The stress system of a language is the way by which certain syllables of a word become more noticeable than others in that word. This is often illustrated by writing that syllable in all capital letters in a dictionary; for example, the English word information has two stressed syllables, and can be written IN-for-MA-tion (or just in-for-MA-tion, since ma is the most noticeable).
This page will introduce the reader to the essentials of the stress system of Mi'gmaq. First, a way of identifying stressed syllables will be outlined, then the essential rules will be laid out in a way meant to be as accessible as possible to learners and teachers of Mi'gmaq. Then a system will be presented to those who are interested in the research of Mi'gmaq.
For the most part, the Listuguj orthography will be used on this page, with examples taken from the Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary. Two kinds of stress will be marked: primary stress, which marks the most prominent syllable in a word, and secondary stress, which marks all other prominent syllables. Primary stress will be marked with an acute accent (é), and secondary stress with a grave accent (è). When schwa is introduced, it will be written with the symbol ə instead of with an apostrophe ( ' ), as is usual in the Listuguj spelling system.
 What Stress Sounds Like
Stressed syllables are usually higher in pitch, louder, and longer than the syllables around them. In English, they also have fuller, easier-to-distinguish vowels than their unstressed neighbours. The stress system of Mi'gmaq works somewhat similarly, but since long vowels and consonants lead to a difference in meaning in Mi'gmaq, length is usually not a good cue to whether a syllable is stressed or not. Vowel quality differences are also not usually cues to the presence or absence of stress in Mi'gmaq.
Furthermore, each stressed syllable in English is usually both louder and higher in pitch than an unstressed syllable. In Mi'gmaq, only the primary stressed syllable has a higher pitch; all other syllables are simply louder.
 Basic Stress Patterns
The basic stress pattern of Mi'gmaq is presented below - that is, the stress pattern will be laid out with respect to all vowels with the exception of schwa and the syllabic sonorant consonants, which will be discussed in further sections. Mi'gmaq makes a distinction between heavy and light syllables, which must be explained before going on to the description of the whole system.
 Heavy and Light Syllables
Heavy and light syllables behave differently within the Mi'gmaq stress system. Before discussing how they are different, it is first necessary to identify which syllables are heavy and which are light. Light syllables are:
- Of the type consonant-vowel (hereafter abbreviated as "CV").
- A single (short) vowel (not counting schwa; abbreviated as "V").
- Of the type consonant-syllabic sonorant (abbreviated as Cl, Cn, or Cm)
Heavy syllables are:
- Any syllable with a long vowel, such as V', CV', and CV'C syllables, among others.
- Any syllable that ends in a consonant (provided that consonant is not syllabic), such as VC, CVC, and CVCC syllables, among others.
For the purposes of this article, all heavy syllables will be written in boldface, and all light syllables will remain written normally, as in the following example:
 Stress Assignment Rules
Below is outlined a simple way to predict which syllables will be stressed in a given word of Mi'gmaq. However, a "word" in this sense does not correspond to a "word" in the sense of the spelling system. If a word has a non-bound preverb, this preverb will count as its own word for the stress system.
For an account of this system within Metrical Theory, please visit the page Stress and Metrical Theory.
 Ground Rules
There are four basic rules that can derive the proper stress pattern for any word in Mi'gmaq. They are listed below (many of which are also applicable to Passamaquoddy, another Algonquian language whose stress system was investigated by LeSourd):
- Assign stress to every heavy syllable.
- If there is a sequence of two or more light syllables, assign stress to every second syllable counting from right to left.
- Assign stress to the first syllable (regardless of weight) of every word.
- The last stressed syllable in a word receives primary stress. All other stresses will count as secondary.
An example of how these rules apply is given below for the word elasumteget, 'he or she wades through snow':
- First, heavy and light syllables are identified:
- Next, each heavy syllable receives a stress (marked here as a grave accent):
- Now, the light syllables are considered. There is only one string of two or more light syllables in this word: e.la. Stress falls on the first of these by the second rule:
- Since the first syllable already has stress, the third rule is skipped.
- The syllable get receives primary stress (marked with an acute accent) since it is the last stressed syllable in the word:
However, one final small rule needs to be introduced before moving on:
- If a word ends in a short vowel, that vowel will behave as a long vowel with respect to the stress system - that is, the syllable in which it is located will be counted as a heavy syllable.
This is most apparent with the word anapo, which has the following stress pattern:
à.na.pó, 'on one side'
 Optional Rule
There is also one optional rule that applies within Mi'gmaq stress systems:
- If the stress system assigns stress such that two stressed syllables are adjacent, the second stress will be deleted if it falls on a light syllable.
So, for example, the word ali'puluet, 'he or she rides horseback', may be pronounced either as:
Note, however, that the heavy syllable li' can't be unstressed, even though it follows a stressed a.
