Accent

Introduction

East Cree words, even long ones, have one ACCENT each. However, it may be difficult for you to hear the accent at all; or it may be difficult to hear where the accent is in certain words. The page on hearing accent provides some further details on this difficult topic.

When a vowel is accented in East Cree, it has a higher pitch. (Often, it is also louder.) PITCH is like a musical note, but with one major difference: when speakers use a higher pitch on a vowel, they do not use a specific note of the musical scale; instead, they use a pitch that is higher than the pitch of the surrounding vowels in the word. This practice gives rise to what sounds like ‘rising tones’ and ‘falling tones’. For example, the following Northern words in the ‘Falling Tone’ column have a higher pitch on the first vowel and a lower pitch on the last vowel; the result sounds like a falling tone. In contrast, the  words in the ‘Rising Tone’ column have a lower pitch on the first vowel and a higher pitch on the last vowel; the result sounds like a rising tone.

falling tone rising tone Translation
ᒨᔥᑲᒦ Click here to hear this word muushkamii ᒨᔥᑲᒦᐦ Click here to hear this word muushkamiih ‘broth,’ ‘broths’
ᓃᐱᓰ Click here to hear this word niipisii ᓃᐱᓰᐦ Click here to hear this word niipisiih ‘willow,’ ‘willows’

Here are some technical notes about pitch:

  • East Cree is classified as a ‘pitch accent’ language because of the way it uses pitch. Pitch accent languages are different from ‘tonal’ languages like Chinese. For a description of the difference between these language types, see Wikipedia.
  • In IPA transcriptions, the accent marker [ˈ] is at the beginning of the syllable that is accented. If the syllable begins with a vowel, then the accent marker appears before the vowel, as in [ ˈaʃkʷ ]. If the syllable begins with a consonant, then the accent marker appears before the consonant, as in [ ˈmus ].

Accent placement

Words with only one vowel have an accent on that vowel. Words with two vowels can be accented on the first or last vowel. Finally, words with more than two vowels can be accented on the third-last, second-last or last vowel. (The following IPA transcriptions are broad; we have omitted vowel length, and consonant voicing.)

Accent falls on the only vowel

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐋᔥᒄ Click here to hear this word aashkw aashkw [ ˈaʃkʷ ]
ᒨᔅ Click here to hear this word muus muus [ ˈmus ]
ᓈᐤ Click here to hear this word naau naau [ ˈnaw ]
ᐊᒥᔅᒄ Click here to hear this word amiskw amiskw [ ˈɛmskʷ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᓂᔥᑐ Click here to hear this word nisht nisht
ᐊᒥᔅᒄ Click here to hear this word amisk amiskw
ᐆᐎᑦ Click here to hear this word uuwit uuwit

Accent falls on the third-last vowel

Northern Syllables IPA
ᒋᐦᒋᐱᔨᐤ Click here to hear this word chihchipiyiu chih – chi – pi – yiu [ tʃih – ˈtʃɪ – pi – ju ]
ᑭᐱᑖᐤ Click here to hear this word kipitaau ki – pi – taau [ ˈkɪ – pɪ – taw ]
ᒥᐦᑐᑳᓐ Click here to hear this word mihtukaan mih – tu – kaan [ ˈmɪh – tʊ – kan ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐊᔨᒥᓲ Click here to hear this word ayimisuu a – yimi – suu
ᒋᐳᑐᓀᔮᐱᐦᑳᓲᓐ Click here to hear this word chiputuneyaapihkaasuun chi – pu – tu – ne – yaapih – kaa – suun

Accent falls on the second-last vowel

Northern Syllables IPA
ᒥᑖᐦᑐ Click here to hear this word mitaahtu mi – taahtu [ ˈmɪ – tahtʰ ]
ᐋᐦᑯᓯᐤ Click here to hear this word aahkusiu aahku-siu [ ˈakʷ – su ]
ᐋᐱᑯᔒᔥ Click here to hear this word aapikushiish aa – piku-shiish [ a – ˈpʊkʷ – ʃiʃ ]
ᐊᓂᒋᒄ Click here to hear this word anichikw ani – chikw [ ˈɛn – tʃʊkʷ ]
ᒌᔑᒄ Click here to hear this word chiishikw chii – shikw [ ˈtʃi – ʃʊkʷ ]
ᒌᐙᑎᓐ Click here to hear this word chiiwaatin chii – waa – tin [ tʃi – ˈwa – tɪn ]
ᐊᓵᒥᒡ Click here to hear this word asaamich a – saa – mich [ ɪ – ˈsa – mɪtʃ ]
ᒥᐦᒀᐤ Click here to hear this word mihkwaau mih – kwaau [ ˈmɨh – kɔw ]
ᐱᔮᐤ Click here to hear this word piyaau pi – yaau [ ˈpi – jaw ]
ᔒᔒᑉ Click here to hear this word shiishiip shii – shiip [ ˈʃi – ʃip ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᑯᔥᑖᒎ Click here to hear this word kushtaachuu kush – taa – chuu
ᒫᒨᔅᒋᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word maamuuschinh maa – muu – schinh
ᐸᐦᑲᐦᐋᒀᓐ Click here to hear this word pahkahaakwaan pahka – haa – kwaan

Accent falls on the last vowel

Northern Syllables IPA
ᒫᑎᐙᐎᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word maatiwaawinh * maa – ti – waa – winh [ ma – tə- wɔ – ˈwənʰ ]
ᐳᒋᓂᔥ Click here to hear this word puchinish ** pu – chi – nish [ pu – tʃɪ – ˈnɪʃʃ ]
ᐅᐦᐱᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word uhpinh uh – pinh [ ʊh – ˈpɪnʰ ]
ᐐᔅᑭᒑᓂᔥ Click here to hear this word wiiskichaanish wiis – ki – chaanish [ wis – kə- ˈtʃanʃ ]

* Perhaps you hear a final H-like sound at the end of this word.

** The [ ʃ ] sounds longish in this example. There is more information in the page on H sounds.)

Southern Syllables IPA
ᐊᒥᔅᑯᓰᔅ Click here to hear this word amiskusiis amis – ku – siis
ᒋᔐᔮᒄ Click here to hear this word chisheyaakw chishe – yaakw
ᐃᔥᑴᔑᒧᐎᓐ Click here to hear this word ishkweshimuwin ish – kwe – shi – muwin

How to accent words

In this section, we describe how to accent words that have at least three vowels. For such words, you can hear accent on either the third-last vowel, the second-last vowel, or the final vowel. Words with final accent are discussed later. Here, we describe how to accent words with non-final accent (that is, words where the accent falls on the third-last or second-last vowel).

The following rules will work for any East Cree word:

  • Accent the second-to-last vowel if it is a tense vowel.
  • Accent the third-to-last vowel if it is tense and if the second-last vowel is lax.

However, if both the second-last and third-last vowel of the noun are lax (I, U, or A), then either vowel might be accented. For nouns, you have to memorize which vowel to accent in such cases. For example, you have no choice of which vowel to accent in ᑭᐱᑖᐤ kipitaau: in this particular word, you have to accent the third-last (or first) vowel. If you were to accent the second-last vowel in this word, or it would sound strange.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᑭᐱᑖᐤ Click here to hear this word kipitaau ki – pi – taau [ ˈkɪ – pɪ – taw ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᒪᔅᒋᓯᓐ Click here to hear this word maschisin mas – chi – sin

In contrast, for a word like ᐅᔅᐱᑐᓐ uspitun, you have to accent the second-last vowel; accenting the third-last (or first) vowel would sound strange:

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐅᔅᐱᑐᓐ Click here to hear this word uspitun us – pi – tun [ ʊs – ˈpʊ – tʊn ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᒥᑎᐦᑎᒥᓐ Click here to hear this word mitihtimin mitih – ti – min

For verbs, if both the second-last and third-last vowel of the noun are lax (I, U, or A), then either vowel might be accented. However, we have not yet been able to discover any rules governing which vowel would be accented. For example, although the following two words are related, it is unclear why ᑎᑯᔑᓐ tikushin is accented on both the third-to-last vowel and the final vowel, while ᓂᑎᑯᔑᓈᓐ nitikushinaan is accented on the second-last vowel:

Northern Syllables IPA
ᑎᑯᔑᓐ Click here to hear this word tikushin tiku – shin [ ˈtʊkʷ – ʃɪn]
ᓂᑎᑯᔑᓈᓐ Click here to hear this word nitikushinaan ni – tiku – shi – naan [ n̩ – tʊkʷ – ˈʃɪn – nan]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᑕᑯᔑᓐ Click here to hear this word takushin taku – shin
ᑕᑯᔑᓂᒡ Click here to hear this word takushinich taku – shinich

Word-final accent

For the remaining discussion, we make a distinction between

  • non-final accent (that is, accent on the second-last or third-last vowel), and
  • final accent, or accent on the last vowel of the word.

Non-final accent was described above. It is different from final accent in one major respect: non-final accent does not change the meaning of the word; in contrast, final accent nearly always adds to the meaning of the word in some way. See the examples below.

The difference between non-final and final accent can signal the difference between a SINGULAR and a PLURAL noun:

Northern examples:
Non-final accent Or falling tone (singular) Final accent or rising tone (plural) Translation
ᐊᓯᓃ Click here to hear this word asinii ᐊᓯᓃᐦ Click here to hear this word asiniih stone, stones
ᒥᔅᒋᓯᓐ Click here to hear this word mischisin ᒥᔅᒋᓯᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word mischisinh shoe, shoes
ᒨᔥᑲᒦ Click here to hear this word muushkamii ᒨᔥᑲᒦᐦ Click here to hear this word muushkamiih broth, broths
ᓃᐱᓰ Click here to hear this word niipisii ᓃᐱᓰᐦ Click here to hear this word niipisiih willow, willows
ᐙᐳᔭᓐ Click here to hear this word waapuyan ᐙᐳᔭᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word waapuyanh blanket, blankets
Southern examples:
Non-final accent (singular) Final accent (plural) Translation
ᑲᐸᑦ Click here to hear this word kapat ᑲᐸᑦᐦ Click here to hear this word kapath cupboard, cupboards
ᒨᐦᑯᒫᓐ Click here to hear this word muuhkumaan ᒨᐦᑯᒫᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word muuhkumaanh knife, knives
ᐎᔮᑲᓐ Click here to hear this word wiyaakan ᐐᔮᑲᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word wiyaakanh plate, plates

It can also signal the difference between a PLAIN NOUN and an OBVIATIVE NOUN (the latter occurring in a sentence). The plain noun has the accent on the second last syllable as in the Northern East Cree word ᑖᐙᐦᐄᑭᓐ Click here to hear this word taawaahiikin meaning ‘drum’. The same word with the obviative inflection has the accent on the last syllable as can be heard in the sentence ᑖᐙᐦᐄᑭᓐᐦ ᒌᐦ ᐅᑖᒥᐦᐙᐤ Click here to hear this word taawaahiikinh chiih utaamihwaau which means ‘he was playing the drum’.

The switch between non-final and final accent can convey other differences in meaning, both in nouns and in verbs.

Meaningful H sounds (with final accent)

There is one additional difference between words with non-final and final accent. The difference is most obvious in some words ending with a consonant. In such cases, you might hear a final H. Although it is difficult to hear, the Northern East Cree singular word for ‘shoe’ ᒥᔅᒋᓯᓐ Click here to hear this word mischisin does not have a final H sound, while the plural form ᒥᔅᒋᓯᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word mischisinh does. (It ends with a more ‘breathy-sounding’ NH.) In addition, the last vowel in ᒥᔅᒋᓯᓐ mischisin is glottalized (it has a low-pitched, creaky sound), while ᒥᔅᒋᓯᓐᐦ mischisinh does not.

