Mohawk's orthography was standardized in 1993, but before that texts on Mohawk used many different scripts. For this course, we'll use the standard orthography, though as you'll learn this can differ based on dialect (see below)
Mohawk has 6 vowels, 4 "oral vowels" and 2 "nasal vowels". The "oral" vowels are:
- A: pronounced like the a in father
- E: can be pronounced either like the e in get or the a in fate. When it is a long vowel (see below) it is always pronounced like the a in fate, and when it is a short (normal) vowel, it is usually pronounced like the e in get
- I: pronounced like the i in police
- O: pronounced like the o in note
Nasal vowels have no equivalent in English. However, anyone who took French classes should know about nasal vowels, for example the en in the French word for dog, chien. Nasal vowels are vowels which are said partially through the nose as well as the mouth. Many english speakers find this to sound like a half-pronounced N.
For example, listen to the pronunciation of the French word l'eau (meaning "the water", pronounced "low") here:
And then listen to the pronunciation of the French word long (meaning "long" but pronounced "lon", the n being nasalized)
Notice that the 2 examples are pronounced the same, except for that "half-pronounced N" at the end of long. That is nasalization.
To make that sound, try pronouncing the word "owe". Notice that when you say that word, the back of your tongue doesn't touch the roof of your mouth. Now try to say the word owe again, but touch the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth as you say it. The result should be "on", a nasalized O.
You can nasalize any vowel like this, by pushing your toungue against the roof of your mouth while you say that vowel.
In Mohawk the nasal vowels are:
- En: pronounced like the u in hut, only nasalized
- On: pronounced like the oo in boot, only nasalized.
In Mohawk you have to distinguish between long and short vowels, unlike in English.
In Mohawk you indicate this with a colon (:). For example, kaná:ta (town) and rón:kwe (man). Notice that with a nasal vowel the colon comes after the N.
You should hold long vowels for about half a second, as opposed to the fraction of a second given to short vowels.
Tone is another part of the Mohawk language that doesn't occur in English. Tones are very common in Asian languages, such as Chinese and Thai.
In English, as in all European languages, tones are used extensively during singing and tones often sound like singing to English speakers. Think of tones musically, as in the commonly know musical scale Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do. In that example Do is a low tone, and Fa is a high tone.
Listen to the following example, with the syllable ma pronounced the in 4 tones of Mandarin Chinese.