Otters & Clouds

Today, on a popular social media site, a picture of a cloud seen over Waswanipi was posted. The comment accompanying the picture read, “Hmmm, more weird looking clouds.” Here is the picture.

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“Hmmm, more weird looking clouds,” by Nadia Happyjack Cooper. Shared here with permission.

Granted, these clouds do look kind of weird, they are quite common. In the field of meteorology, this type of cloud is called by the Latin term altocumulus undulatus.

When faced with the need for highly specific words, the English language often depends on Latin. The Cree language, on the other hand, is properly equipped to describe highly detailed features of the natural world, including clouds. This is largely due to a grammatical feature called polysynthesis, which I spoke at length about in an earlier post. In the Cree language of Waswanipi, the altocumulus undulatus cloud is known by the following term:

ᐸᐦᑯᓈᒋᑴᔅᑾᓐ

This word is a beautiful example of polysynthesis, so let us break it down. The word ᐸᐦᑯᓈᒋᑴᐗᔅᑾᓐ is an inanimate intransitive verb (i.e., a VII) that features two medials built on the stem of a transitive animate verb (i.e., a VTA). The stem on which the word is built is the following:

ᐸᐦᑯᓐ/

This stem means, “to skin an animal.” To that stem a medial is attached, referring to the animal being skinned. In the case, the animal is an otter and the medial is as follows:

ᐋᒋᑴ/

This medial is derived, through a normal process of medial derivation, from the noun ᓂᒋᒄ. Together, these two components form a new stem, meaning “to skin an otter.” The stem is as follows:

ᐸᐦᑯᓈᒋᑴ/

To this stem, another medial is attached. This one means “cloud” and has the following form:

(ᐊ)ᔅᒄ

This medial is derived from the noun ᐗᔅᒄ, a word that is now obsolete in Waswanipi. This medial, however, cannot form a new stem without the addition of a final. The final here adds no meaning to the word, but rather helps form a VII verb. The final is the following:

ᐊᓐ/

Together, these components come to mean “there is an otter-skinning cloud.” This may be a strange description for anyone not accustomed to seeing otters being skinned, but for those who have the choice of word immediately becomes obvious.

When skinning an otter with a bone scraper, the skinner will simultaneously strike the subcutaneous tissues while pulling the skin away from the area being struck. Doing so repeatedly creates a lumpy texture in the otter’s fat, reminiscent of the aforementioned cloud.

While many of us nowadays tend to imagine puppies and kittens in the shapes of clouds, evidently hunters and trappers see things quite differently! So the next time you see an altocumulus undulatus you can help keep a beautiful and meaningful word in use by calling it what our people have called it for centuries, ᐸᐦᑯᓈᒋᑴᔅᑾᓐ.

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Syllabics Chart

I designed the following chart as a tool to convert the Cree alphabet into syllabics, and vice versa. Aside from a few important changes, it is based on traditional syllabics charts. This version features the letters used in the standard alphabetic orthography and the syllabics used in the eastern syllabic orthographies. The terms cardinal and ordinal refer here to the orientation of the individual syllabic characters. They are included here as a pedagogical tool, in line with my use of these terms in the syllabics lessons published on this blog. The third category, listed here as supplemental, groups together characters that were originally designed to represent sounds from non-Cree languages, as when transcribing English names.

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Note that the long vowels require diacritics in both orthographies to distinguish them from their corresponding short vowels, making the conversion from one orthography to the other effortless. Also note that the long vowel e does not require a diacritic as it does not have to be distinguished from a corresponding short vowel. This simplifies any orthographic conversion as its corresponding syllabic series has traditionally forgone the use of a diacritic as well.

A feature of the alphabetic orthography is that it is not based on English or French phonetics. Rather, it is based on the actual sound structure of the Cree language. As such, every Cree sound is represented by only one letter, making the conversion from the alphabet to syllabics that much easier. For example, the Cree sound variously pronounced as /tsh/, dzh/, /ts/ or even /tz/ is always represented by the single letter c rather than the awkward and variable use of tsh, ts, tch, ch, g, and even j, all of which derive from English and French phonetics. Similarly, the Cree long vowel pronounced as /i:/ is written as ī (or alternatively î), rather than using the English based e, eeea, or even ii. As a final example, the Cree sound that varies between /k/ and /g/ is always spelled as k, rather than drawing from English phonetics and misleadingly using k and g for what is really only one sound in Cree. A word, therefore, commonly written as meegwetch, meegwech, miigwetch, or even miigwech, is consistently written as mīkwec in the Cree alphabetic orthography and ᒦᑴᒡ in syllabics.

Spelling in a consistent manner is an important requirement for literacy. Not doing so creates barriers for language learners and hinders the progression of literacy for a language that is already at risk of being lost in many communities across Cree country. For those wishing to learn how to read and write in syllabics, lessons can be found here.

Polysynthesis & the Longest Cree Word Ever

The Cree language can be likened to the world’s most mechanically intricate clocks that, despite their innumerable moving parts, display time using only two or three hands. Similarly, our beautiful language is built on a rich, but incredibly complex, grammatical structure, and yet boasts only a simple repertoire of vowels and consonants. In this way, our language sounds deceptively simple, but its grammar has thwarted many in their attempts to learn to speak it.

Certainly, numerous factors aside from grammar conspire against the would-be Cree speakers. Inconsistent orthographies, sparse learning materials, dialectal differences, and even idiolectal preferences are complicit. But there is one grammatical feature that is so unfamiliar to speakers of European languages that it usually escapes their attention, only to repeatedly frustrate their efforts at speaking with any degree of fluency. This feature is called polysynthesis.

Polysynthesis is the process of stringing together many morphemes, or word-parts, into long words that would be typically expressed as sentences in non-polysynthetic languages. What better way then to illustrate this process than by presenting here what many say is the longest Cree word ever?

The word you are about to see was posted on a social media page dedicated to the Cree language. It is allegedly known by many elderly people in communities along the east coast of James Bay and is here presented in the northern dialect. Prepare to run out of breath trying to read this aloud.

ᒌ ᐅᑳᔅᒋᓈᐧᐋᐦᔮᐧᐋᓂᐧᐃᑎᐦᑭᐙᑭᓂᐎᐦᑖᐙᑯᐱᓐ

It was evident from the comment section on this social media site that this word stumped many Cree-speakers. So by way of illustration, let us break this word down to reveal its actual meaning. While doing so, the grammatical process of polysynthesis will be made abundantly clear.

The length of this Cree word can be partially explained by its inflexions. In other words, it is a verb that has been conjugated by the addition of a prefix and a suffix. The prefix is here separated by a space, but some people prefer to place it next to the word, making it appear even longer. The inflexions in this word are highlighted here for your convenience.

ᐅᑳᔅᒋᓈᐧᐋᐦᔮᐧᐋᓂᐧᐃᑎᐦᑭᐧᐋᑭᓂᐎᐦᑖᐙᑯᐱᓐ

The prefix here is a simple past tense marker (some would argue it is a perfective aspect marker, but we can overlook this for the sake of simplicity). The suffix here is a third person plural dubitative preterit marker. It conveys an event involving a group of people that we infer to have occurred, but did not witness ourselves.

Another segment in this word is a derivational morpheme that conveys a passive voice. A passive voice is used in verbs where the subject undergoes the action of the verb. In English, the passive voice would be used to say things like “he is seen” or “she is appreciated.” The passive is highlighted here in blue.

ᐅᑳᔅᒋᓈᐧᐋᐦᔮᐧᐋᓂᐧᐃᑎᐦᑭᑭᓂᐎᐦᑖᐙᑯᐱᓐ

This passive voice tells us that that something is being done to this group of people. In other words, they are not active participants in this event, but rather, recipients. Let’s keep working at this word!

The next segment is a derivational morpheme that contains both a prefix and a suffix which conveys the meaning of providing something for others. It is here highlighted in red.

ᑳᔅᒋᓈᐧᐋᐦᔮᐧᐋᓂᐧᐃᑎᐦᑭᑭᓂᐎᐦᑖᐙᑯᐱᓐ

So we now know that something was provided for a group of people in the past, but the speaker only infers this information as he or she was not a witness to the event. A little more work and we shall soon find out what they received!

The following segment is a derivational morpheme that literally means “pack,” “bag,” or “container.” It is here highlighted in green.

ᑳᔅᒋᓈᐧᐋᐦᔮᐧᐋᓂᐧᐃᑎᐦᑭᑭᓂᐎᐦᑖᐙᑯᐱᓐ

The speaker is therefore telling us that it is inferred that a group of people in the past received a package containing something. Shall we keep going?

The morpheme referring to the contents of the package is underlined below.

ᑳᔅᒋᓈᐧᐋᐦᔮᐧᐋᓂᐧᐃᑎᐦᑭᑭᓂᐎᐦᑖᐙᑯᐱᓐ

This morpheme can also exist as a word on its own, as follows:

ᑳᔅᒋᓈᐧᐋᐦᔮᐧᐋᓐ

This word means “spatchcocked grouse.” But even it itself is a word composed of smaller parts! In fact, it is a compound consisting of a suffix referring to grouse and an initial segment that literally refers to game split open from the back and deboned for smoking or grilling. On its own, it is used to refer to fish, but with the suffix it comes to refer to grouse. Here is the root of it all, the word that refers to fish split from the back for smoking or roasting:

ᑳᔅᒋᓈᐤ

It would be remiss of me not to mention that even this word is a noun derived from an initial verb composed of two parts, but I digress too much. Let us return then to the original word now that we have broken it down into its different segments.

ᑳᔅᒋᓈᐧᐋᐦᔮᐧᐋᓂᐧᐃᑎᐦᑭᑭᓂᐎᐦᑖᐙᑯᐱᓐ

This Cree word can be translated as follows (the translation is colour coded to match the associated parts of the Cree word):

They were presumably given a package of spatchcocked grouse.

As has been shown, this one Cree word (two if we consider the prefix a separate word) requires the use of nine English words to be properly translated. This then illustrates beautifully what polysynthesis means. It is so foreign to English-speakers that it must be explicitly explained if they ever wish to acquire any fluency in the Cree language. But do not despair! The Cree language obeys strict rules that allow speakers to formulate these kinds of words. With a bit of practice, one can learn how to do so and amaze fellow Cree-speakers! Perhaps then, a longer word could even be composed to earn the title of the longest Cree word ever.

 

Kôhkom vs Nôhkom

I recently came across a post on social media encouraging people to teach their kids to say nôhkom, rather than kôhkom, when addressing their grandmothers. Similarly, nimošôm was encouraged, rather than cimošôm, when addresing their grandfathers. But is this, in fact, correct? If so, where does this use of kôhkom and cimošôm come from and why do people perpetuate their incorrect usage?

The crux of the matter here is the historical loss of the vocative case in most Cree dialects. While it is preserved in the old written documents and recordings, the majority of Cree speakers today do not make use of a vocative case – it is one of many grammatical details lost in the Cree language of the post-residential school era. As such, a few monolingual elders today preserve a small number of vocative case examples, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

So what exactly is a vocative case? The vocative case is the form a noun takes when it is used in addressing a person. In Cree, the vocative case is formed in various ways, depending on what type of noun is being used and whether it is singular or plural. Plural vocative cases are the simplest. These are formed by the addition of the suffix …tikw. When addressing a group of men, the vocative form is therefore nâpetikw. When address a group of people, the form is iyinîtikw. When addressing a group of children, one would say awâšišitikw.

This brings us now to the more complex singular forms. There are generally two ways to form the singular vocative case, though the singular is further complicated by a number of exceptions. Let’s first look at the first vocative form.

For all nouns ending in a w, the vocative case is formed by dropping the w and replacing it by an h. If one were addressing a man, the form would therefore be nâpeh. When addressing a woman, the equivalent form would be iskweh.

The second form is used for nouns that end in a consonant other than w. For these nouns, the vocative suffix …eh is used. The timeless example here is of Cahkâpeš addressing his sister as nimišeh! [Note here that the proper form is nimiseh, but Cahkâpeš is said to speak like a child and therefore changes every t to c and every s to š.] When addressing one’s paternal uncle, one would say nôhkomiseh! When addressing one’s maternal uncle, one would say nisiseh!

Finally there are the exceptions. The two most common examples here are the words for mother and father. If one wanted to say, “my mother” in Cree, the proper form is nikâwiy [not mâmâ!]. The vocative form, however, is nekâh. Similarly, if one wanted to say, “my father,” the proper form is nôhtâwiy [not pâpâ!]. The vocative form here is nôhtâh. These forms are common enough that most elderly speakers today would recognize them.

This then brings us back to the kôhkom versus nôhkom discussion. People are right in saying that nôhkom means, “my grandmother.” But they are unfortunately wrong in suggesting that this form is correct vocatively. To suggest replacing kôhkom by nôhkom when addressing one’s grandmother would, in fact, represent a case of hypercorrection. In other words, our lack of familiarity with a particular form, in this case the original vocative form, is misleading us into thinking that the simple possessive form should serve as the vocative. In this particular instance, the correct vocative form is nôhkow, pronounced /nuuhkuu/.

But what about the vocative form for grandfather? In this case, my own research and discussions with elders did not reveal any other form besides nimošôm, which raises the question as to whether the word can serve as a recipient to the vocative suffix …eh. My inclination would be to say yes, but this is something I cannot confirm.

So where did our vocative use of the kôhkom and cimošôm come from? People are correct in saying these forms are the second person singular possessive forms. In other words, these mean “your grandmother” and “your grandfather,” respectively. My inclination is to say these are forms that have come to be used as vocatives when children repeat after their parents. For example, imagine a parent telling their young child to tell their grandmother they love her. A parent might say, “”Ci sâcihitin” iš kôhkom!” Imagine a child then walking up to their grandmother and repeating what they were told, saying, “ci sâcihitin kôhkom.” In this way,  a possessive form becomes incorrectly used as a vocative form. Of course, we would then expect the child to learn the proper form, but this kind of error is common in other languages. Consider the French language, for example, and how the words oncle and tante are often replaced by mononcle and matante. Even though these two forms literally mean, “my uncle” and “my aunt,” this would not prevent someone from saying something like “ton mononcle” and “ta matante.”

As a result of the widespread use of kôhkom as a vocative, people have come to use côhkom, pronounced /chuuhkum/, as the second person singular possessive form. This form is typically produced by a young speaker that has yet to figure out the exceptions to palatalization, a topic perhaps for another blogpost. However, in this case, the form has become generalized as a way of distinguishing it from kôhkom.

As a result, what we then have a kind of domino effect, where one form takes the place of another as the original vocative, nôhkow, is lost.

côhkom → kôhkom → nôhkow

Since we have broached the topic of childish forms, let us finish with a brief word about  these. Childish forms are words or conjugations typically used by children, who abandon the forms as they mature and acquire adult language. Alas, many childish forms have become the norm in the speech of post-residential school generations, including my own speech. Examples of childish conjugations include saying things like kâ wâpamâyâhc rather than kâ wâpamaciht or kâ wâpamikoyâhc, instead of kâ wâpamiyamihtExamples of childish words in my dialect include saying niwî šîšîn rather than niwî šicin, niwî kwâkwân instead of niwî minihkwen, or niwî pepen for niwî nipân.

Of particular interest to this discussion is the existence of two childish vocative forms for “grandmother” and “grandfather.” For “grandmother,” there is the vocative form kôkow,  pronounced /kuukuu/, while for grandfather the form is môcow, pronounced /muuchuu/. These forms tend to be used in coastal communities.

So let us wrap things up. People are, in fact, correct in pointing out that kôhkom and cimošôm are being incorrectly used as vocatives, but the story is far from simple. There is a whole class of word forms called the vocative case that has generally gone into disuse, except in the speech of some monolingual elders. Short of convincing everyone to start using vocatives again, regular possessive forms will probably continue being used incorrectly as vocatives. This raises an important question – at what point does one accept that these errors are in fact merely examples of language change?

ᓂᐐ ᓇᔅᑯᒫᐤ Florrie Mark-Stewart ᑳ ᐯᒋ ᐊᔭᒥᐦᐃᑦ ᒉᒋᔐᑉ ᑳ ᑖᐦᑳᐱᐦᒉᓇᒪᐗᒃ᙮ ᒨᔥ ᓂ ᐯᒋ ᐐᒋᐦᐃᒄ ᐁ ᑲᑴᒋᒪᒃ ᒫᓐᐦ ᒉᒀᔨᐤᐦ᙮ ᓂᐸ ᓇᔅᑯᒫᐤ ᐌᔥᑕᐐᔾ ᓂᑳᐎᔾ ᐁ ᐯᒋ ᐐᐦᑕᒪᐎᑦ ᑖᓐ ᐁᑌᔨᐦᑕᐦᒃ ᐆᔨᐤ ᑳ ᒪᓯᓇᐦᐊᒧᒃ᙮

Reading Syllabics: Lesson 3

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Lesson 3

Ordinal Characters

In this lesson you will learn how to read five more sets of syllabic characters along with their superscript counterparts. You will also learn how to read new words as you work your way through the lesson. Are you ready?

ᐦᐋᐤ!

The first character of this lesson is pronounced like the ke in skeleton, never like the ke in kelp or the ge in get. This is what it looks like:

Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. Let’s now move on to the next character.

This character has the same shape as the first character, but it points in a different direction. This one is pronounced like the ki in skit or the kee in skeet, never like the ki in kit or the kee in keep.  Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. When a fuller or longer vowel sound is required, a dot is place above this character, for example:

Accompanied by a dot, this character now sounds like the ki in skied, never like the key in keyed. The next character also shares the same shape as the first two characters, but again this one points in another direction.

This character is pronounced like the coo in scoop, never like the coo in coot. Its vowel sound may also be pronounced closer to the one in book. Once again, to achieve a fuller or longer sound, a dot is placed above the vowel.

Accompanied by the overhead dot, it now sounds like the choo in school. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, again paying attention to the direction in which it points. Only one  character left in this set!

ᑲ ᑳ

The plain form on the left is pronounced like the cu in scuttle or the ca in scat. The dotted one on the right has a fuller and longer sound, courtesy of the overhead dot. This one sounds like the ca in scab. Memorize the shape and the direction in which this last character points. You have now learned a complete set!

ᑫ       ᑭ       ᑯ       ᑲ

By now you have surely noticed that this set of characters does not point in the four cardinal directions the way the characters from the last two lessons do. Instead, this set of characters is rotated so that its round head is placed in one of four corners, each associated with its own vowel.  Top-left is associated with the vowel E; top-right with the vowel I; bottom-left with O; and bottom-right with A.  Since the characters point, more or less, in the ordinal (or intercardinal) directions as opposed to the cardinal directions, characters that obey this pattern are called ordinal characters. Here is a mnemonic device to help you remember the directions and their associated vowels. We will build on this mnemonic as we learn more character sets.

ᑫ ᑭ
ᑯ ᑲ

Now that you have learned a first set of ordinal characters the following sets will be a breeze. Here is the first character of the next set:

This character sounds like the ge of gem. Notice how this character’s head is located in the top-left corner? Do you see how a pattern is emerging? Keep in mind directions in which the characters of the first set point as you learn this set.

ᒉ ᒋ ᒍ ᒐ

Take your time to memorize this shape and the four directions in which it points. Listen to the audio track as many times as you need to help you remember the vowels associated with its four directions. You have now learn two sets of ordinal characters:

ᒉ    ᒋ
ᑫ ᑭ
ᑯ ᑲ
ᒍ    ᒐ

You are now ready to learn a third set of ordinal characters. The following character sounds like the me in medical. Can you predict the direction in which it points? That is correct! It will point to the top-left corner. Here is the character:

Take your time to memorize this shape. The next three characters of this set will follow the predictable pattern of the two previous sets. Here is the full set.

ᒣ ᒥ ᒧ ᒪ

Take your time to memorize this set and the four directions to which it points. Listen to the audio track as many times as you need to help you remember the vowels associated with its four directions. You have now learn three sets of ordinal characters:

ᒣ       ᒥ
ᒉ    ᒋ
ᑫ ᑭ
ᑯ ᑲ
ᒍ    ᒐ
ᒧ       ᒪ

By now you have memorized the four ordinal directions and their associated vowels. The next two sets follow the same pattern, but their shapes can be a little tricky to learn. That is because they are the same shapes as the first two sets learned above, except that they lie horizontally instead of vertically. Here is the first set. It represents the consonant otherwise known as N in English, matched of course with the four vowels as usual.

ᓀ ᓂ ᓄ ᓇ

Notice how this set has the same shape as the first set of this lesson. For this set, however, it is the tail that points in the four expected directions. Pay close attention to the difference between the two sets and listen to the audio track as needed to help you remember the vowels associated with their four directions.

You are now ready to learn the last set of this lesson. Notice how the shape of this set is identical to the second set learned above, except that the characters are laid horizontally as opposed to vertically. Once again, the tail of this character will point to the four directions, not the head.  This set represents the consonant otherwise known as L in English. Note, however, that its sound is closer to the French or Spanish L, rather than the English L.

ᓓ ᓕ ᓗ ᓚ

Note that this last set is not used much outside of the Moose Cree dialect. It represents an older sound that, save for a few words, has been replaced by a Y-sound in the dialects spoken along the east coast of James Bay. Although dialects other than Moose Cree have also preserved this sound, they do not use the syllabic spelling system. You will therefore not encounter this set of characters very often, but it nonetheless represents a Cree sound that has to be learned!

We can now update our mnemonic to represent the five character sets you have learned and the directions in which they point.

ᓓ            ᓕ
ᓀ         ᓂ
ᒣ       ᒥ
ᒉ    ᒋ
ᑫ ᑭ
ᑯ ᑲ
ᒍ    ᒐ
ᒧ       ᒪ
ᓄ         ᓇ
ᓗ            ᓚ

Now, let’s practice reading a few words!

1. A young child who is hurt may complain of having a…

ᑮᑮ

2. A word that means “baby”

ᒌᒌ

3. The baby will often ask for its…

ᒎᒎ

4. The baby wants to sleep and says…

ᒣᒣ!

5. The baby wants its mommy and cries out…

ᒫᒫ!

6. “This English word was not used long ago,” complains the grandmother. She corrects the baby by teaching him to say…

ᓀᑳ!

7. The grandmother’s name is Mary, but everybody calls her…

ᒣᓖ!

You’ve learned five new sets and already are reading a bunch of new words! Let’s keep going, shall we?

You may have noticed how the above sets all feature syllables containing a consonant sound along with a vowel sound. In order to write a consonant sound without any accompanying vowel, the last character of any set is spelled as a superscript symbol. Notice how these superscript characters are identical to the last character of the sets you’ve just learned.

ᑫ, ᑭ, ᑯ, ᑲ, ᒃ
ᒉ, ᒋ, ᒍ, ᒐ, ᒡ
ᒣ, ᒥ, ᒧ, ᒪ, ᒻ
ᓀ, ᓂ, ᓄ, ᓇ, ᓐ
ᓓ, ᓕ, ᓗ, ᓚ, ᓪ

In addition to these basic consonants, there are two more superscript consonants to learn. Some Cree words preserve a kind of W-sound after a final consonant. This sound is only heard at the end of certain words and only following the consonants  ᒃ and  ᒻ. To write this sound following these consonants we write  ᒄ and  ᒽ instead of ᒃ and  ᒻ.  Notice how these two superscript characters are based on  the larger ᑯ and  characters. These special superscript finals are important to capture the right pronunciation. But they are also important to distinguish certain words such as:

ᒉᒃ           ᒉᒄ
[eventually]     [which?]

Remember that when a dot precedes a character that is composed of a consonantal sound followed by a vowel sound, the W is pronounced between the consonant and vowel. Read the following words to reinforce this concept. Translations will help guide your pronunciation if you are unsure of your reading.

ᓂᒌ ᑴᑎᐲᓐ!    ᒬᐦᒡ      ᒸᒄ
[I capsized!]   [like]   [a loon]

In this lesson, you have learned to read five sets of characters. You’ve learned that these sets of characters all pattern according to the ordinal or intercardinal directions and that the vowels associated with these directions remain constant from one set to the next. Having learned all this has allowed you to read the following words:

ᑮᑮ
ᒌᒌ
ᒎᒎ
ᒣᒣ
ᒫᒫ
ᓀᑳ
ᒣᓖ
ᒉᒃ
ᒉᒄ
ᓂᒌ ᑴᑎᐲᓐ
ᒬᐦᒡ
ᒸᒄ

And many more!

VTI – Conjuct Subjunctive (Relational)

ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒻ…

ᐊᐌᓐ
1s ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᑫ
2s ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᑌ
3s ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒸᑌ

ᐊᐌᓂᒌ
1p ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᒋᐦᑌ
21 ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᐦᑫ
2p ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒬᑴ
3p ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒸᑣᐌᓂᒡ

Note: Neighbouring East Cree dialects feature …ᒧᒉ as the 1st person form instead of the …ᒧᑫ form found here. In this respect, the Waswanipi form agrees with the neighbouring Atikamekw dialect, and also with the Moose Cree dialect spoken to the west, where the form is the non-contracted equivalent,  …ᒶᑫ.

