Michif

The term Michif refers to a group of linguistic varieties developed and traditionally spoken by the Métis, who emerged as a distinct nation of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry in the early 19th century (Bakker, 1997; Rosen & Souter, 2009). With roots in the Red River settlements of Manitoba, the Métis homeland reaches from across the prairie provinces in western Canada (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta) to North Dakota and Montana in the United States, and includes small parts of Ontario and British Columbia. Today, the Métis can be found in both urban and rural settings, with some concentration in urban centres (e.g., Winnipeg, MB, etc.).

Michif is a contact language comprising elements from two major source languages—Plains Cree (Algonquian) and Métis French (Indo-European; Romance)—with additional influences from Saulteaux (Algonquian) and, recently, English. It is typically classified as a mixed language, with the majority of verbs originating from Plains Cree, and the majority of nouns originating from French, and grammatical elements incorporated from both major source languages and Saulteaux.

 

 “Michif” can be broadly grouped into three main varieties: Northern Michif, Southern Michif, and Métis French. Dialectal differences exist within these varieties as well (for further discussion of Michif varieties, see Sammons, 2019). The Métis have traditionally been multilingual, often acting as guides and interpreters between First Nations people and European explorers or traders. Traditionally, it would not have been uncommon for a Métis person to speak three or more languages (Bakker, 1997; Rosen & Souter, 2009; Sammons, 2019). Because of the ambiguousness of the label “Michif” and because the Canadian census does not differentiate between Michif varieties, it is difficult to estimate speaker numbers. Some Southern Michif speakers estimate that there are less than 100--all of whom aged 60 or above (Personal Communication, 2020). In addition to these first-language speakers, however, is a small group of motivated second-language learners who are actively working to learn and revitalize the language. They tend to be located in geographically disparate areas, with little to no previous exposure to the language and few opportunities to learn (Souter, 2018). This, combined with the diasporic nature of the Métis community, formed a major part of the motivation to create an online language course.

 Michif Dictionary     

 

Prairies to Woodlands Indigenous Language Revitalization Circle 

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Beadwork by: Carmen Leeming