Example Words
uapikun flower atiku caribou
utshekataku star pishimu month
mikuau it is red emikuan spoon
takushinu s/he arrives takuatshin it is autumn
tshishiku day
takuan it exists, there is some
apakuai web pakuniu s/he has a blister on his/her hand
mishtiku tree iku spider
natamiku anything uapamiku the other sees him/her
nuapamiku s/he sees me ashukan bridge

Short vowels a and i are sometimes pronounced [u] (“oo”).

Spelling short vowels correctly is difficult because they vary according to dialect and between words. It is therefore important to pay attention to [u] vowels that are pronounced and followed by a syllable containing a u or a u.

Description of the Spelling Issue

Short a and i vowels tend to be pronounced [u] when followed by a syllable containing the sequence ku or ku, mu or mu, and in the case of pu (pipun, pronounced [pupun])This case, which affects pipun and its derivations, is an exception as other such forms like -apu- and -ipu- are not pronounced [upu], but rather [-ǝpu-].. In fact, when preceded by k or m, the sound u influences the preceding short vowel, as if it was leaving an imprint on it. This natural phonetic phenomenon is called vowel harmonizationLINGUISTICS: Vowel harmonization (or vowel assimilation) is a “modification caused by a phoneme in contact with a neighbouring phoneme”.

Dubois et al. Dubois et al. 2012. Le dictionnaire de linguistique et des sciences du langage. Larousse, p. 55. (passage translated into English) In Innu, the pronunciation of short vowels is more unstable than that of long vowels, and short vowels are therefore more susceptible to changes.

The change in the pronunciation of a short vowel that occurs before a syllable containing a u is not the same in every dialect:

  • In the eastern dialects, we sometimes find long vowels in places we would find short vowels in the western dialects. Since vowel harmonization only affects short vowels, words containing a long vowel are easy for speakers of the eastern dialects to spell. The following examples include a long vowel for the eastern dialects, and a short vowel (which can be pronounced [u]) in the western dialects, followed by ku or ku.
atiku caribou mikuau it’s red
takusseu s/he takes a step umiku his/her blood
assiku casserole emikuan spoon
apakuai web pakueshamu s/he cuts a piece of it
piku powder utshkataku star
utashtamiku his/her face pakueshikan pain

The eastern dialects’ pronunciation is a useful indication of the historical vowel of certain words.

  • However, in words where the vowel is short in all dialects, it is necessary to identify cases of vowel harmonization and to write the historical vowel (of ancient Innu).

Caution: It cannot be taken for granted that there are never cases of u followed by a syllable Cu or Cu; in certain cases, a real u exists, as in the following:

shuku so much kukuetapuat they have no place to sit
mukuman knife kukuetshimeu s/he asks him/her something
mukutakan bent knife tshitapuku s/he is taken by the current
pakumu s/he vomits atapuku s/he moves by the current
uku thrush mukutui bear paw snowshoe
muku but
natukuieu s/he heals someone natukun remedy

Spelling Solution

The spelling solution for this issue comes from the history of the Innu language. Short Innu vowels were once pronounced as true [a], [i] or [u] sounds, and still are in certain dialects, especially those of Mamit, where they are sometimes even pronounced as long vowels. There is a long tradition of writing these short vowels as they were in ancient Innu.

RULE FOR SHORT VOWELS – To write short vowels, use the letters a, i and u, based on their historical presence. In the specific context of a short vowel followed by ku or ku, and mu or mu, verify whether the vowel is a a, a i or if it’s really a u.


The Innu Dictionary is the best tool for checking how to spell words with short vowels pronounced as [u] before Cu or Cu; the conjugation guide is also useful for learning how to spell conjugated forms.

Learning Strategy for Short Vowels

The correct spelling of short vowels is part of the use-based spelling, or lexical spellingLEXICAL SPELLING: Spelling not based on the application of grammatical rules (GRAMMATICAL SPELLING). Lexical spelling can be based on the pronunciation of a word, but that’s not always the case: it can be partly abstract for historical reasons, among others. This is what has happened with the spelling of short vowels in Innu, which isn’t always based on the actual pronunciation of a word but on an older, historical form. which must be learned when learning to write. In cases of doubt, consult the dictionary.

