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Orizaba Nawatl
Pico de Orizaba from Atlehuaya

A number of different orthographies have been used for writing Orizaba Nawatl. The older ones typically followed the Spanish-inspired tradition of writing c and qu for the phoneme /k/; hu, uh, etc. for the phoneme /w/; and j (or nothing) for the "saltillo" (which in this variety of Nahuatl is usually the glottal fricative [h]).

The orthography used in these pages, which is the same as the one adopted by the Roman Catholic Church for its publications in Nawatl, is based on the proposals of Andrés Hasler (1995). /k/ is written k, /w/ is written w, and the "saltillo" is written h.

The following table gives the Orizaba Nawatl alphabet, with the phonemes represented by each orthographic symbol and their (most common) phonetic pronunciations.

Letter of the alphabet
Phoneme Phonetic form(s)
a a, ā [a], [ā]
ch č [tš] (= IPA [tʃ])
e e, ē [e], [ē]
h h [h]
i i, ī [i], [ī], [ɪ]
k k [k], [g]
ku []
l l [l], [l]
m m [m]
n n [n]
o o, ō [o], [ō], [ʊ]
p p [p]
s s [s]
t t [t]
tl ƛ [tl]
tz ¢ [ts]
w w [w], [W], [v], [β], [b], [h
x š [š] (= IPA [ʃ])
y y [y] (= IPA [j])

Some of these letters are pronounced somewhat differently from one town to another. For instance, intervocalic k is pronounced [k] in some towns, [g] in others, syllable-initial or intervocalic w is pronounced [w] in some towns and [v] or [β] in others, and syllable-final w may be pronounced voiceless ([W]) in some places, and [h] in others.

Vowel length is not written in this orthography; the context serves to disambiguate most of the relatively few cases where that is the only difference between words. Neither is stress marked: it is usually penultimate, with certain systematic exceptions. Some consonants occur doubled: they are pronounced long. The most common of these is ll, which usually arises from the combination of an l with a tl; it is not pronounced [y] like its Spanish look-alike, but rather as a long [l].

Since Nawatl has no diphthongs, each vowel belongs to a different syllable. (The u of ku is not a vowel, but part of a complex consonant.) So when a word ends with two vowels, the accent (penultimate stress) usually falls on the first of these. Thus a word like kitlalia he puts it is accented on the i, rhyming with the Spanish word valía it was worth rather than Italia Italy.

In forms which are borrowed from Spanish other sounds may occur; they are written with the appropriate letter from the Spanish alphabet. Some of these letters are: b, d, g, r, and ñ.

--David Tuggy

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