More about plosives (P, T, K)

In both East Cree and English, you can hear nine types of plosives, also called stops: [ pʰ, tʰ, kʰ ], [ b, d, g ], and [ p, t, k ].

[ pʰ, tʰ ] and [ kʰ ] are pronounced with a puff of air afterwards. You can hear this puff of air as a brief H-like sound after the consonant. This puff of air is called ASPIRATION.

  • Do the ‘puff test’. Put your hand in front of your mouth, and say pan, tan, or can loudly. Notice the puff of air after the [ pʰ ], [ tʰ ] and [ kʰ ] sounds. It is especially noticeable after the [ pʰ ] sound.

In contrast, there is no puff of air after the [ d ] or [ g ] sounds in English.

  • Do the ‘puff test’ again. Put your hand in front of your mouth, and say dig, or gig. Notice that there is no puff of air after the first [ d ] and [ g ] in each word.
  • There is a very slight puff of air after the [ b ] sound in big, but it does not sound H-like

It is hard to hear the difference between [ b, d, g ], and [ p, t, k ]. (Technically speaking, [ b, d, g ] are voiced, and [ p, t, k ] are voiceless. All six of these sounds are unaspirated.)

You can hear the sounds [ p, t, k ] in English words like spill, still and skill. (In the following examples, the [ s ] sound has been removed from the words spill, still and skill so you can hear the [ p, t ] and [ k ] sounds more clearly.) If you listen carefully to the following examples, you might hear the difference between, say, [ p ] and [ b ]. In contrast, it is much easier to hear the difference between [ pʰ ] and the other two sounds, [ p ] and [ b ].

  • spill without the S sound Click here to hear this word [ pɪl ]; sounds different from bill [ bɪl ] Click here to hear this word or pill [ pʰɪl ] Click here to hear this word.
  • still without the S sound Click here to hear this word [ tɪl ]; sounds different from dill [ dɪl ] Click here to hear this word or till [ tʰɪl ] Click here to hear this word.
  • skill without the S sound Click here to hear this word [ kɪl ]; sounds slightly different from gill [ gɪl ] Click here to hear this word or kill [ kʰɪl ] Click here to hear this word.

If anything, spill without the S sounds closer to bill than to pill. Similarly, still without the S sounds closer to dill than to till. Finally, skill without the S sounds closer to gill than to kill. The above examples show that the [ p, t ], and [ k ] sounds after S are ‘neither fish nor fowl’ to an English speaker because they are unaspirated.

English speakers spell the sounds [ pʰ, tʰ, kʰ ], [ b, d, g ], and [ p, t, k ] differently than East Cree speakers do. English speakers write P for the [ p ] and [ pʰ ] sounds, T for the [ t ] and [ tʰ ] sounds, and K for the [ k ] and [ kʰ ] sounds. In addition, they write B for the [ b ] sound, D for the [ d ] sound, and G for the hard [ g ] sound.

In contrast, East Cree speakers use the letter P for the [ p ], [ pʰ ] and [ b ] sounds; similarly, they use the letter T for the [ t ], [ tʰ ] and [ d ] sounds, and K for the [ k ], [ kʰ ], and [ g ] sounds. To put it another way:

  • Cree speakers can pronounce the letter P either as a P [ pʰ ] sound or as a B-like [ p, b ] sound.
  • Similarly, they can pronounce the letter T either as a T [ tʰ ] sound or as a D-like [ t, d ] sound.
  • They can also pronounce the letter K either as a K [ kʰ ] sound or as a G-like [ k, g ] sound.

The difference between the sounds [ k ] and [ kʰ ] ,or [ g ] and [ kʰ ] (etc.) is not important to a Cree speaker because using [ k ] or [ kʰ ] instead of [ g ] (etc.) does not change the meaning of any word. For example, a Northern East Cree speaker can equally well use a [ k ] or a [ g ] sound at the beginning of the word ᑭᐱᑖᐤ Click here to hear this word kipitaau (ki-pi-taau). (In fact, it is hard for an English speaker to tell what the first sound in the following word is, since it is pronounced without any aspiration.)

In contrast, the difference between the sounds [ k ] and [ kʰ ] ,or [ g ] and [ kʰ ] (etc.) is meaningful in English — think of could (which begins with a [ kʰ ] sound) and good, which begins with a [ g ] sound. In English, the difference between [ kʰ ] and [ g ] carries meaning.

However, there is one type of case where English speakers can also use [ tʰ ] and [ d ] sounds interchangeably without a change in meaning. Think of words like shutter which can be pronounced either as [ ʃʌtʰə˞ ] or [ ʃʌdə˞ ]; or later, which can be pronounced as [ letʰə˞ ] or [ ledə˞ ]. This type of situation is exactly parallel to the East Cree case, except that [ tʰ ] and [ d ] are interchangeable in only a few English words. (And finally, [ pʰ ] and [ b ], or [ kʰ ] and [ g ] are never interchangeable in English.)

Summary

What English speakers hear

When East Cree speakers pronounce P as [ pʰ ] (the sound in pill), we hear it as a P sound; in contrast, when they pronounce P as a [ p ] — the P sound in spill — or as a [ b ] (the sound in bill), English speakers hear it as a B sound. Meanwhile, all three of these sounds are acceptable ways of pronouncing the letter P in East Cree.

When East Cree speakers pronounce T as [ tʰ ] (the sound in till), we hear it as a T sound; in contrast, when they pronounce T as a [ t ] — the T sound in still — or as a [ d ] (the sound in dill), English speakers hear it as a D sound. Meanwhile, all three of these sounds are acceptable ways of pronouncing the letter T in East Cree.

When East Cree speakers pronounce K as [ kʰ ] (the first sound in kill), we hear it as a K sound; in contrast, when they pronounce K as a [ k ] — the K sound in skill — or as a [ g ] (the sound in gill), English speakers hear it as a G sound. Meanwhile, all three of these sounds are acceptable ways of pronouncing the letter K in East Cree.

How to pronounce East Cree P, T, and K

There are some rules of thumb about when to use the various P, T, and K sounds in East Cree

  • Cree speakers have a tendency to use P [ p ], T [ t ], and K [ k ] at the very beginning of the word; however, they can also use B [ b ], D [ d ], and G [ g ] instead.
    • Pronounce P, T, and K without a puff of air at the beginning of the word.
  • East Cree speakers also tend to use [ b ], [ d ], and [ g ] between vowels.
    • Pronounce P as [ b ], T as [ d ] and K as a hard [ g ] sound between vowels.
  • East Cree speakers also use the aspirated consonants [ pʰ, tʰ, kʰ ] (i.e., consonants followed by a noticeable puff of air) at the end of the word, or when another stop sound occurs immediately after.

For more information, see the page on plosive voicing and  how to write East Cree sounds.