VTI – Conjuct Indicative (Relational)

ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒻ…

ᐊᐌᓐ
1s ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᒃ
2s ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᑦ
3s ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒸᑦ

ᐊᐌᓂᒌ
1p ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᒋᐦᑦ
21 ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᐦᒄ
2p ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒬᒄ
3p ᐁ ᑲᓇᐙᐸᐦᑕᒸᑣᐤ

Note: Neighbouring East Cree dialects feature …ᒧᒡ as the 1st person form instead of the …ᒧᒃ form found here. In this respect, the Waswanipi form agrees with the neighbouring Atikamekw dialect, and also with the Moose Cree dialect spoken to the west, where the form is the non-contracted equivalent,  …ᒶᒃ.

The Jimiken Report

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Lawrence Jimiken, 1949-2015 (photo by Mélanie Chaplier at Old Nemaska, July 2010)

Anyone who ever had anything to do in Nemaska would probably have had the good fortune of having to speak to Lawrence Jimiken. This walking encyclopedia, as many people described him, would often be an intermediary between Nemaska and the outside world as he graciously shared his time and thoughts with anyone who needed him. Those who may never have met him in person nonetheless benefitted from his role as our nation’s Chief Electoral Officer, a position he held for many years that had him assuring the democratic process was respected during elections. Lawrence benefitted our people in many ways. In fact, he even contributed to our knowledge of the Cree language. This being a blog on the Cree language, I thought I’d honour his memory by sharing the little I know about this contribution of his.

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Lawrence Jimiken, 1949-2015 (photo by Patricia Raynault-Desgagné, August 2014)

Pedagogical materials for teaching the Cree language were basically non-existent in the 1970s before the establishment of the Cree School Board. In 1973, an enterprising school principal in Waskaganish, John Murdoch, decided to do something about this. Along with Gertie Murdoch, he started what became known as the Cree Way Project in an attempt to address this lack of pedagogical materials. The scope of the project was impressive. Within a few years, hundreds of booklets dealing with numerous topics were written by people from various Cree communities. One of the well-known contributors to this project is the late Annie Whiskeychan. A lesser-known contributor is Lawrence Jimiken.

The Jimiken Report on Cree Geographic Terms would be published in 1974 by the Cree Way Project. Authored by Lawrence with the assistance of Peter Denny, a linguist that specializes in Algonquian languages, the Jimiken Report would introduce students to the complex morphological structure of Cree geographic terminology. The report presents vocabulary associated with land forms spelled according to their underlying morphology rather than their pronunciation. This practice is a vital key to teaching the Cree language and should naturally form the foundation of any standard Cree orthography. Despite being ahead of its time in this respect, however, we continue to endorse orthographic practices based on phonetic spellings that occasionally obscure the meanings of words.

Patricia Raynault-Desgagné was one of the lucky southerners who benefitted from Lawrence’s endearing ways (July 2011)

The format in which the vocabulary is presented is also of immense pedagogical value. Lexical roots are listed first, followed by a series of word endings consisting of verbal medials, finals, and inflexions. The goal is to visually demonstrate to the student the various combinatorial possibilities of the Cree language. On page 5, for example, we find the lexical root ᐱᔅᒄ followed by a series of word endings with which it can be combined:

ᐱᔅᒄᐋᑯᓇᑳᐤ [a bump in snow]

ᐋᐱᔅᑳᐤ [bump of rock (rocky place)]

ᐊᑎᓈᐤ [high hill (quite high)]

ᓯᒀᐤ [bump in the ice]

ᐋᐗᐦᑳᐤ [bump in sandy place]

Awareness of this combinatorial feature of the Cree language is crucial to acquiring strong language skills. To help students acquire this awareness, the report would propose various exercises for teachers to use or adapt. Unfortunately, our local schools have yet to adopt an effective curriculum for teaching the Cree language and insightful details of the Jimiken Report remain largely ignored, 41 years after its release.

Our collective ability to recognize, acknowledge, and utilize the contributions of intelligent and industrious Cree individuals will be the key to moving our nation forward in future years. Lawrence was one of those individuals. Let’s all cherish his memory and honour him by recognizing, acknowledging, and utilizing his useful contributions as we assiduously work at building our Cree nation.

ᒋ ᓇᓈᔅᑯᒥᑎᓈᓐ Lawrence!

Lawrence Jimiken, 1949-2015 (photo by Patricia Raynault-Desgagné, July 2011)

Reading Syllabics: Lesson 2

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Lesson 2

Cardinal Characters

In this lesson you will learn how to read two characters along with their superscript counterparts. You will also learn how to read new words as you work your way through the lesson. Are you ready?

ᐦᐋᐤ!

The first character of this lesson is pronounced like the pe in sped, never like the pe in pet or the be in bed. This is what it looks like:

As you can see, what would take a consonant and a vowel in English is expressed as one character in Cree. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. Let’s now move on to the next character.

This character has the same shape as the first character, but it points in a different direction. This one is pronounced like the pi in spit or the pea in speak. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. When a fuller or longer vowel sound is required, a dot is place above this character, for example:

Accompanied by a dot, this character now sounds like the pee in speed. The next character also shares the same shape as the first two characters, but again this one points in another direction.

This character is pronounced like the poo in spook. Its vowel sound may also be pronounced closer to the one in book. Once again, to achieve a fuller or longer sound, a dot is placed above the vowel.

Accompanied by the overhead dot, it now sounds like the poo in spoon. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, again paying attention to the direction in which it points. Only one character left!

ᐸ ᐹ

The plain form on the left is pronounced like the pu in sputter or the pa in spat. The dotted one on the right has a fuller and longer sound, courtesy of the overhead dot. This one sounds like the pa in spam. Memorize the shape and the direction in which this last character points. You have now learned a complete set!

ᐯ       ᐱ       ᐳ       ᐸ

As you may have noticed, there are quite a few similarities between the above set and the one you’ve learned in lesson 1. For starters, both sets contain a single shape that can point in four different directions to indicate four different vowels.

This is crucial to understand!

The Cree syllabary may not contain many different shapes, but each one can be rotated in one of four directions. Once you’ve memorized the directions and their associated vowels, the rest is a piece of cake! For both sets you’ve just learn, the vowels are associated with the four cardinal directions. Here is a mnemonic device to help you remember the directions and their associated vowels.



ᐊ ᐸ ᐳ ᐅ

Now that you’ve learned two full sets and the directions in which they point, this third set below will be a breeze. Here is the first character of this set:

This character sounds like the tea of instead, never like the te in Ted or the dea in dead. Notice how this character points downwards? Do you see how a pattern is emerging? Think of the directions in which the characters of the first two sets point as you learn the following third set.

ᑌ ᑎ ᑐ ᑕ

Take your time to memorize this shape and the four directions in which it points. Listen to the audio track as many times as you need to help you remember the vowels associated with its four directions. You have now learned all the cardinal characters, meaning those that point in the four cardinal directions! Here they are assembled in the mnemonic device seen above.




ᐊ ᐸ ᑕ ᑐ ᐳ ᐅ


Remember that fuller or longer vowels can be indicated on the last three members of each of these three sets using an overhead dot. A final w indicated by the superscript circle may also follow any of these characters.

Now, let’s practice reading a few words!

1. This first one is a small creature that lives in wet places, can you make out its name?

ᑌᐦᑌᐤ

2. This next one is how a child would talk about sleeping. Can you figure it out?

ᐯᐯᐤ

3. What would you tell a child who is standing on his chair?

ᐊᐱᐦ!

4. If you don’t want someone to leave without you, what might you say?

ᐯᐦᐃᐦ!

You’ve only learned two new shapes and already you’re reading a bunch of new words! Let’s keep going, shall we?

You may have noticed how the above sets all feature syllables containing a consonant sound along with a vowel sound. In order to write a consonant sound without any accompanying vowel, the last character of any set is spelled as a superscript symbol. Notice how these superscript characters are identical to the last character of the sets you’ve just learned.

ᐯ, ᐱ, ᐳ, ᐸ, ᑉ
ᑌ, ᑎ, ᑐ, ᑕ, ᑦ

Here are two words that you can now read that make use of these smaller consonantal symbols. The first one means when he is laughing and the second one means around.

ᐁ ᐹᐦᐱᑦ
ᑌᑎᑉ

There remains one final symbol to review – the initial dot seen in lesson 1. As you may recall, placing this dot in front of a character produces an initial w. This poses no problem for the vowel set learned in lesson 1 since the w simply precedes any of the vowels that follow it. But what about the sets you’ve learned in the above lesson?

When a dot precedes a character that is composed of a consonantal sound followed by a vowel sound, the w is pronounced between the consonant and vowel. The following word means he is telling the truth. Try to read it to understand how the initial dot indicates that a vowel is pronounced within a syllable.

ᑖᐺᐤ

In this lesson, you have learned to read ten characters, eight of which represented a combination of a consonant sound and a vowel sound, and two of which were plain consonants. You’ve also learned that the vowels associated with these characters can be lengthened by the addition of an overhead dot. You’ve seen how the final superscript circle indicates that a w is pronounced after the character and you’ve also seen how an initial dot indicates that a w must be pronounced between the consonant sound and the vowel sound associated with each character. More importantly, you’ve learned that the three first sets of characters all pattern according to the cardinal directions and that the vowels associated with these directions remain constant from one set to the next. Having learned all this has allowed you to read the following words:

ᐊᐱᐦ
ᐁ ᐊᐱᑦ
ᐁ ᐹᐦᐱᑦ
ᐯᐯᐤ
ᐯᐦᐃᐦ
ᐯᐦᐅᐤ
ᐹᐹ
ᑌᐺᐤ
ᑌᑎᑉ
ᑖᐺᐤ
ᑌᐦᑌᐤ

And many more!

