Example Words
assi earth atai beaver skin
ikaimu s/he bails water out of it itaun territory for trapping, hunting

Short vowels, covered in more detail on the Short Vowels and Spelling page, are unstable: they are pronounced as themselves in certain dialects or contexts, they are centralized or reduced to [ǝ] in others, and in others they are completely erased.

Description of the Problem

In Innu, when a word begins by one of the short vowels (a or i), this vowel is generally:

  • maintained in the Mamit dialects, meaning it keeps the pronunciation [a] or [i]
  • maintained, but as a centralized vowel ([ǝ]) in Sheshatshiu (Tshishe-shatshit);
  • deleted in western dialects.

Short vowels present two difficulties:

  • identifying the presence of an initial short vowel when it is not pronounced (as in western dialects)
  • identifying a short vowel when it is absent or replaced by [ǝ]: a or i, sometimes u
In most cases, it is easy to identify that a word begins with a short vowel, as demonstrated in the strategy further below. However, knowing that this vowel is hidden (or underlyingUNDERLYING VOWELS: In linguistics, we can propose what is called an underlying form, which does not completely correspond to the pronounced form. Then, we apply rules that will generate or create the final form, known as the surface form. It’s almost as though there was a hidden form that underwent modifications before being pronounced. In the case of initial short vowels in Innu, the underlying form is modified either by becoming centralized (a, i > [ǝ]) or by being deleted (a, i > Ø).), comes from the 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. and requires a certain level of learning. As with other short vowels, the spelling of words with correct vowels must ultimately be memorized.
RULE FOR INITIAL SHORT VOWELS – Underlying initial short vowels, or historical vowels, must always be written. To write these initial short vowels, we usually use the letter a, i, and sometimes u, based on the historic vowels. The dictionary should be consulted in cases of doubt.
aiamiau s/he prays aiau s/he buys something
akaneshau s/he is English akamit across on the other side
akashku arrow akunishkueun hat
akushiu s/he climbs akuteu something is hung
amatshuateu something boils over amaku netting needle for babiche
anakassiu something is large anapi fishing net
anikutshash squirrel animan it’s difficult
anuenimu s/he answers back anushkan raspberry
anutshish now apakuai heavy canvas
apapanu something thaws apu s/he is sitting
apu tshekuan nothing apui paddle, oar
ashakaueu s/he grabs it asham racket
assimatamu s/he weaves something atakutau s/he hangs something elsewhere
atiku caribou atshapi bow
atshapiupanu something bounces atshiku seal
atshimeu s/he counts them atshinepiku snake
atshitshineu s/he holds its head down atusseu s/he works
auass child auassiss baby
auat not even auen someone
auetiss young beaver ikutakashi Labrador tea
inipenamu s/he makes something lean over innasht fir
ishikamu s/he has a certain chubbiness ishkanitipishkua all night
ishkanuepu s/he is impatient to leave ishkuatem door
ishkueu woman ishkupańu something rises
ishkuteu fire ishpimit above
issishiteu his/her feet are tired issishueu s/he says
itakushu s/he has a certain illness


The Innu Dictionary is the best tool for checking whether a word is spelled with an initial short vowel. A word can be searched without the initial short vowel and the dictionary will suggest the correct spelling.

Learning Strategy for Short Vowels

It is reasonable to consider the idea that in the western dialects, there is a phonetic rule causing initial short vowels to be systematically deleted, while in other dialects, a different phonetic rule causes those initial short vowels to be transformed into a [ǝ].

To check whether a noun or verb begins with a deleted short vowel:

  • add a personal prefix, either by making a noun into a possessive or by conjugating the verb;
    • if the personal prefix takes a -t-PERSONAL PREFIXES:
      The form of personal prefixes varies:
      – before a word beginning with a consonant, we have the base form: ni, tshi, u;
      – before a word beginning with the vowels a or i (short or long), we add a -t- as a liaison between the prefix and the word radical: nit, tshit, ut;
      – before a word beginning with u (pronounced [u] or [w]), the i is deleted from the prefix: n-, tsh-; in the 3rd person, the prefix u- is deleted before the u of the radical
      , it means that the word has an initial vowelThere are exceptions to this rule in the form of the personal prefix: akashku arrow, where we find variety in the possessive, nakashku/nitakashku my arrow, tshakashku/tshitakashku your arrow, uakashkua/utakashkua his/her arrow; it’s the same thing for apui oar, with napui/nitapui, tshapui/tshitapui, uapui/utapui., a or i, because we must always add this liaising -t- between a personal prefix and a radical (no matter if it’s a noun or a verb) beginning with an a or an i (short or long): nitatussen I work, tshitatshimauat you count them, nitashamat my rackets, utauassima his/her child, nitapin I am seated, uapuia his/her oar, nitikain I’m taking away the water, tshitissishiten your feet are tired.
  • Caution : Avoid reanalyzing words written with an initial short vowel: speakers might incorrectly assume that certain words begin with a consonant rather than a vowel and use an incorrect form for the personal prefix. For example,  *nishamForms preceded by * are inexact.  The symbol * is a linguistic convention that indicates that the word it precedes is ungrammatical. my snowshoe, *tshitussen you work.

In the case of VIIs (which cannot be conjugated to the 1st or 2nd person) and words which are neither nouns or verbs, there is no practical way to verify the presence of an initial short vowel. In cases of doubt, the dictionnary must be consulted.

Another way to learn the spelling of initial short vowels is to identify the roots of particular words; this way, it is possible to learn the spelling of several related words, as in the following examples.

 ishkan- all (duration) ishkaninipina all summer
ishkanipipuna all winter
ishkanishikuana all spring
ishkanitipishkua all night
ishkanitshishikua all day
ishkanitshishikuepu s/he stays seated all day
ishkanitshishikuekuamu s/he sleeps all day
 atam-Il faut porter attention à cette racine, car même dans les dialectes de l’est la voyelle initiale est effacée. in the bottom, under, inside atamit in the bottom of
atamitat in the bottom of the canoe
atamipekut at the bottom of the water
atamakunat under the snow
ataminu in the stomach, the body
atamauat under the sand
atamauat something has a cave
 aiami- to pray aiamiau s/he prays
aiamieun prayer
aiamieunat rosary
aiamianu there is a mass
aiamiteu s/he prays for someone
 atusse- word atussemeu s/he gives someone work
atusseu s/he works
atussepańu s/he works quickly
atusseshtamu s/he works on something
 akashku- arrow akashku arrow
akashkukueu s/he makes him an arrow
akashkutsheu s/he makes an arrow


It may be useful to create lists of words beginning with a short a or i, especially to learn the spelling of words that cannot take personal prefixes.


It is important to learn the spelling of initial vowels and how to choose the correct vowel. However, pronunciation should still be natural: in dialects where an initial vowel is not pronounced, it is included in the word’s spelling, but not in the pronunciation. For example:

  • we write auass but we pronounce it [wa:ss];
  • we write atusseu but we pronounce it [tǝsse:w] or [ǝtusse:w] or [atusse:w] depending on the dialect;
  • we write ishkuteu but we pronounce it [i∫kute:w] or [ihkute:w] or [∫kute:w] depending on the dialect.