This page aims to give a summary of the kinds of syllables that are allowed to exist in Mi'gmaq. It also aims to describe what kinds of syllables and sounds are allowed to occur in sequence: that is, what linguists refer to as the phonotactics of the language.
Possible Syllable Shapes
The following table lists the kinds of syllable shapes that are so far attested in Mi'gmaq (although others are certainly possible), along with an example written both in the Listuguj orthography and in the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA. V stands in for any vowel, VV for any long vowel, and C for any consonant.
|V||e.gu.ma'.toq listen||[e.gu.maː.doq]||'he or she anchors it'|
|VV||e'.n'g listen||[eː.nəkʰ]||'he or she loses it'|
|CVV||na'.gweg listen||[naː.gʷɛkʰ]||'day or daylight'|
|VCC||aps.gu'.la.pa'.sit listen||[aps.kuː.la.baː.sitʰ]||'he or she looks back'|
|CVVC||na'n listen||[naːn]||'five (in counting)|
|CVCC||a.pat.tesg listen||[a.bat.tɛskʰ]||'it springs back'|
|CVVCC#||si'st listen||[siːstʰ]||'three (in counting)'|
† Hashmarks (#) indicate the beginnings or ends of words. The notation #CCV indicates "two consonants followed by a vowel at the beginning of a word". When used as above, it means that CCV-type syllables will only appear at the beginning of a word.
Although the above list of syllable templates is extensive, it cannot completely describe the phonotactics of Mi'gmaq. Two further kinds of limitations have to be described: restrictions that apply within these syllable types, and restrictions that apply between them. This section will describe the limitations on what can occur within syllables; the following section will describe the limitations on syllable contact.
Although any vowel (a, e, i, o, u or schwa) may take the place of a V in the above list of possible syllables†, this is not true of all VV sequences. As mentioned earlier, these can only be long vowels (a' , e' , i' , o' , or u' ). Sequences of vowels such as ia and ue cannot belong to the same syllable - they would have to belong to separate syllables as in alugwiaq (syllabified a.lu.gwi.aq), 'it becomes cloudy', and alanguetoq (syllabified a.lan.gu.e.toq), 'he or she peddles it (something inanimate) about'. For these two words, the syllable types would be V.CV.CV.VC and V.CVC.CV.V.CVC, respectively.
It should also be noted that schwa (ə) cannot appear in syllables of the type V - it must be preceded or followed by at least one consonant.
Much of the restrictions on consonants within syllables deal with which consonants may appear next to others. These form what are often referred to as consonant clusters. They are described below.
Other restrictions deal with where different consonants can appear within syllables, although much of these fall within syllable contact restrictions and will be discussed later.
For the most part, Mi'gmaq only allows one consonant at the beginning of a syllable (that is, before the vowel. Linguists refer to this as the syllable onset). The one known exception to this rule is the word plamu, 'salmon', which has two consonants at the beginning of a word. Interestingly, when these two consonants are in the middle of a word, they are subject to the normal schwa insertion rules, as in gesplatl, 'he or she makes it (as in a knife) dull', syllabified ges.p.la.tl and pronounced [gɛs.pə.la.dl̩].
Some speakers who learned to speak both English and Mi'gmaq at a young age, or who learned Mi'gmaq after learning English will allow many more words to begin with two (or more) consonants. After all, English has many words which begin with more than one consonant - see, for example, clock, tree, straight, etc. For example, the word gloqowej, 'star', is pronounced by these speakers as [glo.ɦo.wɛtʃ], while it is pronounced by other speakers as [gə.lo.ɦo.wɛtʃ]. Interestingly enough, these speakers will also sometimes pronounce initial tl- clusters as part of a single syllable, as in tlawo'qte'g, 'he or she strikes it with a knife', pronounced [tla.woːq.teːkʰ] by these speakers and [tə.la.woːɦ.teːkʰ] by others. These tl- clusters are extremely rare and almost never appear in the world's languages.
It should be noted that all syllable onsets with two consonants - when allowed - rise in sonority. In Mi'gmaq, the sonority hierarchy is as follows, from least to most sonorous:
p, t, g, gw, q, qw, s, j (all osbtruents) < m < n < l < w, y < all vowels
That is, syllables like the pla in plamu, 'salmon', are allowed, since p is less sonorous than l. However, the lmu in lmu'j, 'dog', cannot be a single syllable, because l is more sonorous than m, and therefore sonority decreases in this sequence of consonants.
