, French Cree
) is the language
of the Métis
people of Canada
and the northern United States
, who are the descendants of First Nations
women (mainly Cree
) and fur trade
workers of European ancestry (mainly French Canadians
and Scotch). Nowadays; Michif is spoken in scattered Métis communities in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada and in North Dakota
(there are some 230 speakers of Mitchif in the United States [down from 390 at the 1990 census
, 178 of whom live in North Dakota, particularly the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation
). Michif emerged over two hundred years ago as a mixed language
(not to be confused with a creole
). The language solidified sometime between 1820 and 1840.
Michif combines Cree and Métis French (Rhodes 1977, Bakker 1997:85), a variety of Canadian French, with some additional borrowing from English and First Nation languages such as Ojibwe and Assiniboine. In general, Michif noun phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax are derived from Métis French, while verb phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax are from a southern variety of Plains Cree. (Plains Cree is a western dialect of Cree.) Articles and adjectives are also of Métis French origin, but demonstratives are from Plains Cree.
The Michif language is unusual (and possibly even unique) among mixed languages, in that, rather than forming a simplified grammar it developed by incorporating the most complex and demanding elements of the chief languages from which it was born. French origin noun phrases retain lexical gender and adjective agreement; Cree origin verbs retain much of their polysynthetic structure. This suggests that instead of haltingly using words from another's tongue the people who gradually came to speak Michif were fully fluent in both French and Cree.
The number of speakers is estimated at fewer than 1,000; it was probably double or triple this number around the turn of the last century but never much higher.
Michif as recorded starting in the 1970s combined two separate phonological systems: one for French origin elements, and one for Cree origin elements (Rhodes 1977, 1986). For instance, /y/, /l/, /r/ and /f/ exist only in French words, whereas preaspirated
stops such as /ʰt/ and /ʰk/ exist only in Cree words. In this variety of Michif, the French elements were pronounced in ways that have distinctively Canadian French values for the vowels, while the Cree elements have distinctively Cree values for vowels. Nonetheless, there is some Cree influence on French words in the stress system (Rosen 2006). But by the year 2000 there were Michif speakers who had collapsed the two systems into a single system (Rosen 2007).
A comparison of some common words in French, Cree, and Michif:
|| Cree |
|| Haen, Peeyak
|| Pêyak |
|| Nîso |
|| Nisto |
|| Nêwo |
|| Nîyânan |
|| Homme (L'homme)
|| Nâpêw |
|| Shyaeñ, Shyen
|| Atim |
|| Pîsim |
|| Eau (De l'eau)
|| Nipîy |
|| Wâpiskâw |
|| Osâwâw |
|| Mihkwâw |
|| Kaskitêwâw |
|| Miichishow; Miitshow
|| Mîcisiw |
|| Wâpiw |
|| Pêhtam |
|| Nikamôw |
|| Shipweeteew; Atishipweeteew
|| Sipwêtêw |
Nouns are almost always accompanied by a French-origin determiner or a possessive.
|| Michif |
| a gun /
|| un fusil /œ̃ fyzi/
|| aeñ fiizii |
| a house
|| une maison /yn mɛzɔ̃/
|| aen meezoñ |
| the boy
|| le garçon /lə ɡarsɔ̃/
|| li garsoñ |
| the rock
|| la roche /la rɔʃ/
|| la rosh |
| the knives
|| les couteaux /le kuto/
|| lii kutu |
| his (her) food
|| sa nourriture /sa nurityr/
|| su mañzhii |
| his (her) hand
|| sa main /sa mɛ̃/
|| sa maeñ |
| my dogs
|| mes chiens /me ʃjɛ̃/
|| mii shyaeñ |
Cree-origin demonstratives can be added to noun phrases, in which case the Cree gender (animate or inanimate) is that of the corresponding Cree noun.
|| Plains Cree |
| that boy
|| ce garçon-là
|| awa li garsoñ
|| awa nâpêsis (animate) |
| this egg
|| cet oeuf-là
|| ôma li zaef
|| ôma wâwi (inanimate) |
| that rock
|| cette roche-là
|| awa la rosh
|| awa asinîy (animate) |
| those men
|| ces hommes-là
|| neekik lii zom
|| neekik nâpêwak (animate) |
Adjectives are French-origin (Cree has no adjectives), and as in French they are either pre- or postnominal. Prenominal adjectives agree in gender (like French), however, postnominal adjectives do not agree in gender (unlike French).
The verb phrase is that of Plains Cree-origin with little reduction (there is no dubitative or preterit verb forms).
Michif word order is basically that of Cree (relatively free). However, the more French-origin elements are used, the closer the syntax seems to conform to norms of spoken French.
Nouns: 83-94% French-origin; Cree-origin or Ojibwe-origin, English-origin
Verbs: 88-99% Cree-origin
Question words: Cree-origin
Personal pronouns: Cree
Conjunctions: 55% Cree-origin; 40% French-origin
The Lord's Prayer in English, French, and Michif:
|| English |
||Our Father |
| Toñ Periinaan, dañ li syel kayaayeen kiichitwaawan toñ noo. Kiiya kaaniikaanishtaman peetoteiie kaandaweetaman taatochiikateew ota dañ la ter taapishkoch dañ li syel. Miinaan anoch moñ paeñiinaan poneeiiminaan kamachitotamaak, niishtanaan nkaponeemaanaanik anikee kaakiimaiitotaakoyaakuk kayakochii'inaan, maaka pashpii'inaan aayik ochi maachiishiiweepishiwin. Kaaniikaaniishtamawiiaak, kishokishiiwin, kaakichiteemiiak kiiya aniie, anoch ekwa takiine. Answichil.
|| Notre Père, qui es aux cieux, Que ton nom soit sanctifié, Que ton règne vienne, Que ta volonté soit faite Sur la terre comme au ciel. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour Pardonne-nous nos offenses, Comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés, Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation, Mais délivre-nous du mal.[Car c'est à toi qu'appartiennent le règne, la puissance et la gloire pour les siècles des siècles.] Amen.
|| Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil.[For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever.] Amen. |
In languages of mixed ethnicities, the language of the mothers usually provides the grammatical system, and the language of the fathers provides the lexicon. The reasons are following: children know mother’s language better; men are often immigrant, whereas women are native to the region, if the bilingual children need either of their parents’ language to converse with outsiders, it is most likely to be the language of the mothers. Thus, the model of language mixing predicts that Michif should have the Cree grammatical system and the French lexicon. However, Michif has Cree verb phrase and French noun phrase. The explanation lies in the polysynthetic nature of Cree morphology, which is responsible for the unusual distribution of Cree and French elements in Michif.
In Cree verbs can be very complex with up to twenty morphemes, incorporated nouns and unclear boundaries between morphemes. In other words, in Cree verbs it is very difficult to separate grammar from lexicon. As a result, in Michif the grammatical and bound elements are almost all Cree, and the lexical and free elements are almost all French; the verb is almost totally Cree, because the verb consists of grammatical and bound elements.
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