Example Words
nanamishinu s/he bounces in place nanamishinu his/her body trembles
pimamu it is set up crooked pimamu the road passes
pimapu s/he has a crooked eye pimapu s/he is sitting crooked
shikupanu it empties, loses its contents shikupanu it is crushed, ground up
atshiku seal atshiku snot

Vowel Description

In writing, Innu has 4 vowels: a, e, i, uPronunciation corresponding to the long vowels of Innu:
a [a], i [i], like a, i in French
e [e], like é in French
u [u], like ou in French

In speech, there are 7 vowels:

  • 3 shortShort vowels are often pronounced [ǝ]. vowels: a [a], i [i], u [u]
  • 4 long vowels: a [a:], i [i:], u [u:] and e [e:],The vowel e is always long in Innu.

Standard Innu spelling does not indicate the length of vowelsDIALECTOLOGY: Other Algonquian languages closely related to Innu, like East Cree, indicate vowel length by doubling the vowel: kaakw [ka:ku] porcupine. In Innu, this method was never used by missionaries nor by linguists thereafter, and was not retained in the standard spelling.. This decision was made in the process of standardizing Innu spelling. We therefore do not distinguish between long a and short a, long i and short i, etc.

This decision was made by taking into account that Innu is the first language of those using the orthography and that readers would be able to decode the meaning of a word by its context. In fact, we find homographsHomographs: Words that are written identically (same spelling) but have different meanings. Homographs are not necessarily homophones, which are words that are pronounced identically without meaning the same thing. or homophones in most languages and they don’t seem to impede comprehension.
On the other hand, for a novice reader, the fact that long vowels are not written may make the decoding of certain words more difficult.
Learning to read and write in Innu can also be more difficult for people learning the language, that is, people who don’t already speak it, since pronouncing a longer vowel length can change the meaning of a word.

The decision to not mark vowel length has advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Unmarked Vowel Length

Vowel length is not the same in all dialects. In fact, there are more long vowels in the eastern dialects than in the western ones, for historical reasons.

To know more…
HISTORY: One of the reasons some vowels are long in the eastern dialects and not in the western ones is the presence of preaspirated consonants (hC) which have had the effect of elongating vowels that preceded them. In certain cases, the preaspiration of the consonant has disappeared, but the vowel length has remained. For example, atihku > ati:ku caribou, ua:pahtamu > ua:pa:tamu s/he sees something, akuhp > aku:p coat, mi:tshua:piht > mi:tshua:pi:t in the house.

Leaving long vowels unmarked makes it possible to write a word identically regardless of the dialect. This is the main factor that led to choosing not to mark vowel length.

atiku caribou mikuau it’s red
emikuan spoon utshekataku star
utapanit in the car pipitsheu blackbird
matsheshu fox kassinu all

Traditionally (that is to say in the first writing styles of Innu, like those of the missionaries, for example), vowel length was not marked. During the process of creating a standardized spelling system, speakers appeared hesitant to mark long vowels for the following reasons, among others:

  • it would mean a large number of markings, given the large number of long vowels;
  • in certain cases, it’s not easy to distinguish between long and short vowels.

Disadvantages of Not Marking Vowel Length

Because there are only a few different vowels in Innu, vowel length often serves to distinguish between words that are otherwise identical. Not writing vowel length therefore creates homographs, as in the following examples, where long vowels are indicated by a circumflex accent to illustrate the situation of homography:

nitakushin I arrive (by foot)
nitâkushin I am sick
nitakushîn I climb
nanutau s/he lets something rot
nânutau s/he wastes something
mîtshishu s/he eats
mitshishu eagle
pakân nut or peanut
pâkan it’s swollen
mîtush aspen (tree)
mitush raft
niminushin I am lying down comfortably
niminushîn I am well
nânâmishinu it bounces in place
nanamishinu his/her body is trembling
pîmamu it is set up crooked
pimamu the road passes
pimâpu s/he has a crooked eye
pimapu s/he sits crooked
shîkupanu it empties, loses its contents
shikupanu it is crushed, ground up
âtshiku seal
atshiku snot
atshimeu s/he counts them
âtshimeu s/he tells a story


The dictionary is an excellent tool in cases of confusion regarding homographs. If the spelling of a word does not reflect its pronunciation, the dictionary includes the phonetic transcription of the pronunciation in different dialects where it’s been documented (which is not the case for all dictionary entries). Phonetic transcriptions are found between between square brackets [ ] (by linguistic convention). In these transcriptions, long vowels are followed by a colon (:), the phonetic symbol for long vowels. Here are some examples that illustrate how the dictionary indicates this information:

atiku caribou MAMMAM : dialect of Mamit or the Lower North Shore; including Mingan, Natashquan, La Romaine and Saint-Augustin. [ati:hkw], SHESHE : dialect of Sheshatshiu, which sometimes resembles that of Uashat, sometimes of Mamit. [ti:hkw], UASHUASH : dialect of Uashat, Maliotenam and Schefferville. [ti:hkw] [tukw], BETSBETS : languages of Betsiamites (or Pessamit). [tǝkw]
maushu s/he picks berries UASH-SHE [ma:w∫u], MAM [ma:wahu], BETS [mu:∫u]
mukuman knife GENGEN : pronounced the same way in all dialects. [mu:kuma:n]
papanu s/he, it (anim) arrives by air MAM [pa:panu], UASH-SHE [pa:pǝnu], BETS [pa:pǝlu]
pitshu gum MAM [pɨt∫u], O-SHEO-SHE : western dialects (Uashat and Betsiamites) and Sheshatshiu. [pǝt∫u]
mushtitat on the floor ROMROM : dialect of La Romaine. [mu:hti:tat], MINMIN : dialect of Mingan. [musti:tat], SHE [mu:stɨ:tǝt], UASH [mu:sti:tǝt], BETS [mu:stǝ:tǝt]