Michif language

Michif language
Spoken in Canada
Region Métis communities in the Prairies; mostly Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario, Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota
Native speakers 500–1,000 endangered
Language family
Official status
Official language in Métis Nation
Regulated by Métis National Council
Language codes
ISO 639-3 crg

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 Canadians and Scottish Canadians). Nowadays Michif is spoken in scattered Métis communities in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada and in North Dakota in the U.S. There are some 230 speakers of Mitchif in the United States (down from 390 at the 1990 census [1]), most of whom live in North Dakota, particularly in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.[2] Michif emerged in the early 19th century as a mixed language (not to be confused with a creole), 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 First Nation languages 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 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).



A comparison of some common words in French, Cree, and Michif:[3]

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.[4]

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 / 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.[5]

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. Kaaniikaaniishtamawiiaak, kishokishiiwin, kaakichiteemiiak kiiya aniie, anoch ekwa takiine.


Notre Père, qui es 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.[Car c'est à toi qu'appartiennent le règne, la puissance et la gloire pour les siècles des siècles.] Amen. Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil.[For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever.] 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.[6] 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.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ Taken from: Redish, Laura and Orrin Lewis. "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Michif". Native-Languages.org. http://www.native-languages.org/michif_words.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 
  4. ^ Taken from Rhodes (1977)
  5. ^ Rhodes (1977), Bloomfield (1984)
  6. ^ Bakker, Peter. A Language of Our Own: The Genesis of Michif, the Mixed Cree-French Language of the Canadian Metis, Oxford University Press, 1997.


  • Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion, and Audreen Hourie. Metis legacy Michif culture, heritage, and folkways. Metis legacy series, v. 2. Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2006. ISBN 0920915809
  • Barkwell, Lawrence J., Leah Dorion and Darren Prefontaine. "Metis Legacy: A Historiography and Annotated Bibliography". Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications Inc. and Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 2001. ISBN 1-894717-03-1
  • Bakker, Peter: Spelling systems for Michif: an overview. In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis. Vol 2: Language Theory. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Metis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 11‑28, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-28-7
  • Bakker, Peter: The Michif language of the Metis. In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of he Canadian Metis. Vol 2: Language Theory. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Metis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 5‑9, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-28-7
  • Bakker, Peter: The verb in Michif. In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis. Vol 2: Language Theory. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Metis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 63‑80, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-28-7
  • Bakker, Peter: What is Michif? In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis. Vol 1: Language Practice. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Metis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 5‑7, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-22-8
  • Bakker, Peter; Barkwell, Lawrence: Storytelling and Mythology. In: La Lawng: Michif Peekishkwewin. The Heritage Language of the Canadian Metis. Vol 2: Language Theory. Barkwell, Lawrence (Ed.). Pemmican Publications/Manitoba Metis Federation Michif Language Program, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: pp. 83‑96, 2004. ISBN 1-894717-28-7
  • Bakker, Peter. 1997. A language of our own: The genesis of Michif, the mixed Cree-French language of the Canadian Métis. New York, Oxford University Press.
  • Bakker,Peter and Robert Papen. 1997. Michif: A mixed language based on Cree and French. In S. Thomason (ed.) Contact languages: A wider perspective. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, p. 295-363.
  • Bloomfield, Leonard (1984) Cree-English Lexicon Human Area Relations Files, New Haven, CT.
  • Evans, Donna. 1982. "On coexistence and convergence of two phonological systems in Michif." Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session, 26, p. 158-173.
  • Papen, Robert. 2003. "Michif: One phonology or two?" In Y. Chung, C. Gillon and R. Wokdak (eds) University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 12, Proceedings of the Eighth Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Language of the Americas, p. 47-58.
  • Papen, Robert. 2004. "Michif spelling conventions: Proposal for a unified Michif writing system. In L. Barkwell (ed.) La lawng: Michif peekishkwewin. Winnipeg, MB: Pemmican Publications, p. 29-53.
  • Rhodes, Richard A. 1977. French Cree—a case of borrowing. Actes du Huitième Congrès des Algonquinistes. Wm. Cowan (ed.), Ottawa: Carleton University. p. 6-25.
  • Rhodes, Richard A. 1986. Métif—a second look. Actes du Septième Congrès des Algonquinistes. Wm. Cowan (ed.), Ottawa: Carleton University. p. 287-296.
  • Rhodes, Richard A. 1987. Les Contes Metif—Metif Myths. Papers of the Eighteenth Algonquian Conference. Wm. Cowan (ed.), Ottawa: Carleton University. p. 297-301.
  • Rhodes, Richard A. 1992. Language Shift in Algonquian. International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 93:87-92.
  • Rhodes, Richard A. 2001. Text Strategies in Métchif. Papers of the Thirty-second Algonquian Conference. H. C. Wolfart (ed.), Winnipeg: University of Manitoba. p. 455-469.
  • Rosen, Nicole. 2006. Language Contact and Stress Assignment. Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung. 59:170-190.
  • Rosen, Nicole. 2007. Domains in Michif Phonology. Ph.D. Thesis. Department of Linguistics. University of Toronto.
  • Papen, Robert. 2005. Le mitchif: langue franco-crie des Plaines. in A. Valdman, J. Auger & D. Piston-Hatlen (eds). Saint-François, QC: Presses de l'Université Laval, p. 327-347.
  • Weaver, Deborah. 1982. Obviation in Michif. Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session, 26, p. 174-262.
  • Weaver, Deborah. 1983. The effect of language change and death on obviation in Michif. In W. Cowan (ed.) Actes du Quatorzième Congrès des Algonquinistes. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, p. 261-268.

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