Plains Cree

Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics orthography notes

Updated 2 April, 2024

This page brings together basic information about the Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics (UCAS) script and its use for the Plains dialect of the Cree language. It aims to provide a brief, descriptive summary of the modern, printed orthography and typographic features, and to advise how to write Plains Cree using Unicode.

Referencing this document

Richard Ishida, Plains Cree (Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics) Orthography Notes, 02-Apr-2024,


Select part of this sample text to show a list of characters, with links to more details. Source
Change size:   28px

ᐁᑯᓯ ᒫᑲ ᐁᑎᑵ ᐊᓂᒪ ᑳᐃᑘᐟ ᐊᐘ ᐅᐢᑭᓃᑭᐤ, ᒥᔼᓯᐣ, ᑮᐢᐱᐣ ᑕᑲᑵᓂᓯᑐᐦᑕᒣᐠ ᐁᑿ ᒦᓇ ᑕᑲᑵᒥᑐᓂᐑᒋᐦᐃᓱᔦᐠ ᐊᓂᒪ, ᐆᒪ ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ ᑭᐢᐱᐣ ᑭᓅᐦᑌᑭᐢᑫᔨᐦᑌᓈᐚᐤ᙮ ᐆᒪ ᐆᑌ ᑳᐃᑕᐱᔮᕽ ᓵᐢᑿᑑᐣ, ᐁᑯᓯ ᐃᓯ ᐆᒪ ᓂᑲᑵᒋᒥᑲᐏᓈᐣ ᑮᑿᕀ ᐁᓅᐦᑌᑭᐢᑫᔨᐦᑕᐦᑭᐠ ᐁᑯᓯ ᐃᓯ ᐆᒪ, ᐹᐦᐯᔭᐠ ᐆᒥᓯ ᐃᓯ ᓂᑮᑭᑐᑎᑯᓈᓇᐠ, “ᑮᒁᕀ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐁᐘᑯ᙮ ᑖᓂᓯ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐁᐘᑯ ᐁᐃᑘᒪᑲᕽ ᐲᑭᐢᑵᐏᐣ᙮” ᐁᑯᓯ ᐃᑘᐘᐠ, ᐁᐘᑯ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐁᑲᑵᒋᒥᑯᔮᐦᑯᐠ, ᐁᑯᓯ ᐏᔭ ᐁᑭᐢᑫᔨᐦᑕᒫᕽ ᐊᓂᒪ, ᑮᒁᕀ ᑳᓅᐦᑌᑭᐢᑫᔨᐦᑕᐦᑭᐠ, ᐁᑯᓯ ᓂᑕᑎ ᐑᐦᑕᒪᐚᓈᓇᐠ, ᐁᑯᓯ ᐁᐃᓰᐦᒋᑫᔮᕽ ᐆᑌ ᓵᐢᑿᑑᐣ, ᐁᑿ ᐯᔭᑿᔭᐠ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐁᑯᓯ ᐃᓯ ᐆᒪ ᐁᐊᐱᔮᕽ, ᐁᑿ ᐯᔭᑿᔭᐠ ᒦᓇ ᐃᐦᑕᑯᐣ = ᑭᐢᑫᔨᐦᑕᒼ ᐊᐘ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐃᑕ ᒦᓇ ᐁᐊᐱᔮᕽ = ᐁᑯᑕ ᐱᓯᓯᐠ ᑫᐦᑌ ᐊᔭᐠ᙮ ᐁᑯᑕ ᐁᑿ ᐁᑯᓂᐠ ᑳᓂᑕᐍᔨᐦᑕᐦᑭᐠ, ᒣᒁᐨ ᐆᒪ ᐁᐘᑯ ᐆᒪ ᐁᑿ ᑳᓅᒋᐦᑖᒋᐠ, ᐁᑯᑕ ᐊᓂᒪ ᓂᐑᒋᐦᐃᐚᐣ᙮

ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ ᐁᑿ ᐁᐘᑯ, ᓇᒨᔭ ᐱᑯ ᐆᒪ ᑭᔮᓇᐤ ᐆᒪ ᑳᐃᓯᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᔭᕽ, ᓇᒨᔭ ᐱᑯ ᐁᐘᑯ, ᓇᓈᑐᕽ ᐆᑭ ᐍᒌᑅᔮᓂᐘᐠ ᓇᐦᑲᐏᔨᓂᐘᐠ ᑇᑕᐠ, ᐅᐢᑳᔭᐠ ᐆᑭ ᒥᐢᑕᐦᐃ ᐁᐘᓂᐦᑖᒋᐠ ᐲᑭᐢᑵᐏᐣ, ᐁᑿ ᐆᑭ ᐁᐃᑘᒋᐠ ᓇᐦᑲᐏᔨᓂᐘᐠ ᐑᐢᑕᐚᐤ, ᒥᐦᒉᐟ ᐊᓂᑭ ᐅᐢᑳᔭᐠ ᓇᒨᔭ ᐁᐋᐸᒋᐦᑖᒋᐠ ᐊᓂᒪ ᓇᐦᑲᐍᐏᐣ, ᐑᐢᑕᐚᐤ ᐅᑎᓯ ᐲᑭᐢᑵᐏᓂᐚᐤ, ᐁᑯᓯ ᐁᑿ ᐊᓂᑭ ᑫᐦᑌ ᐊᔭᐠ ᓂᑕᐍᔨᐦᑕᒷᐠ ᐑᐢᑕᐚᐤ ᐅᑑᐢᑳᔨᒥᐚᐘ ᑕᐋᐸᒋᐦᑖᔨᐟ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐅᓇᐦᑲᐍᐏᓂᐚᐤ; ᓇᒨᔭ ᐑᐋᐸᒋᐦᑖᐘᐠ ᐁᐘᑯ ᐊᓂᒪ ᐅᐲᑭᐢᑵᐏᓂᐚᐤ ᐆᑭ ᐅᐢᑳᔭᐠ, ᐃᔮᔭᐤ ᐆᒪ ᐋᑲᔮᓰᒧᐏᐣ, ᐁᐘᑯ ᒥᐢᑕᐦᐃ ᓇᒨᔭ ᑲᑫᑎᕽ ᐊᔨᐚᐠ ᐋᐸᒋᐦᑖᐘᐠ᙮

Usage & history

Around a quarter of the 116,500 Cree speakers speak the Plains Cree dialects (ie. around 34,000 people).wcl The language is written using both UCAS and Latin scripts.

Along with Woods Cree, Swampy Cree, Moose Cree, and Atikamekw, Plains Cree is one of five main dialects of Cree, and is spoken mainly in Saskatchewan and Alberta but also in Manitoba and Montana.wcl

The orthography is divided into eastern and western styles, differing mostly in the shape of the finals and the position of the w-dot.c

ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ Nēhiyawēwin Plains Cree ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᒧᐏᐣ Nēhiyawēmowin Northern Plains Cree

The Canadian syllabic script was first created in 1840 by the British missionary James Evans for writing the Swampy Cree dialect. The individual symbols may represent different phonemes for each language.

Sources LanguageGeek and Wikipedia.

Basic features

The Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabary is essentially a featural syllabary, ie. each symbol typically represents both a consonant and a vowel, but also includes some alphabetic elements. See the table to the right for a brief overview of features for the modern Plains Cree orthography.

Plains Cree is only one dialect (albeit with the largest number of speakers) in a continnuum running east and west, where each dialect has small differences in pronunciation and also small differences in orthography. In particular, eastern dialects tend to put the labialisation dot on the left, rather than on the right of the base character, and the small superscript coda symbols tend to ressemble the larger syllables, whereas in Plains Cree the shape is very different.

The UCAS script runs left to right in horizontal lines. Words are separated by spaces. There is no case distinction.

