This page aims to give information about the differences in pronunciation between Mi'gmaq and English to help language learners learn to pronounce the language better. It is also meant to be a useful resource for language teachers so that they can help their own students with pronunciation if it becomes an issue.
This page is roughly divided into two sections - one dealing with the pronunciation of new kinds of sounds that are not present in English, and one dealing with the smaller differences between the languages that are nonetheless important for speaking and understanding Mi'gmaq.
Sounds in Mi'gmaq that aren't in English
Mi'gmaq has three sounds that are unfamiliar to speakers of English. These are written in the Listuguj spelling system as q, gw, and qw. In addition to these sounds, Mi'gmaq also makes a distinction between long and short sounds. These are all discussed below.
Main page: Pronunciation of Q
The most obviously different sound (for English speakers) is the sound which is written with the letter q. This sound has a whole range of pronunciations in Mi'gmaq, from the easy-to-pronounce [h]† to the more difficult [q], [χ], [ħ] and [ʕ]. Every possible pronunciation is described in more detail with an audio example on the main page for q, but the most common seems to be [χ] (pronunciation taken from the online supplement to Ladefoged's A Course in Phonetics).
[χ] is a voiceless uvular fricative, and sounds much like the r in French mettre, 'to put' (but not like the rs in French dernier, 'last'). It sounds a lot like [h], but is a lot more forceful. See if you can hear it in tqope'j, 'twin'.
† [Square brackets] indicate a pronunciation of a certain letter. Pronunciations are given in the International Phonetic Alphabet.
GW and QW
Main page: Relating G and Q with GW and QW
Two other obviously different sounds are those which are written as gw and qw. Most often, gw sounds just like it's spelled - as a g or a k followed by a w, like in go' gwesu, 'muskrat' (similar to English Gwen) or in ejgwit, 'he or she hiccups' (similar to English quiet). However, when it is at the end of a word, it sounds a bit different, like in gisigui'skw, 'old woman'. To make this sound, it's easiest to imagine trying to blow out a candle while making a kw sound.
The sound qw behaves very similarly - just imagine adding a w to the end of q in rather than g or k. The usual case is exemplified by elenqwe'set, 'he or she scoots towards' - like a more forceful pronunciation of hwhat in English. It is rare to have qw at the ends of words, so no example of the pronunciation is currently available.
Main page: Sound Length
The last of the obvious differences between Mi'gmaq and English lie within the length difference between sounds. English has no meaningful difference in length between sounds - a longer m does not make the word camel, for example, mean something different (there is no word cammel that does not just sound like a mispronunciation of camel). In Mi'gmaq, however, changing the length of the sound can make a difference, like in epit e'pit, 'the woman is sitting'.
Although there is no real length distinction between sounds in English, English speakers can still recognize a length distinction - in fact, there appears to be one in the word meanness, where the [n] is pronounced long. The reason this does not count as a true length distinction is that it only happens when prefixes or suffixes are added to already existing words (that is, it is separable into mean and -ness) - there are no prefix- or suffix-less words that have this distinction.
Of course, this can occur in Mi'gmaq as well - to form the plural of the word wigatign, book, the n is lengthened to form wigatignn, 'books'. The difference is that all sounds are regularly lengthened in other places within words - like in etteg, 'it (inanimate) is ripe', mijjit, 'he or she eats', and gu'gu'gwes, 'owl'. A full list of the length differences can be found on the main page.
When pronouncing these sounds, the learner needs to try to pronounce them with about the same length as the two ns in meanness - this is the length that will feel most natural, and it will make the length distinction stand out.
The Small Differences
In addition to the very obvious differences between Mi'gmaq and English listed above, there are a few that are not so obvious, but are still crucial to learning to speak Mi'gmaq. These involve the correct pronunciations of the obstruent consonants and of e, o, a, and schwa, which are discussed in more detail below.
Main page: Obstruents
At first, it may sound like Mi'gmaq has many of the same sounds as Enlgish - there is a p and a b, a t and a d, a k and a g, an s and a z, a ch and a j. However, when Mi'gmaq is written, only half of these (p, t, g, s and j, to be exact) are ever used! This is because, in Mi'gmaq, b, d, k, z, and ch are alternate pronunciations, or allophones, of p, t, g, s, and j.
All of these sounds can be separated into two main groups: voiced sounds, like b, d, g, z, and j, and voiceless sounds, like p, t, k, s, and ch. The voiced sounds are produced with vocal chord vibrations; the voiceless ones without these vibrations - you can feel this if you put your hand on your throat and say ssssss and zzzzz. This is summed up in the table below:
|p, t, k, s, ch||b, d, g, z, j|
In Mi'gmaq, the voiceless sounds are the defaults, while the voiced sounds usually only show up between vowels (like in glitaw, 'strawberry' - see Spelling and the main page for more examples) - this means that g and j are actually pronounced more like k and ch most of the time.
Where this gets a bit tricky is when these sounds appear at the beginning of a word. The letter s is almost always pronounced like s in English. Likewise, the letter j is almost always pronounced like j in English. p, t, and g sound like English b, d, and g here, but they are not quite the same! In English, these sounds are partially voiced word-initially, while they are entirely voiceless in Mi'gmaq. The reason you don't hear it as a voiceless p, t, or k is because p, t, and k are aspirated (pronounced with a small puff of air) when word-initial in English. They are not pronounced with this puff of air word-initially in Mi'gmaq. To see the difference, try saying pair, tail, and care while holding a hand in front of your mouth - you'll feel the puff of air. Now try saying spare, stale, and scare - the puff will be gone. These last three sounds are the word-initial pronunciations of p, t, and g in Mi'gmaq. This is summarized in the table below:
|Letter||Sounds Like…||Kind of Sound||Example||Translation|
|p||b||voiceless but unaspirated||paqtesm||'wolf'|
|t||d||voiceless but unaspirated||tia'm||'moose'|
|g||g||voiceless but unaspirated||gajuewj||'cat'|
E and O
Another main difference between English and Mi'gmaq pronunciation lies with the vowels e and o. In English these two sounds are diphthongs - they move from one vowel sound to another. So e is pronounced like the ay in say and o is pronounced like ow in low. In Mi'gmaq, these sounds are monophthongs - they start at the same place as the English sounds, but never move into another vowel sound like y or w. To say them, say say and low slowly - you will probably feel your jaw move up slightly (if not, look in a mirror and watch your jaw). Then, try to say them without moving your jaw - you will make a sound much closer to the Mi'gmaq monophthong.
Mi'gmaq also has diphthong-like sounds that are similar to English e and o - these are spelled as ei and ow in Mi'gmaq, and are considered to be different sounds from the e and the o. A comparison between them is made in the table below: see if you can hear the differences!
|ei||eig||'he or she is present'|
A and Schwa
Finally, there is one last thing to be careful of in Mi'gmaq pronunciation - the difference between schwa and the vowel a.
In English, there are roughly two a sounds: the a in cat and the a in father. There are also two pronunciations of schwa (one which sounds like a short u): a stressed one, like in cut, and an unstressed one, like the first vowels in about or police.
Mi'gmaq only has one a, but this a can be pronounced like either of the Engish as (although the father pronunciation is favoured), or like the short u in cut. Schwa has its own set of separate pronunciations - it will never be pronounced like the u in cut. This poses a small problem for learners, since they will often mistake some as with schwas when listening to others speak.