Muskogee Sounds
Mvskoke em Hake

Historical Notes on the Muskogee Alphabet,
Nakcokv Lvlunkv or Nakcokv Yvlunkv

(A bold e, CAPITAL E or ë all represents the "looong ee" sound.)

Ē and ē

The early Spanish both studied and wrote about native languages in the southeastern United States. Spanish clerics and soldiers often recorded native words or even whole documents such as catechisms, business or personal letters and speeches of native converts and leaders. However, they usually did so by merely recording the sounds in their own Spanish alphabet (orthography) with little attention paid to correctly delineating the sounds of native languages from those of European tongues. Although interesting as expressions of cultural and in grammatical content, there is little of linguistic accuracy to indicate the actual sounds in use at that time. Yes, sounds in any language do change over time. The Great Vowel Shift in English is a classic example; its remnants can still be heard in various regional American and British dialects. In fact, look up the Great Vowel shift for some very interesting insight into Modern English--it will help you in your Muskogee studies. All in all, the Spanish language and occupation of the southeastern United States had little effect on the surviving Muskogean languages, other than a few loan words, that didn't become extinct due to the death of its speakers by enslavement, disease or migration.

A few German-speaking Moravian missionaries were working among some southeastern tribes early as 1705. They were working among Creeks well before 1800, were the first to devise a consistent alphabet, and formalized spellings for Muskogean languages. Their alphabet was in use at Francis Towne on the Wakulla River prior to its forced removal to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) during November of 1818. Incidentally, the Creeks of Francis Towne were the first Muskogees removed west. Their settlement eventually became the City of Muskogee and Ft. Gibson. This removal preceded the forced Cherokee removal by nearly 20 years! The 19 letter version of this Moravian alphabet was formally adopted by many interpreters and chiefs of the Creek Nation at the nearby "Old Agency" in Oklahoma in 1853. Earlier, Baptist missionaries stationed at Marion, Alabama experimented with a slightly different alphabet incorporating a few Hellenic symbols but that alphabet proved unwieldy and was quickly abandoned. A temperance pledge was one of the first publications issued in the set type of the current alphabet adopted in 1853..

It is interesting to note that Benjamin Hawkins, the U.S. representative* to the Creek Nation in the late 1700's and early 1800's, did not use this alphabet to any extent. He did speak the Muskogee language well and was familiar with and supportive of the Moravian work. He seldom commented on the Moravians except in regards to praise their agricultural pursuits. Henry R. Schoolcraft documents, to some extent, Moravian work in the Deep South. Rich Moravian original sources, which are still abundant in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and the Czech Republic, go largely unused by modern researchers of southeastern Indian culture and history. *Hawkins was really an appointed ambassador.

THE MUSKOGEE ALPHABET

The Eastern Muskogee alphabet uses twenty symbols, not nineteen -- called letters -- to represent the sounds of the language. Many older books with this alphabet list only the nineteen symbols. That is because [e] is listed only once. However, it regularly appears written with a "long mark" or "macron" over it, as ē [e topped with "-"]. This book treats E, e [e] and Ē, ē [long E] as two separate letters, representing two different sounds--because they are. The Eastern Muskogee language has, altogether, twenty symbols in its alphabet. In addition, there are several diphthongs used as in English. Æ [Ae] and Ue [ue] are the most common and au [au] is the next most common, of these "double sounds." With a working knowledge of the symbols and the sounds they represent, you will find Muskogee very easy to read aloud; spellings are much more phonetic than English. Actually, spelling has a high degree of flexibility. This is no problem and is easily understood. For instance, many pronounce the word for "house" with a "u" sound as in English while about half the speakers say that word, house, with an "o" sound. Each will write it accordingly: Cuko or Coko. This not only tells the reader something about the writer but also preserves the flavor of the writer's speech in the written word. I believe many call this "local character."

If you're the faithful "absorber of knowledge," (a Muskogee concept) as the author believes, you will already have realized that these same symbols are also found in the English alphabet of 27 symbols. However they may look the same, they don't always represent the same sounds as in English! It is imperative to learn the Nakcokv Lvlunkv, the alphabet correctly. Don't confuse it with sounds represented by English. Only then will you readily acquire a usable knowledge of Muskogee. If you can spell a Muskogee word, you can say it. If you can say it in Muskogee, you can spell it!

The authors emphasize to students that the explanations of Muskogee sounds that follow are not exact. What they hope to produce is a general guide to help remind students of the proper sounds, after they have heard the Muskogee words spoken aloud. Some Muskogee sounds simply don't have exact or ready English equivalents. However, we think this general guide will be well worth your efforts.

You should also be aware that the sounds of all languages vary constantly, from sentence to sentence, word to word, and speaker to speaker. In fact, it's highly doubtful that any person ever says a word or a sound exactly the same way twice. So, if you hear your teachers pronounce words in ways that don't fit the descriptions of sounds given here, don't get worried. You'll be doing the same thing yourself once you are fluent in Muskogee; you already do it in English.

You should first skim over the explanations of each letter of the Muskogee alphabet, and then come back to it often as you study. Use it as your general reference and guide to the sounds of the language. Particularly, in the beginning, you should study the notes on the Muskogee sounds represented by [r] that denotes a type of "el" and [v] that represents a common Muskogee vowel sound. Try not to think of the English sounds represented by the symbols [r] and [v]. Instead, always remember that these merely symbols used by many languages but often representing different sounds in each different tongue. Now, let's go to work!

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