Yurok consonants

A consonant is a sound in which air is partly or fully blocked by the tongue, lips, etc. as it flows through the mouth (in contrast with vowels, in which air flows freely). Yurok has 29 basic consonant sounds, arranged below in five groups (with technical linguistic labels):

STOPS p t ch k kw '
GLOTTALIZED
STOPS
p' t' ch' k' kw'
FRICATIVES s hl sh x g h
NASALS & GLIDES w m n l r y
GLOTTALIZED
NASALS & GLIDES
'w ~ w' 'm ~ m' 'n ~ n' 'l ~ l' 'r ~ r' 'y ~ y'

The descriptions given here are mainly intended for language learners. Names of Yurok speakers are abbreviated: AF = Aileen Figueroa, JJ = Jimmie James, GM = Glenn Moore Sr., VM = Violet Moore, FS = Florence Shaughnessy, AT = Archie Thompson, GT = Georgiana Trull, JVP = Jessie Van Pelt.

Stops

A stop is a sound in which, at least briefly, air is fully blocked ('stopped') as it flows through the mouth. Yurok has six of these sounds, illustrated below. Mostly they are easy for English-speaking learners, but three things are worth noting:

  • The ch sound is pronounced like a quick combination of t and sh for many Yurok speakers, just as in English. But for other speakers, especially in the early 20th century, it is more like a combination of t and the Yurok s sound. (And technically, it is called an affricate rather than a stop.)

  • The sound written with an apostrophe (') is called a glottal stop. In English this is not an ordinary speech sound, though it is sometimes heard in certain contexts, but in Yurok it is an ordinary consonant.

  • English speakers often pronounce the English t sound like a glottal stop in English words like get, pronounced ge'. Yurok t is never pronounced like a glottal stop!

For each Yurok sound, one example is given where the sound is at the beginning of a word, and one where the sound is at the end of a word.

WORD-INITIALWORD-FINALPHONETIC SYMBOL
p
pegerk 'man' (AF):
segep 'coyote' (AT):
[p]
t
tergers 'rat' (GT):
keget 'mountain lion' (JJ):
[t]
ch
chaahl 'sand' (AF):
harpuech 'ant' (VM):
[tʃ] ~ [tʂ]
k
ke'ween 'eel' (AF):
huuek 'child' (GM):
[k]
kw
kwo'ror' 'candlefish' (FS):
kwegokw 'raven' (JJ):
[kw]
'
ekah 'hat' (JVP):
hekwsa' 'whale' (AF):
[ʔ]

Note that the glottal stop is not written at the beginning of a word before a vowel. But it is still pronounced in that position, for example at the beginning of ekah 'hat', pronounced 'ekah (in phonetic writing [ʔekah]).

Glottalized stops

The glottalized stops are pronounced like the stops above, but with an additional articulation. A good way to learn to make this kind of sound is to hold your breath while saying p, t, etc. If you hold your breath while pronouncing a stop, you should pronounce a glottalized stop.

WORD-INITIALWORD-FINALPHONETIC SYMBOL
p' [no examples]
kaap' 'leaves' (AT):
[p’]
t'
t'ohlt'oleehl 'swampy' (AF):
sermert' 'he kills it' (VM):
[t’]
ch'
ch'uech'eesh '(small) bird' (VM):
sraach' 'quiver' (FS):
[tʃ’] ~ [tʂ’]
k'
k'ooy' 'jay' (AF):
newook' 'I see it' (VM):
[k’]
kw'
kw'e'lootek' 'I scorched it' (FS):
okw' 'there is' (JVP):
[kw’]

Fricatives

A fricative is a sound made by almost completely closing off the flow of air through the mouth; this results in turbulence and a distinctive type of noise. Only two of the fricative sounds are the same as their English counterparts: h and sh. All the others are, at least sometimes, pronounced differently from any English sound:

  • The s sound in Yurok is not the same as English s. (Yurok s is pronounced with the tongue tip retracted somewhat farther back on the roof of the mouth than in English.) Listen carefully to try to match the pronunciations of teachers or fluent speakers.

  • The hl sound is not found in English; to pronounce it, hold your tongue in an l position and make an h sound.

  • The x sound is very rare in Yurok and completely absent in English. You might recognize it as the sound at the end of German Bach or the Scottish pronunciation of loch.

  • The g sound in Yurok is sometimes pronounced like English g, but more often it is pronounced with a constant flow of air and a weak vibration. (It is like a cross between x and English g.) At the end of a word, Yurok g may tend to sound like y, but if you listen carefully you should hear the difference (in this position the articulation is very weak).

NON-FINAL POSITIONWORD-FINALPHONETIC SYMBOL
s
puesee 'cat' (FS):
cheemos 'uncle' (GT):
[ʂ]
hl
tomowohlek' 'I say too much' (FS):
hee'nk'ehl 'white oak' (VM):
[ɬ]
sh
keeshen 'summer' (FS):
ch'uech'eesh '(small) bird' (AT):
[ʃ]
x[no examples]
wa'elox 'guts' (FS):
[x]
g
chegel' 'seaweed' (GT):
ha'aag 'rock' (AF):
[ɣ] ~ [g]
h
heyomues 'skunk' (AT):
herkw'erh 'cottontail rabbit' (AF):
[h]

Nasals and glides

In Yurok the nasals are m and n, and the term glide refers to the sounds w, l, r, and y. These sounds are pronounced as in (American) English with two small exceptions:

  • Between vowels, w is sometimes pronounced with frication, sounding like a blend of g and w. (In early sources this was sometimes written gw.)

  • At the end of a word, the glides w, l, r, and y are often pronounced with audible whispering. (In linguistic terms, they are devoiced; this can also happen before the consonants p, t, ch, k, kw, s, and hl.)

NON-FINAL POSITIONWORD-FINALPHONETIC SYMBOL
w
newook' 'I see it' (VM):
ho'ow 'cedar' (GT):
[w] ~ [ɣw]
m
meweehl 'elk' (JJ):
chegemem 'hummingbird' (AF):
[m]
n
negeneech 'mouse' (GT):
hlkoolon 'muddy' (JVP):
[n]
l
lochom' 'toad' (JJ):
pe'wol 'soapstone' (JVP):
[l]
r
repchem 'sugar' (GT):
meweemor 'old man' (AF):
[ɹ]
y
leyes 'snake' (JJ):
kewoy 'burden basket' (GT):
[j]

Glottalized nasals and glides

These are pronounced like the ordinary nasals and glides above, but together with a glottal stop (or a glottal constriction in articulation). The glottalization is usually heard before the consonant or simultaneously, but the apostrophe is written after the consonant at the end of a word.

BETWEEN VOWELSWORD-FINALPHONETIC SYMBOL
'w ~ w'
plee'wes 'gray squirrel' (VM):
maaw' 'he pays a fine' (GM):
[ʔw]
'm ~ m'
hlke'mah 'ladder' (JVP):
lochom' 'toad' (AT):
[ʔm]
'n ~ n'
re'noh 'feather' (GT):
k'-erp'ern' 'your nose' (AF):
[ʔn]
'l ~ l'
'ne-'lep 'my hair' (AF):
kel' 'you' (JVP):
[ʔl]
'r ~ r'
o'rowee' 'mourning dove' (VM):
tkekwar' 'pot' (VM):
[ʔɹ]
'y ~ y'
we'yon 'teenaged girl' (JJ):
chyer'ery' 'black bear' (AF):
[ʔj]