Why the French can throw away their hats – But we still need them for written Cree

Another miniminal pair from Solomon: tânisi nîci-môs - hello my fellow moose; tânisi nîcimos - hello, my sweetheart

Another miniminal pair from Solomon: tânisi nîci-môs – hello my fellow moose; tânisi nîcimos – hello, my sweetheart

Yesterday’s news of spelling reforms in France – eliminating most (but not all) uses of the circumflex accent – is an interesting comment on the information we get from spelling – and on the information we need. (In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a link to the story – and reactions – from CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/news/trending/french-spelling-reforme-orthographe-je-suis-circonflexe-1.3433227

I’m almost positive that some struggling Cree learners are already asking: If the French can do it, why don’t we? But the circumflex in French does a different job entirely from the circumflex (or macron) in Cree. (Besides, truthfully, a lot of Cree speakers are still unconvinced about the need for the hats in the first place!)

In French, the circumflex is a historical reminder of an /s/ sound that is no longer pronounced. In French words like fenêtre ‘window’ and fête ‘celebration’, the only job of the circumflex is to mark the spot where earlier generations pronounced an /s/. In English, the /s/ never disappeared, as we see in words like ‘feast’ and ‘fenestration’ that evolved from the same Latin roots.

In Cree, the circumflex (or macron) tells readers about vowel length (something that speakers can hear intuitively). For readers, that circumflex (or macron) can change the meaning of words (click here to read – and listen to – Solomon Ratt’s collection of “minimal pairs”). Native speakers of Cree will recognize that Solomon’s list gives only the “clean” examples (I have yet to convince him to produce a list of the “rude” ones, even for my own information.) If they’ve read this far, many of those Native speakers will already be chuckling to themselves about some of the obvious pairs that land struggling learners in hot water almost every time they try to speak!

Besides, as the CBC article says of French, “The circumflex will also be kept on i and u in cases where removing it would cause confusion. For example, “sur” means “upon,” while “sûr” means “certain.” “Un jeune” means “a young person,” but “un jeûne” is “a fast.” ” These French minimal pairs are exactly analogous to the minimal pairs in Solomon’s list. So even where most circumflexes are being thrown out, French is still keeping the important ones: the ones that can change the meaning of a word in writing.

The comment on my favourite photo from the CBC article (for the record) doesn’t make much sense in English when translated literally: “Don’t confuse a mature man with a wall man.” But – I suspect like most women – I would hate to be misled by spelling to accept one over the other!

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Grandmother’s Moose: A new (old) story from Solomon Ratt (th-dialect)

Originally posted in June 2012; Audio recorded and added, January 2016

This story is taken from “A Woods Cree Grammar and Workbook” by Solomon Ratt, and published here with his permission. (Thanks, Solomon!)

I love this story because it has elements of “urban myth” — in a Cree sort of way. I’m trying to remember where I read a *real* story like this — maybe in the stories of Ellen Smallboy (gathered in the 1930s). In that story, the mother or grandmother canoed up behind a swimming deer, and killed it with a sharpened pole (the kind used to stake a fish net, which she would have had in the canoe anyway) by shoving the stake up its anus and rupturing its inner organs. I don’t know if they named the location after her, the hungry family appreciated the venison.

In other words, the core of the story is probably true (a granny survived alone and they named a bay after her), but the details are far too big to be real. 

Another real story I’ve read (in Preston’s Cree Narrative, I think), talks about how hard it was for two men to haul a dead bear out of the lake after killing it in the water. A moose is much larger than that. Granny would have had to be Paul Bunyan to pull out a moose all by herself. 

The axe thing also sounds suspiciously like 21st century thinking to me, compared to the stake that was witnessed to do the job. Those old-time kohkoms didn’t mess around! But Solomon says he was a little kid in the canoe (trying to get away) when relatives of his got a moose exactly this way. That’s pretty cool. 

Thanks again, Solomon, for letting me share your story! 

kayâs îsa, mistahi mâna kî-papâmôtêhowak ithiniwak, î-nânitonawâcik pisiskiwa ta-pimâtihisocik. piyakwâw îsa î-takwâkinithik ôko ithiniwak âmaciwîspimowinihk ohci kî-sipwîyôtîhowak ikota ohci. kî-at-kapîsiwak nikiko-sâkahikanihk, ikota piyak î-misâthik wâsâw kâ-kî-mânokîcik. piyak tipiskâw ikota î-ayâcik. kâ-kîkisîpâyâthik itasowîwak ohcitaw poko ikota ta-nakatâcik piyak nôtokwîsiwa osâm kîkâc î-kawikihkâthit, î-papîcîthit kâ-mîkwâ-pimôtîhocik.
A long time ago, the people used to travel around a lot, looking for animals that would sustain them. One fall, these people from Stanley Mission set off on their journey. They made camp along at Otter Lake where there was one huge bay is where they set up their tents. They were there for one night. In the morning they decided that they would have to leave one old woman because she was keeling over with age and was slow along their journey.

