Example Words
nussim my grandson nipin it’s summer
atusseu s/he works patush later
minupanu s/he is well pimipatau s/he runs by
minuenitamu s/he is happy minashtakan Sunday
unashinataimu s/he draws something ishinamu s/he sees something
utishinikashun his/her name mishishtu s/he is big
nutim completely atashpiteu s/he changes clothing
shenamu s/he opens something animan it’s difficult
massin shoe nipuamun I dream
tshituteu s/he leaves on foot ashukan bridge
namesh fish nimish my sister

The bolded vowels in the above table are short.

Short vowels probably pose the greatest challenge with regard to learning how to spell in Innu. The difficulty comes from the fact that, often, short vowels aren’t actually pronounced, when they aren’t completely deleted in some contexts.

Writing Short Vowels

While letters corresponding to long vowels are easy enough to decode, and easy to transcribe when heard spoken, the transcription of short vowels is more complicated, for different reasons:

  • In western dialects, and often also in that of Sheshatshiu, short vowels a and i are not pronounced as [a]The phonetic transcriptions are between [ ]. The phonetic symbols used to transcribe Innu are presented on the following page or [i], but rather as [ǝ]For more information, please see the drop-down text at the bottom of the page.. In certain cases, u is also replaced by a [ǝ]. It is therefore difficult to know if we must write an a, an i or a u. The examples in the table at the beginning of the section illustrate this situation well.
  • In the eastern dialects, particularly those of Mamit, short vowels have preserved their [a] and [i] pronunciations, especially at the beginning or end of a word. Within words, the short i is less clear than the long i; it is transcribed with [ɨ] in the Innu dictionary, which corresponds with what we call a centralized i (pronounced between [i] and [ǝ]); it is perceived as more relaxed than the long i. In certain cases, we have a long vowel in the eastern dialects where in other dialects it is short: atiku caribou, takuashu it is short, mikuau it is red.
    • Note: Mamit dialects: – In the languages of the Lower North Shore, we often pronounce short i vowels as a when placed before the consonants k, m and p: shikaku skunk, atipish fine babiche, nutim all. These cases require particular attention from speakers.
  • At the start of a word, short vowels are often erased: auass child, atusseu s/he works, ishkuteu fire, ishpimit up, above. The deletion of short vowels at the start of a word is the topic of its own section.
  • At the end of a word, certain vowels that serve as grammatical markers can also be deleted: utapana cars, utauassima his/her child, atusseti when s/he will work. The question of short vowel deletion at the end of a word is also the topic of a separate section.
  • Short vowels can also be deleted between certain consonants, which we call homorganic consonantsHOMORGANIC CONSONANTS: same place of articulation, for example m and p, which are labial consonants, meaning they are pronounced with the lips; n and t, tsh, which are dentals, meaning they are pronounced with the teeth, etc.: between n-t, t-n, n-tsh, tsh-n, n-n, m-p, p-m, m-m, etc. Here are some examples of vowel deletion between consonants: mamitunenitamu s/he thinks, nitshiku otter, pimi grease/fat.
  • In some cases, short vowels a and i are pronounced as u, but we still write them as a or i, as in the following examples: pishimu month, uapikun flower, nitshiku otter, pipun winter, pakuenamu s/he removes a piece of something, takuashu it is short. This is the topic of a separate section.

Spelling Solution

The spelling solution that was kept comes from the history of the Innu language.  Short Innu vowels were once pronounced as true [a], [i] or [u]. Additionally, short vowels are still pronounced as short [a], [i] and [u] in certain dialects, especially those of Mamit. There is a long tradition of writing these short vowels as in ancient Innu.

For more information…

HISTORY: As there exist a few dictionaries of ancient Innu, written by 18th century missionaries, then transcribed and edited, it is possible to retrace short vowels with their original timbre. When writing the modern Innu dictionaries, research was done to ensure that short vowel transcriptions related to the Innu language history.

  • Laure, Pierre. L’apparat français-montagnais (1726). Under the direction of D. Cooter. Sillery (Québec) : Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1988.
  • Silvy, Antoine. Dictionnaire montagnais-français (1678-1684). Transcribed by L. Angers, D. E. Cooter, G. E. McNulty. Montréal: Presses de l’université du Québec, 1974.
  • Fabvre, Bonaventure. Racines montagnaises (1695). Transcribed by L. Angers and G. E. McNulty. Québec: Centre d’études nordiques, Université Laval, 1970.
RULE FOR SHORT VOWELS – To write short vowels, use the letters a, i and u, based on the historical vowels.

