Cree syllabary (ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ)
James Evans, a Wesleyan missionary working at Norway House in Hudson's
Bay, invented a syllabary for the Ojibwe language in about 1840. He
had tried to produce a Latin-based orthography for Ojibwe, but eventually
gave up and came up with a syllabary, based partly on shorthand.
Evans' syllabary for Ojibwe consisted of just nine symbols, each of
which could be written in four different orientations to indicate different
vowels. This was sufficient to write Ojibwe, but Evans' superiors were
not keen on his invention and would not allow him to use it.
About 20 years later, Evans learnt to speak Cree and set about the
task of devising a way of writing that language. After encountering
difficulties with using the Latin
alphabet, he dug out his Ojibwe syllabary and adapted it to the
Thanks to its simplicity and the ease with which it could be learnt,
the Cree syllabary was hugely successful with the Cree people. Within
a short space of time, virtually the whole community was literate
in the syllabary and James Evans became known as "the man who made birchbark
According to Cree tradition, Evans adapted an existing script which
was invented at an earlier date, possibly by a member of the
- Type of writing system: syllabary
- Direction of writing: left to right in horizontal lines
- Each sign can be written facing four different directions which
indicate the vowel attached to it. As there are up to 7 vowels in
some dialects of Cree, diacritics are used to indicate the extra vowels
- The finals are used to write stand-alone consonants
- There are various different versions of the Cree syllabary, which
are used to write different dialects of the Cree language.
Used to write
Cree, (Nēhiyawēwin / ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ)
a group of closely related Algonquian languages spoken by about 60,000 people
in Canada, especially in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Major varieties include:
Central Cree (York Cree, West Shore Cree, West Main Cree)
with 4,500 speakers.
Dialects include: Moose Cree, which
is spoken in the southern tip of James Bay in Moosonee, Ontario, and
Swampy Cree, which is spoken northwestward across Ontario
into north-eastern Manitoba.
Coastal Eastern Cree (Coastal Cree, Eastern Coastal Cree)
is spoken by about 5,000 people in Quebec on the east coast of James Bay.
Inland Eastern Cree (Inland Cree, Eastern Inland Cree) has
about 2,200 speakers in Quebec.
Western Cree with about 53,000 speakers in the USA and
in north central Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada.
Dialects include: Woods Cree, Plains Cree
and Western Swampy Cree.
Modified versions of this syllabary are used to write: Blackfoot,
Ojibwe, Carrier, Slavey,
Naskapi and Inuktitut.
Cree syllabary (Plains/Swampy Cree)
Cree syllabary (Woodland Cree)
Sample text in Swampy Cree
misiwe ininiw tipenimitisowinik eshi nitawikit nesta peywakan kici ishi
kanawapamikiwisit kistenimitisowinik nesta minikowisiwima. e pakitimamacik
kaketawenitamowininiw nesta mitonenicikaniniw nesta wicikwesitowinik
kici ishi kamawapamitocik.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason
and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Information about Cree |
Cree language learning materials
Information on the Cree language and people
Online Cree learning resources
Universal Syllabic Translator
Online Cree dictionary
Cree Language Reader - texts in Cree with translations in English
Other languages written with the Latin alphabet
Caroline Island Script,