In contrast, the pronunciation of the Northern East Cree word for ‘blanket’ in both the singular ᐙᐳᔭᓐ Click here to hear this word waapuyan and plural ᐙᐳᔭᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word waapuyanh forms end with an H-like sound. The final vowel in ᐙᐳᔭᓐ waapuyan sounds glottalized, while the final vowel in ᐙᐳᔭᓐᐦwaapuyanh does not. Otherwise, the only difference in pronunciation between these two words is the shift from non-final to final accent.

When it occurs with final accent, the H sound helps to signal differences in meaning. For this reason, words with final accent are spelled with a final H.

The examples of ᐙᐳᔭᓐ waapuyan / ᐙᐳᔭᓐᐦ waapuyanh illustrate that, by itself, the presence of an H-like sound at the end of the word is not a reliable indicator of a change in meaning. To underscore this point, both the singular words with non-final accent and the plural words with final accent in the following table end with an H sound. (There is no final H spelling in the singular words, just an H sound.)

Northern examples:
Non-final accent (singular) Final accent PLUS FINAL H (plural) Translation
ᐊᓯᓃ Click here to hear this word asinii ᐊᓯᓃᐦ Click here to hear this word asiniih ‘stone,’ ‘stones’
ᒨᔥᑲᒦ Click here to hear this word muushkamii ᒨᔥᑲᒦᐦ Click here to hear this word muushkamiih ‘broth,’ ‘broths’
ᓃᐱᓰ Click here to hear this word niipisii ᓃᐱᓰᐦ Click here to hear this word niipisiih ‘willow,’ ‘willows’
Southern examples:
Non-final accent (singular) Final accent PLUS FINAL H (plural) Translation
ᒥᐦᑑᑲᐃ Click here to hear this word mihtuukai ᒥᐦᑑᑲᐃᐦ Click here to hear this word mihtuukaih ear, ears
ᒨᐦᑯᒫᓐ Click here to hear this word muuhkumaan ᒨᐦᑯᒫᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word muuhkumaanh knife, knives

Since the H sound does not help convey a difference in meaning in the singular words, it is not spelled in the singular words. In contrast, however, since it helps to signal a difference in meaning in the plural words, the H sound is also spelled out. See the page about H sounds for more information on when to spell H.

The main thing to remember at this point is that important differences in meaning are signalled by

  • final accent alone, or
  • the combination of final accent and a final H (which is also spelled).

To illustrate the above point more extensively, here are some interesting examples.

Although the following word ends with an H, it has non-final accent; no special meaning difference is conveyed by the presence of H alone. This word just happens to end with an H.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐹᑖᐦ Click here to hear this word paataah paa – taah
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐊᔨᒻᐦ Click here to hear this word ayimh a – yimh

Although you can hear an H sound at the end of ᐐᐐᑎᒫ wiiwiitimaa, accent in this word is non-final (on the third-to-last vowel). The H sound, which is absent from the spelling in this case, does not carry a special meaning in the absence of final accent.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐐᐐᑎᒫ Click here to hear this word wiiwiitimaa wii – wiiti – maa
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐊᑎᑾᐴ Click here to hear this word ahtikwapuu ahti – kwa – puu

Finally, in words with only one vowel, the last (or first, or only) vowel is accented. In this case, final accent does not necessarily signal a difference in meaning. For example, you can hear ‘final’ accent and even a final H-like (or [ ʷ ]) sound in the word ᑳᒄ kaakw; however, the word has ‘final’ accent simply because it only has one vowel, and it has a final H-like sound because that is how W is pronounced at the end of this particular word. Similar observations can be made about the word ᑰᒃ kuuk.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᑳᒄ Click here to hear this word kaakw kaakw
ᑰᒃ Click here to hear this word kuuk kuuk
Southern Syllables IPA
ᑳᒄ Click here to hear this word kaakw kaakw
ᑰᒃ Click here to hear this word kuuk kuuk

See the page about H for more information about the role of H sounds in East Cree.