Lax Vowels

The LAX VOWELS I, U, and A are very short in duration; they can even be silent. Lax vowels also sound quite different when they are in combination with W or U. (For example, they can be tense instead of lax.) The pronunciation of lax U, I and A is described below. (Most of the examples on this page are from speaker AD; the remainder are from speaker LS.)

Lax U

U sounds like lax [ ʊ ] (the vowel in push). It can also sound O-like [ ʊ ̞], and longer [ ʊː ]. (To an English speaker, long [ ʊː ] would a bit sound more like the [ u ] in boot because of its longer duration.) [ ʊ ] is the most common pronunciation of U. See the vowel listening practice page for more examples.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐊᒥᔥᑯᔑᔥ Click here to hear this word amishkushish amish – kushish [ a̝mʃ - ˈkʊʃː ]
ᐅᑎᐦᑉ Click here to hear this word utihp utihp [ ˈʊːtʰpʰ ]
ᐊᒋᔅᑖᓱᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word achistaasunh a – chistaa – sunh [ ɨ - tstaː - ˈsʊn ]
ᓃᔂᓱᒻᑎᓂᐤ Click here to hear this word niiswaasumtiniu nii – swaa – sumi – ti – niu [ ni - sɔː - sʊm - ˈtɪ - nu̝ʔ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐋᐦᒌᑯᔥ Click here to hear this word aahchiikush aahchii – kush
ᑳᑯᔥᐦ Click here to hear this word kaakushiish kaa – ku – shiish
ᒧᐦᑌᐤ Click here to hear this word muhteu muh – teu

U can also sound like a tense [ u ] (the vowel in boot), particularly when preceded or followed by tense [ i ] or the glide [ j ]; it can also sound tense before [ h ], [ s ] and [ ʃ ].

Northern Syllables IPA
ᒥᔪᔑᒥᐤ Click here to hear this word miyushimiu mi – yu – shi – miu [mi - ju - ˈʃɪm - mu̞ʔ ]
ᐹᑎᑯᑦ Click here to hear this word paatikut paati – kut [ ˈpaːtʰ - ku̞ːtʰ ]
ᐅᑆᓐ Click here to hear this word upwaan u – pwaan [ ˈ - pɔːn ]
ᐅᔅᐱᑐᓐ Click here to hear this word uspitun us – pi – tun [s - ˈpʊ - tʊn ]
ᐅᐦᐱᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word uhpinh uh – pinh [ ʰ - ˈpɪnʰ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᒥᔪᔅᑲᒨ Click here to hear this word miyuskamuu mi – yus – ka – muu
ᐅᐦᐱᓯᑲᓐ Click here to hear this word uhpisikan uhpi – si – kan
ᐐᐤᐦ Click here to hear this word wiiuh wiiuh

In some cases, U can even sound a bit more like [ ə ] (the indistinct sound heard at the beginning of about).

Northern Syllables IPA
ᔖᐳᒥᓐ Click here to hear this word shaapumin * shaa – pu – min [ ˈʃa - pə - mɪn ]

* In this word, it’s hard to tell if the vowel sound is [ ʊ ] or [ ə ].

Southern Syllables IPA
ᐋᐃᐦᑯᓈᒉᓲ Click here to hear this word aaihkunaachesuu aaih – ku – naa – che – suu

Lax I

I sounds like lax [ ɪ ] (the vowel in fish). [ ɪ ] is the most common pronunciation of I.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐊᑆᓂᔥ Click here to hear this word apwaanish a – pwaa – nish [ ɨ - pɔː - ˈnɪʃ ]
ᒋᔅᐱᑳᐤ Click here to hear this word chispikaau chispi – kaau [ ˈtspɪ - kaw ]
ᑭᐱᑖᐤ Click here to hear this word kipitaau ki – pi – taau [ ˈkɪ - pɪ - taw ]
ᓂᔅᒃ Click here to hear this word nisk nisk [ ˈnɪskʰ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐊᔫᒥᓂᒡ Click here to hear this word ayuuminich a – yuu – minich
ᐱᒋᔅᑲᓈᐤ Click here to hear this word pichiskanaau pi – chiska – naau
ᑎᒥᐦᒋᓀᐤ Click here to hear this word timihchineu timih – chi – neu

However, I can also sound like tense [ i ] (the vowel in eat), particularly before Y, and at the beginning of the word before [ h ], [ s ] or [ ʃ ].

