Miskito Language Course
|Introduction||Pronunciation and spelling|
There are only three vowels in Miskito: a, i and u.
According to Miskito grammars, there is a difference between long and short vowels. Any of the three vowels can be either short or long. The difference seems to be important because some words are distinguished by vowel length, such as:
|short vowel||long vowel|
ki question particle
On the other hand, there is some uncertainty about the length of vowels in many words, and it is not usual to mark vowel length consistently in writing. We will mark long vowels with a circumflex accent (â, î, û) only in words that need to be differentiated form similar words having a short vowel.
Miskito has the following consonants:
Semivowels and diphthongs
When the semivowels y and w stand between a consonant and a vowel (forming a diphthong), they are generally written as i and u respectively, although there is considerable variation on this point in written Miskito. So for example laih far, au yes, yaura whom, tiara (or tyara) young, etc.
Y is often, and w usually, preferred preceding a vowel, so kwakaia to open, swiaia to leave. W is sometimes found between two consonants, although here too it alternates with u, e.g. yakwra (or yakura) tall, high.
Some uses are simply conventional, such as the spelling -aia (not -aya) in the infinitive suffix.
Accent and aspiration
Words are generally accented on their first syllable.
Accented syllables may be aspirated. Aspiration consists of the devoicing of vowels and of any following liquid (l, r) or nasal (m, n, ng) consonants or semivowels (i, u).
Aspiration is indicated in writing by the letter h at the end of the aspirated syllable. For example:
|unaspirated syllable||aspirated syllable||example||meaning|
|li||lih||lih||green sea turtle (cf. li water)|
In written Miskito we find a degree of variation regarding the indication of aspiration, and pairs such as dara or dahra report, lupia or luhpia small, karna or karhna strong, tough. In some instances aspiration may also have a grammatical function: for example, the monosyllabic participles in -i of some verbs may be aspirated in some cases, e.g. bri or brih having, wi or wih going. Compare also wal two, walhwal four.
Try reading the following text out loud for practice. For the meaning of the text see the end of Lesson 10.
Wahma wâl wark plikaia want kan, bara witin nani utla wina taki banghwan. Naha wahmika nani ba plun bri banghwras kan. Wahma kum lalah yumhpa baman bri kan. Wahma wala ba sin lalah yumhpa bri kan.
Wahma wâl na yabal ra dama kum kaiki banghwan, bara witin wal aisi banghwan.
"Anira auma ki?" wi banghwan.
"Yang wark plikisna" win.
"Yang nani sin wark plikisna. Man wal wi banghwaisna."