Ottawa (also spelled Odawa) is a dialect of the Ojibwe language spoken in a series of communities in southern Ontario and a smaller number of communities in northern Michigan. Ottawa has a phonological inventory of seventeen consonants and seven oral vowels; in addition, there are long nasal vowels the phonological status of which are discussed below. An overview of general Ojibwa phonology and phonetics can be found in the article on Ojibwe phonology. The Ottawa writing system described in Modern orthography is used to write Ottawa words, with transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) used as needed.
Significant innovations in Ottawa phonology differentiate it from other dialects of Ojibwe. It is characterized by a pervasive pattern of vowel syncope, by which short vowels are completely deleted or in certain circumstances reduced to schwa, when they appear in metrically defined Weak syllables. The notable effects of Syncope are:
- Syncope increases the distinctiveness of Ottawa relative to other dialects of Ojibwe, as syncope makes the pronunciation and representation of many Ottawa words significantly different from those of other dialects of Ojibwe.
- By deleting short vowels between consonants, syncope also creates new consonant clusters that do not occur in other dialects of Ojibwe.
- In some cases, syncope results in further adjustments in the pronunciation of consonant sequences
- Syncope has also resulted in new forms of the person prefixes that occur on nouns and verbs.
- Syncope has increased the amount of variability in the pronunciation of words that contains vowels subject to syncope, as speakers frequently have more than one way of pronouncing person prefixes and words.