Silent vowel letters in East Cree

What are silent vowel letters?

If you have ever pronounced [ səˈpʰoʊz ] suppose as [ ˈspoʊz ] spose or [ pʰəˈtʰeɪdoʊ ] potato as [ pʰˈtʰeɪdoʊ ] ptato, then you already know something about silent vowel letters: English speakers tend to leave out at least some instances of the first sound in suppose and potato in faster speech, and to pronounce the same vowels in slower speech.

In contrast, silent vowel letters are much more common in East Cree, even in slower speech. The letters I, U, and A can all be silent in East Cree. For example, in the NEC word ᐋᐱᐦᑐᐎᓐ Click here to hear this word aapihtuwin, the I in PIH is silent. In the NEC word ᐊᑎᐦᒄ Click here to hear this word atihkw, the I in TIH is silent. In fact, you can only hear one vowel in atihkw, the first A, which is pronounced as an [ ɪ ]-like sound; if you were to just look at the spelling you would think that this word had two syllables; however, you can only hear one syllable.

The term ‘silent vowels’ only make sense if we refer to the spelling: we cannot hear silent vowels; we can only observe that the letters I, U or A are sometimes not pronounced. This page, then, is different from the other pages about vowels because it focuses on the spelling, rather than the pronunciation.

Why should I spell silent vowels?

If the I is silent in aapihtuwin, why not spell the word as aaphtuwin? Or why not spell atihkw as athkw? There are two main reasons.

If we include silent vowel letters in the spelling, 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, the same spelling as in East Cree; however, it has a different pronunciation. If the East Cree word for ‘beaver’ were spelled the way it sounds, (amskw), then it would be more difficult to tell that Plains Cree amiskw and East Cree ‘amskw‘ are the same word.

We should also spell silent vowel letters because they are sometimes pronounced, as in the following NEC 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]

The remaining discussion focuses on how to pronounce words with silent vowels.When are lax vowel letters silent?The lax vowel letters are more likely to be silent when they are between P, T, K, S, SH, or H. However, they can also be silent if they occur before or after M and N, or at the beginning or end of the word. The following topics are covered on this page:

  • silent vowel letters between P, T, K, S, SH, or H.
    • silent vowel letters that leave a trace
    • silent vowel letters that leave no trace
    • silent vowel letters in CHIS, CHISH, CHICH spellings
  • silent vowel letters and the nasals (M and N)
  • silent vowel letters at the beginning of the word
  • silent vowel letters at the end of the word
  • more about silent vowel letters

Silent vowel letters between P, T, K, S, SH, or H’Silent’ vowel letters sometimes leave a trace, and sometimes not. Both types of situation are described below.Silent vowel letters that leave a ‘trace’In spellings like PI, TI, KI, PU, TU, and KU, the letters I and U can be silent. However, they often leave a trace:

  • Both I and U can leave a H-like trace [ ʰ ], and
  • U can leave a whispered-W-like trace [ ʷ ], or [ u̥ ]; it can also leave an H-like trace.

To illustrate the effects of silent vowel letters, syllable-like units are shown in the following examples. Each syllable-like unit is separated by a hyphen.Silent I leaves an H-like trace after P, T, or K; what you hear as a result is a prominent P, T, or K sound:* Here, PIHY sounds like the initial ‘py’ sounds in English pure.Silent U can also sound like [ ʰ ], [ ʷ ], or [ u̥ ] after P, T, or K* Also see the pronunciation of CHIS for this example.Also notice that when I and U leave a trace, both TIH and TI will sound like T: in other words the H in TIH cannot be heard as a separate sound. Similarly, both KIH and KI can sound like K, and both KUH and KU can sound like KW, etc.Silent vowel letters that leave no ‘trace’If the silent vowel letter is followed by S or SH, it leaves no trace. Instead, you simply hear an [ s ] or [ ʃ ] sound:ISH sounds like [ ʃ ]IS sounds like [ s ]* Also see the pronunciation of CHIS for this example.Similarly, a silent vowel letter between two identical consonants leaves no trace and you hear a long consonant sound instead.* You can hear a long [ pp ] sound in the phrase keep Pam.** You can hear a long [ mm ] sound in the phrase same man.*** You can hear a long [ ʃʃ ] sound in wish she.Finally, in spellings like TIM and PUM, the I leaves no [ ʰ ]-like trace after the T or the P. This is described in the section on nasals below. First, however, we describe the special case of silent vowels in syllables containing CH.Silent vowel letters in CHIS, CHISH, CHICH spellingsThe letter I is always silent in the spellings CHIS, CHISH, and CHICH as can be heard in the following examples. More information and more examples can be found on the page describing CH.* Also see the page about IU.Silent vowel letters and the nasals (M and N)In spellings like NI and MI, the I can be silent. In such cases, all you hear is the consonant.MI sounds like [ m ]NI sounds like [ n ]The letter I can also be silent in the TIN spelling. In such cases, you can hear [ dn̩ ], the same sounds you hear at the end of the word sudden.In spellings like TIM and PUM, the I leaves no [ ʰ ]-like trace after the T or the P.* TIM sounds like the [ tm ] sounds in the phrase light mine.** PUM sounds like the [ pm ] sounds in the phrase rub mine.Silent vowel letters at the beginning of the wordVowel letters at the beginning of the word are sometimes silent. This is most common when the preceding word ends in a vowel.The prefix NIT also has a silent letter I. NIT can sound like [ n̩t ], where [ n̩ ] stands for a long (syllabic) nasal sound and sometimes it can sound like [ ɨnt ] instead of [ n̩t ]. The next two examples illustrate both these sounds.Silent vowel letters at the end of the wordThe letters U and UH are silent at the end of a word, but leave a trace. See the page on final U and [ʷ] for a more in-depth discussion on this topic. More examples can also be heard on the page describing W Clusters .* Also see the pronunciation of CHIS for this example.More about silent vowel lettersSo far, you have learned that the lax vowel letters are more likely to be silent

  • when they are between P, T, K, S, SH, or H, or
  • when they occur before or after M and N, or
  • when they are at the beginning or end of the word.

This is only part of the story, however. For example, while the I can be silent (with a trace) between P, T, K, S, SH, or H, it is not always so. Listen to the following two words in Northern East Cree. The letter I is silent in the first word but in the second word both I’s are pronounced.The rhythm of the word helps determine whether or not a vowel is silent. Details about this complicated topic aside, it is possible to say that in NEC, lax vowel letters are pronounced when they are accented, as in the first syllable in the word kipitau and that lax vowel letters are more likely to be silent when next to tense vowels, for example in the NEC word kaasiinikin.For more about rhythm, see the page on accent.

Northern Syllables IPA
ᐹᑎᑯᑦ Click here to hear this word paatikut paa- tikut [ pa – kʊtʰ ]
ᐱᒋᔅᑎᐦᐙᐤ Click here to hear this word pichistihwaau pi – chistihwaau [ pɨ – tswaw ]
ᑎᐦᑳᐤ Click here to hear this word tihkaau tihkaau [ kaw ]
ᐙᐱᐦᔮᐤ Click here to hear this word waapihyaau * waa – pihyaau [ wa – pj̥aw ]
ᐋᑯᔮᑭᐦᐄᑭᓐ Click here to hear this word aakuyaakihiikin aa – ku – yaa – kihii – kin [ a – ku – ja – i – kɪn ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᐋᐦᑯᓯᐤ Click here to hear this word aahkusiu aah- kusiu [ a – su ]
ᐋᐱᑯᔒᔥ Click here to hear this word aapikushiish aa-pi – ku – shiish [ a – pʊ – – ʃiʃ ]
ᑳᒋᔅᑐᐦ Click here to hear this word kaachistuh * kaa – chis – tuh [ ka – ts – tu̥ʰ ]
ᒀᔥᑯᐦᑎᐤ Click here to hear this word kwaashkuhtiu kwaash – kuh – tiu [ kɔʃ – tu ]
ᓃᔓ Click here to hear this word niishu niii – shu [ ni – ʃʷ ]
ᓂᑐᐦᑎᐙᐤ Click here to hear this word nituhtiwaau ni – tuhti – waau [ ɨn – tʰtɪ – waw ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᐃᔨᑭᔥᑳᐤ Click here to hear this word iyikishkaau i – yi – kishkaau [ i – ji – kaw ]
ᑆᓂᔥ Click here to hear this word pwaanish pwaanish [ pɔntʃ ]
ᐅᑯᐦᑎᔥᑯᐃ Click here to hear this word ukuhtishkui u – ku – tishkui [ u – ku – kʊy ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᒫᒫᐱᓱᓐ Click here to hear this word maamaapisun maa – maa – pisun [ ma – ma – psʊn ]
ᒦᐱᑎᓲᑉ Click here to hear this word miipitisuup mii – pi – tisuup [mi – pɪ – tsup ]
ᐃᔨᑭᔅᒋᓰᐤ Click here to hear this word iyikischisiiu * i – yi – kischisiiu [ i – jɪ – kstsu ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᒀᔅᒋᐱᐳᓐ Click here to hear this word kwaaschipipun * kwaas – chi – pipun [ kɔs – tsɪ – ppʊn ]
ᒥᒫᓃᐙᐤ Click here to hear this word mimaaniiwaau ** mimaa – nii – waau [ mma – ni – waw ]
ᐊᒥᔥᑯᔑᔥ Click here to hear this word amishkushish *** amish – kushish [ ɛmʃ – kʊʃʃ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᑳᒋᔅᑐᐦ Click here to hear this word kaachistuh kaa – chistuh [ ka – tstu̥ʰ ]
ᐃᔨᑭᔅᒋᓰᐤ Click here to hear this word iyikischisiiu * i – yi – kischisiiu [ i – jɪ – kstsu ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᐊᒥᔅᒄ Click here to hear this word amiskw amiskw [ ɛmskʷ ]
ᐊᒥᔥᑯᔑᔥ Click here to hear this word amishkushish amish – kushish [ ɛ – kʊʃʃ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᐊᓂᒋᒄ Click here to hear this word anichikw ani – chikw [ ɛn – tsʊkʷ ]
ᑳᓰᓂᑭᓐ Click here to hear this word kaasiinikin kaa – siini – kin [ ka – sin – kɪn ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᐅᐲᐙᐅᔥᑐᑎᓐ Click here to hear this word upiiwaaushtutin u – pii – waaush – tu – tin [ u – pi – ɔʃ – tʊ – dn̩ ]
ᓃᔥᑎᓂᐤ Click here to hear this word niishtiniu niish – tiniu [ niʃ-tn̩u ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᐐᐐᑎᒫ Click here to hear this word wiiwiitimaa * wii – wii – timaa [ wi – wi – tma ]
ᔖᐳᒥᓐ Click here to hear this word shaapumin ** shaa – pumin [ ʃa – pmɪn ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᐅᑖᔥᑎᒥᐦᒄ Click here to hear this word utaashtimihkw utaash – ti – mihkw [ taʃ – tɪ – mʊkʷ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᓂᑐᒋᑭᓐ Click here to hear this word nituchikin nitu – chi – kin [ n̩ tu – tʃɪ – kɪn ]
ᓂᑐᐦᑎᐙᐤ Click here to hear this word nituhtiwaau nituh – ti – waau [ ɨn – tu̥ʰ – tɪ – waw ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᓃᔓ Click here to hear this word niishu niiishu [ niʃʷ ]
ᑳᒋᔅᑐᐦ Click here to hear this word kaachistuh * kaa – chistuh [ ka – tstu̥ʰ ]
Southern Syllables IPA
         
         
         
Northern Syllables IPA
ᐄᔮᐦᑎᒀᔥᑦ Click here to hear this word iiyaahtikwaasht ii – yaah – ti – kwaasht [ i – jah – – kɔʃt ]
ᑭᐱᑕᐤ Click here to hear this word kipitau kipi – tau [ – taw ]
Northern Syllables IPA
ᑭᐱᑕᐤ Click here to hear this word kipitau kipi – tau [ – taw ]
ᑳᓰᓂᑭᓐ Click here to hear this word kaasiinikin kaa – siini – kin [ ka – sin – kɪn ]
Click here to go back to Silent Vowels/ Back to Silent Vowels Click here to go to the top/ Top