Typing in Cree

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With the release of the Canada 150 Typeface in 2015 I decided to contact its designer, Raymond Larabie, about an error in the orientation of certain characters in its Cree syllabics. Fortunately, Mr. Larabie knew lots about typeface design and he soon realized the error resided with Unicode, the information technology standard for consistent encoding and representation of text in most of the world’s writing systems. He quickly contacted Debbie Anderson, Technical Director at Unicode, and together we worked to rectify the error for the release of Unicode 9.0.0.

Since then, default typefaces for syllabics, such as Euphemia, have yet to be updated and typing in syllabics continues to be frustrating, especially over the internet where the typeface is set in stone, so to speak. Thankfully, there are a number of typefaces designed by those in the know that avoid Unicode’s previous errors, my favourite being BJ Cree by Bill Jancewicz. When I switched to a Mac a number of years ago I appreciated that he had designed a keyboard that could easily be installed and used without Keyman, the cumbersome program used to type in syllabics on a PC and cellphones.

I immediately noticed a few differences between BJ Cree on my Mac, when compared to the PC version. For one, the W-series on the Mac consists of one Unicode character when compared to the PC version where the dot representing the W is a separate character from the syllable that follows. Naturally, this causes problems when searching for text that was originally composed on a PC, but this problem is more of a nuisance than a obstacle.

Two years ago, however, I noticed another mistake that would have gone unnoticed for years were it not for the fact that we had just published a pedagogical syllabics chart for Moose Cree. Only after printing the charts did I notice that the character representing RE pointed in the wrong direction, showing up as ᕂ (U+1542) instead of ᕃ (U+1543). This puzzled me at first and had me wondering if I had been using the wrong character all these years when writing by hand. My uncertainty lied in the fact that the R-series is rarely written as the sound does not exist in our dialect, so only words of foreign origin require it. However, a quick check in the the literature made it clear that the keyboard was wrong. Unfortunately, the syllabic charts had already been printed and all there was for me to do was to update the syllabics chart featured on this website.

For some reason I had not thought of contacting the designer of this typeface and keyboard. After all, I was right in the middle of my medical studies at the time. But as luck would have it, a casual conversation last week with Arden Ogg, Director and Chair of the Cree Literacy Network, led to her e-mailing Bill Jancewicz on the subject. A week and a half later, he informed me that he had corrected the keyboard error. However, upon testing it, another error that was noted to have inadvertently crept in. I informed Bill Jancewicz of the error and we discussed other changes that could be made to improve its function. I suggested a narrow no-break space (U+202F) could be added to keep grammatical and lexical preforms closer to their hosts. This suggestion resulted from a conversation Arden Ogg and I had had about how awkward large spaces look in syllabics when these are used between preforms and their hosts. Incredibly, Bill was gracious enough to include this narrow no-break space on the new keyboard and placed it on the dash key, which would normally be used when typing in the alphabetic orthography in these situations.

I would like to thank Bill Jancewicz for taking the time to correct the above mentioned error on his Mac keyboard and for including the narrow no-break space. Although modern technology still offers some resistance to the use of our written language, he is among those who make it possible for us to do so. I encourage all Cree speakers to get involved and to use the language as much as possible on modern media. The resistance we encounter today will eventually vanish as we progressively improve our tools.

For those interested in downloading Bill Jancewicz’s typeface and keyboards, they can be found here. Note that it may take a few days for the corrected version of his Mac keyboard to be uploaded.


Public service announcement about COVID-19 in Southern East Cree

Covid-19-ᐊᓂᒌ ᑳ ᓈᓈᑲᒋᐦᑖᑣᐤ ᐁ ᐃᔑ ᐱᒫᑎᓰᓈᓂᐎᔨᒡ ᐆᑕ ᑳᓇᑖ ᓈᓈᑲᒋᐦᑖᐗᒡ ᒣᒀᒡ ᐊᓂᔨᐤ ᐋᐦᑯᓯᐎᓂᔨᐤ ᐁ ᐃᔑᓂᐦᑳᒋᑳᑌᔨᒡ ᑯᕉᓈᕚᔾᕈᔅ (Coronavirus), ᔦᐦᔦᐙᔅᐱᓀᐎᓐ ᐁ ᐋᔕᐎ ᒦᔨᑐᓈᓂᐎᒡ ᑲᔭᐹ᙮ ᒌᔭᐙᐤ ᒫᒃ ᒋᑲ ᒌ ᐐᒋᐦᐃᐌᓈᐙᐤ ᒉᒌ ᓇᑳᐸᔨᒡ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᐋᐦᑯᓯᐎᓐ᙮

