The distinction between long and short vowels is important in Cayuga, and can make a difference in meaning:
<a> oyęˀgwaˀ tobacco
<a:> oyęˀgwa:ˀ smoke
Definition of long and short vowels
Long vowels are long in every word that they occur in (with one type of exception). The next three examples of [-nǫˀa:-] 'head' show that the third vowel, long [a:], is long all of the time; the exception is that long vowels are shortened when they are immediately followed by another vowel (as in the fourth example):
- onǫ́ˀa:ˀ a head
- sanǫˀá:ˀgeh on your head
- honǫˀá:dę:s he's thick-headed
- ęgatnǫ̲ˀaohái:ˀ 'I will wash my head'
When these nouns are part of longer words, they retain their vowel length, resulting in various kinds of exceptions to accent and lengthening rules.
In contrast, short vowels are short most of the time; for example, the second and third vowels in the next word are short.
agatǫdę́ˀǫh I have heard it before
However, the same vowels can be lengthened, as shown in the next example, under conditions described below.
aga:tǫ́:deˀ I hear it (right now)
Long vowels and counting syllables
Long vowels can affect the syllable count (as described below), but only when they are not word-final.
- Long vowels that count as '2'
- The prefix [a:-] 'would, could, should, might' is always long, and counts as '2' for the accent placement rules
- Some vowels are always (or normally) long, and count as '2' for the accent placement rules.
- Long vowels that don't count as '2': long vowels is at the end of the word never count as '2'
Lengthening short vowels
Short vowels are lengthened under the following conditions, which are related to accent placement. For examples and further discussion, see the page about Non-final accent placement.
- If the second-last vowel is even-numbered and accented, lengthen it, if possible
- If the second-last vowel is odd-numbered and accented, lengthen it, if possible
- in this case, also lengthen the third-last vowel, if possible.
There are also some circumstances where short vowels cannot be lengthened, which are described next.
Conditions on lengthening
- Short vowels cannot be lengthened if
- they are followed by an < h > or a < ˀ >
- they are followed by another vowel
Examples are provided on the page on Non-final accent placement.