About Erin

Erin is a recent graduate of the Linguistics program at McGill University in Montréal, Québec. She's originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and likes learning languages and studying their sound patterns.

Obviation and Intransitives

Mi’gmaq is a language with obviation – that is, a way of telling animate third persons apart. The first third person (or the proximate third person) is not marked, while the other third persons (or obviative third person or fourth person) is marked with the suffix -l or -al, as in Mali nemiatl Piel-al, ‘Mary sees Peter’.  The verb also receives an ending indicating that a proximate person is acting on an obviative person: -atl. These endings can also vary for the number of people involved, like so:

  • -aji, as in nemiaji, ‘he or she sees them (obviative)’
  • -a’titl, as in nemia’titl, ‘they see him or her (obviative)’
  • -a’tiji, as in nemia’tiji, ‘they see them (obviative)’

This is really useful, since it helps us keep track of who is doing what and allows the word order in Mi’gmaq to vary. So, whether we say Mali nemiatl Pielal or Pielal nemiatl Mali or Nemiatl Mali Pielal, etc., we have a way of knowing who is seen and who is doing the seeing that is not based purely on word order, like in English.

But this isn’t the only way obviatives are used! If, say, we’ve already been talking about someone in the obviative person, we can continue referring to them in the obviative person with other verbs – even with intransitives. For example, if we’ve already said Mali gesalaji mui’naq, ‘Mary likes bears’, we could then say Wigulti’niji nipugtug, ‘they (the bears) live in the forest’, where the ending -ulti’nij means that it is them (obviative) that are living there, and not any other group.

Here are a few questions I have about this topic:

  • For Researchers: Has anyone else seen any 4th person marking on AI verbs? If so, would this information need to be included in AI verb paradigms on our wiki page?
  • For Speakers: Does the above example using wigulti’nij sound right to you? If so, how would you say “they (the two bears) live in the forest” or “it (the bear) lives in the forest” in a similar situation? Also, if you spot any errors, I will be happy to fix them!

Language Restoration: Ojibwe in Minnesota and Wisconsin

I was recently talking with my parents about the work we are doing here in Listuguj, and it reminded them of the documentary First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language that they’d recently seen on television in my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It covers the strategies used and challenges faced in the immersion programs at Niigaane Ojibwemowin Immersion School, Leech Lake Resevation, Minnesota and at Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion Charter School, Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, Wisconsin. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in restoring endangered languages.

CAN8 Lesson Plans

This week, the CAN8 team has – at long last – put down some concrete ideas for lesson plan layouts in the CAN8 program. Each lesson would take about a week to complete, and would have the following three types of exercises:

Dialogues (two exercises per lesson):

  • First, the learner listens to the dialogue without text and answers some simple, multiple-choice comprehension questions about it.
  • Then, the learner listens to the dialogue again with text and answers some more in-depth questions.
  • One of the dialogue partners will always be someone in the role of the language learner – that way, learners using the program will be able to identify with the speakers and hopefully understand that it isn’t the end of the world if they aren’t perfect speakers just yet.

Vocabulary (two exercises per lesson):

  • These exercises will go over some vocabulary mentioned in the previous dialogue using pictures.
  • The pictures will be in a “repeat after me” format, so learners can get some practice with pronunciation.
  • At the end there will be a short vocabulary quiz, where a word is played back and the learner has to match a picture to the spoken word.

Grammar (two exercises per lesson):

  • The focus here will be on pointing out patterns to the learners and having learners make up their own rules for these patterns, not on teaching rules.
  • The exercise will end with a “dialogue” that the learner will participate in. The dialogue will be with a recording of another person, playing the part of another language learner, who will ask for feedback about some of their sentences. For example, the other learner could end a sentence with something along the lines of: “That didn’t sound quite right. What would you say instead?” The learner would then have an opportunity to either say “No, that sounded alright!” or “Yes, that did sound funny. I would say…”

Our current goal is to have a proto-lesson up and running by the time we visit Listuguj later this month. The proto-lesson would be a sort of proposed first lesson. So far, topics include:

  • One dialogue between a learner and their grandparent, discussing what they did that day/what their plans are for the day
  • One classroom-type dialogue between a teacher and a few learners, teaching basic learning vocabulary (phrases like, “Could you please repeat that?” or “How do you say…?”) and how to introduce yourself
  • A grammar section on word (or just verb) structure: what is an initial? What is a medial? What is a final? We may not use this exact vocabulary, but the differences would be pointed out
  • A grammar section on first and second person verb endings

These are our ideas so far. Let us know what you think! Should we add anything else? Does anything need improving? We’d love your input.

- Erin, Elise, & Jacob (Team CAN8)