Déné Syllabics
a ga da ' oo ts'a (ts'u) n 'u t ba tu (te) na do n dli be l ze ni da z sa ' (i) no k' be m ba r

The first writing system used for writing Dakelh was the Déné Syllabics, created in 1885 by Father Adrien-Gabriel Morice. The syllabics were originally designed for Ojibwe by the Reverend James Evans, who was refused permission to print in them by his missionary society. In 1840, after his transfer to Cree territory, he introduced the syllabics. They came to be widely used for Cree and spread back to Ojibwe.

There are two main derivatives of the Cree/Ojibwe syllabics. One version was adapted for Inuktitut. This is now the dominant writing system for Inuktitut in Canada outside of Labrador. The other was adapted to the Athabaskan languages of the Northwest Territories and Northern Alberta and Sasketchewan, Slave, Dogrib, and Dene Suline (Chipewyan) by Father Emile Petitot. Some people still use syllabics for these languages. The Dakelh syllabics are a further adaptation of the Northwest Territories version. Although they are inspired by the previous versions of syllabics, in detail they are almost completely different, partly because Dakelh has quite a few more sounds than Cree and partly because Father Morice reorganized them.

The Déné Syllabics are part of the Canadian aboriginal syllabics range in the international UNICODE standard. The official description can be downloaded as a PDF file from: http://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U1400.pdf In the Unicode encoding, the Carrier syllabics are mixed in with other Canadian aboriginal syllabic characters. The names given for them are not necessarily based on their use in Carrier, and even when they are, the names are often misleading. For example, the symbol , which represents /hu/ (CLC hoo) in Carrier is called "Canadian syllabics PE" on the basis of its use in other languages. These sources are therefore difficult to use.

Here is a chart of the syllabics labelled in the International Phonetic Alphabet. It is followed by a list in Unicode order, in which the equivalent of each character is shown both in IPA and in the Carrier Linguistic Committee writing system. Each character in the chart is a link to the corresponding line of the Unicode list.

CaʌeiouIsolated
b
t
d 
t' 
k
g
k'
 
 
tʃ' 
ts 
dz 
ts' 
n
m
ŋ      
l
ɬ
 
dl 
tɬ' 
s
      
z
      
ʃ
x
ɣ
h
w 
 
j 
none 
ʔ      

For example, ᗭ is /ba/.

CodepointGlyphUnicode NameCarrier (CLC)Carrier (IPA)
U+1401CANADIAN SYLLABICS Eoou
U+1403CANADIAN SYLLABICS Ioo
U+1405CANADIAN SYLLABICS Ouʌ
U+1408CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER EEee
U+1409CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER Iii
U+140ACANADIAN SYLLABICS Aaa
U+141FCANADIAN SYLLABICS FINAL ACUTEgg
U+1420CANADIAN SYLLABICS FINAL GRAVEkk
U+1423CANADIAN SYLLABICS FINAL RIGHT HALF RINGnn
U+1425CANADIAN SYLLABICS FINAL DOUBLE ACUTEkhx
U+1426CANADIAN SYLLABICS FINAL DOUBLE SHORT VERTICAL STROKESghɣ
U+1427CANADIAN SYLLABICS FINAL MIDDLE DOT'ʔ
U+142ACANADIAN SYLLABICS FINAL DOWN TACKtt
U+142FCANADIAN SYLLABICS PEhoohu
U+1431CANADIAN SYLLABICS PIhoho
U+1433CANADIAN SYLLABICS POhu
U+1436CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER HEEhehe
U+1437CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER HIhihi
U+1438CANADIAN SYLLABICS PAhaha
U+144ACANADIAN SYLLABICS WEST-CREE Pll
U+144BCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER Hhh
U+144CCANADIAN SYLLABICS TEdoodu
U+144ECANADIAN SYLLABICS TIdodo
U+1450CANADIAN SYLLABICS TO
U+1453CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DEEdede
U+1454CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DIdidi
U+1455CANADIAN SYLLABICS TAdada
U+14A1CANADIAN SYLLABICS Clhɬ
U+14BCCANADIAN SYLLABICS WEST-CREE Mmm
U+14D1CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER NGngŋ
U+1506CANADIAN SYLLABICS ATHAPASCAN Sss
U+18F5CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DENTAL Ss
U+15C4CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GHUghooɣu
U+15C5CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GHOghoɣo
U+15C6CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GHEghuɣʌ
U+15C7CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GHEEgheɣe
U+15C8CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GHIghiɣi
U+15C9CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GHAghaɣa
U+15CACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER RUkhooxu
U+15CBCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER ROkhoxo
U+15CCCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER REkhu
U+15CDCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER REEkhexe
U+15CECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER RIkhixi
U+15CFCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER RAkhaxa
U+15D0CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER WUwoowu
U+15D1CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER WOwowo
U+15D2CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER WEwu
U+15D3CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER WEEwewe
U+15D4CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER WIwiwi
U+15D5CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER WAwawa
U+15D6CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER HWUwhooxwu
U+15D7CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER HWOwhoxwo
U+15D8CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER HWEwhuxwʌ
U+15D9CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER HWEEwhexwe
U+15DACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER HWIwhixwi
U+15DBCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER HWAwhaxwa
U+15DCCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER THUtootu
U+15DDCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER THOtoto
U+15DECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER THEtu
U+15DFCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER THEEtete
U+15E0CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER THItiti
U+15E1CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER THAtata
U+15E2CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTUt'oot'u
U+15E3CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTOt'ot'o
U+15E4CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTEt'ut'ʌ
U+15E5CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTEEt'et'e
U+15E6CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTIt'it'i
U+15E7CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTAt'at'a
U+15E8CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER PUboobu
U+15E9CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER PObobo
U+15EACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER PEbu
U+15EBCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER PEEbebe
U+15ECCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER PIbibi
U+15EDCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER PAbaba
U+15EECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER Pbb
U+15EFCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GUgoogu
U+15F0CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GOgogo
U+15F1CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GEgu
U+15F2CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GEEgege
U+15F3CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GIgigi
U+15F4CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER GAgaga
U+15F5CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KHUkooku
U+15F6CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KHOkoko
U+15F7CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KHEku
U+15F8CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KHEEkeke
U+15F9CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KHIkiki
U+15FACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KHAkaka
U+15FBCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KKUk'ook'u
U+15FCCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KKOk'ok'o
U+15FDCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KKEk'uk'ʌ
U+15FECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KKEEk'ek'e
U+15FFCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KKIk'ik'i
U+1600CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KKAk'ak'a
U+1601CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER KKk'k'
U+1602CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER NUnoonu
U+1603CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER NOnono
U+1604CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER NEnu
U+1605CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER NEEnene
U+1606CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER NInini
U+1607CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER NAnana
U+1608CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER MUmoomu
U+1609CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER MOmomo
U+160ACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER MEmu
U+160BCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER MEEmeme
U+160CCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER MImimi
U+160DCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER MAmama
U+160ECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER YUyooju
U+160FCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER YOyojo
U+1610CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER YEyu
U+1611CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER YEEyeje
U+1612CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER YIyiji
U+1613CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER YAyaja
U+1614CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JUjooʤu
U+1616CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JOjoʤo
U+1617CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JEjuʤʌ
U+1618CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JEEjeʤe
U+1619CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JIjiʤi
U+161BCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JAjaʤa
U+161CCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JJUch'ooʧ'u
U+161DCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JJOch'oʧ'o
U+161ECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JJEch'uʧ'ʌ
U+161FCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JJEEch'eʧ'e
U+1620CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JJIch'iʧ'i
U+1621CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER JJAch'aʧ'a
U+1622CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LUloolu
U+1623CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LOlolo
U+1624CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LElu
U+1625CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LEElele
U+1626CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LIlili
U+1627CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LAlala
U+1628CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DLUdloodlu
U+1629CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DLOdlodlo
U+162ACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DLEdludlʌ
U+162BCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DLEEdledle
U+162CCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DLIdlidli
U+162DCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DLAdladla
U+162ECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LHUlhooɬu
U+162FCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LHOlhoɬo
U+1630CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LHElhuɬʌ
U+1631CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LHEElheɬe
U+1632CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LHIlhiɬi
U+1633CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER LHAlhaɬa
U+1634CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLHUtlootlu
U+1635CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLHOtlotlo
U+1636CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLHEtlutlʌ
U+1637CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLHEEtletle
U+1638CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLHItlitli
U+1639CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLHAtlatla
U+163ACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLUtl'ootl'u
U+163BCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLOtl'otl'o
U+163CCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLEtl'utl'ʌ
U+163DCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLEEtl'etl'e
U+163ECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLItl'itl'i
U+163FCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TLAtl'atl'a
U+1640CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER ZUzoozu
U+1641CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER ZOzozo
U+1642CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER ZEzu
U+1643CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER ZEEzeze
U+1644CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER ZIzizi
U+1645CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER ZAzaza
U+1646CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER Zzz
U+1647CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER INITIAL Zz
U+1648CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DZUdzoodzu
U+1649CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DZOdzodzo
U+164ACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DZEdzudzʌ
U+164BCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DZEEdzedze
U+164CCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DZIdzidzi
U+164DCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER DZAdzadza
U+164ECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SUsoosu
U+164FCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SOsoso
U+1650CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SEsu
U+1651CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SEEsese
U+1652CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SIsisi
U+1653CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SAsasa
U+1654CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SHUshooʃu
U+1655CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SHOshoʃo
U+1656CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SHEshuʃʌ
U+1657CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SHEEsheʃe
U+1658CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SHIshiʃi
U+1659CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SHAshaʃa
U+165ACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER SHshʃ
U+165BCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TSUchooʧu
U+165CCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TSOchoʧo
U+165DCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TSEchuʧʌ
U+165ECANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TSEEcheʧe
U+165FCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TSIchiʧi
U+1660CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TSAchaʧa
U+1661CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER CHUtsootsu
U+1662CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER CHOtsotso
U+1663CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER CHEtsutsʌ
U+1664CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER CHEEtsetse
U+1665CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER CHItsitsi
U+1666CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER CHAtsatsa
U+1667CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTSUts'oots'u
U+1668CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTSOts'ots'o
U+1669CANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTSEts'uts'ʌ
U+166ACANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTSEEts'ets'e
U+166BCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTSIts'its'i
U+166CCANADIAN SYLLABICS CARRIER TTSAts'ats'a

