Within Algonquian, the Eastern languages are generally considered to constitute a genetic subgroup 1 . Goddard provides a good overview of the languages in this branch. The precise number of distinct languages spoken at contact and their interrelationships are difficult to establish with certainty for several reasons. Many have disappeared. Attestation of some is limited to short word-lists, some showing internal dialect variation. Languages of many groups mentioned in early accounts were never documented at all. There was also continued contact among groups. Early authors differ in their appraisals of mutual intelligibility; some emphasize similarities, others differences.
The northernmost and most divergent of the Eastern languages is Micmac or Mi’kmaq, spoken by 8,100 2 in the Canadian maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, eastern New Brunswick), the Gaspe of Quebec, Labrador, and now Boston. Some children are still learning the language. There is dialect diversity among communities and age groups, with the greatest differences setting off the Restigouche community in Quebec. Major published documentation includes reference grammars 3, a teaching grammar 4 , dictionaries 5 , and texts 6 . Rand published a newspaper in the language, The Micmac Messenger, for 17 years. Fidelholtz 1968 contains a discussion of phonology with short dictionary, and Fidelholtz 1978 and Proulx 1978 verb morphology. The development of native writing systems is traced in Battiste 1984. 7
The language of the Micmac Indians is very remarkable. One would think it might be exceedingly barren, limited in inflection, and crude. But just the reverse is the fact. It is copious, flexible, and expressive. Its declension of Nouns, and conjugation of Verbs, are as regular as the Greek, and twenty times as copious. The full conjugation of one Micmac Verb, would fill quite a large volume! In its construction and idiom it differs widely from the English. This is why an Indian usually spoke such wretched English. He thinks in his own tongue, and speaks in ours; and follows the natural order of his own arrangement.
There are fewer elementary sounds in Micmac than in English. The have no r, and no f or v. Instead of r they say l, in such foreign words as they adopt. The name of an hour is in Micmac the same as that of an owl, (kookoogues) because when they first attempted to say hour, they had to say oul, and then they could think of the name of that nocturnal bird in their own tongue, more readily than they could recall a foreign term. 8
The Micmac Language was placed down on paper by Silas T. Rand in the 1870’s in an attempt to aid the Micmac people in learning how to read, and understand English. However, inversely it could be used by white people to learn the Micmac language.
A First Reading Book in the Micmac language comprising the Micmac numerals, and the names of the different kinds of beasts, birds, fishes, trees, &c. of the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Also, some of the Indian names of places, and many familiar words and phrases, translated literally into English.
- Read the Book: A First Reading Book in the Micmac Language
Sound Recordings of the Mi’kmaq Language
These are recordings from Alan Lomax’s Parlametrics collection. 9 They record the voices of Native Micmac having a natural dialogue. These recordings were made by linguists around the world as well as by Lomax himself. They have been digitized from the original reel-to-reel tapes.
Older man with softer voice 94 yo named Joe Paul- Peter Barnaby aged 77 was visiting him. The elder was in the hospital. Larry the fellow mentioned in the tape was making the tape while Barnaby was visiting Paul. This recording is over 13 minutes long.
The remainder of side one is of 2 ladies one in her late 60s or early 70s the other in her 50s. This recording is 2 minutes long.
Two Micmac legends as related to me by John Jerome, about 50yrs. Watson Willams. Recording is 7 minutes long.
