Because we come from a literate society, we tend to think of writing as more important than speaking. But really it is the opposite! We all were speaking long before we could read or write. No one taught us how to talk, we did it naturally, but someone did have to teach us how to read and write. Most of the world’s languages aren’t written, most of those that are have only recently been written down, and even among long-written languages, historically literacy has been for a minority. So in every way, the spoken word comes before the written one.
For the next few blog entries I’ll be talking about pronunciation, and only incidentally about spelling. Fortunately for us, the Wandat language is rather easy for English (and French) speakers to pronounce. There’s only one consonant English lacks (which we actually do use, though, we just don’t think of it as a consonant), the consonants when clustered are close to those possible in English, and the main tricky part of the vowels is nasalization. So it’s not as bad as it seems!
For today we’ll just stick with the oral vowels, i u e a. The basic pronunciation of these four are like the equivalent cardinal vowels. That is, they are pronounced the same as in Spanish, Italian, and so on (pretty much as in any language other than English!). This means that i is pronounced as in “machine”, u as in “rule”, e as in “they”, and a as in “father”. In English we normally stick a little w after the u sound, and a little y after the e sound. Don’t do this in Wandat! They should be closer to the sounds spelled in French as “ou” and “é”.
Just as in any other language, the exact pronunciation of the Wandat vowels meanders around a little bit. For instance, all of the oral vowels can be nasalized near a nasal sound. Don’t worry about trying to do it for now. As English speakers we automatically nasalize all vowels before a nasal consonant, so sometimes you’re doing it anyway!
Each of these four vowel sounds can sometimes be pronounced in a slightly different way. While i is usually like in “feet”, sometimes it is more like in “fit”. While e is usually like in “bait”, sometimes it is more like in “bet”. Both u and a can be like the vowel of “cut/what”. When are they pronounced the basic way and when are they pronounced the other way? Good question! Unfortunately, for now that’s still a mystery.