ᒉ ᒋᔥᑖᐹᐗᒋᑎᐦᒉᔦᒄ ᒥᐦᒉᑣᐤ᙮ ᐐ ᐅᔥᑐᑕᒣᑴ, ᒉ ᐅᔥᑐᑕᒣᒄ ᐊᓐᑌ ᒋᔅᐱᑐᓂᐙᐦᒡ᙮ ᒉ ᐌᐱᓇᒣᒄ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᐁ ᓰᓂᔅᒉᑯᒣᐙᒉᔦᒄ᙮ ᒉ ᒋᔥᑖᐹᐗᑖᔦᒄ ᒥᓯᐌ ᒉᒀᓐ ᐁ ᑖᐦᒋᓇᒣᒄ᙮ ᒉ ᑯᒋᐦᑖᔦᒄ ᓀᔥᑦ ᐁᑳ ᒉᒌ ᑖᐦᒋᓇᒫᑎᓱᔦᒄ ᐊᓐᑌ ᒋᔥᒌᔑᑯᐙᐦᒡ, ᒋᔅᑯᑎᐙᐦᒡ, ᓀᔥᑕᒥᒄ ᒋᑑᓂᐙᐦᒡ᙮

ᐁᑕᑕᐤ ᐐ ᒋᔅᒉᔨᐦᑕᒣᑴ ᐊᓂᐦᐁ ᐋᐦᑯᓯᐎᓐ, ᓇᑕᐙᐸᐦᑕᒧᒄ Canada.ca/coronavirus ᓀᔥᑕᒥᒄ ᑖᐦᑳᐱᐦᒉᓂᒉᒄ ᐊᓐᑌ 1-833-784-4397᙮

ᐁᑾᓐ ᐅᐐᐦᑕᒫᒉᐎᓐ ᑳᓇᑖ ᑎᐯᔨᐦᒋᒉᓯᐤ, 11 ᒥᑭᓯᐤ ᐲᓯᒽ᙮

This Government of Canada announcement was translated by Dr. Kevin Brousseau. To read this public announcement in other languages, click here.


Strengthening our Language & Culture Through Literacy

Keynote Address presented by Dr. Kevin Brousseau at the Cree School Board’s Annual General AssemblyFebruary 26, 2020

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ᑴᔾ, ᒋ ᐴᔔᐦᑳᑎᓈᐙᐤ ᒥᓯᐌ᙮

ᓃᔥᑕᒻ ᓂᐐ ᓇᓈᔅᑯᒫᐗᒡ ᐊᓂᒋ ᑳ ᓇᑐᒥᑣᐤ ᒉ ᐯᒋ ᐊᔭᒥᔮᓐ ᐆᑕ ᐊᓄᐦᒌᔥ᙮ ᐃᐦᑖᒉᓂᒡ ᐆᑕ ᐊᐌᓂᒋ ᐁᑳ ᐁ ᒋᔅᒉᔨᒥᑣᐤ ᐊᐌᓐ ᐃᔮᐎᔮᓐ᙮ ᐙᔂᓂᐲᐎᔨᓂᐤ ᓃᔾ, ᕕᓐ ᕉᓴᐤ ᓂᑦ ᐃᔑᓂᐦᑳᓱᓐ᙮ᑲᓈᔥ ᓀᔥᑦ ᒋᓐ ᓂᑑᑌᒪᒡ᙮ ᐊᐗᓯᑌ ᓃᔥᑕᓇᐤ ᐱᐳᓐ ᓂᑦ ᐋᐸᑎᓰᐦᑲᐦᑌᓐ ᒋᑦ ᐊᔭᒥᐎᓂᓇᐤ᙮ ᓂᔮᔭᓄ ᐱᐳᓐ ᒫᒃ ᐊᔅᐱᓐ ᓂᒌ ᐴᓂ ᐋᐸᑎᓰᓐ ᐆᑌ ᐅᒉᐳᑲᒨᐦᒡ ᒦᓐ ᒉ ᓇᑕᐎ ᐃᔅᑰᓕᐎᔮᓐ ᓇᑐᐦᑯᔨᓐ ᒉᒌ ᐃᑖᐸᑎᓰᔮᓐ᙮ ᐁᑾᓐ ᐊᓄᐦᒌᔥ ᐁ ᐃᑖᐸᑎᓰᔮᓐ ᐊᓐᑌ ᑎᒥᓐᔅ᙮ ᐊᓐᑌ ᒫᒃ ᓃᑳᓂᐦᒡ ᓂ ᐸᑯᓭᔨᐦᑌᓐ ᑳᐤ ᒉ ᐯᒋ ᒌᐌᔮᓐ ᐃᔨᓂᐤ ᐅᑌᓈᐦᒡ ᒉᒌ ᐋᐸᑎᓰᔮᓐ᙮

ᒉ ᐊᔭᒥᐦᐃᑕᑯᒡ ᒫᒃ ᐊᓄᐦᒌᔥ ᓂᑲ ᐌᒥᔥᑎᑰᔒᐎ ᐊᔭᒥᓐ ᐁᑕᑕᐤ ᒉᒌ ᐸᔭᐦᑌᐦᑖᑯᐦᐃᑎᓱᔮᓐ᙮ ᐁᑯᑌ᙮

As many of you know, my family and I lost our beloved matriarch this past year, my grandmother Mary Jane Kitchen. From a young age, I had been especially close to this grandmother as she would often spend time with us in our home along the highway between Senneterre and Val-d’Or. In fact, as a child I had always been close to both my grandmothers and the two of them have gifted me with many beautiful memories of my childhood. I can certainly say they’ve had a lasting impact on the development of my character and my values as a man today.

My late grandmother instilled in most of those who knew her a deep respect for our language and culture, and this is certainly the case for me as well. In fact, my main motivation for learning to speak our language, as many of you know I did not speak Cree as a child, was to be able to communicate in Cree with my Cree grandmother in the same way I could communicate in French with my French grandmother. I’m glad to say I achieved that goal.

My earliest memories of my late grandmother, surprisingly, were not of her setting snares, though there are certainly many of those memories. They also were not of her beading, though she certainly beaded on nearly a daily basis. My earliest memories were not of her ᐋᔭᐦᑯᓈᐤ, nor her ᓰᐹᔾ. In fact, my earliest memories of my late grandmother were of her reading. This is because my grandmother, who spoke only Cree, read on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. I can still see her, every night before bed, pulling out her Bible or prayer book and reading. She would often sound out the syllabic characters for me as I sat next to her. In fact, this is how I learned how to read Cree before I even understood what I was reading. I can still remember telling her about this book I had found one day titled ᐸᐹᒧᐦᑌᐤ ᐁ ᐱᒥᐱᒋᑦ. This work of fiction, published in 1886, was a Moose Cree translation of John Bunyan’s 1678 book titled Pilgrim’s Progress. It was translated by Thomas Vincent, a Cree clergyman of the Church of England. What struck me about this memory was how my grandmother already knew of this book and had in fact read it as a young woman. She proceeded to tell me what it was about and explained how she managed to get her hands on a copy years ago and how her late brother had also read it.

But she was not the only one with a love of reading – my late great aunt Meliy-ânish Saganash once told me about how the men long ago would carry their prayer books in specially made book bags on hunting or trapping expeditions. They would bring the books along to have something to read during their breaks and evenings while on these long trips. Clearly, reading was appreciated by many in the older generations.

My own grandmother’s love of reading was likely transmitted to my mother. Although she reads in English, she does so every evening before bed and has done so for as long as I can remember. I can only imagine the number of books my mother has read in her lifetime, but it is likely only surpassed by the number of baby blankets she’s made over the years. I can tell you, however, that she would likely be unhappy were she unable to continue reading. In fact, she tells me her late father would discipline her by hiding her Archie comics as a young woman. Ever the joker, he once hid her books by tying them above her bed, which she only discovered when she lied down for sleep that evening.

