Unlike English or French, Mi'gmaq regularly allows a difference in length of a sound to be meaningful. For example, the word wigatign, 'book', means something different than wigatignn, 'books', where the only difference is in the length of the n. Similarly, lengthened vowels can also lead to a difference in meaning: the sentence epit e'pit, 'the woman is sitting', is a good example.
The treatment of such long sounds within the phonology, or sound system, of Mi'gmaq is discussed below. A basic understanding of the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, may be helpful when reading these pages, although the Listuguj orthography will be used where possible.
Main page: Vowels
Of the six short vowels in Mi'gmaq, five of these (a, e, i, o, and u) have a lengthened counterpart (written with an apostrophe after the vowel). The only vowel that is not able to be lengthened is schwa ([ə]).
These long vowels are considered to be separate phonemes of Mi'gmaq because use of one (say, e') in place of another (e) can lead to a difference in meaning. For example, epit, 'he or she is sitting', means something different from e'pit, 'woman'. Furthermore, they occupy the same position within a syllable as their short counterparts.
A table demonstrating the length differences is given below (all words taken from the Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary):
|e||short||epit||[ɛbitʰ]||'he or she is sitting'|
|i||short||iga't||[igɑːt]||'he or she arrives'|
|long||ewi'gat||[ɛwiːgɑtʰ]||'he or she builds a house'|
|o||short||oqwa'q||[oχwɑːχ]||'it (inanimate) arrives'|
|long||so'qwa'toq||[soːχwɑːdɔq͡χ]||'he or she takes it (inanimate) to higher ground/level'|
|u||short||sune'wit||[suːneːwitʰ]||'he or she is fasting'|
Unlike vowels, consonants are not always phonemically long or short (that is, n and nː are not always different phonemes of the language) - even though a difference in meaning may sometimes be indicated by lengthening a consonant. When a consonant of Mi'gmaq is lengthened and leads to a difference in meaning, it is called a geminate. Mi'gmaq also has a subset of consonants that may become lengthened but fail to bring about a difference in meaning. This is known as phonetic lengthening. Both of these processes are described in more detail below.
When lengthening a consonant leads to a difference in meaning, this consonant is known as a geminate. Usually, when this happens, it will be accompanied by a difference in spelling - thus wigatign, 'book', is different from wigatignn, 'books', where a geminate is indicated by doubling the consonant itself.
Most geminates occur within a word (although they can occasionally appear at the ends of words as well). They are always split up into two syllables when within a word - so the long t in etteg, 'it (inanimate) is ripe', is split up in this way: et.teg. This means that a geminate will always appear between two vowels if it is not at the end of a word - if it does not, it is not a true geminate and is instead an example of phonetic lengthening.
All of the consonants of Mi'gmaq are able to be geminates, as shown in the table below:
|p||short||epa'sit||[ɛpɑːzitʰ]||'he or she sits down'|
|long||eppa'q||[ɛppɑːχ]||'the liquid is warm'|
|t||short||eteg||[ɛdɛkʰ]||'it (inanimate) is (there)'|
|long||etteg||[ɛttɛkʰ]||'it (inanimate) is ripe'|
|g||short||egumig||[ɛgumikʰ]||'it (inanimate) is anchored'|
|long||geggung||[kɛkkuŋkʰ]||'he or she has it (inanimate)'|
|q||short||gaqamit||[kɑχɑmitʰ]||'he or she is standing'|
|long||tetpaqqamit||[tɛtpaχχɑmitʰ]||'he or she is standing straight'|
|gw||short||elugwatg||[ɛlugwatkʰ]||'he or she repairs it (inanimate)'|
|long||aluggwatg||[alukkwɑtkʰ]||'he or she follows it (inanimate) around'|
|qw||short||emtoqwatg||[ɛmtoqwatkʰ]||'he or she worships it (inanimate)'|
|s||short||mesa'latl||[mɛzaːladl̩]||'he or she swallows it (animate)'|
|long||messa'toq||[mɛssɑːdɔqʷʰ]||'he or she misses making a connection with it (inanimate)'|
|long||mijjit||[mitt͡ʃitʰ]||'he or she eats'|
|n||short||epgenatl||[ɛpkɛnɑtl̩]||'he or she fertilizes it (animate)'|
|long||gennatl||[kɛnnatl̩]||'he or she holds him or her (obviative)|
|l||short||miluisit||[miluwizitʰ]||'he or she has different names|
|long||millugwet||[millugwɛtʰ]||'he or she does different kinds of work'|
|w||short||gesigawewo'gwet||[kɛzigɑwɛwoːgwɛtʰ]||'he or she speaks loudly and quickly'|
|long||gesigawwet||[kɛzigɑwwɛtʰ]||'he or she talks loud'|
Note: the glide [j] (written i) does not appear in this table since it is never written as ii, but could possibly be written as an i after a long vowel. It is unclear in these situations, however, whether it is the vowel that is lengthened or the glide.
 Phonetic Lengthening
There are some sounds in Mi'gmaq that are lengthened but do not lead to a difference in meaning between words. This is often termed phonetic lengthening and is not often reflected by a difference in spelling (although some researchers, like Fidelholz, have transcribed it with an apostrophe ('), much like vowel lengthening. This apostrophe may occasionally show up in the Listuguj spelling system, as in alman'tiew, 'someone from overseas, pronounced [almanːtiɛw]).
Phonetic lengthening only appears to occur with the sonorant consonants m, n, and l, and is optional - it does not have to appear on any word. Some examples are given below (note that m does not appear in this table, as there no audio for lengthened forms has yet been found):
Phonetic lengthening, unlike gemination, occurs next to other consonants, and never occurs between vowels. It is as of yet unclear what triggers this lengthening.
- Fidelholz, James Lawrence (1963). Micmac Morphophonemics. PhD. Dissertation, Massechusetts Institute of Technology
- Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary