Sound Length

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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.


[edit] Vowels

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):

Vowel Length Example Transcription Translation
a short apaqt [ɑbɑqtʰ] 'sea'
long a'pi [ɑːbi] 'net'
e short epit [ɛbitʰ] 'he or she is sitting'
long e'pit [ɛːbitʰ] 'woman'
i short iga't [igɑːt] 'he or she arrives'
long ewi'gat [ɛwgɑtʰ] 'he or she builds a house'
o short oqwa'q [oχwɑːχ] 'it (inanimate) arrives'
long so'qwa'toq [sχwɑːdɔq͡χ] 'he or she takes it (inanimate) to higher ground/level'
u short sune'wit [sneːwitʰ] 'he or she is fasting'
long su'n [sn] 'cranberry'

[edit] Consonants

Unlike vowels, consonants are not always phonemically long or short (that is, n and 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.

[edit] Geminates

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:

Consonant Length Example Transcription Translation
p short epa'sit pɑːzitʰ] 'he or she sits down'
long eppa'q ppɑːχ] 'the liquid is warm'
t short eteg dɛkʰ] 'it (inanimate) is (there)'
long etteg ttɛkʰ] 'it (inanimate) is ripe'
g short egumig gumikʰ] '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)'
long soqqwat [soqqwatʰ] 'eclipse'
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)'
j short mijipjewei [mid͡ʒipd͡ʒɛwej] 'food'
long mijjit [mitt͡ʃitʰ] 'he or she eats'
m short tm 'tqe'gnn [dətqɛːgn̩n] 'scissors'
long esg'tmm 'gewei [ɛsgədm̩məgewej] 'cucumber'
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.

[edit] 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 [almatiɛw]).

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):

Consonant Example Translation Length Pronunciation
n aqantie'umg 'Sunday' short [ahantiɛːwmkʰ]
long [ahatiɛːwumkʰ]
l alman 'German' short lmɑn]
long mɑn]

Phonetic lengthening, unlike gemination, occurs next to other consonants, and never occurs between vowels. It is as of yet unclear what triggers this lengthening.

[edit] References

  • Fidelholz, James Lawrence (1963). Micmac Morphophonemics. PhD. Dissertation, Massechusetts Institute of Technology
  • Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary
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