This Week at Algonquian Reading Group

This week Gretchen McCulloch will be presenting research about verb finals using data from Mi’gmaq. The reading selection is Campana’s 1998 paper on The Thematic Properties of Algonquian Verbs. As always, 10:30-11:30 in room 117 in the Linguistics Building (1085 Dr. Penfield) this Thursday February 7th.
All are welcome to join!

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 if you would like to be added to the Algonquian Reading Group mailing list.

Conference Presentations by the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership

This October was the 44th Algonquian Conference at the University of Chicago. Many of our Mi’gmaq Research Partnership members presented.

Alan Bale and Jessica Coon presented “Classifiers are for numerals, not nouns: Evidence from Mi’gmaq and Chol.” at the 43rd Northeast Linguistics Society (NELS) in New York, NY where Alan also had a poster presentation of “Agreement without AGREE: Disjunction in Mi’gmaq.”

More recently Mike and Gretchen both presented at The 2012-3 Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) in Boston, MA. Mike presented “Against Non-configurationality in Mi’gmaq” and Gretchen “Preverb Ordering in Mi’gmaq”

And stay tuned for Elise and Carol’s poster presentation of “Student perspectives on Mi’gmaq language-learning through multi-modal teaching: A community-linguistics partnership” at the University of Hawai’i’s at the 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation on February 28th.

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!

Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: /e/-change—a few details

Three details on top of the basic pattern laid out earlier will help you handle the comings and goings of the /e/.

(a)    The /e/ vowel actually comes up as /a/ when it’s followed by /q/.  Otherwise the pattern is the same.

naqa’si                    I stop
→    ‘nqa’si                    stop!
→    ‘npa’sites                I will stop

naqalg                        I leave h/her
→    ‘nqal                    leave h/her!
→    ‘nqalates                I will leave h/her

maqtawe’g                s/he/it is black
→    ‘mqatawapu            “black-broth” = cormorant

(b)    Because /o/ is generally originally from /a/—give or take some other details—a few words have the same pattern with /o/.  The most common and useful of these is /poqt-/ ~ /’pqot/ ‘start, begin to…’.

poqtlugwei                    I start working
→    ‘pqotlugwa                start working!
→    ‘pqotlugwetes            I will start working

(c)    Finally, a few words have a slightly quirky pattern between the e-form and the plain form.  The most important of these is /wejgu-/ ~ /jugu-/ ‘coming this way/here’.

wejgu’ei                        I am coming (here)
→    jugu’a                        come (here)!
→    jugu’ates                    I will come (here)

wejgua’tu                        I am bringing it (here)
→    jugua’tu                    bring it (here)!
→    jugua’tutes                I will bring it (here)        (also said /juguattes/)

Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: e-change

A vowel /e/ appears in the first syllable of many Mi’gmaq verbs.  You will notice that this /e/ goes missing in lots of related words.

teli’si                    I speak (that) way
tli’si                    speak (that) way!
tli’sites                I will speak (that) way
tli’suti                    language (way of speaking)

This /e/ comes in mostly for events that are real: they are actually happening, or they did.  This is why they’re not used for commands or for the future, since haven’t actually happened yet.  It is also pretty consistently not used for most related nouns (like tli’suti ‘language’ here), and verbs made directly/recently from nouns.

What’s more, this /e/ only comes in on words whose first syllable has the weak vowel /’/.  Where the /e/ is not used, you get the original weak vowel form.  But most often that weak vowel is actually dropped or left unwrittten.  That lost vowel is why the /e/-less forms start with two consonants in a row, like /tl/ up above.

You will be understood most of the time if you mix up when to use the /e/-forms and when not to, but it does sound like a kid saying “I sleeped all night”.  For the start, just learn to recognize it when it happens—“Oh, that had the /e/, and that didn’t”—and pretty soon you will pick up the pattern automatically.

Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: l and n

When /l/ and /n/ come together in a word, generally the /l/ will turn into /n/: so /ln/ becomes double /nn/.  Since /l/ is common ending, you will see this pattern whenever it is added to words ending in /n/.

su’nn        ‘cranberries’            (comes from su’n-l)        su’n    ‘cranberry’
signn        ‘socks’                    (comes from sign-l)        sign    ‘sock’

It also happens in the opposite direction: when you add /n/ to something ending in /l/.

etlatal            I am eating
etlatann        you are eating        (from etlatal-n)

mesgil            I am big
mesginn        you are big        (from mesgil-n)

This pattern is distinctive to Listuguj Mi’gmaq: speakers from the east do not make this sound change.  This is the reason, for example, why Listuguj speakers say /nnu/ while others say /lnu/.

(There is at least one important exception to this rule—seen in words like /nemulneg/ ‘we see you’—more on that when it comes up.)

Sound patterns of Mi’gmaq: g and q

The sound /a/ in Mi’gmaq is pronounced low and in the back of the mouth.  When you add a /g/ after it, the /a/ sound pulls the /g/ down low and back into your throat, giving it that very distinctive guttural sound that we write with /q/.

(There are still some words—like jagej ‘lobster’—that do have /ag/, but as a general rule, /ag/ almost always comes out pronounced as /aq/, especially, as Erin notes, before a consonant or the end of the word.)

So for example, the common ending -g, which you may know from these two words

tap’tang    ‘potatoes’                                                tap’tan    ‘potato’

comes out as -q after the -a- that some words have before the ending:

ga’taq        ‘eels’                (comes from     ga’ta-g)            ga’t        ‘eel’
muinaq    ‘bears’                (comes from     muina-g)            muin        ‘bear’

As Erin notes, /o/ will do the same thing, so that /og/ comes out as /oq/.  This is probably because /o/ mostly comes from /a/-sounds that have fused together with a nearby /w/ or /gw/ sound.