It seems like we’ve been using emoticons forever in our texting and online communication to express emotion. Of course, the images themselves are very 21st-century, but equivalent verbal expressions have been around since the first human stubbed their toe, or took delight in a baby’s first smile. Linguists call these words “interjections.” Not all of them are easily recognized as “words” (which is probably why emoticons evolved in the first place!)
As I read through Arok Wolvengrey’s 2013 lesson on Cree interjections (originally posted as a file in the Nêhiyawêwin (Cree) Word of the Day FaceBook group), I 🤣’ed to recognize them as verbal emoticons. Arok’s lesson also coincides in time with FaceBook’s update of “Finch” with the help of Pixar animator Matt Jones. (Who knew that yellow circle-face had a name!?) The image shown above captures some of Jones’s original sketches for the update, and is borrowed from the popsci.com article linked here.
Interjections are single words or set phrases used as entire utterances on their own. They do not usually occur otherwise as part of large sentences (unless someone is being quoted (ex. “awas,” itwēw. ” ‘go away,’ s/he said”). Interjections can be divided into two main types: expressives and interactives. The following collection focuses on expressive interjections.
Speakers use Expressive Interjections to “express” his or her own feelings. They don’t have to be addressed to anyone in particular, they are just expressions that a speaker can use even when he or she is alone. They give linguistic form to feelings or emotions.
- You may notice that some of these forms differ in meaning and intention depending on context, and that their emotional tone may give them more than one shade of meaning. Some can also be used sarcastically.
- Dialect: unless otherwise specified, these are Plains Cree/y-Dialect forms, but may be used across the dialects.
- A larger selection can be found by searching for “interjection” in the itwêwina online dictionary.
- Links are provided for the handful of forms that appear with audio in the itwêwina online dictionary. Additional audio recordings have already been made, an are awaiting integration into the dictionary. Links will be added as recordings are added to the dictionary.
Emotion(s) Cree Also heard English equivalent Comment
anger āh! “agh, och” anger stā “oh for Chrissakes!” compare with: wācistakāc
anger, displeasure takay! “prick!” compare with: -takay- NDI “penis”
anger, displeasure wīnt! “dirty!” compare with: /wīn-/ “dirty” + -[…], as a clipping of longer words such as wīnitakay! wīnicisk!, etc.
disgust wisk! “” Woods Cree; compare with: wiskāthiwāk
disgust, sadness iskāthowāk wiskāthiwāk “” Woods Cree
disgust, surprise cah! ca, cāh, cēh, cwā, inc, nc “geez!” disgust, surprise nc inc “oh for goodness sakes!” displeasure, anger takay! “prick!” compare with: -takay- NDI “penis”
displeasure, anger wīnt! “dirty!” compare with: /wīn-/ “dirty” + -[…], as a clipping of longer words such as wīnitakay! wīnicisk!, etc.
fear ēyahē “oh no!” fear ī or īh "ah!" fear īhay “oh no!” compare with: wāhay.
fear īhī “oh no!” this is also how the word for “yes” is written in Woods Cree, but it has a different intonational pattern when used to express fear
happiness tāpwē kihci “truly great!” happiness tāpwī īsa kihci “truly great!” Woods Cree
happiness yahē “YESSS!” happiness, surprise wahwā “oh my!” happiness, surprise yahow “yahoo!” pain āwiyā āwiya, āwiyaaa “ow, ouch” pain ayayā (perhaps) ayāyoc “ow, ouch” Woods Cree
sadness āhīhi “” Woods Cree?
sadness wīspinac “” sadness wiyakāc oyakāc “too bad; unfortunately; sadly so” can be an interactive expression of sympathy
sadness, disgust iskāthowāk wiskāthiwāk “” Woods Cree
sadness, sympathy, cute, pitiful āmī āmīc “aww” surprise ānakacā ānakacay, nakacā “oh, my word!” Woods Cree: nakaci
surprise ānakacay ānakacā, nakacā “oh, for goodness sakes!” surprise ayiwāk “more” surprise ayiwāk ihkin “too much!” surprise ayiwāk ihkinopan “too long a time!” Note: -pan; old preterite
surprise iyaw yaw “well, well now; oh come on!” surprise wācistakāc stakāc, wācistak, wācistakāt, kwācistakāc “what the …; holy shit!” surprise wīpihkāc “will wonders never cease!” surprise, disdain wāhay “oh for goodness sakes!” surprise, disdain, disgust māmaskāc “wow! wondrous, amazing” used sarcastically to express disdain or disgust
surprise, disgust cah! ca, cāh “geez!” surprise, disgust nc “oh for goodness sakes!” surprise at being cheated
surprise, happiness wahwā “oh my!” surprise, happiness yahow “whoa!”