MI and NI at the beginning of words

At the beginning of words, NI and MI can sound different from how they are spelled. We will present some regular examples (where NI and MI sound like they are spelled), and then talk about the exceptions.

NI at the beginning of the word

NI often sounds just like it is spelled: [nɪ].

Northern Syllables IPA
Click here to hear this word * nisit ni-sit [ ˈnɪs – sɪtʰ ]

* Note that the [s] sounds long in this example.

Southern Syllables IPA

Often, however, NI sounds like a long (syllabic) N at the beginning of the word.

Northern Syllables IPA
Click here to hear this word nitikushinaan ni-tiku-shi-naan
Southern Syllables IPA

NI can even sound like IN [ɪn] at the beginning of the word. The first two examples are two instances of the same word. In the first instance, NI sounds like a long N. In the second instance, NI sounds more like IN:

Northern Syllables IPA
Click here to hear this word nituchikin ni-tu-chi-kin [n̩]
Click here to hear this word nituchikin ni-tu-chi-kin [ɪn]
Click here to hear this word nichikw ni-chikw [ɪn]
Southern Syllables IPA

When NI is before an S, SH, or CH sound, it can be silent (or perhaps you might hear a short T sound). In the following example, the prefix NI is silent:

Northern Syllables IPA
Click here to hear this word nishikii nishi-kii
Southern Syllables IPA

In contrast, in the following Northern example, nisikus, a short [n] can be heard at the beginning of the 3rd repetition of the word, but not in the other repetitions. This can also be heard in the 2nd repetition of next example, nispitun.

Northern Syllables IPA
Click here to hear this word nisikus nisi-kus
Click here to hear this word nispitun nispi-tun
Summary of NI

In some words, NI always sounds like it is spelled. In other words, NI sounds like a long N or even like IN. Finally, when NI is at the beginning of the word and followed by S, SH, or CH, it becomes a short, T-like sound, or can even delete entirely.

MI at the beginning of words

MI often sounds just like it is spelled.

Northern Syllables IPA
Click here to hear this word mimaaniiwaau mi-maa-nii-waau [ mɪ – ma – ˈni – wɑw ]
Southern Syllables IPA

However, MI can also sound like a long (syllabic) [m̩]; the length is even more obvious because MI is followed by M.

Northern Syllables IPA
Click here to hear this word mimaaniiwaau mi-maa-nii-waau
Southern Syllables IPA

As with the cases of NI that we saw earlier, MI can be silent when followed by S, SH, or CH.

Northern Syllables IPA
Click here to hear this word mishaayaakuyaan mishaa-yaa-ku-yaan
Southern Syllables IPA

MI can also sound like a P at the beginning of the word.

Northern Syllables IPA
Click here to hear this word miskumii misku-mii
Southern Syllables IPA
Summary of MI

In some words, MI always sounds like it is spelled. In other words, MI sounds like a long M. Finally, when MI is at the beginning of the word and followed by S, SH, or CH, it becomes a short, P-like sound, or can even delete entirely.

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