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.)

4 thoughts on “Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: l and n

  1. Speakers may also notice that /n/ and /l/ are sometimes very interchangeable in the Mi’gmaq spoken in Listuguj: it’s how you get both lmu’j and nmu’j for the word ‘dog’ and both lnim and nnim for the word ‘too’, and it may be why rules like those mentioned above are common.

    It’s also been mentioned that speakers of Mi’gmaq from other areas almost always use /n/ in these kinds of words. I’d like to learn more about it, if anyone has any information!

  2. So far whenever we’ve seen /l/ and /n/ to switch back and forth, it is only when the switching /l/-/n/ comes next to /m/ or /n/. In other kinds of words, /l/ and /n/ each seem not to do this: being next to an /m/ or /n/ seems to make the difference. And here it seems to be the /l/ that changes to /n/, since there are lots of /nm/ or /mn/ pairs that never seem to switch the /n/ to /l/.

    I have seen two words so far—laqsun/naqsun ‘bedsheet’ and lasguaw/nasguaw ‘snowshoe’—which also alternate, but this looks like it might actually be a reshaping/reanalysis of the initial morpheme, rather than the initial sound itself.

  3. Update on /l/: It also looks like this assimilation happens when it comes before /s/, too. For example, the word ‘boss’ can be pronounced either alsusit or assusit. It doesn’t seem to happen in the other direction, though: /l/ doesn’t become /s/ when it follows /s/.

  4. This may be a different pattern: we also see similar variation in /malqutm/ vs. /maqqutm/ ‘I eat it’, and in /angaptm/ vs. /aqqaptm/ ‘I look at it’. This assimilation pattern seems to be prevalent in Listuguj, but I still don’t have a clear bead on how widespread it is, even as the nasal assimilation of /l/ seems to be pretty much across the board here.

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