Nasalized Vowels

Some long vowels are pronounced with air flowing through the nose. Such vowels are said to be nasalized. In Anishinaabemowin, they are indicated in writing with a following nh. Only long vowels (e, ii, oo, aa) show this kind of nasalization. The following words illustrate such vowels. Note that the nasalized vowel indicated with final nh is always the last sound in the word. Such forms are far more common with nouns than with any other part of speech, owing to the fact that the source of the nasalization is some kind of diminutive component.

abinoojiinh 'child'
waawaabiganoojiinh 'mouse'
asibikeshiinh 'spider'
mindimooyenh 'old woman'
niinimoshenh 'my sweetheart'
ajidamoonh 'squirrel'

Speakers vary in the amount of nasalization they apply, and nasalization is more prominent in some dialects than in others. In many northern dialects, nasalization has much less prominence than it does in more southerly areas.

When a plural or other suffix is added to these nouns, the letter h appears to change to a y, as can be seen from the following:

abinoojiinyag 'children'
waawaabiganoojiinyag 'mice'
baaka'aakwenyag 'chicken'

As you can tell by listening to the words, the n here is pronounced as nasalization on the preceding vowel, and not as a separate segment, n.

Nasalized Vowels before s, sh, z, or zh. Many speakers of "southern" varieties of Ojibwe (e.g., speakers in Minnesota and Wisconson) nasalize vowels before the sounds s, sh, z, and zh, which are all of a phonological type called sibilants, but I am unsure as to why this class would be particularly related to nasalization. This process applies to both long and short vowels, though it is much more salient with long vowels, and with short vowels, with /a/. The following examples illustrate this nasalization.

bakwezhigaans 'cracker'
abinoojiiyens 'baby'
babiizikawaagan (with much nasalization) 'coat'
babiizikawaagan (with less nasalization) 'coat'

The last two examples, both said by the same speaker, show that there can be considerable variation in the amount of nasalization.

Nasalized Long Vowels After a Nasal Consonant

After a nasal consonant (/m/ or /n/), a long vowel is often nasalized, especially before the sibilant sounds listed above (/z/, /s/, /zh/, and /sh/). Nichols and Nyhom 1995:xxv point out that "It is often difficult to decide whether to write these as nasalized vowels or not." They give the example, mooz, 'moose,' which many people write as moonz.