❯ characters

In the UCAS featural syllabary a majority of symbols in the syllabary represesent a CV pairing, and the symbol is rotated to indicate whether the vowel is i, o, a, or e. The term 'featural' reflects the clear association of the basic shape of any syllabic character with other characters based on the same consonant.

7 syllables represent standalone vowels.

Syllable-final consonants (ie. not followed by a vowel) are represented by a set of superscript symbols. There are also 3 non-syllabic characters to represent h and ʰk, and, in foreign words, the sounds r and l.

A small dot above a symbol indicates a lengthened vowel, and a similar dot to the right side of a syllable indicates labialisation of the consonant.

ᐸ ᐹ ᑅ ᑇ pa paː pʷa pʷaːThese are all atomic characters; Cree uses no combining marks.

The Cree dialects can be written using the syllabic script, or using a Latin transcription.

Numbers are written using ASCII digits.

Character index



CV syllables












To be investigated

Items to show in lists


Plains Cree, itself a dialect of the Cree language, includes 2 sub-dialects: Southern and Northern.

Click on the sounds to reveal locations in this document where they are mentioned.

Phones in a lighter colour are non-native or allophones. Source Wikipedia.

Vowel sounds

ɪ ʊ a

Northern Plains Cree has only 3 long vowels, since it collapses into .wcl,#Vowels

Other vowels may also represent a range of actual sounds, for example ɪ may sometimes be pronounced more like i, ʊ like u, and a like ɑ, ɛ, or ʌ.wcl,#Vowels

Consonant sounds

labial dental alveolar post-
palatal velar uvular glottal
stop p b t d       k g   ʔ
affricate     t͡s          
fricative v   s         h
nasal m   n        
approximant w   r l   j    

The voicing of stops and the affricate is not contrastive. The voiceless variants of stops occur at the beginning of a word, at the end of a word, and after h h or s s. The voiced variants generally occur in all other situations, although there may be exceptions.wcl,#Consonants

The sound t͡s may be pronounced t͡ʃ by some people.wcl

Pre-aspirated stops and affricates are considered to be simply clusters of h plus the following consonant, and are not phonemes.wcl,#Consonants Pre-aspiration can distinguish words such as the following. ᐑᒋᐦᐃᐠ ᐑᒋᐦᐃᕽ


Cree is a non-tonal language.


Wikipedia provides the following table to indicate Cree syllable structure in relation to the obligatory vowel. Parentheses indicate optional components.

Word-initial (#_V) Word-medial (V_V) Word-final (V_#)
p(w) (h,s)p(w) (h,s)p
t(w) (h,s)t(w) (h,s)t
c(w) (h,s)c(w) (h,s)c
k(w) (h,s)k(w) (h,s)k
s s(w) s
m(w) m(w) m
n n(w) n
w w w
y y(w) y

Although any vowel can occur in any position in the word, the long vowels , , and are found only rarely in initial and final positions.wcl,#Phonotactics

Plains Cree does not permit vowel clusters, clusters of identical non-syllabics, or fricatives followed by a fricative, nasal, or y.wcl,#Phonotactics

The coda, when it occurs, is either s or h but many Plains Cree words end in a vowel.wcl,#Phonotactics


Syllable summary table

The following table summarises the main syllable to character assigments.

The left-hand column shows the basic CV shapes only; vowel length and onset labialisation are shown using letters with the same basic shape but including dots (see following sections). The middle column shows some alphabetic characters. The right-hand column shows (non-syllabic) consonant codas.


Syllable composition

The core of the script is a set of V or CV syllables, and the superscripts used for syllable-final consonants.

Each consonant can be followed by one of 4 basic vowel sounds. The vowel sound for a given syllable is indicated by the rotation of the basic glyph. The illustration below is based on the p consonant.


The basic set of syllable glyphs used for Plains Cree includes the following.


