Example Words
atiku caribou anik toad
amishku beaver nishk goose
kataku far niak in advance
shuku so much Nuk Luke
passitsheku! pull! tshek suddenly
tshiashku gull uenashk quickly
eshku still, again napeshk male Canada goose
pushku half pashkushk Canada goose which has lost its feathers

In Innu, there are two types of k consonants at the end of a word: k and ku.

Identifying a labialized kTo produce a labialized k, ku, round the lips. This does not involve two sounds (k+u) but is a single phoneme., ku (phonetically [kw]) is not difficult, because it usually corresponds to a pronunciation that is very different from non-labialized k [k]. [kw] does not exist as a phoneme (or distinctive unit) in English so writing it in Innu requires a particular symbol, k followed by a raised u: ku.NOTE: Sometimes young speakers pronounce both consonants the same way. It’s important to make sure they are aware of the difference between k and ku.

Description of the Two k Consonants

In all dialects of Innu, there are two kinds of k consonants that occur at the end of a word:

  • ordinary k, like English k: maand, utshek fisher, inashk inevitably;
  • labialized k, specific to Innu: eka maku! don’t cry!, mashku bear.

Also, ku has an influence on the vowel of the preceding syllable if it contains a short vowel. This explains why these vowels are often pronounced [u], even though the historic vowel is short i, as if the [u] sound contained in the labialized consonant were rubbing off on the preceding short vowel: atshiku [at∫ukw] seal, ussishiku [ussi:∫ukw] his/her eye. This phenomenon LINGUISTICS: This is a phenomenon called vowel harmonization (or vowel assimilation): “change affecting a phoneme in contact with a neighbouring phoneme”. Dubois et al. 2012. Le dictionnaire de linguistique et des sciences du langage. Larousse, p. 55. is very common with labialized consonants.

In some cases, the two consonants (k and kudistinguish words that would otherwise be identicalWe call words that are distinguished by a single sound (vowel or consonant) minimal pairs. Innu has minimal pairs that are only distinguished by k and ku; for this reason, k and ku are considered different phonemes and not simply different sounds of the same consonant. The number of possible phonemes varies from one language to another: a sound can even be a phoneme in one language and not in another; for example, p and b are phonemes in English, but in Innu, only p is a phoneme, while [b], when it’s used, is just a variant of p.:

maku! cry! mak and
napeshku male bear napeshk male Canada goose
ishkueshku female bear ishkueshk female Canada goose
piku powder pik spade (playing cards)
apu uapamaku we don’t see him/her apu uapamak I don’t see him/her
tsheku which tshek suddenly

Spelling Solution

The decision was made to write labialized consonants in Innu with an exponent (or raised) u: kuDIALECTOLOGY: Other Algonquian languages use the kw spelling instead. It was decided not to use this spelling in Innu because the letter w is not used.. This decision was made very early in the development of Innu spelling, at least for the labialized kThe solution was harder to adopt for the other labialized consonants, but the case of the labialized k has certainly helped to find solutions for the others..

The number of words or inflections ending in ku is very important. Here are some examples:

kaku porcupine apu atusseiaku you (pl) do not work
muaku loon apu uapatamaku we don’t see it
eku and so eku! don’t tell me
sheku underneath apu aimieku you (pl) do not speak
assiku pail, saucepan tshuitshiku s/he helps you (sg)
uatiku terrier tshitapamiku! look at me!
ańuku thrush natutuku! listen to me!
papeshuku by mistake apu shuku not so much, not really
mashku bear apuanashku roasting stick
tapashku in the woods apuiashku propeller
unatsheshku bark mauat eshku not yet
kuishku straight uteishku bear heart
uapishku rocky mountain top always snow covered amumishku watchful and crafty beaver
pemapushku thirty (added to one o’clock, etc.) katshishushku partly-dried goose


The online dictionary is a useful tool for finding words ending in ku since it is possible to search the endings of words. The printed dictionary is useful for verifying the spelling of specific words.

How to Check Whether a Word is Written with k or ku

When in doubt, it is often possible to check whether a consonant is labialized in certain words, particularly nouns and verbs. To check this, add a suffix or a morpheme to a word ending in k. If you can hear a u (phonetically [w]) between the k and the suffix, the consonant is labialized, and is therefore written ku. This technique is illustrated in the following examples where a comparison is made with words ending in a non-labialized k.

napeshku + at = napeshkuat male bears
napeshk + at = napeshkat male geese
assiku + a = assikua pails, saucepans
natshek + a = natsheka cheques
mishtiku + it = mishtikut in the tree
nepissik + it = nepissikit on the bicycle
ni+mashku + im = nimashkum my bear
ni+nishk + im = ninishkim my goose
nitshiku + iss = nitshikuss young otter
nishk + iss = nishkiss young goose
apu uapamitaku + t = apu uapamitakut they do not see us
apatak + i = apataki if (some things) are useful
uapatameku + i = uapatamekui when you will see it
uapatak + i = uapataki when s/he will see it
uapamieku + i = uapamiekui when you (pl) will see me
uapamak + i = uapamaki when I will see him/her

When a suffix is added to a labialized consonant, the consonant is no longer at the end of the word, so we hear the sound [u] or [w] after it. The u is therefore written on the line. The sound [u] or [w] which appears with the addition of the suffix reflects the presence of the labialization (e.g., mishtikut in the tree, umashkuma his/her bear), in contrast to what happens when a suffix is added to a word ending in a simple consonant (e.g., nishkiss small goose, unatshekim his/her cheque).

ku in Compound Nouns

Words ending in ku can be used to create compound nouns. As with the addition of a suffix, described above, by adding a word at the end, the sound [u] or [w] reflects the labialization:

atiku + pimi = atiku-pimi
caribou fat caribou fat
atiku + eshkan = atiku-eshkan
caribou antler caribou antler
atiku + uiash = atiku-uiash
caribou meat caribou meat
uinipeku + aueshish = uinipeku-aueshish
sea, ocean animal marina animal
uinipeku + namesh = uinipeku-namesh
sea, ocean fish saltwater fish
mashku + pimi = mashku-pimi
bear fat bear fat
tshiashku + uau = tshiashku-uau
gull egg gull egg
uinashku + pishimu = uinashku-pishimu
groundhog, woodchuck month month of March (lit. groundhog month)
mishtiku + emikuan = mishtiku-emikuan
wood spoon wooden spoon
assiku + miush = assiku-miush
pail, saucepan bag bag used to carry cooking pots, pans
uatiku + maikan = uatiku-maikan
den wolf wolf den
uatiku + aueshish = uatiku-aueshish
den animal burrowing animal

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