As a result, I grew up in a home where books were present and reading was expected. As children, my mother would often read books to my siblings and I. She tells me how I once told her, at 3 or 4 years old, that I couldn’t wait to start reading on my own. I can now confirm that being an avid reader over the years has definitely been the key to my success. And I have passed on this love of reading to my own children.

But I mention these memories for another reason that I think is relevant to our present situation. You see, we often speak of our language and culture as things divorced from education, generally, and literacy, specifically. How many times have we heard this notion that our culture and language belong in the bush? Or that we have an oral tradition? Certainly those statements are correct, but they also imply a restricted perspective. If our culture and language belong in the bush, do they not also belong in our communities and in our schools? And if we have inherited an oral tradition, should we not write our thoughts down in Cree? It is almost as if we use these statements to permit the encroachment of non-Cree culture and language into our homes and communities. An equally correct statement that would be more expansive is that our culture and language belong wherever we are as Cree people, whether in the bush, in the community, in the office, in the school, or anywhere else we chose to be.

But more unsettling notions that surface from time to time are that the culture and language are partly responsible for the poor performance of students in our schools – that their presence in our schools somehow takes away from the rest of the curriculum. Consider a nation state such as India, where numerous languages are spoken, each with its own dialects. In this particular country, the linguistic curriculum teaches the local regional language, whether that be Punjabi, Gujrati, or Malayalam, but also teaches the national language, in this case Hindi, along with English as an international language. Presently, in Timmins, there are hundreds of international students attending the local college, most of them from India. How is it that these students arrive in this country speaking English, along with two other languages? Why are their schools successful at providing a trilingual education, yet we struggle with simply providing a high-quality bilingual environment?

I would advance that there are numerous factors involved, true, but that an important one is undoubtedly this restricted perspective we often endorse regarding our own language and culture. We often speak of these things as belonging to the bush, as I previously mentioned, but also as things that are frozen in time – things that do not, or should not, change.

Yet, by definition, all cultures and languages must change. They must adapt to changes in technology. They must adapt to changes in the economy. They must adapt to changing political systems. Yet even without all of these forces, cultures and languages do change from one generation to another as dictated by personal idiosyncrasies and human innovation. Our ancesters were certainly responsible for changes in our language and culture over the last few centuries of contact with European peoples.

The adoption of the gun, the outboard motor, cloth clothing, and glass beads are all examples of changes in technology that have become fully integrated into our culture. These examples of foreign technology all came to us through a realignment of our trading partners, from indigenous peoples in the south to European traders from across the ocean. Aside from technology, this change from the previous economic system led to many changes in our language. In addition to having to name new technology, such as the items I just mentioned, European words were also adopted and adapted into our language. Older greetings such as ᑴᔾ, a testament to our trade relationships with indigenous partners to the south prior to arrival of Europeans, were replaced along the coast by ᐙᒋᔦ, a word derived from an old British greeting, and near French communities by ᐴᔔ, derived from bonjour. Thus, we now greet one another with ᒋ ᐙᒋᔦᒥᑎᓐ or ᒋ ᐴᔔᐦᑳᑎᓐ, both words being ultimately derived from English and French, respectively. And as Europeans increasingly settled in these lands, so did our political system change, leading us also change the way we speak about governing ourselves in our own language. None of these changes to our culture and language come as any surprise to any of us today – we all accept these changes as part of who we are. In the same way, our ancestors embraced literacy – both reading and writing – to such an extent that it has been estimated that the overwhelming majority of the adult population in the pre-residential school era could read in Cree. How things have changed today.

We would not be talking about strengthening our language and culture at this general assembly if we did not believe that their futures were uncertain. But the problem cannot be the culture, or the language itself, for both of these things have proven, over the last few centuries, to be perfectly adaptable to our ever-changing realities as Cree people. However, we must acknowledge that the integrity of our language and culture has suffered through the great social upheaval that began with the residential school system, where children were robbed of their traditional education in favour or an assimilatory agenda imposed by the Canadian government. As we all know too well, this tragedy did not leave us unscathed. But in the years that followed we nonetheless managed to empower ourselves as a distinct nation in order to forge through the colonial status quo that continues to fetter too many indigenous peoples in this country. In the process, we managed to establish our very own Cree School Board, a powerful entity with so much potential that unfortunately continues to be underestimated and underappreciated by many of our own people. This needs to change, for the Cree School Board will be the fulcrum of our future success or failure as a nation.

Despite this heavy burden, most of us also expect the Cree School Board to have a part to play in the transmission of our culture and language. In this regard, I believe too little attention has been placed on crafting a high-quality curriculum that leads to the acquisition of a Cree literacy that is on par with the education our students receive in English and French. But why so much talk about literacy? It’s quite simple really – in this era of information I believe literacy in English, French, and Cree will be that which will tip us towards success as individuals and collectively as a nation. Literacy will not solve anything in and of itself, but it will produce thoughtful and knowlegeable individuals who will. And although our culture, as any other culture, cannot be simply transmitted by the written word, so much of what is presently in danger of being lost can. Around the world, literacy is a key component of culture and language – why would it not be so for us as well?

I would like to emphasize that much has been done in the way of developing literacy in our language since we have taken control of our own education. The Cree Way Project, for which the late Annie Whiskeychan was known, did great strides at providing school children with reading material. Following that, numerous authors from every community have also contributed to the Cree School Board by writing their stories for students. A need for proper reference materials led to the production of dictionaries of our own dialects, a project that has spanned a few decades and which required the collaboration of speakers from many communities. Yet, despite all this effort the average child who makes it through our school system is not comfortably literate in Cree, and nowhere is this more apparent than on Facebook. Some may laugh, but I think we can safely say we have succeeded when our language starts taking precedence over English and French in public spheres, including social media.

Our culture and language are of utmost importance if we are to persist as a distinct nation. So let us not be discouraged! Each and every one of us can be an ambassador for the culture and language. And each and every one of us holds a piece of the solution. No one here knows every word in our language. No one knows every single ᐋᑕᔫᐦᑳᓐ. And no one knows every bit of local history or every single traditional skill, though some certainly seem to come close. Strengthening our culture and language, and transmitting it to the next generation, is something we must do together – for it is when they are experienced together, as families, as communities, and as a nation, that our culture and language mean the most.

ᑳ ᒥᓄᑌᐦᐁᑦ

Midnight Shine, a popular Cree band from northern Ontario, recently released a cover of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, with a twist. Instead of singing the lyrics as they were written, the band instead offers a bilingual version, switching to Cree halfway through the song. The Cree lyrics, written in the dialect spoken in Attawapiskat, are provided below in syllabics. They begin around 2:17. Enjoy!

ᓂᐐ ᐱᒫᑎᓰᓐ
ᓂᐐ ᒦᓂᐙᓐ
ᓂ ᓈᓇᑕᐙᐸᒫᐤ ᑳ ᒥᓄᑌᐦᐁᑦ
ᒨᓇ ᓂᑮ ᐃᑣᓐ ᐆᐦᐅ ᑫᒀᓇ

ᐁ ᓈᓇᑕᐙᐸᒪᒃ ᑳ ᒥᓄᑌᐦᐁᑦ
ᐋᔕᔾ ᓂ ᑭᔐᓂᓃᐎᓐ
ᐁ ᓈᓇᑕᐙᐸᒪᒃ ᑳ ᒥᓄᑌᐦᐁᑦ
ᐋᔕᔾ ᓂ ᑭᔐᓂᓃᐎᓐ

Geraldine Govender: Heritage Award for Excellence


On February 23 in Toronto, Geraldine Govender accepted the Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation for her role in making the Moose Cree dictionary possible. As the director for the Department of Language & Culture at Moose Cree First Nation, Geraldine’s role in building support for the local language revitalization project has been crucial for keeping the dictionary project going.

Geraldine took to social media that day to acknowledge her nomination by Stan Kapashesit and to thank all those involved in the production of this important work on the Cree language.

A third edition of the Dictionary of Moose Cree is presently being prepared. Contributors to the dictionary project since 2012 are listed below:

Kevin Brousseau
Vincent Collette (contributor to the first edition)

Expert Speakers:
Clarence Cheechoo
Susan Cheechoo
William Cheechoo
Agnes Corston
Hilda Jeffries
Gertie Johnstone
Eva Lazarus
Mary Linklater
Jane Louttit (1922-2013)
Eleanor McLeod
Stella McLeod
Caroline Trapper (1929-2017)
Daisy Turner (1918-2017)
George Quachegan

Moose Factory Cree: In Memory of Daisy Turner

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As the days grew shorter this year, almost symbolically it seemed, our nation saw the passing of Daisy Turner, a woman whose contribution to our language was known largely from the publication of her Moose Factory Cree in 1974. One year shy of becoming a centenarian, Daisy Turner had spent the last couple of years of her life in a elders’ home in Timmins, only to briefly return home to Moosonee before ‘going to sleep,’ as we sometimes say in Cree.

While preparing the second edition of the Dictionary of Moose Cree, published in 2015, I decided I should try to meet Daisy. My opportunity came when, heading home from Moose Factory, I had a few hours to spend in Moosonee before my plane landed.

Daisy greeted me at her beautiful home and cleared the kitchen table. She brought out her Moose Factory Cree and told me all about its origins. She then generously entertained my thoughts and answered some questions about the local dialect as we discussed the publication of the new dictionary, a project she supported wholeheartedly. What touched me most about our exchange, however, was her personal account of learning the language.

Moose Factory Cree

Published in 1974 by the now defunct Highway Book Shop

As she related during our conversation, Daisy had not acquired the Cree language in her own home. Speaking Cree, she told me, was not encouraged by her parents, both of whom were Cree-speakers, but who were also wemištikôšîhkân. This word, which literally means ‘made European,’ is how people of biracial parenting (and their children) are referred to in Cree.

The wemištikôšîhkân typically occupied a higher social status in the world of the fur trade, partly due to their ability to act as intermediaries between our people and Europeans. And while a man of biracial parenting might reasonably be expected to work at the trading post, speaking both Cree and English, and potentially marrying a Cree woman, a woman of similar parenting was often expected to approximate the European woman, speaking English, and marrying White, so to speak, if possible.

Such stories are common in our communities, but Daisy had a different idea in mind. She could not stand the idea of not being able to speak Cree. As she put it, she would leave her part of the village to visit the tents occupied by Cree families summering on the island. And while her friends were busy playing, she explained how she would often sit with their monolingual Cree elders and revel in their stories as she gradually acquired the language.


Moose Factory in 1935 – Daisy would have been 17 years old back then

This is what makes Daisy’s story so interesting and inspiring. In a world where the state of our language is increasingly precarious, a world saturated by English that continuously insinuates the demise of our language, Daisy’s story reminds us that if we care enough to make the effort we can make a difference. After all, Daisy not only learned to speak Cree, but helped countless people by using her language skills to interpret for them during their encounters with medical professionals. And then of course there is her little book. Published in 1974, it joins the Cree Way Project in marking the 1970s as the beginning of our locally driven efforts to publish in our own language.

Daisy’s contribution to the Dictionary of Moose Cree can be counted as 615 entries, but her legacy as a Cree woman cannot be measured.

Sleep well Daisy, your rest is well-deserved.

Syllabics and the Unicode Consortium

When the Canadian government announced the release of the Canada 150 Typeface last year, I was immensely pleased to read that it would support Cree syllabics. In our communities, however, it is common knowledge that syllabic typefaces based on the Unicode Standard contain a number of errors in the sh-series that make typing in Cree quite a hassle. Fonts designed either locally or by linguists in the know have been used for years to circumvent this problem, but this requires that one manually change the font selected whenever typing in syllabics. Therefore, with the release of Canada 150, I immediately wanted to verify its Cree syllabics to see if the errors had been corrected.

Sadly, the errors had not been rectified and this prompted me to contact the designer of the typeface, Raymond Larabie. He was surprised to hear that the Unicode Standard contained such errors and immediately offered to help get the message across to the Unicode Consortium. We worked together to identify the erroneous glyphs and sent them examples of how the glyphs should be oriented. Eventually, the consortium replied and paid the matter the attention it deserved. A few months and emails later, the Unicode Consortium informed us that they had published a new errata notice to publicize the corrections that will take effect with the release of the Unicode Standard 9.0.