Reading Syllabics: Lesson 1

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Many go through life never knowing how to read in Cree, some having assumed that syllabics must be too difficult to acquire. Nothing can be further from the truth! Syllabics are an intuitive writing system that can be acquired with little effort, so long as that effort be consistent. Once acquired, a whole new world opens up to the reader. Aside from being able to read signs, posters, and pamphlets in one’s community, a wide set of Cree books will suddenly be accessible. Cree language books display a wide range of topics including cooking, education, harvesting the land, history, religion, and sacred stories. Of course, a whole set of posts on this very blog will also become intelligible. But most importantly, having learned how to read, one may eventually learn how to write – and we are in desperate need of writers! Cree literacy is a skill that can enrich one’s life immensely. So without further ado, shall we begin?


Lesson 1

Vowels

In this lesson you will learn how to read the four basic vowels and how these may be marked for length. You will also learn how w‘s  and h‘s are indicated. By the end of the lesson you will be able to read a few basic, but important, Cree words! Try to memorize the individual characters and the first few words presented in this lesson.

This first character sounds like the e in bed. Memorize its shape as you repeat its sound, paying close attention to the direction in which it points. You’ve now learned to read your first Cree word, a conjunction that can be translated as that, when, or as.

This second character sounds like the h in ahead. Memorize its shape. You’ve now learned two characters that together allow you to read a second Cree word, an exclamation that means yes.

ᐁᐦᐁ

The next character looks exactly like the first one above, except that it points upwards instead of downwards.

This character has two sounds. Although it usually sounds like the i in bit, when it occurs at the beginning of a word or after the character  it will sound like the the ea in beat. Memorize its shape while paying close attention to the direction in which it points. You’ve now learned a character that allows you to read another Cree word, an exclamation that also means yes, but that is only used in northern dialects.

ᐃᐦᐃ

When a fuller or longer vowel sound is required, a dot is place above this character.

Accompanied by a dot, this vowel now sounds like the ea in bead. Notice how the ea in bead is pronounced longer than the ea in beat. You’ve now learned how to read two vowels and one consonant. You also know that a dot above a vowel indicates a longer vowel. Let’s move on!

The above character can be pronounced like the oo in book or the oo in boot. As with the previous character, the second sound will usually be heard at the beginning of a word or after an . Memorize this vowel while paying close attention to the direction in which it points.

Once again, to achieve a fuller or longer sound, a dot is placed above the vowel. Accompanied by this dot, the vowel now sounds like the oo in brood. Notice how the oo in brood sounds longer than the oo in boot. This is now the fourth Cree word you’ve learned to read! This dotted character, as you have probably guessed, means this one. Having learned the above characters, you can now also read a variant of this word, spelled as follows:

ᐆᐦᐁ

Only one vowel left to learn! Here it is followed by its dotted counterpart:

ᐊ ᐋ

The character on the left can be pronounced like the u in cup or like the a in cap. Its dotted counterpart will be pronounced like the a in cab. Notice how the a in cab is longer than the a in cap. Alone, this dotted vowel is a marker for yes/no questions. You can now read the following question, meaning Is it this one?

ᐆ ᐋ?

Of course, if the answer is affirmative, you can now read it, too!

ᐁᐦᐁ!

You’ve now learned to read the four Cree vowels, three of which can be lengthened by the addition of an overhead dot. You’ve also learned one consonant. Together, these characters have already allowed you to read quite a few Cree words. It is crucial that you pay close attention to the direction in which these vowel characters point. These characters are traditionally memorized in the following order:

ᐁ       ᐃ       ᐅ       ᐊ

As you may have noticed, only the last three characters can be accompanied by the overhead dot. Another dot, however, can precede any of the above characters to indicate a preceding w.

ᐌ       ᐎ       ᐒ       ᐗ

The last three characters can simultaneously take an overhead dot, indicating a long vowel, and a preceding dot, indicating a preceding w. Knowing this will allow you to read two more Cree words: , a marker of volition that precedes verbs; and , a common response when someone has called your name or when you’ve misheard something directed at you.

We end our lesson with one final character, the final w. This character is written as a superscript circle following another character. Notice where it is placed in the following word.

ᐙᐤ

The above word contains the overhead dot to indicate a long vowel and also contains both the preceding w, indicated by an initial dot, and a final w, indicated by a final superscript circle. This word, which you are now able to read, means egg. You can now also read this final word of encouragement!

ᐦᐋᐤ! 

In this lesson, you have learned to read seven characters – four basic vowels and one consonant. You have also learned how three of the vowel characters are lengthened by the addition of an overhead dot. Finally, you’ve learned how to read preceding w‘s, indicated by a preceding dot, and final w‘s, indicated by the final superscript circle. Having learned these basic symbols has allowed you to read the following words:


ᐁᐦᐁ!
ᐃᐦᐃ!

ᐆᐦᐁ
… ᐋ?
ᐙ?
ᐙᐤ
ᐦᐋᐤ!

Believe it or not, this will have been the most difficult lesson to learn! In the following lessons you will learn the other consonantal characters, all of which obey the possible combinations presented above. It is therefore crucial to properly assimilate the information presented above. Read through the lesson multiple times if need be and practice writing the characters out. You can also draw a chart to memorize the directions in which the vowels point or even use cue cards to help you memorize them along with the nine words above.

Practice makes perfect!