Schwa

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Mi'gmaq has five main vowels which can be either long or short. It also has a sixth vowel - schwa - which can only be short.

Schwa is also present in English - it's the same sound at the beginning of about (pronounced [əbaʊt]) and in the first and last syllables of banana (pronounced [bənænə]). Schwa in Mi'gmaq is pronounced about the same - like in apt'tesg, 'it (inanimate) is stuck', [aptədɛskʰ] (recording from the Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary).

This page gives a general outline of how schwa behaves in Mi'gmaq - from pronunciation to behaviour within the words of the language. A knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, may be beneficial for reading this page, although it is not necessary, as audio samples will be provided along with IPA transcriptions where possible. For a general overview of the IPA as it relates to Mi'gmaq, please see the Spelling page.

Contents

[edit] Pronunciation of Schwa

The pronunciation of schwa in apt'tesg, above, is the most common pronunciation in Mi'gmaq. However, there are two other pronunciations that are less common but still attested. These are listed in order of frequency, below (for the rest of this page, lone pronunciations are from Ladefogeds "A Course in Phonetics" online material, Mi'gmaq words are from the Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary):

AllophonePronunciationExampleTranscriptionTranslation
ə ] apt'tesg [aptədɛskʰ] 'it (inanimate) is stuck'
ɨ ] als'g [alsɨkʰ] 'it (inanimate) is gliding about'
ʉ ] apu's'g [abuːsʉkʰ] 'he or she warms it (inanimate) up'

At least two of these pronunciations are present in English - for example, in the phrase Rose's roses, the first schwa (in Rose's) is pronounced as [ə] and the second schwa (in roses) is most often pronounced as [ɨ]: [ɹoʊzəz ɹoʊzɨz]. The third pronunciation in the table above is not attested in English, and is very rare in Mi'gmaq.

Unlike in English, however, schwas in Mi'gmaq may bear stress. (In English, the stressed counterpart of schwa is the vowel ]† - in Mi'gmaq no vowel quality difference is usually present). So it is equally likely to have words like agnutg [àgənútkʰ], 'he or she tells about it (inanimate)', and words like als'g [àlsə́], 'it (inanimate) glides about'.

† A note on [ʌ] - in Mi'gmaq, this sound is considered to be another pronunciation of the vowel /a/. See Laxed Vowels for more information.

[edit] Behaviour of Schwa

Schwa is a special vowel with respect to the sound system of Mi'gmaq. It is often used as a default vowel that is inserted to fix bad consonant sequences within words. It is often skipped over during assignment of stress (or accent), as if it is invisible to the system. Finally, it is one of the most common vowels to be deleted from words in pronunciation, since it has such a neutral status. Each of these topics will be discussed in more detail below.

[edit] Epenthesis

For more information and examples, please see Writing Schwa and Syllables

As stated above, schwa is often the default vowel in Mi'gmaq - it is the vowel that gets inserted or epenthesized into words when there would otherwise be a bad sequence of consonants (please note that Mi'gmaq has a separate default vowel, i, that is inserted between words and morphemes if contact would otherwise result in a bad consonant sequence). This is most obvious when looking at the spelling of Mi'gmaq - for example, in words like o'plteg, 'it (inanimate) is not set right)', there are three consonants that are written together: p, l, and t. Since Mi'gmaq never allows more than two consonants to be adjacent to one another, a schwa must be inserted somewhere within this sequence. It could either be inserted between the p and the l or between the l and the t - whichever is not allowed by the restrictions on syllables within Mi'gmaq. The consonant cluster lt is allowed, because it falls in sonority and can be broken up into two syllables. The consonant cluster pl is not allowed by the syllabification system of Mi'gmaq - it rises in sonority and can't be split across two syllables. Therefore the schwa gets inserted there to form [o:.bəl.dɛkʰ].

[edit] Stress

For more information, please see Stress

As mentioned above, schwa is often skipped over by the stress assignment rules of Mi'gmaq (although it is obvious that it this is not always the case from words like als'g, 'it (inanimate) glides about'). In general, stress is assigned on every other syllable counting from right to left, as in amiet, 'he or she is silly', pronounced [à.mi.ét]. However, in agnutmuatl, 'he or she tells him or her (obviative) something', only three syllables are ever stressed: [à.gə.nu.de..a.də́l]. Crucially, the syllable nu is not stressed. This is because neither the syllable nor the syllable counts - if they did, we would expect *[à.gə..də.mù.a.də́l] (where the asterisk (*) means that the form is not allowed within the language).

However, things are not always so simple. Schwa may become visible to the stress system (or countable) if certain conditions are met. These are listed below:

  • When it is the first or last vowel of a word, like in gneg, 'it (inanimate) is far', pronounced [kə̀.nékʰ] and in e'n'g, 'he or she loses it (inanimate)' (pronounced [èː.nə́kʰ]).
  • When it follows a sequence of two consonants, as in aps'sitat, 'he or she has small feet', pronounced p.sə̀.si.dát]

[edit] Deletion

Occasionally, if a schwa of Mi'gmaq is skipped over by the stress rules, it may optionally delete or disappear altogether within a pronunciation. So, for example, within the word agnutmuatl, 'he or she tells him or her (obviative) something', there are three schwas: [a.gə.nu.də.mu.a.dəl]. The first two are skipped over by the stress system (see above), giving [à..nu..mù.a.də́l]. Either of these is subject to being deleted (although it is usually the second), giving [à.gə.nud.mù.a.də́l]. This is similar to what happens in Passamaquoddy (see LeSourd 1993), although it does not seem to apply on as large of a scale.

[edit] References

  • Ladefoged, Peter. 2006. A Course in Phonetics. 5th ed. Boston: Thomson Higher Education.
  • LeSourd (1993) Accent and Syllable Structure in Passamaquoddy. Routledge.
  • Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary
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