About Gretchen

Gretchen graduated with an MA from McGill in 2013. Her MA thesis was about verb stem composition in Mi'gmaq. She's also interested in linguistics outreach and using tech tools for language documentation/revitalization.

Intro to Algonquianist terminology – Part 5 Obviative, theme sign, inverse

This is part five of a beginner’s guide to Algonquianist terminology with a focus on Mi’gmaq. Here’s parts one, two, three, and four. In this part, I talk about a few other Algonquianist terms that didn’t make it into the previous posts: obviation, theme signs, and direct/inverse.


The grammar wiki article for obviation is quite detailed, and Conor Quinn has a really good description of how obviation works here, which he calls “spotlighting” (start on page 5 about halfway down – section 3). To translate his terms, the “spotlighted” or more important person is the proximate, and any people not in the spotlight are obviative. Continue reading

Intro to Algonquianist terminology – Part 4 Medials and concrete finals

This is part four of a beginner’s guide to Algonquianist terminology with a focus on Mi’gmaq. Here’s parts one, two, and three. In this part I talk about other parts of an Algonquian verb, medials and concrete finals.

In the previous post I talked about the smallest number of parts that you can identify in a verb in Algonquian languages: an initial (such as tel- “thus, in such a way”) that indicates the general meaning, plus a final (such as -e’ VAI) that indicates its animacy and transitivity, plus person/number marking, to get for example tele’g “s/he is in such a way (used idiomatically to mean “is pregnant”). However, those aren’t the only parts found in verbs: other, more complicated verbs can also have a concrete final and/or a medial.

Here’s the table you saw in the last post, based on how Bloomfield splits up Algonquian words. This post will focus on medials and concrete finals:





Person/number marking etc.

Continue reading

Intro to Algonquianist terminology – Part 3 Initials and finals

This is part three of a beginner’s guide to Algonquianist terminology with a focus on Mi’gmaq. Here’s parts one and two. In this part, I talk about two important parts of an Algonquian verb or noun, initials and finals, plus two topics related to initials: preverbs and initial change.

The big thing that people these days find useful about Bloomfield’s writing is that he divided the Algonquian verb into a template with a whole bunch of different positions

Here’s the basic positions, although there are also a lot of things that go after that “Person/number marking” slot.





Person/number marking etc.

This is a lot to get a handle on all at once, so this post is only going to talk about two of the ones that are found in every verb. That’s the initial and final (verbs also have person/number marking, which I mention HERE). We’ll get back to preverbs and medials, as well as other types of finals in future posts. Continue reading

Intro to Algonquianist terminology – Part 2 General terms

This is part two of a beginner’s guide to Algonquianist terminology with a focus on Mi’gmaq. Here’s part one. In this part, I describe briefly a few terms that aren’t Algonquian-specific but which often come up when referring to parts of Mi’gmaq words: you can see a longer list at the wiki.


A morpheme is a part of a word that has a distinct meaning: for example, in English, dogs has two morphemes: dog refers to a particular type of animal and -s indicates that it’s plural. We can see the same thing in Mi’gmaq: mui’naq “bears” has a morpheme mui’n “bear” and a morpheme -aq “plural (animate)”. Some morphemes like dog or mui’n can stand as words by themselves, while others like -s or -aq can’t.* Conventionally, we write morphemes that don’t stand by themselves with a hyphen that indicates the side that attaches (e.g. pre- in preschool but -ation as in concentration).

*aq can also mean “and”, but that’s different from the plural one.  Continue reading

Intro to Algonquianist terminology – Part 1 Background

This is part one of a series of posts giving an introduction to Algonquianist terminology, starting out with a short background on where it comes from in the first place. Subsequent posts will give descriptions and Mi’gmaq examples of various terms and are linked to below. 

Where does Algonquianist terminology come from?

Leonard Bloomfield, primarily, although also other early and later linguists who worked with Algonquian languages, especially in describing how they are related to each other and what their common ancestor language (known as Proto-Algonquian) might have sounded like.

Why is it so unlike the terms used to describe other languages?

Initial? Medial? Final? Why doesn’t English or French have any of these? Continue reading

Foundation for Endangered Languages meeting

Today is the middle of the Foundation for Endangered Languages annual conference at Carleton University in Ottawa. I (Gretchen) and Elise are here already and we’ve met up with a few people (hi Hilary!) and we’ll be joined by Jessica and Hisako today. We’ve heard some great talks so far: you can see the program of events here.

This afternoon is an electronic poster presentation on Using Technology to Bridge the Gap Between Speakers, Learners, and Linguists, which will about LingSync and the LingSync Spreadsheet app, by Elise, Erin, Carol, Hisako, Alan, Jessica, and Gina, representing McGill, Concordia, and iLanguage Lab.

I (Gretchen) and a few other people are livetweeting on the hashtag #FEL2013, if you want to follow along.

Carol, Elise, and Mali-Beth present at L’nui’sultinej

Carol, Elise, and Mali-Beth are presenting today at L’nui’sultinej in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, a conference about Mi’gmaq language education.

Their presentation is called “Student Perspectives on Mi’gmaw Language-Learning through Multi-Modal Teaching: A community-linguistics partnership” and is based on their experiences learning the language and documenting the language course in summer 2012. You can download their slides on the Research page.

Anishnaabemowin Circle Learning Guide

I just came across this Learning Guide for Anishinaabemowin, which is a community-driven reference book about the language created by Maya Chacaby with Alex McKay and Keren Rice.

The Kikinowaawiiyemon, or Language teaching circle guide, was created after several years of research and consultation. Key to its development was the overwhelming demand by language learners and community organizations for Anishinaabe-based language teaching tools. In essence, the Kikinowaawiiyemon is a grammar structured around Anishinaabe worldview. (pg. 17)

It has some very accessible explanations about the structure of the language, balancing traditional/cultural ways of knowing with a minimum of linguistics terminology. Some examples are the explanations of animacy (pg. 19-20 using Anishinaabe terms rather than animate and inanimate), person (pg. 24 the diagrams for 1st/2nd/3rd persons), and transitivity (pg. 28). Not all of their explanations would work for Mi’gmaq (for example the Eastern/Western hemisphere distinction between Independent and Conjunct doesn’t happen the same way, pg. 27), but I thought the examples might be interesting or useful to anyone working on grammar lessons or on the wiki.

While writing this post, I also came across another paper by Maya Chacaby “A Report on Best Practice Models for Tertiary Indigenous Language Learning” which also looks very interesting.

Wiki update

The wiki has grown a lot since we first started it in March. There are currently 41 articles, including several overview pages (Main Page, Background, Verbs, Nouns) and several style pages (Style Guide, Glosses, How to do Citations, Wiki Gloss Extension) and many other pages that describe various aspects of the language. Thanks to everyone for your hard work on this so far!

A few summary page links that might be useful to editors/contributors: List of All Existing Pages, List of Most-Wanted Pages, Recent Changes.

But it doesn’t end here! Some of these existing pages need to have more content into them, and we have many ideas for other pages. Here’s a preliminary list — let us know in the comments if you have more ideas or can volunteer to write one of these.

  • Expanding the VAI, VII, VTA, VTI pages
  • Expanding “Pronouns” and “Questions”
  • Mood
  • Pronunciation Differences (between Mi’gmaq and English)
  • Schwa
  • Word Order
  • Dialect Differences (varieties of Mi’gmaq)
  • Medials, Finals
  • Prepositions
  • Adjectives/modification

This is also a reminder to everyone to check out the wiki and feel free to edit typos, sentence phrasing, explanations, make new pages, or anything else. If you don’t have an account already, you’ll need to ask me (Gretchen) or Mike to set one up for you, but this is not difficult and we are happy to do so.

Returning from the Algonquian Conference

We were well-represented at the 44th Algonquian Conference in Chicago this weekend, with a group talk by Carol, Sarah, Mary-Beth and Elise about the summer Mi’gmaq language course, in addition to individual linguistics talks by Mike, Elise, Gretchen, Erin, and Conor. For more details on the individual talks, check out the Research page, which already has abstracts but will hopefully have handouts soon.

It was a great trip and we met a lot of people. Here are some pictures!