The Mountain Chant: A Navajo Ceremony

Notes on the System of Transliteration in this Document

In 1887, at the time that Washington Matthews published 'The Mountain Chant' (TMC) Navajo did not have a standardized orthography. The science of linguistics was in its infancy. Even the scholarly community did not have a good understanding of the phonetics of Native American languages. Therefore, TMC uses a unique system of transcription of Navajo, which only appears in this document. To preserve the public domain status of the text I have reproduced as closely as possible Matthews' transcription from the original document. Unfortunately this means that the Navajo words and passages in this text will be difficult to recognize for modern readers of the Navajo language.

The vowels (if you ignore Matthews often inconsistent use of diacritics) are transcribed as in the modern standard orthography and pronounced as in most Romance languages. The superscript n in TMC transliteration indicates the nasalized version of the preceeding vowel.

The transcription of Navajo consonants present the most problems; there is a whole set of glottalized consonants which Matthews didn't transcribe. To make matters worse, Matthews didn't transcribe the difference between voiced and voiceless 'l'. So there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the TMC transliteration and modern orthography.

The chart below shows how the TMC transliteration of consonants relates to modern Navajo orthography and gives a simplified guide to the pronunciation. This chart uses Unicode character entities to indicate the voiceless 'l'. This will not be visible unless your browser handles Unicode properly.

— J.B. Hare


TMC Modern Standard Pronunciation
b/p b p
tc ch ch
tc ch' (glottalized ch)
d t
gl, tl dl dl
ds dz dz
k, g g k
g, y gh, y (voiced velar spirant)
h h h
q h, x (aspirated velar spirant, like German ch)
dj j j
` ' glottal stop
k k k
k k' (glottalized k)
l l l
l ł (voiceless l)
m m m
n n n
s s s
c sh sh
z z z
j zh (voiced sh as in azure)
ç t (aspirated t)
ç t' (glottalized t)
ts ts ts
ts ts' (glottalized ts)
kl, tl tł (voiceless tl)
tl tł' (glottalized tł)
w w w
y y y

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