Mi'kmaq language/Introduction

Chapter 1
Lesson : Mi'kmaq language
Next chapter :Dialects

Mi'kmaq or Mi'gmac, also called Micmac, is a language spoken by the Aboriginal nation of the same name in Eastern Canada (Quebec (Gaspé peninsula), New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland) and United States (Maine and Massachusetts). The name of the language in Mi'kmaq is mi'kmawi'simk. It is part of the Algonquian language family that is part of the larger Algic language family. With approximately 8,100 speakers the language is currently considered threatened of extinction. Mi'kmaq people also speak English or French (minority in Quebec). The population of actual Mi'kmaq speakers is decreasing, most speakers being the elders of the communities. There is no monolingual Mi'kmaq speaker and Mi'kmaq is not the first language of the younger generations that speak Mi'kmaq. It is an officially recognized minority language in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Mi'kma'ki, the traditional territory of the Mi'kmaq people

Today, Mi'kmaq is written using the Latin alphabet. However, a Mi'kmaq hieroglyph writing system has been used in the past. Those hieroglyphs are partially from Native creation, making Mi'kmaq one of the few American languages to have a writing system pre-contact with the Europeans. However, those hieroglyphs were more pictographs used as visual memory aids than a real writing system.

Four different orthographies exist to write in Mi'kmaq: Francis-Smith, Listuguj, Pacifique and Rand. The most widely used is the Francis-Smith orthography developed in 1974. It is used in Nova Scotia and it's the orthography used by the Mi'kmaq Grand Council. The Listuguj orthography is used in Quebec and is the same as the Francis-Smith except the "k" is replaced by "g". The Pacifique orthography has been developed in early 20th century by Father Pacifique, but it omits couple vowels. The Rand orthography, developed in late 19th century by Reverand Silas Tertius Rand, is not used anymore and is more complex. The orthographies of Mi'kmaq are explored in details in Chapter 3.

Other than obvious names for geographical objects, such as the province of Quebec and the towns of Antigonish and Shubenacadie in Nova Scotia, traces of Mi'kmaq words can be found in English and French spoken in North America. For examples, the Mi'kmaq word kaleboo gave the Canadian French word caribou which in turn gave the English word cariboo or caribou while the Mi'kmaq word thapaken gave the Canadian French word tabagane which in turn gave the English word toboggan. The other way, some words from the Basque language can be found in Mi'kmaq, presumably due to extensive trade contact between Basque sailors and Native Americans in the 16th century. Moreover, the overall friendly exchanges starting in mid-16th century between the Mi'kmaq people and the Basque whalers provided the basis for the development of an Algonquian–Basque pidgin, with a strong Mi'kmaq imprint, recorded still in use in the early 18th century.

A Wikipedia in Mi'kmaq language is being developed in the Wikimedia Incubator.