Guide to Reading Shoshoni

Vowels and Diphthongs Shoshoni Consonants Stress Accent

        All languages have a different set of sounds, different ways of combining those sounds into words, and different ways of putting words together. Because of these many differences between languages, the orthography (or writing system) used for one language is not appropriate for writing another language. There are various ways of representing sounds in writing, but the most widely used system is the Roman Alphabet that was designed by the Ancient Romans and is used today in writing English.

        All languages that use the Roman Alphabet do not have the same sounds represented by the same letters. For example, in English the letter "z" represents one sound, while in German "z" represents the sound [ts] as in "cats," and in some dialects of Spanish it represents the sound [th] as in "think." There is a strong tendency for people literate in English to write other languages that do not have a written tradition, such as Shoshoni and other Native American languages, in an "English-based orthography." This is a writing system in which the letters of the Roman Alphabet have the same values as in written English.

        The English-based writing system should be avoided when writing Shoshoni. Many of the most common sounds in Shoshoni are completely absent in English. Also, the English writing system is very inconsistent. This is a direct result of the history of the English language. The English writing system was "fixed" in the late 1400s, when the pronunciation of English was quite different from what it is today. For example, letters that were pronounced in the 1400s, such as the "e" in "wine" or the "k" and "gh" in "knight," are no longer pronounced today, but are still represented in the spelling of a word. English has also borrowed many words from other languages, such as "restaurant" from French or "pizza" from Italian, which have retained the spelling of the original language from which they came. In fact, English has borrowed over 10,000 words from French alone! Therefore, in order to truly understand the English spelling system you need to know how the language was pronounced five hundred years ago, all the sound changes that have occurred in the language since then, as well as the spelling rules from each of the languages that English has borrowed from without changing how the words are spelled.

        The Shoshoni writing system used in Newen Deboope is based on an earlier orthography developed by the Sho-Ban High School Bilingual Education Program at Fort Hall, Idaho, in the 1980s. Unlike standard English spelling, each letter or combination of letters have one and only one pronunciation, so that once a person has learned the system, he or she should be able to pronounce all new words encountered. This writing system is also used in the Shoshoni language courses taught at Idaho State University (I.S.U.) in Pocatello, Idaho.

        Below is a table to help you to learn how to read the I.S.U. orthography. It is designed to be useful to both fluent speakers and learners of the Shoshoni language. Each letter is followed by both an example word in Shoshoni with its English meaning, and a word in English which approximates the sound. Remember that many of the sounds in Shoshoni do not exist in English, and therefore many of the English examples are only very distant approximations.