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O'odham Orthography

Pronunciation Guide

The O'odham Piipaash Language Program uses a modified version of the Alvarez-Hale Orthography developed by Dr. Albert Alvarez (Tohono O'odham) and Dr. Kenneth Hale.

  1. This modified version of the Alvarez/Hale orthography uses twenty-one consonants and five vowels. Other symbols are used to determine the length of the vowel. (The following letters are not used: f, q, r, v, x, & z).
  2. To accommodate local dialect these symbols were added to the Alvarez/Hale orthography: d & v.

  3. * The location of stress within a word - the stress on most O’odham words is consistently in initial position (first syllable).

  4. * The glottal stop (‘) is a sound produced by a stoppage of air in the throat and is also found in certain expressions in English. For example, “uh-oh”, as in “uh-oh, I think we’re in trouble!”
  5. * The vowel sounds in O’odham can be drawn out to a long sound or cut off as a short sound. The sound of a long or short vowel does not change – it is simply held for a longer or shorter duration.

    A colon (:) following a vowel represents a long vowel. Long vowels can appear in any syllable of a word.

    A vowel with a breve (˘) over it represents a short vowel. Short vowels, which are almost whispered, usually occur at the end of a word.

  6. * Plurals are created by reduplication of a singular word: reduplication of the first consonant and vowel, or just the initial vowel. (Example: gogs - gogogs or mi:tol - mimi:tol).

  7. * Used in lower case, o’odham refers simply to people, and in upper case, O’odham refers to speakers of the O’odham language.

*Zepeda, Ophelia. “The Papago Grammar.”


Letter Sound O'odham Milga:n
b big ban coyote
c chip cehia little girl
d this do'ag mountain
​ḍ but taḍ foot
​d dam judum bear
​g go gogs dog
​h hot huñ corn
j job ju:k rain
​k kiss ka:lit wagon
​l rolling "l" lial money
m miss mi:tol cat
n no nalaṣ orange
ñ canyon ñulaṣ peach
p pot pi:las pear
s see siṣpakuḍ safety pin
​ṣ ship ṣuṣk shoes
t thin taṣ sun
v vine violi:n violin
w what wioṣa face
y yes yavĭ key


Letter Sound O'odham Milga:n
a father ba'ag eagle
​e earth eldagĭ skin
​i machine ispul spur
o all oks old woman
u brute uvĭ female

Long Vowels

Letter O'odham Milga:n
a: ma:gina machine
​e: e:'eḍ blood
​i: i:bhai prickly pear
o: o:b apache
u: u:s wood

Short Vowels

A few words use vowels that have a symbol above them called a breve. A vowel with a breve above it is only found at the end of words and can be difficult to hear. It may simply sound like an aspiration.

Letter Sound O'odham Milga:n
ĭ an aspiration svegĭ red


When two vowels occur together in an Oʼodham word, the resulting diphthongs can produce new sounds.

Letter Sound O'odham Milga:n
ai aisle vainom knife, object made of metal
ei gooey i:gei fell down
oi poi ​ṣoiga pet
ui oui kui mesquite tree


Letter Sound O'odham Milga:n
ŋ thing *ca:ŋgo monkey

*In Salt River we use the word “Gogs O'odham” to describe monkey. (Some O'odham dialects use ca:ŋgo for monkey)