots were also used, as stated, in Dorsey & Swanton's published Biloxi and Ofo work.  (Swanton's redaction; Dorsey was by then deceased.)  

The underdot scheme may also inspire Buechel's use of overdots over unaspirated stops in writing Teton Dakotan, though this is a bit of a stretch.  I don't know if Buechel was familiar with any of the relevant BAE work, and dots are a natural sort of diacritic expedient.

It is interesting to note in the comments for his pronunciation key that LaFlesche analyzed ejective stops as consisting of a tense stop followed by an  'exploded' (preglottalized) vowel. 

In the Omaha-Ponca texts I include on line, the LaFlesche Orthography is used, except that s and z are distinguished as s and z.  So dheze=dhaN 'the tongue' is written the'ze thoN.  Some other anomalies may occur as the texts have been mechanically converted from Dorsey's BAE Orthography.  Which brings us to ...

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What is the Dorsey Orthography?

The expression Dorsey Orthography is something of a cruel joke, actually.  James O. Dorsey used a number of different orthographies for Omaha-Ponca in the course of his career, just as did his younger colleague Francis LaFlesche.  There were essentially three of these Dorsey systems, though some minor variants occur.  The student must know all of them.  A knowledge of the first system can be helpful in working with some of his early work, his field notes are in the second system, and most of his important publications are in the third.   The first system was his own.  The second was largely Riggs', and the third was the BAE's.  

In his ms. grammar Dorsey began with the original set of symbols and switched from this to the second.  He wrote the new system in over the old one, not catching all of the earlier usage.  The first system is also, I think, the one used in his early ABC or primer, which I have not seen.  The first system was Dorsey's own invention, but the second system was clearly based closely on the usage in the Riggs Dakota grammar, e.g., it uses overdotted h to represent the velar fricative /x/, overdotted g to represent /gh/, and s-acute for /s^/, though adding edh (crossed d) to represent the Omaha-Ponca r-sound, which has no phonetic parallel in Dakotan.  

The second usage was subsequently modified in two important ways.   First, after enforced exposure to the aspirate : nonaspirate contrasts in the languages of Oregon Dorsey realized that there was also a contrast in Omaha-Ponca between a tense (geminate, voiceless, unaspirated) and a (voiceless) aspirated stop series.  He began to write a small x under the former, which he called sonant surds, because they seemed to him midway between the sonant (voiced) stops and the surd (voiceless aspirated) stops.  

The third system produced some additional changes in symbols, e.g., q for /x/, x for /gh/, and c for /s^/, cent-sign for edh.  The small subposed x was replaced by inverted letters.  

This third system is the one that appears in his BAE publications, and it is the one which is usually referred to as the Dorsey Orthography.  It appears that all of Dorsey's texts were recorded in the second system, and adapted to the third during publication.  At the same time he changes in personal names to reflect current usage, and standardized some of his transcriptions, as well as adding corrections from further consultants.  It can be an interesting process indeed to relate one of his original transcripts to a published text.   

System 1
(early work)
System 2
System 3
(BAE publication)
s^ x s-acute c
z^ j j j
x r? (l?) h-overdot q
gh r g-overdot x
dh edh edh cent-sign
tense stops (CC) -- --, C-underposed x inverted letters
N n-in line raised n
n-in line
raised n before a space, labials
n before dentals
m before labials (occasionally)
enye before velars

The changes in representing the velar and alveopalatal fricatives were made to match standard BAE practice, but the use of cent-sign for edh was never anything but an expedient forced by the deficiencies of the Government Printing Office type.  The use of turned or inverted letters, unfortunate though it seems to modern Siouanists, was something that Dorsey is on record as actually preferring to the subposed x of his fieldnotes.   

The increasing elaboration of the scheme for representing nasals is probably an attempt to indicate the phonetics of the language in a more precise fashion.  This was well before the concept of the phoneme had evolved, and Dorsey's later work becomes ever more involved with accurate phonetic transcriptions in lieu of any more abstract conception of phonological contrast or a minimal segmental analysis.   

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Revised: August 25, 2003.