Mi'gmaq also usually only allows one consonant at the end of a syllable (that is, after the vowel. Linguists refer to this as the syllable coda). However, an extra s can be added to the end of a syllable, as in gisapsgng (syllabified gi.saps.gng), 'he or she gets a hold of it'. Additionally, if the syllable is at the end of a word, a further consonant can be added to the end of the syllable, as can be seen by apattes-g, 'it springs back'; si's-t, 'three (in counting)'; glmuejuaps-gw, 'coal'. A comprehensive list of these word-final consonant clusters is given below:
|tg||a.si.getg listen||[a.si.gɛtkʰ]||'he or she instigates'|
|tgw||l.na.qa.natgw listen||[l̩.na.ɦa.natkʷʰ]||'wooden handle'|
|pg||nepg listen||[nɛpkʰ]||'he or she is dead'|
|ps||s.laps listen||[sə.laps]||'slab of wood'|
|st||si'st listen||[siːstʰ]||'three (in counting)'|
|sg||a.pat.tesg listen||[a.bat.tɛskʰ]||'it (inanimate) springs back'|
|sgw||e.le.ge'.wi'sgw listen||[ɛ.lɛ.geː.wiːskʷʰ]||'queen (deck of cards)'|
|ng||a.tu.as.gwe.sing listen||[a.du.as.kʷɛ.sɪnkʰ]||'he or she is lying on his or her back'|
|ns||lagla'ns listen||[la.gə.laːns]||'barn', a loan from French: la grange|
|mg||se.tamg listen||[sɛ.damkʰ]||'at the rear or stern of a boat'|
|lg||el.pilg listen||[ɛl.pɪlkʰ]||'he or she sends him or her or it (animate) by rope towards'|
It should be noted that, out of all of these possible syllable-final clusters, none rises in sonority - sonority either stays the same, as in -qt or -psg, or it decreases, as in -lj and -mg. However, words ending in -tl and -gn are common in Mi'gmaq. They do not, however, fall into this category. The status of these sorts of "consonant clusters" are discussed below.
The sonorant consonants (m, n, and l) can, if necessary, take the place of a vowel in a syllable (this place is often referred to as the syllable nucleus by linguists). For example, in the word elasgng, 'he or she hands it over', the n will take the place of a vowel since it is the most sonorous thing in the syllable. Thus, the syllabification of elasgng is e.las.gng (pronounced [ɛ.las.kn̩kʰ]; the line under the n indicates that the n is in the "vowel" position). Likewise, the n in ap.t's.qi'.gn, 'key', is also syllabic, since it is the most sonorous thing in the syllable.
Sometimes these consonants may sound like they are preceded by a schwa: [ɛ.las.kənkʰ] and [ap.təs.qiː.gən], respectively. For more information about this topic, please see Stress.
Syllable Contact Restrictions
The above section described the limitations on what may appear where within a syllable. This section deals with what syllables may appear near one another.
Maximal Onset Principle
The Maximal Onset Principle is best described in this way:
Put as many consonants into a syllable onset as the language allows.
For Mi'gmaq, this means that the consonant before a vowel (or syllabic sonorant) will be in the onset of the syllable containing that vowel, and nothing else (with the notable exception of plamu, 'salmon', and other such onsets, if allowed). Thus, if the cluster pl is encountered within a word, as in gesplatl, 'he or she makes it (as in a knife) dull', the l can be in the onset of the syllable containing the a, but the p may not belong to the same syllable because of the Maximal Onset Principle. In order to pronounce the p, a schwa must be inserted after it to form another syllable.
For more information about schwa insertion rules, please see Writing Schwa.
Syllable Contact Law
The Syllable Contact Law is as follows:
The end of one syllable must be more sonorous than the beginning of the syllable that follows it.
Thus, Mi'gmaq will allow words like a.lan.gu.at, 'he or she shops'; a.la.sum.te.get, 'he or she wades through snow'; ew.lam.sn, 'tornado'; and a.mu, 'bee'. However, this is not the only way syllables may come together - syllables that end in a consonant of equal sonority as the beginning of the next syllable are also allowed, as in a.lis.qotg, 'he or she chews it' and e.li.aq, 'it (inanimate) goes'. This also extends to geminate or doubled consonants: thus apatta'tl, 'he or she wins him or her back' is syllabified a.pat.ta'.tl. The only thing that is not allowed is coda consonants that are less sonorous than the onsets that follow them: thus ajiglu'lg, 'it is better than' cannot be syllabified *a.jig.lu'lg, but must instead be syllabified a.ji.g.lu'lg (pronounced [a.dʒi.gə.luːlkʰ].
Note: An asterisk (*) before a word indicates that it is not a possible word in the language.
Below is a summary of the restrictions on syllable shape and contact described above.
Syllable Types and Restrictions
- The smallest allowed syllable shape is V.
- Schwa is not allowed to occupy this space - it needs at most one consonant in the syllable.
- The largest allowed syllable shape within a word is CVXX, where X stands for either a consonant or a vowel.
- Usually only one consonant is allowed on either side of a vowel (long or short)
- Word-initially, two consonants may come before a vowel for some speakers. The consonants must rise in sonority.
- When two ore more consonants appear after a vowel (within the same syllable) they must decrease in sonority or stay at the same sonority.
- Word-internally, syllables can end in at most one consonant followed by s.
- Word-finally, all syllables allowed word-internally can take one extra consonant at the end.
- m, n, and l may take the place of a vowel when needed.
Syllable Contact Restrictions
- Syllables put as many consonants into their onsets (or beginnings) as possible - for Mi'gmaq this means that (for the most part) only one consonant can appear in the onset.
- Syllable codas must be of greater or equal sonority to their following onsets.
- Geminate consonants are split across two syllables.
- Fidelholz, James Lawrence (1963). Micmac Morphophonemics. PhD. Dissertation, Massechusetts Institute of Technology
- Gussenhoven, Carlos and Haike Jacobs (2005). Understanding Phonology. 2nd ed. London: Hodder Education
- Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary