Dual forms — English had them too!

Anyone who is familiar with Mi’gmaq verb paradigms will recall the dizzingly large number of conjugations. Some forms that learners struggle to grasp are the dual and plural forms. The dual form is used when referring to two things and the plural, for three or more. This surfaces on verb endings. For example, the tongue twister migjigjg mijjijig means two turtles are eating. This is conveyed by the -jig verb ending (bolded). If three or more turtles were eating, it would be migjigjg mijjultijig.

Many English speakers, however, will be surprised to find that English had dual forms too! Old(e) English, that is. They were rare, even for the time, but a millennium ago English speakers distinguished between dual and plural in pronouns. Modern English first person plural form we comes from the Old English plural form, . The dual form of first person, wit, fell out of usage by the time Middle English had evolved. The plural form of ‘you’, gē, and the dual, git, were also used when addressing people directly. Though, today you wouldn’t want to refer any two people with the Old English dual form!

This is just one such instance of the underlying similarities between languages of completely different families. Though English and Mi’gmaq are very different in terms of grammar and lexicon, they do have some things in common. Or, at least, they did.

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

New Pages Added to the Grammar Wiki

There have been some recent developments on the Mi’gmaq grammar wiki. These include the addition of two new pages.

One new page in the works is a subpage of the Mi’gmaq tense page. In light of the recent presentation at the 45th Algonquian Conference (Little, 2013), I have created a new page on Evidentiality in Mi’gmaq. Evidentiality is the grammatical marking of information source. This page includes an overlay of the evidentiality system in Mi’gmaq. This page indicates that are two clear evidentiality markers–direct and indirect. The direct evidentiality marker is used for information that the speaker is certain about or has witnessed firsthand. The indirect marker is used for when the speaker is unsure of the information or when he has witnessed this second-hand. It is also used in questions in the past tense. Nota bene: this page is still under construction! Stay tuned for more!

I have also included a page devoted to Conversational Mi’gmaq. This page has the essentials of Mi’gmaq conversation, i.e. from hello/goodbye to what is your name/where are you from,  and how to respond to such questions. This page can be found from the main page of the wiki. This section, too, is still under construction. The intended use for this page is for those interested in getting a jump-start in their Mi’gmaq learning. Knowing these phrases will help anyone wanting to learn ‘nnueiei tli’suti [the Native language]! 

As the wiki is always under new developments, any suggestions, corrections or advice will always be greatly appreciated. So please do not hesitate to comment if you see any mistakes or if you would like to see a certain topic addressed!

Algonquian Reading Group at McGill

Every Thursday from 10:30 to 11:30, Algonquian Reading Group meets in room 117 in the McGill Linguistics Building located on 1085 Dr. Penfield. Those interested meet to discuss papers on Algonquian linguistics.

This Thursday January 31, Alan Bale will be presenting Murray’s 2012 paper on Quantificational and Illocutionary Variability in Cheyenne.

Please contact info@migmaq.org if you would like to be added to the Algonquian Reading Group mailing list.

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.

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!

Initial Change with Preverbs

In Inglis (1986) she mentions that preverbs also undergo initial change (contraction) when there preceded by additional preverbs. I know we have seen this with preverbs like pema- ‘along’ becoming pma- in irrealis context such as in the future tense. For those of you who have looked into preverbs, does this only happen with preverbs in initial position, or does it happen more generally to every preverb with another preverb preceding it?


Delisle & Metallic claim that along with [ala] and [ula] mi’gmaq also has a remote demonstrative which they write “alà” (which comes out “ala’ ” in listuguj orthography). This demonstrative would qualify nouns as being farther from the speaker than if [ala] had been used. Has anyone else noticed this distinction and confirm its existence for me?

Pacifique’s conjugation 6: “Transitive animate”

The long-awaited “transitive animate” paradigm! To figure out how to conjugate a form, find the person of the subject by going down to the left-side column to find the right row; next move over to the column for the object you want. For example, a first person exclusive subject (13) acting on a second person plural object (2PL)––e.g. for “We saw you guys”––gets the ending -ulneg.

