In addition to the five main vowels a, e, i, o and u, Mi'gmaq has an additional "sixth vowel", or schwa. Written in the International Phonetic Alphabet, it is [ə]. When written in the Listuguj orthography, it is written with an apostrophe. However, regardless of the spelling system used, it is for the most part not written. This page describes the places where schwa is written and where it is not.
Where to Write Schwa
Schwa is written in any place where it is not predictable by rule. That is, it is written when it is said and not predicted by the writing system. The following section will detail the places where schwa is predictable and therefore not written.
Where NOT to Write Schwa
These are all the places where schwa is predictable and not included in the orthography. They are broken up by word-initial, word-medial, and word-final epenthesis or insertion rules. As a general rule of thumb, a schwa is inserted wherever a sequence of consonants cannot be syllabified in Mi'gmaq.
The general rule for word-initial schwa epenthesis is as follows:
"When a word begins with two consonants, insert a schwa before the most sonorous consonant."
In this case, the "most sonorous" consonant is the consonant that is the loudest, or pronounced closest to the way a vowel is pronounced . In Mi'gmaq, the hierarchy is as follows:
all vowels > l > n > m > s, p, t, g, q, gw, qw, and j
|lnui'sit||[əlː.nu.iː.sitʰ]||'he speaks the native language'|
|nmu'j||[ən.muːtʃ]||'dog' (alternate pronunciation)|
|slaps||[sə.laps]||'slab of wood'|
When the two consonants have the same sonority, however, the schwa is always placed before the first consonant. The following are some examples:
When two consonants appear between two vowels within a word (and are not identical consonants, or a geminate consonant), the epenthesis rules are slightly different. Usually, the schwa appears between the consonants. However, this will only happen if the first consonant is lower in sonority than the second. In other words:
"When two non-identical consonants are between two vowels, insert a schwa only if the first consonant is less sonorous than the second. Otherwise, insert no schwa."
So, for example, a schwa will be inserted between q and n in the word oqnisgwa'tu, 'cover it up', so that it is pronounced [o.ħə.nis.gwaː.du]. However, no schwa is necessary between the s and the gw in this word since s is of the same sonority as gw. No schwa is needed in the word jiptug, 'perhaps', as well, since both consonants are of the same sonority.
Note, however, that the consonants l, m, and n count as the same sonority in this case - there is no schwa inserted between the m and the l in gamlamit, 'he or she breathes', because they count as the same.
When three or more consonants appear between two vowels (or word-initially), the schwa is generally inserted before the most sonorous, as in the word-initial cases listed above. Three examples are given below:
|o'plteg||[oː.bəl.dɛkʰ]||'it's not set right'|
|gmsnmuaw||[kəm.sən.mu.aw]||'do not take (imperative)'|
In o'plteg, some speakers may simply replace the vowel with the l and pronounce it [oː.bl̩.dɛk]. This is very common word-finally, as in istua'latl, 'he or she turns him or her sideways', pronounced [isˑ.du.aː.la.tl̩].
For words that have many consonants in a row, it is best to pick out the most sonorous and insert a schwa before it. So, if a form like gsnqo'qon, 'foolishness', is encountered, a schwa will be inserted first before the n, giving the provisionary [ksən.qoː.qon]. No schwa needs to be inserted between the n and the q, since n is higher in sonority than q. A further schwa is needed to break up the gs, however, so by the word-initial rules, it is inserted before the g, giving the final [ək.sən.hoː.hwon].
If there is a double consonant or geminate, however, the schwa will appear after the geminate, as in ennmtesg, 'it pierces', pronounced [ɛn.nəm.tɛskʰ]. This is occasionally written with the apostrophe in the Listuguj orthography and occasionally not.
When two consonants are located at the end of a word, a schwa is only inserted if the second consonant is more sonorous than the first consonant.† Some examples are given below:
|tapu'gl||[ta.puː.gəl]||'two of them'|
If the two consonants are of equal sonority or are identical, no schwa is inserted, as in the following examples:
|agnutg||[a.gə.nutkʰ]||'he or she talks about it'|