Note: This site uses the Navajo fonts "Century Gothic Navajo", "Times New Roman Navajo", and "Verdana Navajo". Please click on the hyperlinks to the left to download the Navajo fonts.

Din4 Bizaad (Navajo Language)
T9 Din4 Bizaad Bee Y1deilti Doolee[! (Let's Go Speak Navajo!)

1.   Evolvement of the Navajo Written Language and the Navajo Bible
2.   The Navajo Alphabets
3.   The Navajo Fonts

1. Evolvement of the Navajo Written Language and the Navajo Bible

The word Navajo comes from the Tewa Indian language "Navahú" which means "the large area of cultivated land" because of the Navajos' dominance over the Tewa Indian domain centuries ago. The Navajos historically are an off-shoot of the Athapaskan (Athabascan, Athabaskan, Athapascan) and Dene tribes of Alaska and Canada. Navajo legend tells that the Navajo (pronounced Na'-va-ho) were given the name Nihookaa Diyan Din4 by their creators. It means "Holy Earth People" or "Lords of the Earth". Navajos today simply call themselves Din4 meaning "The People". The language of the Diné is an oral based language and was not a written language as the Aztec, Mayans, or Inca Indians had centuries ago. Therefore, there are no written documents other than hieroglyphics and pictorials on cliff walls and rocks in the southwest. It is a descriptive language and is still evolving and changing. Some inventive Navajo letters created a century ago by the 1850s and early 1900s by Christian missionaries or U.S. soldiers have been eliminated for newer Navajo letters that have been created. No Navajo Indians, other than the Navajo Indian interpeters (from Navajo to Spanish, and Navajo to English), were involved in the creation of the Navajo Alphabet or the Navajo-English, English-Navajo Dictionary. The creation of the Navajo Alphabet and a Navajo-English, English-Navajo Dictionary was done from decades of meticulous efforts of recording Navajo words and their translation from a couple of Anglo-Americans (Bilag1ana), who were interested in learning the Navajo language and keeping a written record of the Navajo language for others to learn.

The Diné spelling of a word a few years ago, might be spelled slightly differently today because of better phonetic accuracy, preference, or just the evolvement of the Navajo word. Also Navajo spelling of a word is not exact. The pronunciation of a Navajo word could sound slightly different from region to region on the Navajo Nation, caused by nasal preference (e, é, or a, á, etc.). For example, the Navajo word for Clan, can be spelled Doone4 or D0one4, depending on how it is exactly pronounced in that region of the Navajo Nation. Most Navajos don't know how to spell Navajo words, and tend to write a Navajo word or sentence in Navajo letters by the way it sounds. In general, English is an exact or precise language compared to the Diné language. In general, it might take a couple of Diné words to describe exactly or accurately an English word. Therefore, a Diné sentence is slightly longer when translating or describing its English sentence. And when the English translation from Navajo is read word by word, the translation tends to be quite fuzzy and written in broken English. When writing Navajo, what appears to be written in a forward and direct manner in English, Navajo writes a thought in reverse, as the Spanish language does. The overall translation becomes similar but not necessarily accurate to what the English sentence says. This is what has occurred concerning the Bible. Verse translation is not necessarily accurate to what the Bible states, and seems to be broken English and reversed. Different interpretations can be made to many Bible verses written in Navajo to the Bible verse written in the King James Version. Below is a history of the evolvement of the Navajo written language and the Holy Bible written in Navajo.

Starting in the 1850s, missionaries and U.S. soldiers who came to Din4 Bik4yah (Navajoland) created Navajo characters as alphabets to translate portions of the Holy Bible and Navajo sounds into words and text. They used mostly the English alphabet as a start, but unique Navajo characters also evolved that looked somewhat english, latin, or greek letters, but were still originally unique.

In 1852, a few years after the arrival of Anglo-Americans in the southwest, Henry R. Schoolcraft submitted a questionaire to military posts and Indian Agencies. The questionaire included a list of about 425 words, and it was requested that the respondents secure the equivalent word in the local American Indian language. Since almost all American Indian tribes (except the Cherokee who had a written language by the early 1820s) had no written language, the respondent needed to invent one to answer the questionaire. Most respondents used mostly the English alphabet to create the Indian sounds into text. Some respondents created unique letters or latin and greek letters to write an Indian word into text.

At Fort Defiance, Captain J.H. Eaton assumed responsibility for completion of that questionaire for the Navajo. It was a task that Captain Eaton carried out quite well, considering the many constraints during the 1850s. There was no Navajo Indian in 1852 who could speak or understand the English language, and there was no Anglo-American who could speak the Navajo language, nor had Captain Eaton received training in the transcription of unwritten languages. He had to invent his own method for the graphic representation of Navajo, and he no doubt had to rely on two interpreters: a Mexican who spoke English and Spanish, and a Navajo Indian who spoke Spanish and Navajo.

Captain Eaton's word list included many terms that were foreign to Navajo culture of the period, and these had to be passed over. In other instances, the response given by the Navajo interpreter reflected his failure to understand the question, as evidenced by such renditions as [eezh bee hahalkaad7 (shovel) for "paddle", doo shik4i da (he's no relative of mine) for "enemy", and din4 y11sh9 (good man) for "warrior".

Captain Eaton's Navajo word vocabulary form part of a voluminous document and was also a compendium of Navajo historical and ethnological information. It was published in 1856 under the title "History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States" by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Nearly all of the Navajo terms recorded by Captain Eaton can be deciphered without difficulty, and the vocabulary that he assembled was the first substantial effort to record the Navajo language.

In 1892, James C. Pilling compiled a bibliography of the Athapaskan languages, in which the earliest reference to Navajo appears to be the Pino "vocabulary", which listed several Navajo words (some undeciferable), collected during the latter half of the 19th century, including a Navajo grammar and Navajo dictionary reportedly prepared by Dr. Washington Matthews, the Post Surgeon at Fort Wingate in the 1880s, and a distinguished ethnologist who collected a wealth of data on Navajo culture of the period. The Matthews' Navajo grammar and dictionary, cited by Pilling, was in manuscript form and like other vocabularies, it was never published.

Interest in the Navajo language, and with it a compelling motivation to develop grammars, dictionaries, and the Holy Bible, had to await Catholic and Protestant missionaries, and the establishment of missions on the Navajo Indian Reservation in the closing years of the 19th century, especially the Franciscan mission at Saint Michaels, Arizona.

The Franciscans entered the Navajo Indian Reservation in 1898 and in 1910, they published their monumental work on traditional Navajo culture of the period, entitled "An Ethnological Dictionary of the Navajo Language", and in 1912, "Vocabulary of the Navajo Lanaguage". The latter was a two volume Navajo-English, English-Navajo dictionary.

Leonard P. Brink, a Christian Reformed missionary working at Rehoboth, New Mexico, translated the first portions of the Bible into the Navajo language. His translations of Genesis and Mark were published by the American Bible Society in 1910. Presbyterian missionaries John Butler, Alexander Black and F.G. Mitchell translated short portions, and in 1917 after collaborative work, the American Bible Society published in one volume portions from Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Jonah, Mark, Luke, John, Romans, First Corinthians, and Revelation, as God Bîzad (God's Word). In 1937, Acts was added, and it was republished as God Bizaad (God's Word).

Franciscan Berard Haile, who spent most of his long career in Navajo Country, was a serious student and a prolific writer on the language, ceremonialism, and culture, in general, of the Navajo Tribe, and he is known, not only for his contributions to the earlier linguistic studies, but also for his "Manual of Navajo Grammer" (1929), his four volume series "Learning Navajo" (1942-1949), and his "Stem Vocabulary of the Navajo Language" (1950).

Starting in 1937, Robert W. Young and William Morgan (Sr.) began a culmination of a collaborative study of the Navajo language, at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, where they became involved in the early effort at bilingual education launched by Willard W. Beatty, then Director of Indian Education in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Young and Morgan developed bilingual texts for use in the Navajo Indian Reservation schools, and began the assembly of a bilingual dictionary for use by non-Navajos involved in reservation programs, and by Navajos learning English.

A few of the original Navajo characters of the alphabet of the early missionaries were revised to form an official Navajo alphabet created or updated by Robert W. Young and William Morgan (Sr.).

By the time World War II broke out, a good beginning had been made in the compilation of the bilingual dictionary by Robert W. Young and William Morgan (Sr.), including a sketch of Navajo grammar and, for the first time, a detailed guide to the inflection of Navajo verbs. Previous vocabularies had listed verbs, usually in the form of the first person singular, for one or more modes, but little or no information was provided regarding the complex inflectional system.

With the outbreak of World War II, there began an exodus from the Navajo Indian Reservation, as Navajos entered the armed forces or moved into the labor market in surrounding states. In the U.S. Marine Corps, a special group of Navajo radiomen were formed during World War II who used their unpublished Navajo language as a special code to transmit radio messages. This special Navajo radio code made it futil for the Japanese enemy to decipher American battle messages about the time and place of attack. The complex syntax and complicated tonal qualities of the Navajo code could baffle even the most experienced linguists. The success of the Navajo Code Talkers contributions to World War II was nothing short of monumental. It represented the first time that a military code was not broken during war time. Major Howard Connor, a Marine Corps signal officer, summed up the situation after the war: "Were it not for the Navajo Code Talkers, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima ...".

For Navajo who moved into the labor market in the surrounding states during World War II, few Navajos of the period spoke or understood English, with the result that supervisors and others who came in contact with them began to demand a dictionary in the hope of learning enough Navajo to meet basic communication needs. To meet this demand, the data that had been brought together by Robert W. Young and William Morgan (Sr.) were arranged in alphabetic order and published by the Bureaur of Indian Affairs, under the title "The Navajo Language" (1943). By 1994, a third printing of "The Navajo Language" was published by the University of New Mexico Press.

There have been many other publications since then concerning the Navajo language, but the most important and most frequently used is "The Navajo Language" publication by Robert W. Young and William Morgan (Sr.).

The work in translating the Bible into Navajo began in earnest when Faye Elva Edgerton joined Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1944. The Presbyterian board in early 1924 assigned Faye Elva Edgerton to work at a school in Ganado, Arizona, on the Navajo Indian Reservation. It was believed that the climate would help her sinus problem. At the school she noticed that Navajo kids weren't allowed to speak Navajo, except for a short time after supper. She learned Navajo however, and increasingly became aware that the Navajo people needed the Bible in their own language. After taking a course at the Summer Institute of Linguistics, she became convinced she could do the work and that God wanted her to. In 1944, she decided to leave the Presbyterian mission and joined Wycliffe Bible Translators. She and Geronimo Martin revised older translations of Luke, Romans, First Corinthians, Revelation, and Mark and completed most of the New Testament.

The Corinthian epistles were translated by William Goudberg and Jacob Kamps of the Christian Reformed Church.

The New Testament was published in 1956. The complete Bible, under the name Diyin God Bizaad (Holy God's Word), was printed for the first time in 1985. A revision was published by the American Bible Society in 2000. It uses Diyin (He is Holy) and the borrowed English word "God" for God, rather than the Navajo word B4gochiddy, which was deemed unacceptable, because it referred to a Navajo God (of many legendary Holy People), not to the Jewish God of the Bible.

As of 1960s, many religious and children's materials and children's books have been written in Navajo. In 1980, parts of the Book of Mormon had been published in Navajo and released by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). Navajo is the sixth American Indian language to have the complete Bible translated into it.

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2. The Navajo Alphabets

The Navajo alphabet is based on the English alphabet system except , , [, and other diacritical mark letters. These diacritical mark characters are unique to the Navajo alphabet There are 36 Navajo alphabets (4 vowels, 32 consonants) used today. The 4 vowels are:   a   e   i   o   u. The 32 consonants are:   b   ch   ch   d   dl   dz   4   g   gh   h   hw   j   k   k   kw   l   [   m   n   s   sh   t   t   t[   t[   ts   ts   w   x   y   z   zh.

Below is some information you need to know to speak and read the indigenous language.

Short Vowels - makes vowel sounds that are short in duration. Short vowels are a, e, i, o.
aabe (milk)
ek4 (shoe)
ish7 (me, I)
ot0 (water)

Long Vowels - makes vowel sounds that are long in duration. Long vowels are aa, ee, ii, oo.
aasaad (language)
ee44 (clothes)
iikwii (right here, vomit)
ood00 (and)

Diacritical Marks - are accents and curls written above, below, and between the vowels to create emphasis of a specific sound of a word. Diacritical mark Navajo letters are:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   0   -   =   [   ]

High Tone - makes the sound of a vowel rise slightly when pronouncing.
1 – as in y1ti (to speak)
4 – as in k4 (shoe)
7 – as in sh7 (me, I)
0 – as in t0 (water)

Glottal Stop - makes the sound of a vowel shorter or stops the sound when pronouncing.
aa – as in kaa (arrow)
e – as in eeaah (west, sunset)
i – as in dziiz7 (bike)
oo – as in yoo (necklace, bead)

Nasal Tone - makes the sound of the vowel come through the nose. Pronounce vowel sounds while holding the nostrils close to make the nasal tone.
2 – as in ash3 (I am eating)
66 – as in kind66 (from the store)
88 – as in 1sh88h (salt)
-- – as in k-- (here it is)

Dipthongs - are two or three vowels together making one sound.
ai, aii as in say – Hai (winter)
ao as in sour – taonih (you knead)
ei, eii as in eight – Shicheii (my maternal grandfather)
oi, oii, ooi as in chewy – t00 ahay07 (many)

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3. The Navajo Fonts

This Din4 Bizaad (Navajo Language) website will have hyperlinks related to the Navajo language. Most important is downloading the Navajo fonts to your computer, in order to correctly see how the Navajo words are correctly spelled. Please choose the downloadable Navajo font links to the left or other Navajo language related subjects.

The Navajo alphabet was developed by missionaries in the late 1800s and BIA officials in the early 1900s that used a few special character letters that were not part of the English alphabets. When they developed the Navajo language, they did not use the characters C, F, P, Q, R, U, V, and X, because there were no Navajo sounds for them. They used the characters Ch instead of the single character C, since there were no Navajo sounds specifically for C, only for Ch.

In the left frame are three Navajo true type fonts (Century Gothic Navajo, Times New Roman Navajo, and Verdana Navajo) to download, to make you see the ‘Diné Glossary’ links and ‘Diné to English Dictionary’ links on the left frame correctly. These Navajo fonts are also used on other web pages on that have a need for Navajo fonts. Please install these True Type fonts on your computer for either a Windows or a Macintosh operating system. For a Windows operating system, all you do is click on the Navajo font links to the left, and ‘Choose to Open’ or ‘Save to Disk’. ‘Save to Disk’ causes the Navajo font file to download to the Desktop with no need for unzipping. For a Windows Millenium operating system, you need to download the fonts to the Fonts folder located at computer path My Computer\Control Panel\Fonts. For a Windows XP operating system, you need to download the fonts to the Fonts folder located at computer path Computer\Local Disk (C:)\Windows\Fonts. If choosing to go through the Control Panel, the computer path is Control Panel\Appearance and Personalization\Fonts, which automatically goes to true computer path Computer\Local Disk (C:)\Windows\Fonts.

Once installed, you will see the special Navajo characters below which are:


Century Gothic Navajo:
Lower Case
  1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     0     -     =           [     ]  
  1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     0     -     =           [     ]  
Upper Case
  !     @     #     $     %     ^     &     *     (     )     _     +           {     }  
  !     @     #     $     %     ^     &     *     (     )     _     +           {     }  

If you don't see Century Gothic Navajo fonts above, then it is not installed correctly on your computer.


Times New Roman Navajo:
Lower Case
  1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     0     -     =           [     ]  
  1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     0     -     =           [     ]  
Upper Case
  !     @     #     $     %     ^     &     *     (     )     _     +           {     }  
  !     @     #     $     %     ^     &     *     (     )     _     +           {     }  

If you don't see Times New Roman Navajo fonts above, then it is not installed correctly on your computer.


Verdana Navajo:
Lower Case
  1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     0     -     =           [     ]  
  1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     0     -     =           [     ]  
Upper Case
  !     @     #     $     %     ^     &     *     (     )     _     +           {     }  
  !     @     #     $     %     ^     &     *     (     )     _     +           {     }  

If you don't see Verdana Navajo fonts above, then it is not installed correctly on your computer.

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Updated: 06/02/2011
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