3. Consonant-/w/ (Cw) Inanimate Noun Stems – NI3

The third subclass of Cree nouns is characterized in part by the appearance or disappearance of a mysterious /w/.  Unlike regular and vowel-glide stems, the stem form of a consonant-/w/ (or Cw) stem is not identical to its singular form.  Instead, these stems include a sequence of consonant (frequently /k/, sometimes /m/, /n/ or /s/) and a /w/.  Examples of these stems include:


(20)               ministikw–                  “island”

      pahkēkinw–                 “leather, rawhide”


The reason why the /w/ is so mysterious is that it disappears in the singular form of these nouns.  Thus, when these stems are pronounced in their singular form as words, the /w/ must be dropped to get actual spoken word form:


(21)                ministik                       “island”

      pahkēkin                     “leather, rawhide”


The formal rule has been written as:  w  →  Ø / C __ # .  This simply means that the stem-final /w/ is deleted (becomes Ø) when it occurs ( __ ) after a consonant (C) at the end of a word (#).  Justification for this rule and the inclusion of the /w/ with the stem (rather than, for instance, the plural) will be found in the numerous irregularities that we find in the inflectional and derivational patterns below.


3.1  Consonant-/w/ Singular and Plural

The plural forms of consonant-/w/ stems have often been considered irregular, since it appears that –wa rather than –a is added to form the plural of these inanimate nouns.  If, as has been suggested above, we include the /w/ as part of the stem, then it is, in fact, just the regular plural ending that is once again being added to a Cree noun stem.


Table I.3.1

Singular and Plural Forms of Consonant-/w/ NI3 Stem ministikw–


  NI3 Stem Change Number Word Translation
singular ministikw– w  →  Ø ministik “island”
plural ministikw– –a ministikwa “islands”


Table I.3.2

Singular and Plural Forms of Consonant-/w/ NI Stems


  NI3 Stem Change Number Word
singular w → Ø
locative –a


If it were merely a matter of deciding between whether to treat the /w/ as part of the stem or the plural, it may well have been simplest to suggest that nouns of this type take an irregular –wa plural.  However, this is not the only pattern in which the presence of a /w/ is evident.  In the subsequent sections, we could conclude that each of the possessive, locative and diminutive forms must also take exceptional, irregular forms when added to this particular noun type, or we can conclude that the irregularity arises because of the interaction of the regular suffixes with an irregularity inherent to the stem itself.  We will choose the latter option, and attribute all irregularities to the single source of the Cw stem type, since this is predictable based on a second important rule.


When any of the possessive, locative or diminutive suffixes are added to consonant-/w/ stems, a second vowel adjustment rule comes into play.  This rule can be formulated in either of the two ways given in (22):


(22)     a)         w         +          –i…     →        o          / C___

     b)         Cw      +          –i…     →        Co


In (22a), the traditional linguistic formula indicates that when a /w/ and an /i/ (as the initial element of an affix) are brought together, they will merge to become an [o].  The final part of this formula (/ C___ ) is important as it specifies that this merger of /w/ and /i/ occurs only if the /w/ occurs immediately after a consonant (C).  This can be restated as in (22b), showing explicitly that when a Cw combination (as at the end of a Cw stem) is brought together with an /i/-initial suffix, the result is the merger of /w/ and /i/ to [o] while the preceding consonant remains unchanged.  In turn, this second vowel adjustment rule in (22b) can be compared with the first originally given in (16) above and restated here as (23a), showing a similarity of pattern involving the interaction of a glide (e.g. /w/) and /i/.


(23)     a)         VW     +          –i…     →        V:        (vowel-glide stem vowel adjustment rule)

     b)         Cw      +          –i…     →        Co       (consonant-/w/ stem vowel adjustment rule)


The second vowel adjustment rule, represented in both (22b) and (23b), will become the main characteristic of Cw stems in the subsequent discussion of the possessive, locative and diminutive.


3.2  Consonant-/w/ Possessive

All possessive suffixes were first illustrated as beginning with the vowel /i/, and this was certainly the case when they were added to a regular (NI1) stem.  However, we observed some instances of the merger of this vowel with a preceding vowel-glide sequence in NI2 stems (or even in other affixes).  Now, we will see the possessive affixes appear to begin with an [o] sound, in place of /i/.  This will be due to the second vowel adjustment rule, given in (22) above.  The example stem mahkahkw– is illustrated in Table I.3.3, while a general NI3 possessive paradigm is given in Table I.3.4.


Table I.3.3

Possessive Forms of Consonant-/w/ NI3 Stem mahkahkw–


Prefix NI3 Stem Change Poss Person Number Word Translation
1s ni– mahkahkw  







im (–a) nimahkahkom(a) “my barrel(s)”
2s ki– mahkahkw im (–a) kimahkahkom(a) “your barrel(s)”
1p ni– mahkahkw im –inān (–a) nimahkahkominān(a) “our barrel(s)”
21 ki– mahkahkw im –inaw (–a) kimahkahkominaw(a) “our barrel(s)”
2p ki– mahkahkw im –iwāw (–a) kimahkahkomiwāw(a) “your barrel(s)”
3s o– mahkahkw im (–a) omahkahkom(a) “his/her barrel(s)”
3p o– mahkahkw im –iwāw (–a) omahkahkomiwāw(a) “their barrel(s)”
3’ o– mahkahkw im –iyiw (–a) omahkahkomiyiw(a) “another’s barrel(s)”



Table I.3.4

Possessive Paradigm for Consonant-/w/ NI3 Stems with –im


Prefix NI3 Stem Change (Poss) Person Number Word
1s ni(t)–  





–im (–a)
2s ki(t)– –im (–a)
1p ni(t)– –im –inān (–a)
21 ki(t)– –im –inaw (–a)
2p ki(t)– –im –iwāw (–a)
3s o(t)– –im (–a)
3p o(t)– –im –iwāw (–a)
3’ o(t)– –im –iyiw (–a)


It must be noted that each of these tables includes the extra possessive suffix –im as it is apparently fairly rare for NI3 stems to occur in possessed form without the use of –im.  Examples without this suffix are given in (24) to illustrate the effect of the vowel adjustment rule when the possessive person suffixes are added directly to an NI3 stem.


(24)        a)        ni–    +    kiskinwahamātowikamikw–   +    –inān

→        nikiskinwahamātowikamikonān         “our (exclusive) school”


 b)        ki–    +    mīcisowināhtikw–    +    –inaw

→        kimīcisowināhtikonaw                           “our (inclusive) table”


c)          o–    +    wāpamonāpiskw–    +    –iwāw

→        owāpamonāpiskowāw                         “their mirror”


However, it is possible that speakers in some communities will reject these forms in favour of ones which include –im.  Alternatives to these including –im would be as in (25).


(25)     a)         nikiskinwahamātowikamikominān               “our (exclusive) school”

    b)        kimīcisowināhtikominaw                                “our (inclusive) table”

    c)        owāpamonāpiskomiwāw                                “their mirror”


Whichever of the /i/-initial suffixes is attached directly to the Cw stem, the result is an [o], where we expect /i/.


3.3  Consonant-/w/ Locative

Again, locative formation is quite straightforward in comparison to the complexities of the possessive.  All Cw stems appear to have a suffix of the form “–ohk” added to the singular form, due to the interaction of the stem-final /w/ and the suffix-initial /i/.  This will yield our first paradigm in which two distinct changes are taking place.  The singular form of the stem must drop the stem-final /w/, while the locative form merges this same /w/ with the /i/ of the suffix.


Table I.3.5

Locative Formation of Consonant-/w/ NI3 Stem mahkahkw–


  NI3 Stem Change Locative Word Translation
singular mahkahkw– w → Ø mahkahk “barrel”
locative mahkahkw– Cw+i→Co –ihk mahkahkohk “in the barrel”


Table I.3.6

Locative Formation of Consonant-/w/ NI3 Stems


  NI3 Stem Change Locative Word
singular w → Ø
locative Cw+i→Co –ihk


Additional examples of some Cw locatives are given in (26).


(26)     maskēkw–                   +     –ihk →      maskēkohk                “in the swamp”


    āhkosiwikamikw–       +     –ihk →      āhkosiwikamikohk    “in the hospital”


    kīwētinw–                   +     –ihk →      kīwētinohk                “in the north”


An important note for teachers at this point is that we recognize that the rules and paradigms given above are somewhat complex and abstract in comparison with a more surface-based analysis of irregular plural (–wa) and “o”-initial suffixes.  Younger students, for instance, need not be taught about the vowel contraction rules and the mysterious /w/ can remain mysterious.  Regardless of the most appropriate means of teaching this particular class of nouns, though, the fact remains that Cw stems are a valid subdivision of Cree noun stems requiring specific modifications from the regular stem forms.


We could now complete our discussion of the locative with a demonstration of the combination of locative and possessive forms as has already been done for regular and vowel-glide stems.  However, given the predominant inclusion of –im in the NI3 possessive paradigms given in Tables I.3.3 and I.3.4 above, locative-possessive NI3 paradigms will consist of the regular /i/-initial locative(-possessive) suffixes added after the –im suffix.


3.4  Consonant-/w/ Diminutive

The last modification to be introduced for NI3 stems is the form of the diminutive.  This is again quite straightforward, as the vowel adjustment rule creates an apparent diminutive of the form “–os(is)”, as in the examples in (27) which also include instances of the familiar t→c diminutive alternation.


(27)     mistikw–  (“stick”)                          +       –is →      miscikos                    “twig”


     āhkosiwikamikw– (“hospital”)       +       –is →      āhkosiwikamikos      “clinic”


     ministikw– (“island”)                      +       –is →      miniscikos                 “islet”


     napakihtakw– (“board”)                  +       –is →      napakihcakos             “small board”


     pahkēkinw– (“hide”)                       +       –is →      pahkēkinos                “small hide”


Tables I.3.7 and I.3.8 illustrate and further exemplify the diminutive derivation.


Table I.3.7

Diminutive Formation from Consonant-/w/ NI3 Stem mahkahkw–


NI3 Stem Change Diminutive Word Translation
base mahkahkw– w → Ø  mahkahk “barrel”
diminutive mahkahkw– Cw+i→Co –is  mahkahkos “small barrel”


Table I.3.8

Diminutive Formation from Consonant-/w/ NI3 Stems


NI3 Stem Change Diminutive Word
base w → Ø
diminutive Cw+i→Co –is(is)


3.5  Summary of Consonant-/w/ (NI3) Stems

We can now combine all of these observations of Cw stems in full NI3 paradigms, with an example noun in Table I.3.9 and the bare frame for NI3 stems in Table I.3.10.  Once again, these paradigms give all singular forms (independent and possessed) first, then the plurals, then the locatives, and include the diminutive form for which the whole paradigm could then be repeated.


Table I.3.9

    NI3  example paradigm: nipēwikamikw- “bedroom”

form Cree word English translation
singular nipēwikamik bedroom
1s ninipēwikamik my bedroom
2s kinipēwikamik your (sg) bedroom
1p ninipēwikamikonān our (excl) bedroom
21 kinipēwikamikonaw our (incl) bedroom
2p kinipēwikamikowāw your (pl) bedroom
3s onipēwikamik his/her bedroom
3p onipēwikamikowāw their bedroom
4 onipēwikamikoýiw (an)other’s bedroom
plural nipēwikamikwa bedrooms
1s ninipēwikamikwa my bedrooms
2s kinipēwikamikwa your (sg) bedrooms
1p ninipēwikamikonāna our (excl) bedrooms
21 kinipēwikamikonawa our (incl) bedrooms
2p kinipēwikamikowāwa your (pl) bedrooms
3s onipēwikamikwa his/her bedrooms
3p onipēwikamikowāwa their bedrooms
4 onipēwikamikoýiwa (an)other’s bedrooms
locative nipēwikamikohk in the bedroom(s)
1s ninipēwikamikohk in my bedroom(s)
2s kinipēwikamikohk in your (sg) bedroom(s)
1p ninipēwikamikonāhk in our (excl) bedroom(s)
21 kinipēwikamikonāhk in our (incl) bedroom(s)
2p kinipēwikamikowāhk in your (pl) bedroom(s)
3s onipēwikamikohk in his/her bedroom(s)
3p onipēwikamikowāhk in their bedroom(s)
4 onipēwikamikoýihk in (an)other’s bedroom(s)
dim nipēwikamikos little bedroom


Table I.3.10

    NI3 blank paradigm frame

form prefix NI3 Stem change ending
 1s    ni(t)–





 2s   ki(t)–
 1p   ni(t)–   –inān
 21   ki(t)–   –inaw
 2p   ki(t)–   –iwāw
 3s   o(t)–
 3p   o(t)–   –iwāw
 4   o(t)–   –iyiw
 plural     –a
1s   ni(t)–





2s   ki(t)–   –a
1p   ni(t)–   –ināna
21   ki(t)–   –inawa
2p   ki(t)–   –iwāwa
3s   o(t)–   –a
3p   o(t)–   –iwāwa
4   o(t)–   –iyiwa





1s   ni(t)–   –ihk
2s   ki(t)–   –ihk
1p   ni(t)–   –ināhk
21   ki(t)–   –ināhk
2p   ki(t)–   –iwāhk
3s   o(t)–   –ihk
3p   o(t)–   –iwāhk
4   o(t)–   –iyihk
 diminutive       Cw + i → o –is


In summation, Cw stems are characterized by two important rules, restated here as (28) and (29). The first (28) manifests itself in the singular when the stem-final /w/ is dropped.


(28)     w         →        Ø         / C___#


Following a consonant (C___), at the end of a word (___#), a /w/ is unpronounceable, so it is dropped, and thus singular forms end in the simple consonant.  However, when something is added to the noun stem, the /w/ surfaces.  If the plural suffix –a is added, the /w/ appears as normal.  If, on the other hand, an /i/-initial suffix is added, the vowel adjustment rule in (29) takes place, merging stem-final /w/ and suffix-initial /i/ to [o].


(29)     w         +          –i…     →        o          / C___


The environment in which these changes take place (i.e. after a consonant) is very important, since the /w/ will neither drop at the end of a word, nor merge with /i/ to form [o] if the /w/ in question follows a vowel (i.e. Vw).  This is what sets NI3 or consonant-/w/ (Cw) stems apart from NI2 or vowel-glide (VW) stems.  These are the two main ways in which noun stems differ from the regular pattern.  The next noun subclass, single-syllable stems (NI4), exhibit yet another irregularity, but the entire subclass consists of very few examples.