Usually, the vowels of Mi'gmaq are pronounced as tense - that is, they are pronounced with more muscle tension than other vowels (the notable exceptions being /ɛ/ and /ɛː/). These other vowels are known as lax vowels. In English, this is a meaningful difference: when a vowel is laxed, it becomes a different phoneme, and thus leads to a difference in meaning. For example, the tense /i/† in beet, pronounced [bit], when laxed becomes the /ɪ/ in bit, pronounced [bɪt].
In Mi'gmaq this difference does not lead to any difference in meaning - language learners who know English must ignore this difference between tense and lax vowels in Mi'gmaq.
This article will describe the lax vowels that are found in Mi'gmaq, as well as where they are found.
† /Slash brackets/ indicate that the sound is a phoneme; [square brackets] indicate that it is a certain pronunciation of a phoneme, or an allophone.
 Lax Vowels
Below is a table that details the pronunciations of the lax vowel allophones in the Mi'gmaq spoken in Listuguj. All pronunciation examples are taken from Peter Ladefoged's A Course in Phonetics, and all Mi'gmaq examples are taken from the Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary. Transcription is done using the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA - a basic understanding of this system can be obtained by reviewing the spelling systems of Mi'gmaq.
|i||ɪ||[ɪː]||alatija'sit||[ɐlɑdɪd͡ʒɑːsitʰ]||'he or she is scurrying about'|
|o||ɔ||[ɔː]||amjimoqwa'sit||[ɐmt͡ʃimɔhwɑːs̬itʰ]||'he or she is stuck'|
|u||ʊ||[ʊː]||apt'pugu'et||[aptəbʊguːɛtʰ]||'he or she is unable to move while standing'|
† Note: This vowel, [ʌ], sounds much closer to the neutral unstressed vowel, or schwa, in English. In Mi'gmaq, however, it is not a pronunciation of schwa, but instead is a pronunciation of /a/.
It may be noticed that there are some vowels missing from this table: namely the vowels /ɛ/ and /ə/ and the long vowels. The vowel /ɛ/ is already lax, and cannot undergo further laxing. Instead it is optionally tensed. Schwa, or /ə/, is always lax and cannot be tensed. The long vowels (again, with the exception of /ɛː/, which may also undergo tensing) never lax.
 Where Laxing Occurs
Vowel laxing is not a consistent process in Mi'gmaq. In general, speakers tend to split into two groups: those that lax vowels in unstressed syllables and those that lax vowels in closed syllables, or syllables that end in a consonant. For those speakers who lax vowels in unstressed syllables, laxing is an optional rule, and for the most part, it doesn't apply (the speaker in the table above uses laxing this way). The notable exception is /a/, which laxes the most, and may even lax in some stressed syllables. For those speakers who lax vowels in closed syllables, laxing is mandatory - it is very rare to see a closed syllable with a tense vowel for these speakers.
- Ladefoged, Peter. 2006. A Course in Phonetics. 5th ed. Boston: Thomson Higher Education.
- Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary