Acoustic characteristics of preaspirated stops in Plains Cree


  • Katherine Schmirler University of Alberta


This paper investigates acoustic characteristics of preaspirated consonants in Plains Cree, an Algonquian language of Canada, as spoken in Maskwacîs, Alberta. Phonemic preaspirated stops are a pervasive characteristic of Western Cree dialects (e.g. Wolfart, 1996), though few phonological or phonetic descriptions exist. Some works describe ongoing weakening and deletion of preaspiration in certain areas; for example, Starks and Ballard (2003) investigate ongoing changes in Woods Cree (northern Saskatchewan) wherein younger speakers consistently neutralise certain plain and preaspirated consonants. Similarly, plain and preaspirated consonants have fallen together in some Plains Cree communities in southern Saskatchewan; long and short vowels had fallen together in these contexts before preaspiration was lost, resulting in homophony, especially in inflectional paradigms (Arok Wolvengrey, pers. comm.).

For this investigation of Plains Cree, careful pronunciations were elicited in Maskwacîs, Alberta (8 speakers, 6 female, ages 50-80). The occurrence and duration of preaspiration, as well as the vowel duration in preaspiration environments, were analysed. Methods for measuring preaspiration as a devoiced period between a vowel and the following consonant closure are adapted from Pind’s (1995) study of Icelandic preaspiration. The occurrence of preaspiration is evident in 87% of careful pronunciations by these speakers and the duration of preaspiration is influenced by vowel duration. Vowel duration does not demonstrate neutralisation in preaspiration environments among these speakers. Investigations of preaspiration in Cree allow for comparisons, more detailed descriptions, and improvements to pedagogical materials across dialects.



Pind, J. (1995). Constancy and normalization in the perception of Voice Offset Time as a cue for preaspiration. Acta Psychologica, 89(1), 53-81.

Starks, D., & Ballard, E. (2003). A short note on changes in pre-aspiration in Woods Cree. Linguistica Atlantica, 24(0), 1-7.

Wolfart, H. C. (1996). Sketch of Cree, an Algonquian Language. In Handbook of American Indians. Vol. 17: Languages (pp. 390-439). Washington: Smithsonian Institute.

Author Biography

Katherine Schmirler, University of Alberta

Department of Linguistics, PhD student




How to Cite

Schmirler K. Acoustic characteristics of preaspirated stops in Plains Cree. Canadian Acoustics [Internet]. 2016 Aug. 24 [cited 2023 Sep. 21];44(3). Available from:



Proceedings of the Acoustics Week in Canada