Phonology of Potawatomi
The consonant phoneme inventory of Potawatomi is characterized by a fortis/lenis contrast in plosives, fricatives and affricates. Fortis consonants are longer in duration and always voiceless; lenis consonants are shorter in duration and may be voiced. Fortis plosives are sometimes aspirated. Some speakers, particularly those from Northern Wisconsin, labialize velar plosives in certain words. This is a conservative pronunciation, reflecting the syncopation of a following short /o/. Other speakers use plain velar stops in this environment.
|Potawatomi Consonant Chart|
Potawatomi has five vowel phonemes, /i:/, /ɛ:/, /a:/, /o:/ and /ə/. The phonemes /i:/, /ɛ:/ and /a:/ correspond to Proto-Algonquian long vowels *i:, *e:, and *a:. Potawatomi /o:/ is a merger of Proto-Algonquian *o: and *o. Potowatomi /ə/ is a merger of Proto-Algonquian short *i and short *a. A process of vowel syncope in Potawatomi affects historic short vowels, so all cases of /ə/, and those cases of modern /o/ that correspond to historic short /o/ are subject to deletion. In some dialects, particularly Southern Michigan and historically on Walpole Island, the phoneme represented here as /o:/ freely varies between [o:] and [u:]. In all dialects, /ə/ has several allophones whose distributions depend on the surrounding consonants.
|Potawatomi Vowel Chart|
The consonant /h/ is a marginal phoneme, found in only a few words, such as éhé 'yes' or ahaw 'okay.' These two words (and a few other interjections) also have nasalized vowels, which otherwise do not occur as phonemes or allophones.
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