Michif language

Native to Canada
Region Métis communities in the Prairies; mostly Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota
Native speakers
730 (2010 & 2011 censuses)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Métis Nation
Regulated by Métis National Council
Language codes
ISO 639-3 crg
Glottolog mich1243[2]

Michif (also Mitchif, Mechif, Michif-Cree, Métif, Métchif, French Cree) is the language of the Métis people of Canada and the United States, who are the descendants of First Nations women (mainly Cree, Nakota and Ojibwe) and fur trade workers of European ancestry (mainly French and Scottish Canadians). Currently, Michif is spoken in scattered Métis communities in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada and in North Dakota in the U.S., with about 50 speakers in Alberta, all over age 60.[3] There are some 230 speakers of Michif in the United States (down from 390 at the 1990 census [4]), most of whom live in North Dakota, particularly in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.[5] There are around 300 Michif speakers in the Northwest Territories, northern Canada.[6] Michif emerged in the early 19th century as a mixed language (not to be confused with a creole),[7] and adopted a consistent character between about 1820 and 1840.

Michif combines Cree and Métis French (Rhodes 1977, Bakker 1997:85), a variety of Canadian French, with some additional borrowing from English and indigenous languages of the Americas such as Ojibwe and Assiniboine. In general, Michif noun phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax are derived from Métis French, while verb phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax are from a southern variety of Plains Cree. (Plains Cree is a western dialect of Cree.) Articles and adjectives are also of Métis French origin but demonstratives are from Plains Cree.

The Michif language was first brought to scholarly attention in 1976 by John Crawford at the University of North Dakota.[8] Much of the subsequent research on Michif was also related to UND, including four more pieces by Crawford, plus work by Evans, Rhodes, and Weaver.

The Michif language is unusual (and possibly even unique) among mixed languages, in that rather than forming a simplified grammar, it developed by incorporating complex elements of the chief languages from which it was born. French-origin noun phrases retain lexical gender and adjective agreement; Cree-origin verbs retain much of their polysynthetic structure. This suggests that instead of haltingly using words from another's tongue, the people who gradually came to speak Michif were fully fluent in both French and Cree.

The number of speakers is estimated at fewer than 1,000; it was probably double or triple this number at the close of the 19th century, but never much higher.


Michif as recorded starting in the 1970s combined two separate phonological systems: one for French origin elements, and one for Cree origin elements (Rhodes 1977, 1986). For instance, /y/, /l/, /r/ and /f/ exist only in French words, whereas preaspirated stops such as /ʰt/ and /ʰk/ exist only in Cree words. In this variety of Michif, the French elements were pronounced in ways that have distinctively Canadian French values for the vowels, while the Cree elements have distinctively Cree values for vowels. Nonetheless, there is some Cree influence on French words in the stress system (Rosen 2006). But by the year 2000 there were Michif speakers who had collapsed the two systems into a single system (Rosen 2007).


Consonants in Manitoba Michif[9]
Labial Labio-dental Alveolar Alveo-palatal Velar Glottal
Stops ʰp p b ʰt t d ʰk k g
Affricates ʰtʃ
Fricatives f v s z ʃ ʒ h
Nasals m n
Liquids r l
Glides w j


Michif has eleven oral vowels and four nasalized vowels.

Oral Vowels

Oral vowels in Manitoba Michif[10]
Front Central Back
Close i j y ʊ u
Mid e ɛ œ ɔ o
Open a ɑ

Nasalized Vowels

The following four vowels are nasalized in Michif:


A schwa /ə/ appearing between two consonants in French-origin words is dropped in Michif. Examples of this process are listed in the table below.

/e/-deletion in Michif[11]
French Michif English
chemin shmen 'path'
cheveux zhveu 'hair'
petit pchi 'small'
cheval zhwal 'horse'

Liaison consonants

In French, a liaison is used to bridge the gap between word-final and word-initial vowel sounds. This process does not occur in Michif, though some remnants of it are evident. For many nouns, liaison consonants become integrated into the noun itself.

Liaison consonants in Michif[11]
French Michif English
arbre zarbr 'tree'
étoile zetwel 'star'
oeuf zoeuf 'egg'
os zo 'bone'
oignons zawyoun 'onion'


The voiced alveolar stop /d/ in French-origin words, normally affricated to /dz/ before /i/ or /y/ in Canadian French, is fully palatalized in Michif. This may occur word-initially or word-internally.

Palatalization of /d/ in Michif[11]
French Michif English
dix jis 'ten'
diable jiab 'devil'
dieu Bon Jeu 'God'
mardi marji 'Tuesday'
radis rawjee 'radish'
diner jinee 'dinner'
dimanche jimawnsh 'Sunday'


A comparison of some common words in English, French, Michif, and Cree:[12]

English French Michif Cree
One Un Haen, Peeyak Pêyak
Two Deux Deu Nîso
Three Trois Trwaa Nisto
Four Quatre Kaet Nêwo
Five Cinq Saenk Nîyânan
Man Homme (L'homme) Lom Nâpêw
Dog Chien Shyaeñ, Shyen Atim
Sun Soleil Saley Pîsim
Water Eau (De l'eau) Dilo Nipîy
White Blanc Blañ Wâpiskâw
Yellow Jaune Zhun Osâwâw
Red Rouge Ruzh Mihkwâw
Black Noir Nwer Kaskitêwâw
Eat Manger Miichishow; Miitshow Mîcisiw
See Voir Waapow Wâpiw
Hear Entendre Peehtam Pêhtam
Sing Chanter Nakamow Nikamôw
Leave Partir Shipweeteew; Atishipweeteew Sipwêtêw


Noun phrase

Nouns are almost always accompanied by a French-origin determiner or a possessive.[13]