Caution: The letter e is never used to write a short vowel because in Innu, this letter is used exclusively to write the long vowel [e:] which corresponds to the vowel in English ‘say’. Here are a few examples with the letter e, which corresponds to the long vowel [e:]:

eniku spider, ant nemu it (dog) growls
neneu s/he breathes minuenitamu s/he is happy
shenamu s/he opens something nitatussen I work
tepateu pie Pinashue Francis, François
pineu grouse, partridge meshkanau road, path


The Innu dictionary is the best tool for knowing how to write a word that includes short vowels pronounced as [ǝ]; the conjugation guide is also useful for learning how to spell conjugated verb forms.

Learning Strategies for Short Vowels

The correct spelling of short vowels is part of  lexical spellingLEXICAL SPELLING: Spelling that is not based on the application of grammatical rules (GRAMMATICAL SPELLING). Lexical spelling can be based on word pronunciation, but not always: it can be abstract in part, for historical reasons, among others. This is what happens for short vowels in Innu, which aren’t always based on the actual pronunciation of a word but on the older, historical form.: we must learn it when we learn to write a word, and use the dictionary in cases of doubt.

Since the Innu language is based in large part on morphology, meaning the building of words using morphemesA morpheme is a part of word that holds significance, for example mińu- in mińuau it’s good, mińumu it’s well installed, mińuateu s/he likes him/her; -pańu in upipańu it lifts itself up, unipańu s/he straightens him/herself, paupańu it (contents) spills; -amu in uapatamu he sees something, kunamu s/he spills something, naikamu s/he cleans something., it can be useful to learn the spelling of words based on morphemes. Since one of these morphemes can occur in a large number of words, knowing how to spell the morpheme makes it easier to spell more words. Here are some examples:

mishta- big mishta-ashini big rock
mishtakup overcoat
mishtameku whale
-pitamu quickly, suddenly nashkuepitamu s/he quickly takes something
shepitamu s/he quickly opens something
kupitamu s/he knocks something down suddenly
manipitamu s/he tears something off
-pan past suffix atussepan s/he was working
mishkamupan s/he found something
atussekupan s/he had to work
mishkamushapan [we know now that] s/he had found something

Whenever we learn the spelling of a morpheme, a root, a radical, an inflection, we’re also learning how to write a large number of words. This is the case for the spelling of short vowels, as well as for other spelling rules.


Spelling vowels correctly is important. However, in reading, vowels should be pronounced as they naturally would be in each person’s own dialect. Writing using the standard Innu spelling does not mean a change in the way each dialect is pronounced. The Guide pratique d’orthographe montagnaiseDrapeau, L. et J. Mailhot. Guide pratique d’orthographe montagnaise. Québec : Institut éducatif et culturel attikamek-montagnais, 1989, item 3b. makes the following recommendation (translated): “DO NOT CONFUSE WRITING AND SPEAKING! We can all write the same way, but pronounce according to our own dialect.”

For more information…

LINGUISTICS: The sound [ǝ] in linguistics or phonetics is called a schwa. It is a centralized vowel. In fact, vowels can be classed by whether they are pronounced by placing the tongue towards the front of the mouth ([i], [e], [a]), our towards the back ([u]), and whether the mouth is more open ([a]), half-closed ([e]), or almost closed ([i]). In phonetics, we represent this manner of articulation with a diagram called the vowel trapezium (or vowel chart), on which we position the vowels. The schwa is situated in the centre of the vowel chart, which is why we call it a centralized vowel.

THE INNU The vowel chart of French is more complex because there are more different vowels than in innu.  VOWEL CHART

The short vowel reduction to [ǝ] phenomenon is naturally called vowel centralization. It’s a natural phonetic phenomenon found in many languages (such as English for non-accented vowels).

The schwa also tends to get deleted in certain contexts, such as in French (petite [pti:t], je me demande [jmǝdmãd]) and in Innu (nitakushin [nta:ku∫ǝn] je suis malade, pimi [pmi:] grease).