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐃᔥᐱᒥᐦᒡ Click here to hear this word ishpimihch ish – pimihch [ iʃ - ˈpɪmʰtʃ ]
ᐃᔮᔑᐦᑦ Click here to hear this word iyaashiht i – yaashiht [ i - ˈjaʃːtʰ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐃᔨᒻ Click here to hear this word iyim i – yim
ᐃᔥᑯᑌᐦᑳᓐ Click here to hear this word ishkutehkaan ish – ku – teh – kaan
ᐃᔥᒀᔮᓂᐦᒡ Click here to hear this word ishkwaayaanihch ish – kwaa – yanihch

I can also sound more indistinct, like the [ ə ] sound in about or the [ ɨ ] sound in dishes.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᒫᑎᐙᐎᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word maatiwaawinh maa – ti – waa – winh [ ma - tə - wɔː - ˈwənʰ ]
ᐱᒋᔅᑭᓈᐤ Click here to hear this word pichiskinaau pichis – ki – naau [ pəts - ˈkɪ - naw ]
ᐱᓛᐅᔅ Click here to hear this word pilaaus pi – laaus [ pə - ˈlaws ]
ᓂᔅᒋᒦᒋᒻ Click here to hear this word nischimiichim nis – chi – mii – chim [ nɨs - tʃə - ˈmiː - tʃɨm ]
ᒥᐦᒀᐤ Click here to hear this word mihkwaau mih – kwaau [ ˈmɨh - kɔːw ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᒫᐦᑯᐱᑕᒻ Click here to hear this word maahkupitam maah – ku – pi – tam
ᒋᒨᓂᐸᔫ Click here to hear this word chimuunipayuu chi – muu – ni – pa – yuu

One interesting fact about the East Cree roman spelling system is that the letter I can sound like [ ʊ ] when the following vowel is U, or when KW follows, or when some M sounds follow (particularly when the M is at the end of the word).

I sounds like [ ʊ ] in anticipation of the following U sound.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐋᐱᑯᔒᔥ Click here to hear this word aapikushiish aa – piku – shiish [ a - ˈpʊkʊ̥ - ʃiʃ ]
ᐅᔅᐱᑐᓐ Click here to hear this word uspitun us – pi – tun [ us - ˈpʊ - tʊn ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᒋᔅᑎᑯᐦᐆ Click here to hear this word chistikuhuu chistiku – huu
ᓂᑯᒑᔥ Click here to hear this word nikuchaash ni - ku – chaash

I sounds like [ ʊ ] in anticipation of the following KW sound.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᒌᔑᒄ Click here to hear this word chiishikw chii – shikw [ ˈtʃiː - ʃʊkʷ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐋᐦᒋᒄ Click here to hear this word aahchikw aah – chikw

In careful pronunciations, I might sound like [ ɪ ] instead of [ ʊ ].

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐅᔅᐱᑐᓐ Click here to hear this word uspitun us – pi – tun [ ʊs - ˈpɪ - tʊn ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐋᑰᔦᒋᐸᒋᑲᓐᐦ Click here to hear this word aakuuyechipachikanh aa – kuu – ye – chi – pa – chi – kanh

I sounds like [ ʊ ] when followed by word-final M. Historically, this M was an MW combination, so this example is similar to the chiishikw example above.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐊᑎᒻ Click here to hear this word atim a – tim [ ˈɪ - tʊm ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐲᓯᒻ Click here to hear this word piisim pii – sim

Lax A

In contrast with tense AA, which can sound like [ a(ː) ] or [ æ(ː) ], lax A more often sounds like the vowel [ ɛ ] or [ a ̝] in end, or the vowel [ ɪ ] in begin. It can be difficult to tell whether the sound in question is [ ɪ ] or [ ɛ ].

A often sounds like [ ɛ ] (the vowel in end), or like [ɪ] (the vowel in fish) or like [ ɨ ] (the last vowel sound in dishes).

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐊᒥᔅᒄ Click here to hear this word amiskw amiskw [ ˈɛmskʷ ]
ᐊᓂᒋᒄ Click here to hear this word anichikw ani – chikw [ ˈɛn - tʃʊkʷ ]
ᐊᓵᒥᒡ Click here to hear this word asaamich a – saamich [ ɨ - ˈsamtʃ ]
ᐊᑎᐦᒄ Click here to hear this word atihkw atihkw [ ˈɪːtʰkʷ ]
ᐊᑎᒻ Click here to hear this word atim a – tim [ ˈɪ - tʊm ]
ᐊᓂᒋᒄ Click here to hear this word anichikw ani – chikw [ ˈɪn - tʃʊkʷ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐊᑯᐦᑉ Click here to hear this word akuhp a – kuhp

A can also sound like [ ə ] (the first vowel in about).

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐊᓵᒥᒡ Click here to hear this word asaamich a – saa – mich [ ə - ˈsa - mɪtʃ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
ᐊᔅᒌ Click here to hear this word aschii as – chii

A can also sound like [ ʌ ] (the vowel in hum) when it precedes a word-final M.

Do the letters A and I represent two vowels or one?

In many cases, the letters A and I are pronounced the same. In addition to the above examples, consider this word in Northern East Cree, where the bolded A and I both sound like [ ɪ ].

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐊᔨᒥᐙᑭᓐ Click here to hear this word ayimiwaakin a – yimi – waa – kin [ ɪ - jɪm - ˈwaː - kɪn ]

Depending on where you come from, the pronunciation of words with A and I can be very different. Northern speakers and Coastal Southern speakers tend to pronounce A and I the same way but Inland Southern speakers pronounce them differently. Listen to the word below to hear how the final A is pronounced by Coastal and Inland Southern speakers.

Inland Coastal
ᐊᑎᐦᑯᑲᓐ atihkukan Click here to hear this word Click here to hear this word

Interestingly, this word in Northern East Cree is spelled with a final I, ᐊᑎᐦᑯᑭᓐ atihkukin, reflecting the current pronunciation in that dialect.
To know more, read: Dyck, Carrie, Marie-Odile Junker, and Kelly Logan. 2010. Phonetic and phonological evidence for a vowel merger in Southern East Cree. In: Beth Rogers and Anita Szakay (eds.), Proceedings of the 15th Annual Workshop on the Structure and Constituency of the Languages of the Americas. UBC Working Papers in Linguistics 29: 98-114.

How should I pronounce the letters A and I?

Conservatively speaking:

  • The letters A and I both sound like [ ɪ ] or like the indistinct vowels [ ɨ, ə ].
  • The letter A (but not I) can also sound like [ ɛ ] or [ ʌ ].
  • The letter I (but not A) can also sound like [ i ] or [ ʊ ].

Summary of lax vowel pronunciation

The lax vowels of East Cree have the following range of pronunciations.

  • I and A can sound like [ ɪ, ɨ, ə ]; the main pronunciation is [ ɪ ].
  • I can also sound like [ i, ʊ ].
  • A can also sound like [ ɛ, ʌ ]; it sounds like [ ɛ ] especially at the beginning of the word.
  • U can sound like [ ʊ, ʊ̞, (ə) ]; the main pronunciation is [ ʊ ].

It is probably safe for you to use the main pronunciations for the lax vowels until you get a better feel for how individual words sound.

For more on what East Cree vowels sound like, see the vowel listening practice page.

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