English Français Michif
a gun un fusil /œ̃ fyzi/ aeñ fiizii
a house une maison /yn mɛzɔ̃/ aen meezoñ
the boy le garçon /lə ɡarsɔ̃/ li garsoñ
the rock la roche /la rɔʃ/ la rosh
the knives les couteaux /le kuto/ lii kutu
his (her) food son manger /sɔ̃ mɑ̃ʒe/ su mañzhii
his (her) hand sa main /sa mɛ̃/ sa maeñ
my dogs mes chiens /me ʃjɛ̃/ mii shyaeñ

Cree-origin demonstratives can be added to noun phrases, in which case the Cree gender (animate or inanimate) is that of the corresponding Cree noun.[14]

English Français Michif Plains Cree
that boy ce garçon-là awa li garsoñ awa nâpêsis (animate)
this egg cet oeuf-là ôma li zaef ôma wâwi (inanimate)
that rock cette roche-là awa la rosh awa asinîy (animate)
those men ces hommes-là neekik lii zom neekik nâpêwak (animate)

Adjectives are French-origin (Cree has no adjectives), and as in French they are either pre- or postnominal. Prenominal adjectives agree in gender (like French), however, postnominal adjectives do not agree in gender (unlike French).

Verb phrase

The verb phrase is that of Plains Cree-origin with little reduction (there are no dubitative or preterit verb forms).

Word order

Michif word order is basically that of Cree (relatively free). However, the more French-origin elements are used, the closer the syntax seems to conform to norms of spoken French.


Nouns: 83-94% French-origin; Cree-origin or Ojibwe-origin, English-origin
Verbs: 88-99% Cree-origin
Question words: Cree-origin
Personal pronouns: Cree
Postpositions: Cree-origin
Prepositions: French-origin
Conjunctions: 55% Cree-origin; 40% French-origin
Numerals: French-origin
Demonstratives: Cree-origin

The Lord's Prayer in English, French, and Michif:

Michif French English
Toñ Periinaan Notre Père Our Father
Toñ Periinaan, dañ li syel kayaayeen kiichitwaawan toñ noo. Kiiya kaaniikaanishtaman peetoteiie kaandaweetaman taatochiikateew ota dañ la ter taapishkoch dañ li syel. Miinaan anoch moñ paeñiinaan poneeiiminaan kamachitotamaak, niishtanaan nkaponeemaanaanik anikee kaakiimaiitotaakoyaakuk kayakochii'inaan, maaka pashpii'inaan aayik ochi maachiishiiweepishiwin. Answichil. Notre Père, qui est aux cieux, Que ton nom soit sanctifié, Que ton règne vienne, Que ta volonté soit faite Sur la terre comme au ciel. Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour Pardonne-nous nos offenses, Comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés, Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation, Mais délivre-nous du mal. Amen. Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil. Amen.

Language genesis

In languages of mixed ethnicities, the language of the mother usually provides the grammatical system, while the language of the father provides the lexicon.[15] The reasons are as follows: children tend to know their mother’s language better; men are often immigrant, whereas women are native to the region. If the bilingual children need to use either of their parents’ languages to converse with outsiders, it is most likely to be the language of their mothers. Thus, the model of language-mixing predicts that Michif should have a Cree grammatical system and French lexicon. However, in reality, Michif has Cree verb phrases and French noun phrases. The explanation for this unusual distribution of Cree and French elements in Michif lies in the polysynthetic nature of Cree morphology. In Cree, verbs can be very complex with up to twenty morphemes, incorporated nouns and unclear boundaries between morphemes. In other words, in Cree verbs it is very difficult to separate grammar from lexicon. As a result, in Michif the grammatical and bound elements are almost all Cree, and the lexical and free elements are almost all French; verbs are almost totally Cree, because the verb consists of grammatical and bound elements.

Language revitalization

Michif engraving at Batoche

Métis cultural centres such as the Michif Cultural and Métis Resource Institute in St. Albert, Alberta,[16] the Métis Culture and Heritage Resource Centre in Winnipeg,[17] and the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research are attempting to revive the language through public outreach.[18]

As of 2013, the Northern Journal reports that "Aboriginal language and culture is becoming increasingly visible" in Alberta, as Alberta’s Northland School Division (NSD), "serving mostly First Nations and Métis students in the northern part of the province" has expanded its community partnerships and culture camps.[19]

See also


  1. Michif at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Michif". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Ma, Kevin (2013-03-13). "Researcher digs into near-extinct Métis language". St. Albert Gazette. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  4. Michif | Ethnologue
  5. Data Center States Results
  6. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/michif-metis-nwt-official-language-1.3475320
  7. L. Lee Scott (2007-07-02). "The Turtle Mountain Michif: A People and Their Language". Yahoo! Voices - voices.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  8. Michif: A new language. North Dakota English 4.1:3-10.
  9. Rosen 2007:109
  10. Rosen 2008:617
  11. 1 2 3 Barkwell & Fleury 2004:11
  12. Taken from: Redish, Laura and Orrin Lewis. "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Michif". Native-Languages.org. Retrieved 2007-08-08.
  13. Taken from Rhodes (1977)
  14. Rhodes (1977), Bloomfield (1984)
  15. Bakker, Peter. A Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Metis, Oxford University Press, 1997.
  16. NAIT | Métis history to be preserved in one-of-a-kind virtual museum
  17. MCHRC Profile
  18. "Overview of the Curriculum and Publishing Department". Gabriel Dumont Institute. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
  19. Renée Francoeur (2013-03-12). "Northland improves use of Aboriginal languages". Northern Journal. Retrieved 2013-03-24.


Michif language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
For a list of words relating to Michif language, see the Michif language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 9/22/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.