The Sounds of Anishinaabemowin: Consonants and Vowels

All languages distinguish between two basic types of sounds, consonants and vowels. These two types differ in the ways that they are produced in the vocal tract. Speech sounds are usually produced by expelling air from the lungs, and shaping the vocal tract so as to produce particular auditory effects. Vowels are made by adjusting the tongue position and lips, but without any extreme constriction anywhere in the vocal tract. Consonants, on the other hand, involve a significant constriction somewhere in the vocal tract. So, for example, slowly pronounce the word pop. Notice that to make the vowel you open your mouth and let the air flow through. To make the consonants (p sounds), however, you completely cut off the airflow (creating a maximal constriction), by bringing your lips together.

Anishinaabemowin distinguishes between short and long vowels. There are three short and four long vowels, written as follows:

Short i   a o
Long ii e aa oo

These vowels have rough correspondences with English vowels, as follows:

There are 18 consonants, written as follows:

Stops b d j g  
  p t ch k '
Fricatives   z zh    
    s sh    
Nasal m n      
Glides (w)   y w  

Most of the consonants have correspondents in English, but you must be very careful not to assume that these sounds are equivalent to their English correspondents. For one, the sounds spelled p, t, ch, k, s, and sh in Anishinaabemowin tend to be pronounced significantly longer than their partner sounds b, d, j, g, z, and zh. Again, you can only learn by not relying on written forms, but by mimicking carefully to a fluent native speaker.

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