Silent vowels in East Cree

What are silent vowels?

If you have ever pronounced suppose [ səˈpʰoʊz ] as spose [ ‘spoʊz ] or potato [ pʰəˈtʰeɪdoʊ ] as ptato [ pʰˈtʰeɪdoʊ ], then you already know something about silent vowels: English speakers tend to leave out [ ə ] sounds in faster speech, and to pronounce them in slower speech.

In East Cree, the lax vowels are sometimes deleted in one context, but pronounced in another. Here are some examples.

Lax vowels are pronounced Lax vowels are not pronounced
Northern IPA IPA
ᓂᔥᑎᒥᑎᓂᐤ nishtimitiniu Click here to hear this word [nɪʃtʊmˈtɪnəʊ] Click here to hear this word [nʃtʊmˈtɪnəʊ]
ᐅᐦᐱᓂᒻ uhpinim Click here to hear this word [ʊhˈpɪnʊm] Click here to hear this word [xˈpɪnʊm], [hˈpɪnʊm]
ᐅᑎᓂᒻ utinim Click here to hear this word [ʊˈtɪnʊm] Click here to hear this word [ʊˈtn̩ʊm]

For more example of lax vowel variation see the page on MI / NI

To know more about silent vowels, read this study by Sarah Knee (2012).

Spelling silent vowels

If the I is silent in aapihtuwin Click here to hear this word , why not spell the word as aaptuwin? Or why not spell atihkw Click here to hear this word as atkw? There are two main reasons:

If we spell silent vowels, it is easier for speakers of other varieties of Cree to read East Cree (and the other way around). For example, the Plains Cree word for ‘beaver’ is amiskw. If the East Cree word for ‘beaver’ is spelled the way it sounds, Click here to hear this word (‘amskw‘), then it is more difficult to tell that Plains Cree amiskw and East Cree amskw are really the same word.

For more details about spelling, see the page on spelling silent vowels.

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