This page is a summary of the vowels of Mi'gmaq and their pronunciations. For more information on the pronunciation differences between Mi'gmaq and English, please see Pronunciation Differences. If you are looking for information on the consonants, please see Consonants.
This section is meant to introduce the learner, language teacher, or researcher with the vowels of Mi'gmaq and their pronunciations. Although all known pronunciations are listed here, only the most notable will be discussed in any detail on this page. In addition, some of the more interesting of these topics have their own page, in which they are discussed in further detail.
Learners and language teachers may want to become familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, before reading this page, since much of the terminology will be drawn from it. In order to help with this, most terms will be defined or will have a link to an article on the topic. Additionally, learners and teachers can get an idea of how the IPA is used to write Mi'gmaq by familiarizing themselves with the spelling systems in use for Mi'gmaq.
 Vowel Inventory
Below is the phoneme inventory for the vowels of the Mi'gmaq spoken in Listuguj: that is, a list of all the vowels that are capable of conveying a difference in meaning in the language. For example, we know that e (written here as /ɛ/) and i (written /i/) are probably different phonemes because there is a difference in meaning between gesig (pronounced [kɛs̬ikʰ])†, 'it is winter' (from gesi-, 'to be winter'), and gisigu (pronounced [kis̬igu]), 'old man' (from gisi-, 'to grow old')‡. Likewise, if we hear a difference in sound, but there is no difference in meaning, this means that these sounds may be considered to be a single phoneme. For example, [abattes̬inkʰ] and [abattɛs̬inkʰ] are both pronunciations of the word apattesing, 'he or she springs back'. We may also notice that they have the same spelling, which is also useful for determining if a sound is a phoneme in Mi'gmaq.
In addition, some vowels in the chart below link to a page that discusses them in further detail.
† All pronunciations are from the Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary
‡ A note on notation: /slash brackets/ are used when talking about phonemes. [Square brackets] are used when talking about pronunciations.
|High or Close||i||iː†||u||uː|
|Low or Open||a||aː|
† The colon (ː) indicates that this sound is long.
We may notice that not every phoneme above is ever pronounced the exact same way. For example, we may notice that the o in nemitoq (pronounced [nɛmidɔq͡χʷ]), 'he or she sees it (inanimate)', is not pronounced the same way as the o in algopit (pronounced [al̥kobitʰ]), 'he or she is sitting about'. The two pronunciations of o are allophones of /o/, since there is a difference between them, but this difference does not lead to a difference in meaning. That is, even if nemitoq were pronounced [nɛmidoq᷂͡χʷ] and algopit [al̥kɔbitʰ], they would still mean 'he or she sees it' and 'he or she is sitting about', respectively (even though the last two pronunciations may sound strange to native speakers).
Below is a list of all of the different pronunciations of each vowel phoneme in Mi'gmaq. The most notable and important to keep in mind while learning the language are listed earlier than those that are not so noticeable, which are included so that researchers may have a complete picture of the allophones of Mi'gmaq.
 Table of Allophones
|/ɛ/||[ɛ], [æ]||[e], [eⁱ]|
|/ə/||[ə], [ɨ], [ʉ]|
Main page: Phonemic Status of O
The vowel /o/ in Mi'gmaq is subject to lowering to the vowel allophone [ɔ] before the sounds /q/ and /qʷ/, as in elaptoq (pronounced [[ɛlaptɔq͡χ]), 'he or she makes tracks toward' (which may also be pronounced [ɛlaptɔq͡χʷ]).
In addition, [oː] may occasionally be diphthongized, or pronounced with a short raising to [u] or [w] at the end of the vowel. This is written [oːʷ]. For example, the o' in apatto'sit is pronounced this way: [abattoːʷsitʰ].
Main page: Schwa
Occasionally, when /ə/ is found near a coronal (/t/, /n/, /s/), it may be pronounced much higher in the mouth (that is, it is raised), as [ɨ]. For example, it is raised in such a way in the word als'g, 'it (inanimate) is gliding about', pronounced [alsɨkʰ]. It may sometimes also be pronounced with a slight lip-rounding, which is written here as [ʉ].
The pronunciations of /a/ and /aː/ range from a true [a(ː)] to a back [ɑ(ː)], much like the pronunciation of the a in father in English. Since both seem to vary without relation to context, both are written here as [a(ː)].
When /ɛ/ or /ɛː/ is found in an open syllable (a syllable that does not end in a consonant), it may be pronounced as [e(ː)]. This is referred to as tensing, meaning that there is more muscle tension in the mouth when pronouncing this sound as when pronouncing [ɛ]. For example, the e in a'jela's'g, 'it (inanimate) gets in the way', is pronounced as [e]: [aːd͡ʒelaːzəkʰ] (compare to the pronunciation of the e in a'jelising, 'he or she lies in the way': [aːd͡ʒɛlizinkʰ]).
In addition, both /ɛ/ and /ɛː/ may also undergo diphthongization in this context. For example, another speaker pronounces a'jela's'g with a diphthongized [e] (which is written [eⁱ]): [aːd͡ʒeⁱlaːsəkʰ]. This is significantly rarer of a pronunciation for /ɛː/ than it is for /ɛ/.
Main page: Laxed Vowels
With the exception of /ɛ/, all short vowels in Mi'gmaq are able to be laxed (pronounced with less muscle tension than usual) in two environments:
- In a closed syllable (when the syllable ends in a consonant). For example, the i in egitg, 'he or she reads it', may be pronounced [ɪ]: [ɛgɪtkʰ]
- In an unstressed syllable (when the syllable does not receive Stress). For example, the i in alatija'sit, 'he or she is scurrying about', may also be pronounced [ɪ]: [ˌaˌladɪˈˌd͡ʒaːˈsitʰ].
However, not all speakers will lax vowels in both environments, or will not lax their vowels as often as other speakers do.
 Glide Formation
Main page: W and I
When reading written Mi'gmaq out loud, it may be noticed that sometimes the letter i is actually pronounced more like the English letter y (spelled in IPA as [j]). This usually happens when /i/ is located after the vowels /a/ and /e/, as in gesigwewei (pronounced [kɛsigɛwɛj]), 'associated with winter'. In this way, we can say that [j] is just an allophone of /i/.
Similarly, what is spelled as w can also be said to come from /u/ in similar circumstances (except when following g and q, since gw and qw are the spellings of /kʷ/ and /qʷ/, respectively). In this case, [w] appears:
- Between vowels, as in giwasg (pronounced [kiwaskʰ]), 'heat lightning'
- At the beginnings of words before vowels, as in welp'teg (pronounced [wɛlpədɛkʰ]), 'it (inanimate) is nice and warm'
- At the ends of words after vowels, as in te'sipow (pronounced http://www.mikmaqonline.org/words-mp3/media/t/te%27sipow/recording1.mp3 [tɛːsibow]]), 'horse'
These allophones, [j] and [w], are known as glides or semivowels.
- Bragg, Russel A. (1976). Some Aspects of the Phonology of Newfoundland Micmac. Masters' Thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland
- 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
- Ladefoged, Peter. 2006. A Course in Phonetics. 5th ed. Boston: Thomson Higher Education.
- Mi'gmaq Talking Dictionary