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The term obstruent refers to the class of sounds that obstructs airflow. Across the world's languages, it is most common for obstruents to be pronounced without vocal cord vibrations (English and French are not typical in this respect, since most voiceless obstruents in these languages also have a voiced counterpart). This is in contrast to the group of sonorants, which are pronounced with continuous airflow and vocal cord vibrations (although, as we'll see below, this isn't always the case).

In the Mi'gmaq of Listuguj, the obstruents are usually voiceless, or pronounced without vocal cord vibrations, as is usual across languages. However, they may become voiced (pronounced with vibration of the vocal cords) in certain circumstances. Some of them are also aspirated, or pronounced with a strong puff of air, at the ends of words. Lastly, they can cause devoicing in neighbouring sonorants. All of these processes will be discussed further below.

It may be helpful for language learners and teachers to have a basic understanding of the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, before reading this article. Many of the basic letters of the IPA can be found by reviewing the spelling of Mi'gmaq. More complex differences will be introduced with audio examples taken from Peter Ladefoged's "A Course in Phonetics" textbook and the Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary (where possible) below.

As a final note, please keep in mind that these pronunciations reflect the speech of the Listuguj area. Other Mi'gmaq communities may not pronounce everything quite the same way. Known differences are mentioned at the end of each section.


[edit] General Pronunciation

The table below contains the general pronunciations of the obstruents of Mi'gmaq. In general, they may be described as "voiceless unaspirated" obstruents - they are not pronounced with vocal cord vibrations nor with any large puff of air. They are pronounced this way in the following environments:

Note: /q/ and /qʷ/ are not included in this table, since they each have a great variety of pronunciations. They are all described on their own page.

General Pronunciations of Obstruents
p p [apa] eptegwat ptegwatʰ] 'he or she has a freckled face'
t t [ata] gta'n [əktaːn] 'ocean'
k k [aka] epgeng [ɛpkɛnkʰ] 'he or she fertilizes it'
kw [akwa] t'pgwan [təpkwan] 'gravel or soil'
s s [asa] apattesg [abattɛskʰ] 'it springs back'
t͡ʃ t͡ʃ [at͡ʃa] apje'jg [apd͡ʒɛːt͡ʃkʰ] 'it is small'

[edit] Voiced

When an obstruent is located between two vowels, it becomes voiced, or pronounced with vocal cord vibrations. The voiced allophones (or pronunciations) of Mi'gmaq obstruents are described in the table below. Again, /q/ and /qʷ/ are not shown, since they do not always have a voiced pronunciation.

Voiced Allophones of Obstruents
p b [aba] sipu [sibu] 'river'
t d [ada] gatu [kadu] 'but'
k g [aga] egiljet [egiɬt͡ʃɛtʰ] 'he or she reads'
gw [agwa] altugwa't [aldugwaːtʰ] 'he or she makes the sound of footsteps'
s z [aza] alasenmat [alazɛnːmatʰ] 'he or she goes about with a light'
[as̬a] elgusuet [ɛlːguuɛtʰ] 'he or she climbs (to a location)'
t͡ʃ d͡ʒ [ad͡ʒa] engejit [ɛn̥ked͡ʒitʰ] 'caterpillar'

Two things must be said about the table above. Firstly, a voiced /s/ is rarely pronounced as [z], and is usually only partially voiced. This is written as [s̬] in this wiki. Secondly, /t͡ʃ/ may be voiced word-initially or syllable-initially. It is the only obstruent that may do so.

It will also be noticed that, occasionally, when an obstruent is next to a sonorant, the obstruent becomes voiced instead of causing devoicing on that sonorant. Bragg (1976) has claimed that this happens if the sonorant is phonetically long, although he does not give any reason why some sonorants are phonetically long and others are not. This, however, does not seem to be the case in the Listuguj dialect: phonetically long sonorants may still undergo devoicing, as in the word alasumteget, 'he or she wades through snow', which is pronounced [àlazùːtegɛ́tʰ].

[edit] Aspirated

When the plosives /p/, /t/, /k/, and /kʷ/ (again, excluding /q/ and /qʷ/, which have their own analogous process) are located at the end of a word, they become aspirated, or pronounced with an additional puff of air (this also happens to plosives at the beginnings of words in English). The aspirated allophones are described in the table below.

Aspirated Allophones of Plosives
p [apʰa] app [ap] 'again'
t [atʰa] alabit [alabi] 'he or she looks around'
k [akʰa] egumig [ɛgumi] 'it is anchored'
kʷʰ [akʷʰa] gisigui'skw [kɪziguiːskʷʰ] 'old woman'

Not all Mi'gmaq communities aspirate plosives at the ends of words. For example, in the Wagmatcook and Eskasoni communities, word-final plosives are pronounced as they would be in most other positions - that is, they are voiceless and unaspirated, as in a'piet, 'he or she fishes with a net', pronounced [aːbiɛt] by this speaker from Eskasoni.

[edit] Devoicing

Most often, when an obstruent and a non-syllabic sonorant are adjacent, the obstruent will cause devoicing of the sonorant. This means that the sonorant is not pronounced with vocal cord vibrations. The devoiced allophones of Mi'gmaq sonorants are shown in the table below.

Devoiced Allophones of Sonorants
m [am̥a] amgwes [akwɛs] 'first'
n [an̥a] ajiwinjit [ad͡ʒiwit͡ʃitʰ] 'he or she is worse than (someone else)'
l [al̥a] algobit [aːkobitʰ] 'he or she sits about'
ɬ [aɬa] amaltaqa'taqan [amaɬtaʕaːdaħan] 'decoration; design'
i [aj̊a] seitun [setun] 'blabbermouth'
u [aw̥a] anawtig [anatikʰ] 'it is inexpensive'

This devoicing can only happen in one direction - that is, a sonorant that is to the left of an obstruent will be devoiced, but any sonorant to the right of an obstruent will not undergo this devoicing. This is because Mi'gmaq syllable restrictions only allow non-syllabic sonorants to be to the left of obstruents; all sonorants to the right of obstruents will be syllabic.

[edit] References

  • Bragg, Russel A. (1976). Some Aspects of the Phonology of Newfoundland Micmac. Masters' Thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Ladefoged, Peter. 2006. A Course in Phonetics. 5th ed. Boston: Thomson Higher Education.
  • Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary
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