Tsah / Ts’ah

Today we’re following up with another pair of words to demonstrate a glottalized Navajo consonant.

The ts / ts’ sounds, as outlined in the post for ts’in, vary in that ts’ requires a ‘push’ from the back of the tongue for the initial ts- (keep in mind that no air from the throat is feeding the ts sound at this point as the glottis is closed – it’s mostly ‘mouth’ air that’s being used). Then, after the glottalized ts, the glottis opens and the rest of the word is fired off with air from the lungs (like normal speech).

When an h comes at the end of a Navajo word, it’s a strong and forceful h. It’s like the h in the English language, with just a little bit more aspiration. Most anywhere else, the h can sound like hw, hx, sx (x is h in this case, and is used so it isn’t confused for the sh sound), gh, etc.

So now that you’re a little more familiar with the Navajo alphabet, today’s words.

Tsah is the Navajo word for a needle – hypodermic, awls (leatherworking), sewing, knitting, etc.

The other word ts’ah refers to the sage plant, or an area where sagebrush grows.

An area on the Navajo Nation that’s located around Inscription House in the northwestern region is known as Ts’ah Bii Kin (bii as in “within it” and kin as in “house or building or store”). The English translation would be “the [house] within the sage field,” which is a reference to a trading post (store) that was located there.

A nice description of the area can be found at the Ts’ah Bii Kin Chapter website. [From the website: “Besides the two [stores], most of the people travel over a 100 miles to shop for their needs at Wal-mart, Bashas, True Value & others in established towns like Kayenta, Tuba City, Flagstaff and Page, Arizona.”]


This word is remarkably similar to tsin (the Navajo word for tree or wood).

But you’ll notice the glottal stop (the apostrophe) right there in the middle. Normal ts sounds like the ts in “hats.” So tsin would be like saying “hatsin” without the initial ha. For ts’ the pronunciation will need to be ‘ejected’, so to speak. Try saying “hats” “in” by pronouncing each word separately. Then, repeat those words and bring them closer together after each repetition. You should soon be saying “hats’in” with a distinct explosive ts’. It will feel like your tongue is doing a lot more work to push air out, and you’ll notice your throat (glottis) close up momentarily as you transition from “hats” to “in”. (Once you feel you’ve got it, just take away the ha and you’ve got ts’in.)

So now that you’ve got an idea of how to say it, what does it actually mean?

Whereas tsin means tree, ts’in is actually the Navajo word for bones. You can also say ats’in to mean “a bone”, which is considered non-possessive. Replace the leading a- with shi-, ni- or bi- to create shits’in, nits’in or bits’in, which translate to my bone(s), your bone(s) and its/his/her bone(s), respectively.

For fun, here’s the word for cartilage.

Telling the time of day in Navajo

Here’s a little note: the directions Ha’a’aah and E’e’aah can be used to refer to a time of day when the sun is in their respective directions.

Ha’a’aah means East, and also is said to mean “it’s sunrise, or the sun is rising.”

E’e’aah means West, and is inversely “it’s sunset, or the sun is going down.”

For example you might hear (or say) “K’ad índa e’e’aah”. [Just now the sun is setting.] It implies that the sun setting is something that was being anticipated (looked forward to).

Noon is ałn’é’é’aah, and “it is daytime” is said oo’ááł.


“And what’s that mean anyway, assay, assay?”

“It’s an ancient Navajo word. It means ‘stop’.”

This exchange took place in the movie Young Guns II, and it is somewhat incorrect.

Sometimes this word is used to mean ‘wait’, as in “hold up” or “hold on”, and that’s about as close to ‘stop’ that it gets.

Other than that, it also means ‘first’ or ‘before’ as in Áłtsé Asdzą́ą́n (Asdzą́ą́; Asdząą) and Áłtsé Hastiin, who are the First Woman and First Man from Navajo tradition.

In some places, the shortened word átsé is also acceptable.

Yas Niłt’ees

We’re back for the New Year with Yas Nił’ees, which is the Navajo word for the month of January.

To give some background, the word follows a theme we’ve been pointing out to you recently, which is snow. It sits right there at the beginning.

The next part is a bit of a mystery… niłt’ees refers to the second person act of either frying, cooking, or generally applying heat to something. The root of this verb is, more or less, -t’ees.

That root is echoed in an earlier word from Thanksgiving which is ak’ah bee sit’é. You’ll notice sit’é uses the root to mean “cooked.” Sit’é would be past tense, acting as an adjective, and niłt’ees would be present (or currently in progress) and second person so “you fry/grill/cook/heat/etc.” The root makes the verb, and is essential in learning more advanced Navajo.

Back to the month of January; the following is speculation. Yas Niłt’ees may refer to the time when snow was melted for regular use (i.e. when there was no running water). Otherwise, it would imply ‘melting snow’ as in ‘this is the month when it warms up’ but that would not make much sense because January.

P.S. The adjectival sit’é, being past tense, has 1st, 2nd and 3rd person verb forms which are séłt’é, sínłt’é, and yisté, respectively. So in a sentence like “atsį’ séłt’é” it would mean “I cooked the meat.”

And with that, Happy New Year!