Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: /e/-change—a few details

Three details on top of the basic pattern laid out earlier will help you handle the comings and goings of the /e/.

(a)    The /e/ vowel actually comes up as /a/ when it’s followed by /q/.  Otherwise the pattern is the same.

naqa’si                    I stop
→    ‘nqa’si                    stop!
→    ‘npa’sites                I will stop

naqalg                        I leave h/her
→    ‘nqal                    leave h/her!
→    ‘nqalates                I will leave h/her

maqtawe’g                s/he/it is black
→    ‘mqatawapu            “black-broth” = cormorant

(b)    Because /o/ is generally originally from /a/—give or take some other details—a few words have the same pattern with /o/.  The most common and useful of these is /poqt-/ ~ /’pqot/ ‘start, begin to…’.

poqtlugwei                    I start working
→    ‘pqotlugwa                start working!
→    ‘pqotlugwetes            I will start working

(c)    Finally, a few words have a slightly quirky pattern between the e-form and the plain form.  The most important of these is /wejgu-/ ~ /jugu-/ ‘coming this way/here’.

wejgu’ei                        I am coming (here)
→    jugu’a                        come (here)!
→    jugu’ates                    I will come (here)

wejgua’tu                        I am bringing it (here)
→    jugua’tu                    bring it (here)!
→    jugua’tutes                I will bring it (here)        (also said /juguattes/)

Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: e-change

A vowel /e/ appears in the first syllable of many Mi’gmaq verbs.  You will notice that this /e/ goes missing in lots of related words.

teli’si                    I speak (that) way
tli’si                    speak (that) way!
tli’sites                I will speak (that) way
tli’suti                    language (way of speaking)

This /e/ comes in mostly for events that are real: they are actually happening, or they did.  This is why they’re not used for commands or for the future, since haven’t actually happened yet.  It is also pretty consistently not used for most related nouns (like tli’suti ‘language’ here), and verbs made directly/recently from nouns.

What’s more, this /e/ only comes in on words whose first syllable has the weak vowel /’/.  Where the /e/ is not used, you get the original weak vowel form.  But most often that weak vowel is actually dropped or left unwrittten.  That lost vowel is why the /e/-less forms start with two consonants in a row, like /tl/ up above.

You will be understood most of the time if you mix up when to use the /e/-forms and when not to, but it does sound like a kid saying “I sleeped all night”.  For the start, just learn to recognize it when it happens—”Oh, that had the /e/, and that didn’t”—and pretty soon you will pick up the pattern automatically.

Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: l and n

When /l/ and /n/ come together in a word, generally the /l/ will turn into /n/: so /ln/ becomes double /nn/.  Since /l/ is common ending, you will see this pattern whenever it is added to words ending in /n/.

su’nn        ‘cranberries’            (comes from su’n-l)        su’n    ‘cranberry’
signn        ‘socks’                    (comes from sign-l)        sign    ‘sock’

It also happens in the opposite direction: when you add /n/ to something ending in /l/.

etlatal            I am eating
etlatann        you are eating        (from etlatal-n)

mesgil            I am big
mesginn        you are big        (from mesgil-n)

This pattern is distinctive to Listuguj Mi’gmaq: speakers from the east do not make this sound change.  This is the reason, for example, why Listuguj speakers say /nnu/ while others say /lnu/.

(There is at least one important exception to this rule—seen in words like /nemulneg/ ‘we see you’—more on that when it comes up.)

Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: g and q

The sound /a/ in Mi’gmaq is pronounced low and in the back of the mouth.  When you add a /g/ after it, the /a/ sound pulls the /g/ down low and back into your throat, giving it that very distinctive guttural sound that we write with /q/.

(There are still some words—like jagej ‘lobster’—that do have /ag/, but as a general rule, /ag/ almost always comes out pronounced as /aq/, especially, as Erin notes, before a consonant or the end of the word.)

So for example, the common ending -g, which you may know from these two words

tap’tang    ‘potatoes’                                                tap’tan    ‘potato’

comes out as -q after the -a- that some words have before the ending:

ga’taq        ‘eels’                (comes from     ga’ta-g)            ga’t        ‘eel’
muinaq    ‘bears’                (comes from     muina-g)            muin        ‘bear’

As Erin notes, /o/ will do the same thing, so that /og/ comes out as /oq/.  This is probably because /o/ mostly comes from /a/-sounds that have fused together with a nearby /w/ or /gw/ sound.

Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: gw and u

It’s hard to reliably hear the difference between gwu (“gwoo”) and gu (“goo”).  So if putting a word together would get you /gwu/, the language naturally simplifies it to /gu/.  For similar reasons, any time you might get /ugw/ at the end of the word, it can be pronounced either as /ugw/ or as /-ug/.  But then if more is added to the word, the full /ugw/ will always be pronounced, since it’s not at the end any more.  Same goes for /uggw/, too, so we say

gesalugg            ‘we (you+me) love h/her’

but then adding -ig, to refer to more people, we say

gesaluggwig        ‘we (you+me) love them’