The Innu language is based in large part on morphology – that is, on the construction of words by the use of morphemesA morpheme is a part of a word that holds meaning. For example, mińu- in mińuau it’s good, mińumu it’s well installed, mińuateu s/he appreciates him/her; -pańu in upipańu s/he lifts him/herself up, unipańu s/he sits up, paupańu it spills; -amu in uapatamu s/he sees something, kunamu s/he spills something, naikamu s/he cleans something., it’s useful to base any teachings on these morphemes. In fact, since a single morpheme can appear in many different words, knowing the morpheme’s spelling allows a writer to write a larger number of words more easily. Each time we learn the spelling of a morpheme, a root, a radical, an inflection, we’re learning to write many words. In addition to learning how to spell short vowels, this is also true for other spelling rules.

Forming groupings can also help to learn how to spell short vowels.

To help learn words with a short vowel pronounced [u] before Cu or Cu, here are groups of word listsThese word lists were inspired by Drapeau, L. et J. Mailhot. Guide pratique d’orthographe montagnaise. Québec : Institut éducatif et culturel attikamek-montagnais, 1989, items 6 et 7. organized by short vowel, by the following syllable, or by morphemes with a short vowel followed by Cu or Cu.

nikamu s/he sings tshikamu it sticks
atimu dog atimuss small dog, puppy
pishimu month, moon, sun pishimuss December
uitimua his brother-in-law, his sister-in-law nitimu my brother-in-law
uitimushu s/he has a romantic relationship
pipun winter pipunakup winter coat
mikuau it’s red mikushiu s/he has red blotches
kamikuakamit wine mikuapu s/he has red eyes
umiku his/her blood umikuiapi his/her vein
atiku caribou atikuss young caribou
atiku-pimi caribou fat atiku-uiash caribou meat
mishtiku tree mishtiku-emikuan wooden spoon
mishtikushu a white person uapikun flower
ushtikuan his/her head tshishiku the day
apikushish mouse paushtiku rapids
ussishiku eye uatiku den
utashtamiku his/her face umiku his/her blood
assiku casserole assikuashku pole for hanging things
emikuan spoon utemikuanu s/he has a spoon
emikuaniss small spoon tatuemikuaniss so many teaspoonfuls
utemikuanishu tadpole tshishikushu s/he is sleepy
nanikutini sometimes anikutshash squirrel
tshipaiatiku cross nikun small, dry snowflakes fall
iku spider ńikushkupańu the sky is overcast
nitshiku otter atshiku seal
kussikuashu he sews ńikuashkan cemetery
shishtiku s/he spits pishikupańu something pops out
tshińiku mixed ushiku s/he is blessed
nikuteu s/he cuts firewood neshikuau it’s a point of ice
pitikushiu s/he is stocky kushikuteu s/he carries a heavy load
natamiku anything mishishtikuau it is a big river
kauapikuesht priest utshishikumu s/he celebrates his anniversary
kutikuniu s/he camps utatshikumu s/he has a cold
atshinepiku snake minishtiku island
nuapamiku s/he sees me
uapamiku the other one sees him/her
itiku the other one tells him/her
nitiku s/he tells me
utitiku someone comes to him/her
nutitikun someone comes to me
tetapiku! Sit down!
takushinu s/he arrives takuan there is…
Pakut-shipu Saint-Augustin utshekataku star
kanakunass cookie tshakunau chocolate
pakuateun belt apakuai web
akakuai leech amaku netting needle
takukuman pair of scissors
takuaitsheu governing takuaikan government
takushkateu s/he places a foot on something takutitsheueu s/he crushes his/her hand
pakueshikan bread pakueshueu s/he cuts off a piece
apu tutamaku we are not doing anything eku uapatamaku so we saw something
takut- on top
takut on top takutashtau s/he places something on top
takutaut at the summit takutapu s/he is sitting on top
taku- to hold
takunamu s/he holds something in his/her hands takuneu s/he holds it in his hands
takumeu s/he holds something in his/her mouth takunaushu s/he is the godfather
paku- to remove
pakuenamu s/he removes a piece pakuepitamu s/he tears off a piece
pakuemeu s/he removes something with his/her teeth pakuekaimu s/he removes something with an axe
nakua- snare
nakuashu s/he gets caught in a snare nakuakaniapi snare wire
nakuateu s/he catches it in a snare nakuanitsheu s/he sets snares
takuatsh- autumn
takuatshin it’s autumn takuatshineiau the weather feels like autumn
takuakut last autumn takuatshi-pishimu November
paku- hole
pakuneiau something has a hole in it pakunetau s/he makes a hole in something
pakuneneu s/he makes a hole in something with his hands pakunetamu s/he makes a hole in something with his teeth
-taku useful, carved wood
ińnashtitaku cut pine wood ishpimitaku upper floor of a house
papatshitaku board ushkuetaku cut birch

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