In this writing system, the majority of symbols represent a consonant followed by a vowel. The shape of the character determines the consonant; the orientation together with the presence or absence of vertical stroke or dot determines the vowel. Syllable-final consonants are written with separate characters, as are the syllabic nasals and the consonants that can occur at the beginning of an onset cluster. For example, the word njan "here" is written ᐣᘛᐣ. The glottal stop is written with a separate letter even when it is the onset consonant, as in 'a "fog" ᐧᐊ.

The Dakelh syllabics were widely used for several decades. People kept diaries and accounts, wrote each other letters, and left messages in the bush on trees. A few such trees survive. Here is a photograph taken by Craig Hooper of the Ministry of Forests of a tree along the old trail between Nadleh and Cheslatta. It is difficult to interpret because the edges of the blaze have grown in so much and have obscured the Dakelh text.

Cheslatta Trail Tree

Between 1891 and 1894 a newspaper was published in syllabics at Naka'zdli (Fort Saint James) six times a year. Here is the first page of the first issue, dated October 1891.

Syllabic Newspaper Page

One of the longest texts in syllabics by a Dakelh person is seven page submission from Nak'az̲dli to the McKenna-McBride Commission in 1915. Here is the first page. (Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to read.)

McKenna-McBride Commission Submission

There are several dozen gravestones with inscriptions in syllabics. Here is the grave of Agatha John Thomas from the Saik'uz graveyard. Clicking on a character will cause the equivalent in the Carrier Linguistic Committee writing system to appear at the bottom of the page.

The Grave of Agatha John Thomas

The Dakelh portion of the inscription reads

Agada' oots'unk'ut
Ba tenadondli

This means: "Agatha's grave. Pray for her."

Here is the grave of a woman named Belzeni (from French Virginie) from the Nak'azdli graveyard. Clicking on a character will cause the equivalent in the Carrier Linguistic Committee writing system to appear at the bottom of the page.

The Grave of Belzeni

The inscription reads:

Belzeni dazsai
Novembar 9
1918

This means: "Virginia died November 9, 1918."

This gravestone illustrates the way in which Dakelh people introduced devices for representing sounds not native to Dakelh. The system as introduced by Father Morice provided only for sounds native to Dakelh. When Dakelh people borrowed words from English and French, they sometimes kept unfamiliar sounds such as /r/ and /v/. The use of the v-like symbol that represents /k'/ followed by a /b/-series symbol (here /be/) to represent /v/ is one such innovation. The little cross that represents the /r/ of "November" is another of these innovations.

[Note: we have given the text of these inscriptions as it would now be correctly written. In fact, these inscriptions, like most inscriptions on gravestones, contain errors and omissions. For example, in Virginia's gravestone the letter that should represent /i/ is missing the triangle that should surround the dot.This is partly due to spelling conventions that we cannot go into here and partly due to the fact that most of the gravestones were ordered from the Hudson's Bay Company and were carved in Victoria by people who were merely copying an inscription that they did not understand in a writing system with which they were not at all familiar.]

One of the most widely read publications in the syllabics was the Roman Catholic prayerbook. Many people learned to read Dakelh from this book. Here is a page from the 1933 edition. At the top of the page are the fifth through tenth of the Ten Commandments. The Fifth Commandment reads ne-so-lh-ghe-lh ju-ni-h ``do not kill people''.

A Page from the Syllabic Prayerbook

Syllabics are not very widely used anymore, but there has been a resurgence in interest. Until he passed away in 2004 Nak'azdli elder Nick Prince used to teach classes on syllabics from time to time. In many places they are considered appropriate for formal purposes even though only a few people can read them. For example, when a plaque was put up in the Ulkatcho Learning Centre in Anahim Lake in 1993 in honour of the late Chief Jimmy Stillas, the text was written in four languages: Ulkatcho dialect Dakelh, Nuxalk, Chilcotin, and English, with the Dakelh written both in the Carrier Linguistic Committee writing system and in syllabics. Here is a photograph of the plaque just before it was put up.

Plaque in Honour of Jimmy Stillas

A textbook of the syllabics is available: Introduction to the Carrier Syllabics. This flyer describes the textbook in more detail and lists local (northern British Columbia) sources for it.

Several Unicode fonts are available that include the Carrier syllabics as part of the larger Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics set. We recommend the fonts created by LanguageGeek. The font itself is oskidakelh.zip. Here are instructions on how to install fonts.

The converter at http://www.translitteration.com/transliteration/en/carrier/canadian-aboriginal-syllabics/ is incorrect and should not be used.

LanguageGeek also has available keyboard maps for typing in syllabics. One allows you to type in the Carrier Linguistic Committee system and converts on the fly to dulkw'ahke. The other assigns dulkw'ahke characters to single keys. These keyboards work on Microsoft Windows and Macintosh OS X systems and allow you to type in syllabics in programs such as Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.org Writer.

A simple text editor that allows dulkw'ahke to be entered by typing in the Carrier Linguistic Committee writing system is the Yudit Unicode text editor, downloadable at no cost from http://www.yudit.org/. Yudit runs on UNIX systems, including GNU/Linux, and Microsoft Windows. Further information on using Yudit to write in syllabics is available here..

A detailed explanation of the syllabics aimed at linguists is given in the paper The Carrier Syllabics. To download a copy, go to the download page.


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