There is also a set of special glyphs for simple alphabetic consonants, used in syllable codas.

Vowel length and consonant labialisation are indicated by adding dots to the basic characters, however this is never achieved through the use of combining marks; separate code points exist for all of the combinations, including those with multiple dots. More details and code point lists below.

Here is the complete set of syllables beginning with the sound p.


Vowel-only syllables


Syllables with e are pronounced long without a lengthening dot.

In the northern subdialect of Plains Cree there are only 4 vowel sounds, since is pronounced .wcl,#Vowels

There is a small amount of variation in the pronunciation of other vowels, too, as mentioned in phonemesV.

Vowel length is contrastive,wcl,#Vowels eg. compare: ᓴᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ ᓵᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ

CV syllables









Other sonorants


Voiced sounds

The stops and affricate are typically pronounced with voicing, ie. as b, d, g, and d͡z, unless they appear at the beginning or end of a word, or after h or s,wcl,#Consonants eg. ᒣᒁᐨ ᐱᒥᐸᐦᑖ


Plains Cree has pre-aspirated stops and affricate, but there are no special letters used to write them; instead, the letter h is written before the stop/affricate,wcl,#Consonants eg. ᒨᐦᑯᒫᐣ

CV syllables with lengthening dot

Long vowels are indicated visually by a dot diacritic, eg. compare pⁱ pi pⁱ̠ piːbut Unicode encodes these glyph combinations as separate, precomposed code points. They don't decompose.

Labialised syllables

The dot to the side of the w- series (and the labialised syllables below) appears to the right side of the main part of the character in Western Cree. In other dialects, the dot appears on the left side, for which there are separate code points.

Other letters

Syllable-final consonants

The following glyphs are used for the syllable-final consonants, which occur in CVC sequences. Unlike dialects and languages to the East, these don't resemble the standard syllable shapes at all.


18DF is used by some Plains Cree communities as an alternative to 1540, eg. river (sīpiy ) can be written in either of the following ways: ᓰᐱᕀ ᓰᐱᣟWhen it occurs in conjunction with a w-dot it typically kerns over that: precomposed characters are not provided for the combination, and the positioning should be taken care of by the font.p,2

Sample from SICC 1976, showing kerned dotsp,22 in ᑭᑿᣟ

Observation: Swampy Cree and Northern Ojibway use a similar but different character for the final y, [U+18DE CANADIAN SYLLABICS FINAL SMALL RING].p,2

Observation: Wikipedia uses [U+141D CANADIAN SYLLABICS Y-CREE W] , for the final-j circle, eg. ᓰᐱᐝ, , presumably because the content was written before the UCAS Extended block was supported by fonts. For the combination with a symbol with a w-dot, Wikipedia gives the example ᓅᐦᑖᐃ᛬ nᵒ̱htᵃ̱wⁱᐩ|nᵒ̱htᵃ̱i᛬ nōhtāwiy my father which ends with [U+16EC RUNIC MULTIPLE PUNCTUATION] (!). On the other hand, there are separate code points in the Unicode block for similar combinations, such as [U+1534 CANADIAN SYLLABICS WEST-CREE YWII] which may the the same thing, but i can't find any information about them.

157D is used to represent the common aspirated final ʰk, eg. ᐑᒋᐦᐃᕽ Other syllable-final clusters are generally written using multiple characters, eg. ᒥᑖᑕᐦᐟ.

Alphabetic consonants


r and l sounds are generally only used for loan words, and are represented using special alphabetic symbols followed by a vowel syllable, eg. ᕒᐁᑎᔪ

h is also represented in the same way, using 1426. This symbol is often used for pre-aspirated sounds (see phonemesC).

Vowel absence

See clusters.

Consonant clusters

Consonant clusters only occur where one syllable ends in a consonant and the next syllable begins with one. They therefore involve the use of final consonant symbols, eg. ᒪᐢᑭᓯᐣ

Generally usage is straightforward.