Common Mi’kmaq Words
all: ms-tgoqwei and: aqq, jel*, ak ashes: tǔpkwŏn back: kpaqm-npoqm~ because: mŭdŭ belly: nmusti big: mesgi-g bird: sisip*, sesĭp bite: menpatl black: maqtewék* blood: maltew bone: nwaqan-tew breast: puskun* breathe: gamlamit burn: gaqsatl, gagsit child: mijua-ji-j cloud: alug, alukw* cold: tegig come: iga-q correct: tetapua-toq count: egimatl cut: telsatl, tels-g day: naagwěk, wŏpk die: sigto-gwet dog: lmu-j drink: esamqwat dry: gispasg, gispasatl, gispasit dull: jigaweteg, gesp-g ear: nsitaqn earth: maqmakew* eat: etlatalg eye: nupukikw fall: gewiaq, gewiet far: amaseg father: tata-t fat (n.): memā fear: jipalatl, jipatg few: matakaiem, matakauo* fight: matnagget, matnatl fingernail: kqosík; nqosi fire: booktāoo fish: najiwsget five: nán*, nan float: als-g flow: ěsĭtk- fly (v.): alsing, als-g fog: ún: ewnék foot: nkat forest: nebŏŏkt- four: néw*, nāoo fruit: minijg give: ignmuatl, ignmuetoq good: kěloo-lk grass: msigu green: esgig, esgit guts: waqtianl, wliksíl* hair: kusapun hand: lamiptn head: nunji heart: kkamulamun heavy: kěscook, gesgugg he: něgŭm here: tet hit: etlte-g, telte-g hold: gennatl, genn-g hunt: nědoogoole husband: nkisikum* ice: umkoome if: ědŭ I: niin, nen, neen knee: kjikun know: ge-itoq, gejiatl lake: koospěm laugh: etlenmit leg: kajikn lie: ělesmaase, isttohkihtsii (v) live: memăje*, mimajig, mimajit liver: skun louse: sasqeiejit man: cheenŭm many: poogwělkǐk meat: weeos moon: děpkŭnoo-sět mother: giju- mountain: gmtn mouth: ktun, -ntun* name: wesoon narrow: jijigwe-jg near: tepaw neck: kjítaqn night: děpkǐk nose: ksisqun* not: moo one: néwt*, nāookt other: kamāāk person: inu* play: mila-sit, mila-sualal push: gesma-latl, gesma-toq rain: kispesaq*, kĭk’pěsâk red: mekwék* right: inaganmit river: sipu*, seboo road: awti rope: a-papi rotten: sugulegaq, sugulegat rub: amipulatl, amiputoq salt: salawei sand: atuomq say: tělooā- scratch: gesipto-sit sea: apaqt seed: sgilmin sew: eli-satl, elisewet sharp: gi-g short: toqwaqji-jit sing: etlintoq sit: epit*, ěbaase skin: wásqi* sky: musigisg sleep: něbei small: apje-jg, apje-jit smoke: -ntloo-dāoo snake: -mtāāskŭm-ook snow: wastow*: pesaq, wostāoo spit: luswatign split: aps-sqate-get squeeze: jing-ja-latl, jing-ja-toq stab: sapalqata-tl, sapaqqata-tl stand: gagama-sit star: kŭlokowĕch-k*, gloqowej stick: gmu-j stone: kunt-ew*, guntew straight: tetpaqpit sun: nagoo-sět swell: apita-t swim: tegismit that: ala, a-at there: tět, nadāāl*, ala they: něg-ŭmow thick: maqo- think: etlite-tg this: oot, nŭt thou: kel three: sí-st throw: eleget tie: gelpilatl tongue: kilnu, nilnu; melnoo* tooth: mebet: nipit tree: kŭmoo-ch turn: atapaqatl two: tápu*, taaboo vomit: so-qotemit walk: alatija-sit warm: apua-latl, apuatoq wash: gesispa-latl, gesispa-lsit water: săm-oogwŏn wet: saqpe-g what: goqwei when: tán*, tan, ta’n where: tame?, ta-n white: wapék who: tan, wěn wide: gesga-sit wife: ntépitem* wind: wejúsn* oochoo-sŭn wipe: ga-satl, ga-s-g woman: e-pit; pl. e-pijik, eepit* yellow: wataptek* you: giil*
Written Materials in the Mi’kmaq Language
Interaction between missionaries, clergy and other early Europeans and the Micmac People have led to a collection of material written within their language. If you are interested in the learning of this language, outside of the primer listed earlier in this article (A First Reading Book in the Micmac Language), you should consult the following works . I would highly suggest you download a copy of the Dictionary of the Language of the Micmac Indians first.
- Pitman, Isaac. Micmac Genesis Translation. British and Foreign Bible Society. 1857.
- Rand, Silas Tertius. The Book of Exodus in Micmac. Halifax, N.S.? 1870.
- Pacifique, pere. Petit journal public par le R.P. Pacifique, missionaire. no. 253, v. 5. Sainte-Anne de Ristioguche, P.Q. 1908. Publisher’s note in French, Micmac and English. Text in Micmac.
- Pacifique, père. Le catéchisme micmac. Ristigouche, Q[uébec]: Frères mineurs capucins. 1913.
- Pacifique, père. Sacred history in Micmac. Restigouche, P.Q. : Micmac Messenger. 1921.
- Unknown. Gospel of Luke in Micmac.
- Goddard 1967, 1974a, 1979a, 1980, 1983
- SIL 1996
- Maillard 1864, Pacifique 1938 in Hewson & Francis 1990
- Delisle & Metallic 1976
- Rand 1888, 1902, DeBlois & Metallic 1984
- DeBlois 1991
- Mithun, Marianne. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1999.
- Rand, Silas Tertius. A short statement of facts relating to the history, manners, customs, language, and literature of the Micmac tribe of Indians, in Nova-Scotia and P.E. Island: being the substance of two lectures delivered in Halifax, in November, 1819, at public meetings held for the purpose of instituting a mission to that tribe. 1850.
- These recording are part of the The Rosetta Project, a global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers working to build a publicly accessible digital library of material on the nearly 7,000 known human languages.