ikota nakatamawîwak cîmânis ikwa kahkithaw otâpacihcikana. namôtha nânitaw ohci-itîthihtam awa nôtokwîsiw ohcitaw mâna ikosi î-kî-itôtahkwâw kayâs ithiniwak. piyakwâw îsa î-otâkosinithik kâ-wâpamât môswa awa nôtokwîsiw, î-âsowahamithit sâkahikan. hay! kîsiskaw pôsipathihow ôcisisihk, î-tahkonahk pîminahkwân ikwa cîkahikanis, î-nawaswâtât anihi môswa. hay! kaskihtâw ta-tâpakwâtât ikwa ikota ohci ati-cîkahwîw ostikwânithihk. kwayask nîpîkwahisow
It was there they left her with a canoe and all her utensils and tools. She thought nothing of this because this was common practice in the old days for the people. One evening the old woman sees a moose swimming on the lake. Hay! She quickly gets into her canoe taking with her a rope and a small axe, chasing the moose. Hay! She was able to snare the moose and she hit the moose on the head with the small axe. She had killed game for herself!

kâ-sîkwanithik îsa owahkômâkana kâwi-takôtîhothiwa, ikota miskâkow kiyâpic î-mamîcithit kâskîwak, kapî-pipon îsa î-mâmowât anihi môswa kâ-kî-nipahât. ikota ohci “kohkominânihk” pî-icikâtîw iyako wâsâw ita kâ-kî-piyako-piponisit awa nôtokwîsiw.
Come spring when her relatives came travelling back that way they found her still eating dried meat from the moose she had killed. From that moment onward that bay became known as “Grandmother’s Bay” where the old woman had spent the winter on her own.

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Neal McLeod Day 103: mêmêkwêsiwak / the Little People

UR100I’m not promising we’ll get all the way to 200, but while we wait for Neal’s new book to come out via University of Regina Press, we can enjoy some of Neal’s newer Cree word studies via Facebook.

mêmêkwêsiwak ‘the Little People’

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2016: mikisiwipîsim / ᒥᑭᓯᐏᐲᓯᒼ / February




Thanks to Solomon Ratt for allowing the Cree Literacy Network to share his 2016 calendar, complete with his own original illustrations. Following his request, we will post one image at the beginning of each month. For those who like to plan a little further in advance, a link to a complete pdf is included here:  2016Calendar.

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I’m not an Indian: Another story from Solomon Ratt (th-dialect)

Originally posted January 2012; Audio recorded January 2016

This reminiscence — more bitter than sweet — is reprinted with Solomon’s permission from Arok Wolvengrey’s 2007 wawiyatâcimowinisa / Funny Little Stories Narrated by Cree-speaking students, instructors and Elders. The book, which contains about a dozen first-hand stories in Cree, can be purchased from Canadian Plains Research Centre. This story is written in Solomon’s Woods Cree (th-) dialect. Complete recording details appear at the end of this post.

(5)     mōtha nītha Indian /   I’m Not An Indian

kayās māna kā-kī-awāsisīwiyān ōtī māna nikī‑nitawi‑ayamihcikānān kistapinānihk ikotī māna ī‑nitawi‑kiskinwahamākosiyāhk.  tahtw‑āskiy māna takwāki‑pīsim kā‑kī‑mācihtāyāhk ī‑kī‑nitawi‑kāh-kiskinwahamākosiyāhk ikota ōma residential schools kā‑kī‑isicikātīki, ikotī kā-kī-itohtīyān, āh, Prince Albert Indian Student Residences kī‑isithihkātīw iyakw ānima.  īkwa īkota māna mistahi māna awāsisak kī‑kitimākisiwak mistahi māna kī‑māh‑mawīhkātīwak onīkihikowāwa.
Long ago when I was a child we used to go to school over here, over there in Prince Albert was where we attended school.  Every year we’d start in September, we’d go off to attend school there at the “residential schools” as they were called.  That’s where we went, it was called Prince Albert Indian Student Residences, that’s what it was called.  And while there the children used to be really desolate and they used to really cry for their parents, missing them a great deal.

aya, mīna mistahi mīna māna nikī-mōcikihtānān māna tahtwāw kā‑mātinawi‑kīsikāk, īkospī māna nikī‑kanawāpahtīnān, āh, cikāstīpathihcikana, picture shows nikī‑isithihkātīnān māna.  iyakoni māna, mitoni māna nikī‑māh‑mōcikihtānān kā‑pōni‑wāpahtamāhk wīth āthisk māna ī‑nitawi‑mītawīyāhk wathawītimihk tāpiskōc māna nīthanān, āh, Pirates māna nikī‑mītawānān ikwa mīna Cowboys and Indians.  ikosi māna kā‑kī‑isi‑mītawīyāhk, ikwa ōma kā‑kī‑pī‑is‑ōhpikiyāhk ōma mitoni māna, āh …, nikī‑wīnīthimisonān, mōtha nīthanān nīhithawak ta‑kī‑isi‑pimātisiyāhk ī‑itikawiyāhk māna.  ikosi māna kā‑kī‑is‑ōhpikihikawiyāhk īkota kiskinwahamātowikamikohk.
Well, we also used to have a great deal of fun every time Saturday came around for at that time we used to watch, uh, movies, we used to call them “picture shows”.  Those were the ones, we really used to have fun when we finished watching them for we’d go and play outside just like we were, well, we used to play “Pirates” and also “Cowboys and Indians”.  That’s how we used to play, and at that time as we were growing up we really used to, uh … we had a very poor opinion of ourselves.  We used to be told that we shouldn’t live like Cree people, that’s the way we were raised there at that school.