Cree uses ASCII digits.

Text direction

The UCAS runs left to right in horizontal lines.

Show default bidi_class properties for characters in the Cree orthography described here.

Glyph shaping & positioning

Experiment with examples using the Plains Cree character app.

Context-based shaping & positioning

Cree letters don't interact, so no special shaping is needed.

There are no combining marks, and context-based positioning is not needed either.

Letterform slopes, weights, & italics

Observation: Italicised text is used frequently in this page and others on the same site in East Cree, but it's not immediately clear what the function is.

Typographic units

Word boundaries

Words are separated by spaces.

Many Cree words can be complicated and more like phrases, due to the high degree of polysynthesis.

Morphological items within a word are often separated in the Latin orthography by a hyphen. Recently, some users have begun to separate such morphemes in the UCAS orthography using 202F.@Github, This space character is narrower than a regular space, and prevents line-breaking within the word. It also supports double-click selection of a word. Click on the following to see the composition.

ᐁ ᐚᐸᒫᐟ ê-wâpamât


Since there are no combining marks or decompositions, grapheme clusters correspond to individual characters.

Grapheme clusters

Base | superscript

Each letter is a grapheme cluster, and there are no combining marks to extend them. Final consonant letters are also treated as grapheme clusters.

Click on the text version of this word to see more detail about the composition.


Punctuation & inline features

Phrase & section boundaries


Cree uses special signs for full stop and hyphen, but otherwise uses ASCII punctuation.









Bracketed text


Cree commonly uses ASCII parentheses to insert parenthetical information into text.

  start end



Line & paragraph layout

Line breaking & hyphenation

Lines are generally broken at word boundaries.

in-word line-breaks

Plains Cree uses hyphenation when words are broken at the end of a line. However, a standard hyphen could be confused with 1428 (used for ʦ), so Cree uses 1400.

Hyphenation example
Sample in Oji-Cree from Fiero 1976:104 showing CANADIAN SYLLABICS HYPHEN inᑲᓯᑕᓂ᐀ᐘᓂᓂᐠkasitani-waninikand ᐁᓯ᐀ᒋᑫᐨesi-čikeč. Source p.

Line-edge rules

As in almost all writing systems, certain punctuation characters should not appear at the end or the start of a line. The Unicode line-break properties help applications decide whether a character should appear at the start or end of a line.

Show (default) line-breaking properties for characters in the modern Plains Cree orthography.

The following list gives examples of typical behaviours for some of the characters used in modern Plains Cree. Context may affect the behaviour of some of these and other characters.

Click/tap on the characters to show what they are.

  • “ ‘ (   should not be the last character on a line.
  • ” ’ ) . , ; ! ? %   should not begin a new line.

Baselines, line height, etc.

Cree uses the so-called 'alphabetic' baseline, which is the same as for Latin and many other scripts.

Cree has no combining characters, and no ascenders or descenders, but the long vowel dot does sit slightly higher than the normal top line of the font.

To give an approximate idea, fig_baselines compares Latin and Cree glyphs from the Noto Sans Canadian Aboriginal font. The basic height of Cree letters is usually that of the Latin cap-height, however the long vowel dot appears above the Latin ascender line, creating a need for slightly larger line spacing.

Font metrics for Latin text compared with Cree glyphs in the Noto Sans Canadian Aboriginal font.

fig_baselines_other shows similar comparisons for the Euphemia UCAS and Gadugi fonts.

Hhqxᐱᐲᒎᔩᓃᐊᑊᕽᐢᕒᣟ Hhqxᐱᐲᒎᔩᓃᐊᑊᕽᐢᕒᣟ
Latin font metrics compared with Cree glyphs in the Euphemia UCAS (top) and Gadugi (bottom) fonts.

Page & book layout

Online resources

  1. Cree Literacy Network
  2. Plains Cree (nêhiyawêwin) links
  3. East Cree Language Resources, esp. Read-along pages