|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|
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.
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.
|utapanit||in the car||pipitsheu||blackbird|
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|
|nanutau||s/he lets something rot|
|nânutau||s/he wastes something|
|pakân||nut or peanut|
|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|
|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]|