Last time we went over the oral vowels of Waⁿdat, i u e a. This time we’ll look at the nasal vowels, ę ǫ. You might have seen these vowels
written in different ways, such as ẽ õ, en on, eñ oñ, eⁿ oⁿ, or several
other ways. Each of those spellings comes from a different tradition, but today we use ę and ǫ. The little tail under those letters (technically called an ogonek, but usually called a nasal hook instead) is a part of the letter, and not an extra decoration. Take it away and you might end up with a different word.
For French speakers, these vowels are pretty easy, though the pronunciation is more Parisian than Quebecois. So if your “en” sounds to English speakers more like the vowel of “mane” than of “men”, try again!
For some English speakers, these vowels can be difficult. Although English does not have any distinctive (phonemic) nasal vowels, all English vowels can be non-distinctively (phonetically) nasalized. We do this normally in front of a nasal consonant (m, n, ng) without noticing it. So, for example, when we say “rum” we start to nasalize the vowel, which we don’t do for “rub”. The same is true of “ring” versus “rig”.
The vowel ę is the nasal equivalent of the vowel in “bed”. If you are
having difficulty making ę as a nasal, practice saying “bed” and “Ben”.
“Bed” is oral. Repeat “bed” slowly and notice how it feels. Pay special
attention to the feeling in your soft palate (the squishy part of the roof of your mouth). “Ben” has a nasalized vowel. Repeat “Ben” slowly and see how it feels too. Again, try to notice what your soft palate is doing.
Now repeat “bed, Ben” and try to notice the change between the sounds. English speakers usually want to put “n” after the nasal vowel. Don’t! That’s making two sounds, not one. Compare “bend” to both “bed” and “Ben”. Notice that to make the “d” and “n” sounds, the tongue does the same thing. Now try repeating “bend” slowly, but don’t let your tongue touch your teeth/gums on the “n”, but wait for the “d”. Ideally, this will get you to pronounce the vowel nasally, but not by sticking an “n” in there.
The next step is to do the same thing with “Ben”. Say it slowly but don’t let your tongue touch the roof of your mouth, but just get close. With practice, you should be able to feel how to add the nasal feature to the vowel, and instead of “Be_” you’ll say “bę”.
The same practice holds true for ǫ as well. The difference is which vowel to nasalize. The Waⁿdat sound ǫ is the nasalized version of the vowel in “long”, “log”, “honk”. Unfortunately, not all English speakers have this vowel! If you pronounce “cot” and “caught” differently, then you probably have the right oral vowel in “caught”. If you pronounce them the same, then you don’t have that vowel, and you will have to find someone who does to hear how they pronounce it.
If you have this vowel, practice “hawk” the same way as “bed”, “Hong” (as in Hong Kong) the same way as “Ben”, and “honk” the same way as “bend”. When you learn how to control what your soft palate is doing, you’ll be able to nasalize this vowel too and make Waⁿdat ǫ.
Just as the oral vowels had a range of pronunciation, the nasal vowels do too. Ę can sometimes be pronounced more like “bane” than “Ben”, can sometimes be like “beaned” (especially after š), and rarely like “bond”. Ǫ can also wander into “boned”, “booned”, and especially “bond”.