Some Minimal Pairs from Solomon Ratt – With Audio

Another miniminal pair from Solomon: tânisi nîci-môs - hello my fellow moose; tânisi nîcimos - hello, my sweetheart

Another miniminal pair from Solomon: tânisi nîci-môs – ᑖᓂᓯ ᓃᒋ ᒨᐢ hello my fellow moose; tânisi nîcimos – ᑖᓂᓯ ᓃᒋᒧᐢ hello, my sweetheart

Cree spelling: kiyâm nâ? – It doesn’t matter? namôtha kiyâm! – It matters! 

This great collection of minimal pairs from Solomon Ratt brings together words in Cree that differ by only one sound, some of which are commonly confused – especially in non-standard spelling. It’s hard to believe it originally appeared in 2013. We’re re-releasing it to include some new th-dialect examples.

Minimal pairs allow us to confirm for ourselves which sounds can change the meaning of words. These distinctive sounds are called “phonemes”. Both SRO and the syllabic writing system are based on the phonemes of Cree: that is, only those language sounds that can make a difference to the meaning of a given word.

And if you think that marking vowel length doesn’t matter in Syllabics, you’d better have another look!

English is loaded with minimal pairs, like these:

  • pat – bat
  • fit – sit
  • fat – fit
  • pot – pit

In Cree, the most common minimal pairs (or sets) are those that appear in pronouns, or in verb sets. In these cases, the first sound in each set makes the difference between first, second and third person (niya, kiya, wiya):

maskosis – ᒪᐢᑯᓯᐢ a bear cub (NA)
maskosîs – ᒪᐢᑯᓰᐢ a small piece of grass (NI)

asam – ᐊᓴᒼ  feed someone (VTA)
asâm – ᐊᓵᒼ  a snowshoe (NA)

pisiw – ᐱᓯᐤ  a lynx (NA)
pêsiw – ᐯᓯᐤ  bring someone (VTA)

ôta – ᐆᑕ  here (PR)
ôtê – ᐆᑌ  over here (PR)

niya – ᓂᔭ  me/I (PR)
niyâ – ᓂᔮ  lead/go ahead (IPC)

nitomisin – ᓂᑐᒥᓯᐣ  I have an older sister/s (VAI)
nitômisin – ᓂᑑᒥᓯᐣ  I am greasy/oily (VAI)

nîsta – ᓃᐢᑕ  me too (PR)
nîstâ – ᓃᐢᑖ my brother-in-law (vocative)

pôsiw – ᐴᓯᐤ  s/he gets on board (VAI-3rd person)
pisiw – ᐱᓯᐤ  a lynx (NA)

pasow – ᐸᓱᐤ  s/he smells it (VAIt)
pâsow – ᐹᓱᐤ  s/he dries up (VAI)

sâkinêw – ᓵᑭᓀᐤ  s/he holds it out (VTA)
sakinêw – ᓴᑭᓀᐤ  s/he holds onto it (VTA)

kisik – ᑭᓯᐠ  and also (IPC)
kîsik – ᑮᓯᐠ  the sky (NI)

iskwêwasâkay – ᐃᐢᑵᐘᓵᑲᐩ  a woman’s dress/coat (NI)
iskwêwasakay – ᐃᐢᑵᐘᓴᑲᐩ  a woman’s skin (NI)

itapi – ᐃᑕᐱ  sit it that way (VAI)
itâpi – ᐃᑖᐱ  look that way (VAI)

tahkon – carry someone (VTA)
takon – add to it (VTA)

pêhêw – ᐯᐦᐁᐤ  s/he waits for s.o. (VTA)
pihêw  – ᐱᐦᐁᐤ  a grouse (NA)

otah – ᐅᑕᐦ  defeat s.o. (VTA)
ôta – ᐆᑕ  here (PR)

nimôsom – ᑭᒨᓱᒼ  my moose (NA)
nimosôm – ᑭᒧᓲᒼ  my grandfather (NDA)

ninistokâtân – ᓂᓂᐢᑎᑳᑖᐣ I have three legs
ninîstokâtân – ᓂᓃᐢᑐᑳᑖᐣ I have tired legs

nakacihtâw – ᓇᑲᒋᐦᑖᐤ
– “s/he knows well how to do it; s/he is practiced at it”
nâkacihtâw – ᓈᑲᒋᐦᑖᐤ
– “s/he attends to it, s/he looks after it”

miskwamîhk  –  ᒥᐢᑿᒦᕽ
– “on the ice”
miskwamihk  –  ᒥᐢᑿᒥᕽ
– “(you all) find him/her by biting now”

takahki  –  ᑕᑲᐦᑭ
– “that’s great!”
tahkâki  –  ᑕᐦᑳᑭ
– “if it’s cold.”

– “water hen, hell-diver, diver duck, coot”

– “boil, carbuncle”


    • p.s.: A minimal pair sentence from Solomon: “Uh oh, these two sentences in Th-Cree look the same except for the last vowel:
      nipihtawâw awiyak î-matwîsikît – ᓂᐱᐦᑕᐚᐤ ᐊᐏᔭᐠ ᐄᒪᑜᓯᑮᐟ
      I heard someone shooting in the distance, andnipihtawâw awiyak î-matwîsikit – ᓂᐱᐦᑕᐚᐤ ᐊᐏᔭᐠ ᐄᒪᑜᓯᑭᐟ
      I heard someone peeing in the distance.”

      May 2018: Sol finally coughs up a ruder example from th-dialect: 

      Short i vs long î
      misi – ᒥᓯ big
      mîsî – ᒦᓰ take a shit
      misi-mîsî – ᒥᓯᒦᓰ  take a big shit.

      misihîw – she/he gets someone in trouble (th-dialect)
      misihêw – she/he gets someone in trouble (y-dialect)
      mîsîhîw – she/he makes someone shit (th-dialect)
      mîsîhêw – she/he makes someone shit (y-dialect)
      misihêw – turkey (y-dialect!)
      misihthîw – turkey (th-dialect!)

      And today’s winner in the minimal pair championship: 

      misihêw misihêw, mêtoni misi-mîsîhêw. – The turkey gets him in trouble, so much so he made him shit lots. (y-dialect)

      misithîw misihîw, mitoni misi-mîsîhîw. – The turkey gets him in trouble, so much so he made him shit lots. (th-dialect)

      Cree spelling: kiyâm nâ? – It doesn’t matter? namôtha kiyâm! – It matters! 

About Arden Ogg

Arden Ogg is Director of the Cree Literacy Network, launched in 2010 with the goal of creating Cree language literacy materials suitable for use by learners of all ages.
This entry was posted in How Cree Works, Learn New Words, Solomon Ratt and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Some Minimal Pairs from Solomon Ratt – With Audio

  1. Pingback: Why the French can throw away their hats – But we still need them for written Cree | Cree Literacy Network

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *