Sounds versus spelling

Syllables ending with < h > or glottal stop < ˀ > can sound quite different from the way they are spelled. For example, the syllable spelled as < de̲h > sounds just like a [ t ] in the first word below, but is fully pronounced in the second example, which is in a closely-related word.

de̲hęnaǫháˀ they (males only) are racing 

degęnaǫháˀ they (animals) are racers 

(In both of the above examples, the final syllable is accented: we would expect non-final accent instead for words spoken 'solo'; however, the speaker was reading these words as part of a list.)


In the Henry orthography, related words (or parts of words) tend to have similar spellings. The advantage is that it's easier to see what meaningful parts each word shares. In the next example, it's possible to see the parts that mean 'they (males)' [hęn], and 'they (females or mixed group') [gęn]. (The other two parts, [de- ... aǫháˀ], together mean 'to be racing, to be a racer'.)

Meaning-based spelling

de̲ hęn aǫháˀ
de gęn aǫháˀ


In contrast, it's more difficult to see the separate parts when using a pronunciation-based spelling:

Sound- or pronunciation-based spelling:

t ęn aǫháˀ
de gęn aǫháˀ


Many Cayuga words are just like the ones shown above, having at least two pronunciation variants, as shown in the following two examples. For practical purposes, then, pronunciation-based spelling nearly always results in a proliferation of spellings for related words.   

asahjo̲háeˀ you did wash your hands (a statement) 

(pronunciation-based spelling: "asahchwáeˀ")


sahjóhae: wash your hands! (a command) 

(pronunciation-based spelling: "sahjóhae")


Some of the advantages and disadvantages of each way of spelling are listed below. The meaning-based spelling approach is used in this website because the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

  • Meaning-based spelling
    • It's easier to see word-parts and relationships between words.
    • It's harder to spell, when the pronunciation diverges from the spelling.
  • Sound-based spelling
    • It's harder to see word-parts and relationships between words
    • It's easier to spell, when the pronunciation diverges from the spelling
    • Increases the number of spellings for almost all related words


When do syllables sound different from the way they are spelled?

For this section, review the pages on Counting syllablesNon-final accent placement, and Vowel length.

Syllables tend to sound different from the way they are spelled if all three of the following conditions are met:

  • the syllable ends with < h > or glottal stop < ˀ >
  • the syllable is not accented
  • the syllable is odd-numbered

Syllables tend to sound the way they are spelled if

  • the syllable doesn't end with < h > or glottal stop < ˀ >
  • the syllable doesn't begin with < h > or glottal stop < ˀ >
  • the syllable is accented
  • the syllable is even-numbered
  • the syllable is last in the word


The 'Warning signs'

The Henry orthography has various ways of ‘warning’ the reader that a syllable is pronounced differently than it is spelled:

  • the vowel is underlined (especially if the syllable ends with H)
  • the glottal stop is moved or deleted


Examples are provided on the following pages:


The pronunciation changes described in the following section are collectively known to linguists as ‘Laryngeal Metathesis’. A more technical description of Laryngeal Metathesis can be found in this article:

Foster, Michael. 1982. Alternating weak and strong syllables in Cayuga words. International Journal of American Linguistics 48, 1:59-72.