Mišihyew

The turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a bird indigenous to the Americas that was domesticated nearly 3,000 years ago. It came to be called ‘turkey’ presumably due to trade with the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire after the bird was introduced to Africa, Asia, and Europe.

This indigenous bird was known to Cree people historically in the southern reaches of Cree country, and then later at northern trading posts where Europeans raised their domesticated animals, including turkeys.

Documentation of the Cree name for this bird begins in the 1600s and 1700s, where its name is listed in French-based orthographies suggestive of miširew and mišihyew, forms that continue to be used by contemporary speakers. Modern sources in various Cree dialects (written here in their local orthographies followed by a standard orthography for the sake of comparison) include the Atikamekw ‘micirew’ (miširew), the Innu ‘mishineu’ and ‘mishileu’ (mišinew/mišilew), the East Cree ‘ᒥᔑᐦᔦᐤ’ (mišihyew), the Moose Cree ‘ᒥᔑᓓᐤ’ (mišilew), and the Swampy Cree ‘ᒥᔑᓀᐤ’ (mišinew). All these forms derive from the Old Cree name for the bird, which the comparative method allows us to reconstruct as *mišihrew, appropriately meaning “large gallinaceous bird.”

Interestingly, an elderly man from Attawapiskat informed me yesterday that a river on Akimiski Island bears the name ᒥᔑᓀᐗᒋᔾ (mišinewaciy), meaning “turkey hill.” He relates how an even older man told him he used to hunt wild turkeys on that island years ago. A domesticated flock gone feral perhaps?

Sources
Beland, Jean Pierre. Atikamekw Morphology and Lexicon. Dissertation, Berkeley, Linguistics, University of California, 1978.

Brousseau, Kevin. Lexical Database of the Atikamekw Dialect, 2020.

Brousseau, Kevin. Lexical Database of the Moose Cree Dialect, 2020.

Brousseau, Kevin. Lexical Database of the Swampy Cree Dialect, 2020.

Fabvre, Bonaventure. Racines Montagnaises (ca. 1693). Transcribed by Lorenzo Angers et Gerard E. McNulty. Québec: Université Laval, 1970.

Junker, Marie-Odile & Marguerite MacKenzie. Editors. Dictionnaire innu en ligne. 2016. Web.

Junker, Marie-Odile, Marguerite MacKenzie, Luci Bobbish-Salt, Alice Duff, Linda Visitor, Ruth Salt, Anna Blacksmith, Patricia Diamond, and Pearl Weistche, eds. The Eastern James Bay Cree Dictionary on the Web: English-Cree and Cree-English, French-Cree and Cree-French (Northern and Southern dialects). 2018. Web.

Laure, Pierre, S.J. [1823 copy of 1726 manuscript]. Apparat français-montagnais. Transcribed by David E. Cooter. Sillery, Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1988.

Silvy, Antoine, S.J. [c.1678–1690]. Dictionnaire montagnais-français (ca. 1678– 1684). Transcribed by Lorenzo Angers, David E. Cooter & Gérard E. McNulty. Québec: Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1974.

Online Etymology Dictionary, 2020. Web.

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