A serious read on Syllabics: The M.Ed thesis of John Murdoch

Screen shot of HBC document about beaver, from Murdoch thesis.

Screen shot of HBC document about beaver, from Murdoch thesis.

Those who favour the use of syllabics over roman may appreciate the research and insights of John Murdoch, a Native speaker of Cree, who completed a Master of Education degree at the University of Manitoba in 1981. There are a lot of insights here far too valuable to be forgotten.

John wrote to Cree Literacy Network about it in 2017: “I researched the origins and evolution of syllabic characters for Cree, Inuit and Dene languages, producing a MEd thesis at the University of Manitoba in 1981. Although James Evans, the Wesleyan Methodist missionary played a part in the first printings in syllabics at Norway House, He was not the person who was the most instrumental in the writing systems conception and spread. During my research I visited archives as well as Aboriginal communities in the Boreal Forest as well as the Eastern Arctic. Missionaries George Barnley, John Horden, Jean-Nicolas Laverlochère, Edmund Peck and Jean Baptiste Thibeault all arrived to Cree, Inuit and Dene nations who were already able to read and write in the system. A more complete history can be found in my 1981 thesis, Syllabics A Successful Educational Innovation.”

First, a link to the electronic theses and disserations collection of the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Graduate Studies:

John Murdoch, 1981. Syllabics: A Successful Educational Innovation. 

Downloadable pdf:

Murdoch_Syllabics_ (4)

2 Responses to A serious read on Syllabics: The M.Ed thesis of John Murdoch

  1. Erwin Buchholz says:

    I have come across different narratives concerning the origins of Cree syllabics. If syllabics was extent prior to the incursion of European settlers, would there not be some manuscript evidence attesting to the fact? Perhaps there are writings of which I am not aware. Does anyone know of, e.g. petroglyphs, steles, etc. written in Cree syllabics?

    • Arden Ogg says:

      I’m told that there are surviving birchbark scrolls – such as those used by the Ojibwe Midewewin – that include syllabic characters. The astronomer Wilfred Buck also talks about seeing syllabics in the stars (like constellations) by looking through some perforated scrolls. But I also it’s not my job to tell Cree people what to believe!

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