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Makah Cultural and Research Center Online Museum

Makah Alphabet

speaking Makah(Speaking the language of People Who Live Amongst the Seagulls Along the Cape.) The Makah alphabet consists of 49 sound. There is only one way to pronounce each sound in Makah. Once mastered it is actually less confusing when spelling or pronouncing the sounds.

You are already familiar with 15 characters. They are:

b d e h i k l o p s t w y

Also "m" and "n" occur in just a few words in some tribal songs.

You will have to convert the following English consonant sounds:

(ts) cats consonants
(sh) shop
(ch) chin
(qu) queen

Exclusively speaking Makah sounds with no English equivalent:

exclusive sounds = side sounds — one is a stop and one is a lisp sound with air flow outward.

x = deep h sound you pronounce "who" but feel the air rushing from your toungue through your palate.

q = deep k sound. Make your tongue touch your uvula.

x = deep (h) sound, raspy air made near your uvula.

Pronunciation Key


Short Long Combined
a hut a father ay bike
e bet a back ey ate
i sit a feet iy honey
o for a low oy boy
u look a moon uy buoy (not exact equivalent)
(The Makah Alphabet is an adaptation of the International Phonetic Alphabet.)

Symbol Sounds:

These symbols are used to alter sounds of a character when you pronounce it.

(long a) The dot means the vowel is long.

(rasied-w) The raised-w means to round the lips to form the w-sound.

(glottal mark) This symbol is a glottal mark. It is placed over certain Makah letters indicating the letter sound is made with a pop-like effect. The sound is really emphasized and made louder with more force of air. The glottal mark is then called a "glottalized-c".

(glottal stop) This symbol is a glottal stop. It is like the pause or catch in the throat when saying "Uh-uh" (no). It also breaks words into natural syllables or word parts ( ears = "ears"). Words that begin with a vowel are preceded by glottal stops ( son = "son").

Lip Sounds:

b m p P

Teeth Sounds:

s c t d n teeth sounds

Side Sounds:

Made from the sides of the mouth and tongue

barred l - (barred-l) an l sound made by blowing air around the sides of the tongue.

barred lambda - (barred lambda) Combine the "cl" sound in clock or the "tl" sound in cattle into one sound using a sound.

lambda popped - Same "cl" or "tl" sound above but popped.

Mid Sounds

Inside Palate - Mid sounds

Rounded lips and inside palate - mid sounds

Back of the Mouth Sounds

x-wedge - (x-wedge or wedge-x) Pronounce the Speaking Makah "x" but letting the air come over the back of your tongue and under your uvula (your uvula is the punching-bag shaped thing which hangs from the roof of the mouth near the throat opening.) Make rasping air near the opening of your throat.

rounded x-wedge - is like the only rounding your lips to the position of "w" at the same time.

rounded q - is pronounced in the same positino as the "q" only with rounded lips.

q popped - is similar to the sound "q" but make it pop.

q rounded and popped - is pronounced in the same position as the "q" but make it pop with rounded lips.


Stress - Emphasis or accent on the stressed syllable.

  1. If the 1st syllable vowel is short, stress or emphasize the 2nd syllable:
    Stress 1

  2. If the 1st syllable vowel is long, stress or emphasis is on the 1st syllable:
    Stress 2

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All content for this exhibit is © Makah Cultural and Research Center.

The Community Museum is a project of community organizations and Tribes across the Olympic Peninsula, and the University of Washington.
Support for the project comes from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Preston, Gates and Ellis, LLP.