↓ Subj / Obj→ 1 13 12 2 2PL 3 3PL
1 (refl) X X -ul -ulnoq -(V)’g -(V)’gig
13 X (refl) X -ulneg -ulneg -(Ve)g’t -(Ve)g’jig
12 X X (refl) X X -ugg -uggwig
2 -i’lin -i’lieg X (refl) X -(V)’t -V’jig
2PL -i’lioq -i’lieg X X (refl) -(V)oq -(V)oqig
3 -i’lit -ugsieg -ugsi’gw -(V)’sg -ugsioq (refl) X
3PL -i’lijig -ugsieg -ugsi’gwig -(V)’sgig -ugsioq X (refl)

Before we get into the patterns themselves, a few points should be made: diagonally from top right to lower left you see cells marked “(refl)” for “reflexive”; these forms will get a special marking, not included here. In addition to the reflexive forms, there are certain cells that are impossible. Note that these are cells where features “overlap”. Meaning, if there is a first person specified anywhere in the subject, it can’t be anywhere in the object; same for second person. This rules out forms like “You all saw you”, and “We saw us”. In Mi’gmaq, third persons can act on third persons, but this is where obviation comes into play, which we will save for a future post.

Also, note that some forms begin with either a -(V) for vowel or a -(Ve). With a stem like nemi- “see”, the final vowel is kept in the stem when the (V) appears, but dropped elsewhere. For example: nemul “I see you”, but nemi‘g “I see him”. In other verb forms, the vowel doesn’t appear. Take taqam- “hit”: taqamul “I hit you” and taqam‘g “I hit him”. It would be interesting if we could find regularities here.

(I should preface what I am about to write by saying: the next part might be fun for people interesting in finding patterns here. That said, understanding all of it isn’t necessary to being able to use these forms! However, if you are interested and something I’ve written is unclear or just plain wrong, please post comments.)

Looking now more carefully at the table above, some basic patterns emerge. First, we can assign feature values to morphemes (pieces) as follows:

-i’li – 1 object; -ul(n) – 2 object; -a – 3 object; -ugsi – “participant” plural object; -eg – 13; -gw – 12; -oq – 2PL; -ig – 3PL; -n – 2 subject; -t – 3 subject

Now how do we figure out how to put all of these together? Though it becomes more clear in the negative forms (to be posted), we can think of these as involving 2 slots, plus an additional slot if there is a third person plural involved. So we can think of our template as looking roughly like this:

Verb – Slot1 – Slot2 – (3PL)

The first step is to figure out what goes in slot 1; this is the easier slot, because we can basically just think of it as object agreement: see the object forms listed above. A couple of tricks apply here. -i’li is triggered if a first person is part of the object, including first person plural; this means that a 13 object gets -i’li in a 2>13 form like -i’lieg. However, if we find a third person subject acting on a participant plural object (12, 13, or 2PL), we get -ugsi in the first slot. Finally, note that in the 3rd person object cases, we don’t always see the -a. It will show up for us in negated forms though.

Next step: what goes in slot 2? Well, if no participant plural morphemes are involved, life is easy: just agree with the subject––note that the subject agreement forms (-n and -t) look familiar from the VAI paradigm. This means that a form like nemi’lin “You see me” can be straightforwardly broken down into nemi-i’li-n: see-1obj-2subj. Also as in the VAI paradigm, there is no clear subject agreement marker; rather, a 1st person subject is indicated by the absence of marking, as in the form nem-ul “I see you”, where we only have agreement with the second person object.

If plural participants (again, 12, 13, or 2PL) are involved as either the subject or the object, they will occupy the second slot. If a first person plural is involved anywhere, the second slot will agree with it (-gw for 12, -eg for 13). If neither of these is involved, agree with second plural, -oq. This means that sometimes the subject will not get to realize any of its features. Take for example 1>2PL, “I saw you”: nem-uln-oq. First we have the stem, then we have second person agreement with the object (-uln), then we have second person plural agreement again with the object (-oq). First person is nowhere to be found. (Why isn’t this form ambiguous? Remember, if a 3rd person subject is acting on a local plural object, you get a special object form -ugsi in slot one.)

Finally, note that almost all forms involving 3PL––whether in the subject  or object––end in -ig, and this appears outside of the second slot. (Remember that [t] turns into [j] before an [i], accounting for alternations like -it/-ijig.) Interestingly, this morpheme also comes outside of tense when tense is involved. Negation also intervenes between the 1st and 2nd agreement slots, making it clear that these really are separable. A full template, which needs more work, looks like this:

Verb – Slot1 – (Neg) – Slot2 – (Past) – (3PL)

Lots remains to be worked out! In some cases some unclear sound changes take place, but again, stay tuned for negative forms to see the pattern described above a bit more clearly. That said, everything here is subject to revision––please don’t hesitate to post comments, questions, or suggestions.

Some particular questions:

  • What is -ugsi? It seems like it can also be used in VAI forms, and is listed in Pacifique as a passive morpheme in some contexts. Is it possible that the -ugsi forms are really passives?
  • Some speakers dislike -ig endings for 3 plural subjects when a plural object is also involved––is there a pattern here? Do some sound worse than others with -ig?