Minto Phrases and Sounds

Minto (Lower Tanana Athabascan) Consonants and Vowels

Minto Consonants
labial dental lateral interdental apical retroflex palatal velar glottal
b d dl ddh dz dr j g '
  t tl tth ts tr ch k  
  t' tl' tth' ts' tr' ch' k'  
    ł th s sr sh kh h
    l dh z zr   gh  
(m)   n            
    (nh)       (yh)    
Minto Vowels
Oral Nasal
i     u     ú
  e w     ę  
a     o á    

Pronouncing Minto Sounds

To get further into this writing system, let us now sort the vowel and consonant symbols into three groups. The first is the group of symbols that are read almost exactly as we do in English. All these sounds happen to be consonants. These examples use particular words because English spelling is inconsistent.

  • b, d, g: like p in spy, t in stay, k in sky
  • t, k: top, poke
  • s, h: so, hoe
  • sh, ch, th: show, chow, think
  • l, z and y: low, zoo, you
  • m, n: move, nose

The next group of sounds are those that represent sounds that exist in both languages, but may be spelled with different letters than English readers are used to. These sounds are all vowels. The English examples again involve particular words, because the English use of these letters is inconsistent.

    o:   Think of au in caught and o in long.
    u:   Think of oo in boot and u in lure.
    i:   Think of i in machine or ee in steep.
    e:   Think of e in bet, but also u in but or a in sofa; this vowel changes a lot depending on what it is next to.
    a:   Think of a in language, lag, bag.
    w:   Think of u in put.

There are no “long” and “short” vowel symbols in the Minto spelling system. All the vowels except for e and w are stressed, though the strongest stress occurs on the stem of a word, its most meaningful part. In addition, e and w may be stressed if they are found in the right context—followed by a consonant within a syllable, or by another syllable with an e or w in it.

The third group of sounds includes a number of sounds that are part of the Minto Athabascan language but are not part of English in the same way. These sounds include the following:

Glottal stop, written ’. In Minto Athabascan, unlike in English, the glottal stop is a real consonant. This is the sound in the middle of English UH-oh, ‘Oops!’ To make this sound, you close off the air from your lungs with your glottis, which is in your throat. Often in Minto Athabascan a glottal stop doesn’t sound or feel like a complete closure, and instead it gives a special color to the vowels around it.
gh, kh: For kh, think of the way people say Loch, as in Loch Ness Monster. These consonants can be felt in the same part of the mouth where you say g and k. It is hard to find an English example for gh, but it sounds like a softer version of kh. Note that h by itself is pronounced as it is in English. In some books, the sound represented by kh is written with a the letter x.
dl, tl: Think of fiddler and Atlas. Sounds like this do happen in English speech, but they have to be between two vowels. In Minto Athabascan these sounds can occur at the beginning or the end of a word.
dz, ts: Think of bids for dz, and bits for ts, but these sounds are never heard in the same parts of words in English as they are in Benhti Kenaga’. Ts in particular is pronounced more emphatically in Minto than in English.
ł, tl: The famous “barred L” represents a sound that is similar to (but louder and longer than) the l in English place. If you place your tongue in position to say a word that starts with l, and instead pronounce h without moving your tongue, you will start to get this sound. Tl also contains the voiceless l-sound, but it begins abruptly, while ł is pronounced with a gradual beginning.
tth, ddh: tth is pronounced like the middle of the phrase: get things. This consonant is voiceless, but its voiced counterpart ddh is pronounced like the middle of the phrase add this.

The sounds ł, tth, and ddh are rather quiet, so it is easy to miss them or mistake them for other sounds.

Some of the consonants of Minto Athabascan also occur glottalized. These are the sounds that are written in a letter combination ending with an apostrophe (tth’, t’, tl’, tr’, ts’, ch’, k’). Since these sounds are very different from any single sound in the English language, they take some time to learn. However, they are not really difficult. Think of making these sounds with held breath and a sudden release. Some examples to practice with:

  • tth’ok, ‘plate’
  • t’asr ‘charcoal’
  • tl’uł, ‘rope’
  • tr’akha, ‘woman’
  • ch’eyona’ ‘eagle’
  • ts’eba ‘spruce’
  • k’esr, ‘alder’

You will want to work with a speaker of the language to learn these sounds; you can’t do this alone, even if you have multimedia to work with in the classroom. But it can’t hurt to practice a little first.

Two sounds in Minto, nh and yh, are usually found only at the ends of words. These sounds are not consonant clusters, but voiceless versions of n and y. This means that they sound a bit as if you were whispering. Sometimes these letter combinations are found inside words, as well. However, they can never begin a word.

Minto Phrases and Numbers

    “Do’int’a?” “Eszrunh.”

    “How are you?” “I’m fine.”


    Are you tired?
    Tth’ik’w tadhesdenegá.
    I’m not tired yet.

Introduction (fill in the blanks)
    __________(My name) se’uzra’.
    _____________(Where I come from) sech’ekhulanh.
    _____________(Where I live now) dhesdo.
    Eta’a (my father’s name)______________.
    En’a (my mother’s name)_____________.

  People Things
1 ts’iłk’enh ts’iłk’i
2 notikhna notik’a
3 tokhna tok’i
4 deneyhna dengi
5 ołts’enana ołts’enayi
6 niłk’atokhna niłk’atok’i
7 khwnts’akhna khwnts’aghayi
8 niłk’adeneyhna niłk’edengi
9 ts’iłk’e beghwkwlana ts’iłk’e beghwkwlayi
10 ts’iłghw dadhton-na ts’iłghw dadhtoni
14   dengi bek'edi
15   ołts'enayi bek'edi
16   niłk'etok'i bek'edi
17   khwnts'aghayi bek'edi
20   notukhw dadhtoni
30   tokhw dadhtoni
40   deneyhkhw dadhtoni
50   ołts’enayikhw dadhtoni
90   ts’iłk’e beghwkwlayikhw dadhtoni
100   ts’iłghw nidanitonh
200   notikhw nidanitonh

This handout was created using some materials published in Benhti Kokht'ana Kenaga' (Lower Tanana Pocket Dictionary) published by the Alaska Native Language Center in 2009. It has been edited by the author, Siri Tuttle, for separate use. If you have questions about this material or about the dictionary, call Dr. Tuttle at 907-474-5708write to <>, or call ANLC at 907-474-7874.