māka piyakwāw ōma ī-kī-nitawi-kanawāpahtamāhk Cowboys and Indians cikāstīpathihcikan, John Wayne ikota mīna kā-kī‑ayāt, ī‑kī-nōkosit, nikī-cīhkinīn, iyakw ānima nikī‑cīhkāpahtīn, nimithwīthihtīn ta‑wāpahtamān, John Wayne ta‑kanawāpamak.  ikwa māna kā‑kī‑pōni‑wāpahtamāhk iyakoni aya māna nikī‑nitawi‑mītawānān Cowboys and Indians māka māna ī‑kī‑māwasakonitoyāhk.  āh, piyakwāyihk ita Indians īkwa piyakwāyihk kotak Cowboys; ikwa māna nītha kapī māna nītha iskwīyānihk kā‑kī‑otinikawiyān.  ikwa kītahtawī ōma ōta piyak kīsikāw nikī‑ati‑otinikawin, Indians īsa nītha ta‑ayāyān.  āh, namōtha nikī‑cīhkīthihtīn, namōtha nītha Indian nikī‑nōhtī‑itakison ikota.
But this one time we were going to watch this Cowboys and Indians movie, and it had John Wayne in it.  I liked it, I really enjoyed watching those ones, I liked to watch those, to watch John Wayne.  Then when we had finished watching those ones, we used to go to play Cowboys and Indians and we’d gather ourselves together [choosing sides].  Ah, on one side were the Indians and on the other were the Cowboys.  And I used to always be the one chosen last.  Well, eventually on this one day I came to be chosen, and apparently I was supposed to be an Indian.  Oh, I didn’t like that, I really didn’t want to be considered an Indian.

“mōtha nītha Indian,” nikī-itwān.  “namōtha niwī‑Indianiwin!” ī-itwīyān.
“I’m not an Indian,” I said.  “I’m not going to be an Indian,” I was saying.

“ēy,” itwīw ōta piyak nāpīw kā-kī-kanawīthimikoyāhk, supervisor kā‑kī‑itiht; “ēy, tāpwī kikitimākisin ikosi ī‑itīthihtaman.  Indian athisk ōma kītha ta‑kī‑itīthimisoyan ikos īsi ī‑itakisoyan,” nikī-itikawin.
“Hey,” said this one man who looked after us, he was called the “supervisor”.  “Hey, you’re really pitiful thinking that way.  You should think of yourself as an Indian because that’s what you are,” I was told.

That’s all.

Recording/transcription details:
mōtha nītha Indian / I’m Not An Indian

 otācimow / Storyteller: Solomon Ratt
nīhithāwiw / a Woods Cree man
āmaciwīspimowinihk ī-ohcīt / from Stanley Mission, SK
niyānanomitanaw nīsosāp ī-itahtopiponīt / 52 years of age

kiskinwahamawākan / Student Transcriber: Jacyntha Laviolette

On February 13, 2006, Linguistics student Jacyntha Laviolette recorded Cree professor Solomon Ratt as he told, in the Woods Cree dialect, this story from his residential school experiences.  Jacyntha then began the transcription and translation of the text as a project for the CREE 411 (Seminar in Cree Morphology) course taught by Arok Wolvengrey in the Winter term of 2006 at the First Nations University of Canada.

Arok Wolvengrey, with the help of Jean Okimāsis, then sought to complete the work on the text, before turning to the ultimate authority, Solomon himself, who filled in the final details which had escaped those less familiar with Woods Cree.

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Neal McLeod Day 102: nakawiyiniwak / Saulteaux

UR100I’m not promising we’ll get all the way to 200, but while we wait for Neal’s new book to come out via University of Regina Press, we can enjoy some of Neal’s newer Cree word studies via Facebook.

nakawiyiniwak ‘Saulteaux’

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Moose Factory Cree Language Course: N-Dialect (Peawanuck)

Thanks to Kepin Brousseau for pointing out that this course will be offered in the n-dialect of Peawanuck (not the L-dialect of Moose Factory)


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Neal McLeod Day 101: okihcitawak / providers

UR100I’m not promising we’ll get all the way to 200, but while we wait for Neal’s new book to come out via University of Regina Press, we can enjoy some of Neal’s newer Cree word studies via Facebook.

okihcitawak ‘providers’

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100 Days of Cree: Neal McLeod with Arok Wolvengrey

100 Days Continue reading

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Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems: Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum)

Nationhood Interrupted

Sylvia McAdam (Sasewahum) will be speaking in Winnipeg February 10 & 11, 2016. While I continue to find specific details, I’m pleased to share some of the wonderful resources she has created here.

Sylvia is very clear in her video lectures that sharing these teachings far and wide is encouraged: Continue reading

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