Mi'kmaq language/Orthographies

Chapter 3
Lesson : Mi'kmaq language
Previous chapter:Dialects
Next chapter :Phonology

Nowadays, Mi'kmaq language is written with the Latin alphabet. However, a Mi'kmaq hieroglyph writing system, called komqwejwi'kasikl in Mi'kmaq, 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.

A sample of Mi'kmaq hieroglyphic writing, the Ave Maria
Tan teladakadidjik apostalewidjik, the Acts of the Apostles in Mi'kmaq by the Bible Society, printed in the phonetical alphabet invented by Isaac Pitman
A stop sign in Mi'kmaq language in Elsipogtog First Nation, New Brunswick

Different orthographies exist to write in Mi'kmaq (see the table below). 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 (even more complex than the table below suggests as far as the number of vowels is concerned).

The main orthographies used to write Mi'kmaq today have an alphabet of six vowels and thirteen consonants. The vowels include five full vowels, that are represented with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) by [a], [e], [i], [o], and [u] and are respectively written "a", "e", "i", "o" and "u", and one reduced vowel represented by [ə] in IPA that is called the "schwa". The schwa is written by a barred-i, ɨ, in Francis-Smith orthography and by an apostrophe in the Listuguj orthography. However, since the location of the schwa in a word can be predictable for a Mi'kmaq speaker, it is not always written. There are twelve consonants plus the "i" which also serves as a consonant that sounds like the "y" in English, in Francis-Smith and Listuguj orthographies.

Mi'kmaq orthographies
IPA a e i ə k l m n o p x s t u w j
Francis-Smith a a'/á e e'/é i i'/í ɨ j k l m n o o'/ó p q s t u u'/ú w y
Listuguj a a' e e' i i' ' j g l m n o o' p q s t u u' w y
Lexicon a a: e e: i i: ɨ j k l m n o o: p q s t u u: w y
Pacifique a e i tj g l m n ô p s t o
Rand ă a â ĕ ā ĭ e ŭ ch c k l m n ŏ o ō b h s d t ŏŏ oo u w y



The Francis-Smith orthography has been developed in the 1970s by Doug Smith and Bernard Francis. It is the most used orthography today, especially in Nova Scotia.

It has 5 short vowels, a, e, i, o and u, and 5 long vowels, a', e', i', o' and u'. It has 11 consonants: j, k, l, m, n, p, q, s, t, kw, qw, and i can also act as a consonant.



The Listuguj (or Restigouche) orthography is mainly used in Quebec. The main difference from the Francis-Smith orthography is that the "k" letter is replaced by "g".

The Our Father prayer in Mi'kmaq hyeroglyphs with Mi'kmaq text and German translation, from 1880