Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Michif - the Dying Language of the Métis


In Ox Cart Angel, the Métis traders that Claire helps send off in the beginning of the novel are said to speak a language called Michif. Other than that brief mention, I didn't talk about it in the book, so I decided to tell you a little more about it here.

So what was - or rather, what is - the Michif language?

To answer that question, it first helps to understand who the Métis are. They are descendants of a union between a European and Native American parent. Typically, the father was French Canadian and the mother was Ojibwe. The word métis (pronounced may-tee - the 's' is silent) is French and literally means mixed. The Métis developed their own distinct culture over the years, and were a large part of trading between European and Native cultures.

Michif also comes from a mixture of cultures, mainly French and Cree. The nouns come mostly from French, while the verbs are typically Cree. There are also parts of the Ojibwe language in Michif, as well.

a Michif hoodie!
Today, there are very few speakers of the Michif language. Possibly fewer than 1,000, according to this article on Wikipedia, or even less than 500 according to this article - all mainly in North Dakota and parts of Canada.

Fortunately with the internet, there are resources available to learn the language and preserve it. There are even a few books written in Michif, like the alphabet book pictured below.

Owls See Clearly at Night
A Michif Alphabet
-image takes you to its Amazon page-
If you would like to learn some Michif, here are a few good resources:

The Louis Riel Institute

Meena kawapimitin!
(see you soon!)

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