This rule seems to apply most within normal conversational speech. It does not seem to apply at all in careful speech.
 The Invisibility of Vowels
The stress system described above works well with respect to all syllables with vowels other than schwa. Schwa, however, is often considered to be invisible with respect to these rules, as can be shown by the word apignajit, (where the syllable with schwa is written in italics):
Even though the light syllables pi and na are separated by the weightless syllable gə, they still act as if they are obeying rule 2, above.
This invisibility comes about because schwa is weightless - it is neither heavy nor light, and thus does not contribute to the stress rules. This can be seen by the word atnaqan, which has the following stress pattern (where the weightless syllable is written in italics and schwa is written with the symbol ə:
Furthermore, when a syllable is of the form CəC, this syllable will behave as a light syllable instead of a heavy syllable, as is usual for syllables of this type. So, for example, the word el'tqet is not pronounced *è.lə̀t.qét, but is instead is pronounced:
è.lət.qét, 'it (inanimate) is coiled'
Other vowels do behave in this way as well: for example, the i in amiputoq seems to behave this way:
à.mi.pu.tóq, 'he or she rubs it (inanimate)'
Schwa can, in some cases, also behave like the other vowels of Mi'gmaq and is always weighted within a certain word or morpheme. For example, the schwa in the preverb ejigl may be such a schwa, as shown by the word ejigla'sit:
è.jì.gə.là'.sít, 'he or she goes away'
† Note: When a tə syllable is followed by a sonorant, the syllable often becomes a copy of that sonorant by assimilation. Thus, while this might more accurately be written a.n.na.qan, the first n still behaves as if it were a tə syllable with respect to the stress system, so it is still written in this way.
 Making Schwa Visible
While schwa is generally weightless and invisible to stress rules, there are cases when it does act like a weighted syllable even though it is not inherently weighted. The two most solidly-attested cases are listed here:
- When it is the first or the last vowel of word, as in gneg, 'it (inanimate) is far' (prounced gə̀.née) and as in e'n'g, 'he or she loses it (inanimate)' (pronounced è'.nə́k).
- Note: since schwa is never word-final, it will always act like a heavy syllable in these cases, since it will count as weighted and is followed by a consonant.
- When it follows a sequence of two consonants, as in aps'sitat, 'he or she has small feet', pronounced àp.sə̀.si.tát.
These two rules are also present in the Passamaquoddy stress system as described by LeSourd (1993). Some other of his rules are mentioned below, as well as if they could be considered applicable to Mi'gmaq:
- When a sonorant is flanked by two weightless schwas (that is, there is a sequence ə sonorant ə within a word), the first schwa becomes weighted. So far, there is some evidence for this in Mi'gmaq, such as the word tm'tgi'gnn, 'scissors', pronounced tə.mət.gi' .gənn
- When two ore more weightless schwas appear in a row, the second (counting from left to right) becomes weighted. So far this does not seem to apply in Mi'gmaq, and the only case thus far examined is in egs'pugua'latl, 'he or she lies to him or her (obviative), pronounced èg.sə.pə.gu.à'.lá.tl. It should be noticed that the second schwa is written as u, and that neither schwa seems to count as weighted.
- A weightless schwa becomes weighted if it follows hl is not applicable to Mi'gmaq, since Mi'gmaq has no h.
- A weightless schwa becomes weighted if it is between s and hs is also not valid for the same reason.
 Syllabic Sonorants and Schwa-Sonorant Sequences
It may be noticed in the rules above that no reference is made to syllables with syllabic sonorants. These - for the most part - seem to be consistently counted as light syllables, as in a'gwesn, 'hat' (pronounced à'.gwé.sn) and eluatl, 'he or she resembles him or her (obviative)' (pronounced è.lu.á.tl). However, some words (especially those ending in the obviative suffix -l) seem to show that they may also be counted as schwa-sonorant sequences, as in the word apjimatl, 'he or she causes him or her (obviative) to be speechless', pronounced àp.jì.ma.tə́l.
Recalling that a weightless schwa in a syllable closed by a consonant causes that syllable to be counted as light, just as having a syllabic sonorant does, means that at this time there is no good way to differentiate these cases. It is evident that both are needed: thus words like a'gwesn, 'hat' (pronounced à'.gwé.sn̩) - where the final syllable is light - can be differentiated from words like elue'wipnnatl, 'he or she incites him or her (obviative) to wickedness' (pronounced è.lu.è'.wi.pə̀n.ná.tl̩) - where there must be a schwa before the n. As of now, however, these are the only data that tells that there should be a difference.
- LeSourd (1993) Accent and Syllable Structure in Passamaquoddy. Routledge.
- Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary