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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
Interestingly, this word in Northern East Cree is spelled with a final I, ᐊᑎᐦᑯᑭᓐatihkukin, 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?
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.