Barriers related to the use of our language need to be identified and removed if our language is to survive its uncertain future and perhaps even thrive once again. A font related problem might not seem that significant, but this little hassle has served as a disincentive for many people who would have otherwise embraced pairing our language with modern technology. I would therefore like to acknowledge and thank Debbie Anderson, Unicode Technical Director, and Raymond Larabie for their assistance in solving this problem.

It will take a while for typefaces to catch up with the corrections. In the meantime, those wishing to type in Cree can download and install the BJCree typeset provided freely here. It can be used on word processors, but not on social media. For the latter, we will simply have to be patient as we wait for the world to catch up to the Unicode Standard 9.0.

The errors and corrections can be seen below in the consortium’s latest errata notice.

Errata Unicode

Travelling Exhibit on the Cree Language


IMG_3969The Canadian Language Museum recently launched its newest travelling exhibit, Cree: The People’s Language, at the University of Toronto. While browsing six beautifully designed panels and an audio station, visitors can become acquainted with the most widely spoken indigenous language in Canada. The colourful bilingual panels feature information about the various dialects of Cree, some idiosyncrasies of its grammar, information about its various spelling systems, along with other interesting linguistic facts. Browsing the audio station, one can actually listen to clips from the various dialects of Cree and get a sense of what is written on the panels.


Having been invited to contribute to the content of the exhibit it was great to attend the launch and finally see the end product in person. Elaine Gold and her team at the Canadian Language Museum did a wonderful job at crafting eye-catching displays that are sure to please even the less linguistically inclined. In fact, the exhibit proved to be a great conversation starter as visitors pondered linguistic traits such as animacy and polysynthesis. I certainly enjoyed my evening conversing with the curious!


The Canadian Language Museum plans to have their exhibit travel the country and will be presenting it at the Pan-Am games in Toronto this summer. Be sure to visit this stimulating exhibit if it comes to a town near you or contact the museum directly if you would like to host it for a special event!

(Cree: The People’s Language was launched on March 25, 2015. The images above were provided by Andrew Tomkins.)

Publication of a Grammar of the Cree Language


imageLast week marked the publication of the Grammaire de la langue innue, the first ever modern and comprehensive grammar of the Cree language. So while I usually lay my head down around eleven o’clock, for the past few days my eyes have remained open long after the time of my nightly reclination as I diligently read through each of its 602 pages.

For those unversed in the study of the Cree language or its various appellations, what is here referred to as the Innu language is a group of Cree dialects spoken by around 11,000 people along the north shore of what is now generally known as the St-Lawrence River in Québec. Yet, despite the title of the book, there is no such thing as a homogeneous Innu language. Instead, the book introduces us to a variety of dialects who, for historical and political reasons, have come to be grouped under that term.

Differences aside, the speakers of these dialects have managed, over time, to agree on a single standard spelling system – no simple task considering the glaring phonological discrepancies among the dialects in question. But this move towards orthographic unity, encouraged by their conspicuous cultural and ethnic unity, has been of utmost importance for the development of literacy and the promotion and preservation of the Cree language in those communities. Without such a standard orthography, the present grammar would have most likely failed at being so dialectally inclusive and at successfully targeting the actual speakers of the language who, more often than not, are not trained linguists and might not manage to read an orthography based on conventions used in linguistics.

The author of this grammar, Lynn Drapeau, is a well-known linguist in the field of Algic languages. Having done research since the 1970’s on the particular dialect spoken in Pessamit, she is one of a handful of linguists who has spent a considerable amount of time in our communities to eventually become a speaker of our language. This investment of hers would also result in her 1991 publication of what was then the most extensive dictionary of the any Cree dialect, her Dictionnaire montagnais-français. But her crowning achievement will unquestionably be her Grammaire de la langue innue, which she managed to perfect by dedicating her post-retirement time to parsing countless hours of recordings of elderly monolingual speakers and holding discussions on various points of grammar with her academic and communal research groups.

I have had the pleasure of having the author supervise my work as a graduate student in linguistics, where I focused my interests on the history of the Cree language. It was then that I came to understand how what appears to be a wide and disparate variety of Cree dialects is in fact a language that remains incredibly similar, lexically and grammatically, regardless of its regional innovations. This grammar will therefore undoubtedly prove useful to speakers of other Cree dialects until modern and comprehensive grammars of their dialects are published as well.