Pronouncing Waⁿdat Words 4

In this installment of the language blog, let’s move onto three more consonants: ʔ, ⁿd, and ⁿg.

The first one is called a glottal stop, because to pronounce it you stop the air from coming out of your throat by closing your glottis (at the base of the throat). We use a fancy descriptive name only because the Romans didn’t give us a letter for it! English speakers use glottal stops all the time, but we normally don’t notice that we’re making them. So the good news is that you already make this sound, and just need to do it in Waⁿdat. The bad news is that you have to find them in English first…

If you think about interjections like uh-oh or unh-unh, in each one there is a little break between the syllables, right where we write the hyphen. Try saying each one normally, then try to say them without the little break, letting the vowels run into each other. Feel the difference? Compare unh-unh (as in no) to unh-hunh (as in yes). There’s no break in unh-hunh; instead there’s an h. Feel the difference?

Another place English speakers use glottal stops is instead of a t before an n sound. In words like kitten, button, whiten, most Americans will not use a full on t in the middle, but use the same sound as in uh-oh. Brits do the same in words like bottle. In pronouncing these words, the front of the tongue doesn’t move up to touch the teeth or gums for the t, but stays low, not rising until the n (or l for British English). Compare how you pronounce taken versus kitten at normal speed. The tongue goes up for the t in taken, but not in kitten.

To write a glottal stop in Waⁿdat, we usually use ʔ, which looks like a question mark without the dot underneath. Some fonts make a large glottal stop, and some make a smaller one that hangs in the air without touching the baseline. If you look at older materials, you might see a straight apostrophe ‘ or a curly one ʼ (but the curly one has to curve in the same direction as a comma, not the other way!). You might even see a 7. If you are using the Wendat keyboard layout from languagegeek, then it should be on the \ key.

The sounds ⁿd and ⁿg are at the same time both easier and harder to pronounce than a glottal stop. The easy part is the d and g, the hard part the ⁿ. For both ⁿd and ⁿg the raised ⁿ (“prenasalization”) is optional. What does that mean? Speakers freely shifted between ⁿd and d, and between ⁿg and g. There was no difference in meaning. They didn’t pronounce the ⁿ all the time, but they didn’t always drop it either. As a rough count, I found in Barbeau’s writings that he heard ⁿd 42.2% of the time, and plain d 57.8% of the time. For ⁿg and g, the split was also pretty close: 41.5% ⁿg and 58.5% g. So try pronouncing them half the time with the little ⁿ and half the time without!

Interestingly, the phonetician Haldeman, who worked mostly with J. M. Armstrong, asked how speakers felt about the ⁿ, and despite the fact that they were pronouncing it they did not notice it. As Haldeman reports, “the speaker denied its existence, and would not have written it, had the language been a written one”.

As English speakers, when we see the letters ng we want to pronounce them as in ring or thing. This is not a sound of Waⁿdat! The ⁿ and the g don’t merge into English ng. Barbeau described ⁿg as having an ⁿ in front of a g (though to be honest, once he did say it was a Spanish ñ, and once he said it was English ng). The phonetician Haldeman helps out again, as he said specifically that a “slight n (not ng) occurs before gay [CK: g] in the Wyandot”. In addition, listening to the recordings of Sarah Dushane we can hear her clearly using ⁿ and not ng in front of g. So when you see ⁿg, don’t think of English ng. Think of n, then think of g.

As for typing the ⁿ, the languagegeek keyboards don’t seem to have it. If you have other methods of accessing Unicode characters, it is technically referred to as U+207F Superscript Latin Small Letter N. If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry!

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