What do Beyoncé and Buzzfeed have in common with the Mi’gmaq language? Read on!

Summer 2014, the McGill students are back. Yuliya, McGill PhD Candiate, and Carol Rose, beginning her doctoral studies at Cornell University in the fall, will both be traveling to Listuguj for their second and third summers, respectively. Douglas Gordon, an undergraduate in the linguistics department, will also be joining them after having been awarded the McGill Arts Scholarship.

The team plans to continue projects like the wiki, language-learning software, and research.

New possibilities for summer 2014 are the following:

  • Twitter word of the day
  • Instagram/vine video of the day featuring a conversation or vocabulary word in Mi’gmaq
  • A new web site, separate from the linguistic-y one, devoted to Mi’gmaq learning resources
  • Buzzfeed-esque top 10 lists (e.g. top 10 essential words in Mi’gmaq, five ways to say hello)
  • Weekly language club
  • Surveys posted around in visible places of students learning Mi’gmaq similar to the survey posted below for AMEX by Beyoncé (except “why I learn Mi’gmaq” rather than “my card..”)

Surveys for students of Mi’gmaq, but less AMEX-y and more language-y

Please comment with thoughts about this below. All input is greatly appreciated!

Writing in a second language

A recent New York Times article brings up an interesting trend of authors writing in a second language. This is very common in the academic sphere as many academics chose English as the language for publication. However, in the literature sphere, writing in a second language is becoming more common. And it is not just English they are writing in.

The authors say a second language gives them a different perspective, some say even freeing them from the automaticism of a native language. They are able to play with words in ways that native speakers may not do. For example, Bosnian writer, Aleksandar Hemon, has invented new phrases like “clouds and cloudettes”.

Italian writer, Francesca Marciano, says about writing in a second language: “You discover not just words but new things about yourself when you learn a language…I am a different person because I fell in love with English…”

How does Mi’gmaq factor into this? Learners of Mi’gmaq should not think of their second language skills as a crutch. Rather, they can bring new and exciting flavour to the language they are speaking. There have been many successful writers and orators who use a non-native language as their language of choice. A second language can be a new and exciting medium of expression. Not only do you learn about another culture and history but you can also learn about yourself.

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 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.

Obviative/Proximate

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:

Preverb(s)

Initial

Medial

Final

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.

Preverb(s)

Initial

Medial

Final

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.

Morphemes

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

Dr. Morcom’s Seminar on Language Programming

A few weeks ago Janine and I attended Dr. Lindsay Morcom’s seminar on “Language Preservation, Education, and Diversity”. The following are some highlights from her seminar.

  • The medium is the message. We view the education system as a system that can tell you what is useful and what is important. If your language is not part of the equation , then you are told that it is not important. This was the way schools used to rob language from children in the past. But, by the same reasoning, there is is no reason that a school system in the hands of Native people shouldn’t be able to counteract the damage inflicted in the past.
  • There is a high correlation between immersion programming and self esteem (collective and personal). Taylor & Wright (1995) (see attached article) conducted a study with Inuit, White, and mixed-heritage participants to see the connection between heritage language instruction and self-esteem. The results showed that early heritage language education had a positive effect on personal and collective self-esteem of minority-language students. This has many long-term benefits, such as a stronger sense of personal identity, stronger connection to collective identity (feeling like you belong to a group), and positive impacts on academic success.
  • Aboriginal language immersion programs have an important role in language revitalization, maintenance, and education. Usborne et al. (2011) (see attached article) compared a strong Mi’gmaq immersion program with a Mi’gmaq as a second language (L2) program, and found that students in the immersion program not only had stronger Mi’kmaq language skills compared to students in the L2 program, but students within both programs ultimately had the same level of English. This ultimately shows that learning a Native language at a young age does not negatively impact the process of mainstream language-learning.
  • The type of language programming (immersion, L2 ) should be decided on a case-by-case basis, as it is more of a continuum: programs of study in the language, programs of study for the language, or a combination of both. Factors that should be considered: what is the goal of the community? what is the history of the community with the language? what  is the status of the language now? (e.g. is it used everyday in the community? are there many fluent speakers?) Illustrated with 3 case studies: Pokomchi’, Dene, and Michif.
  • Native language programming allows students to learn through a culturally-appropriate lens, which is important. Just as everyone has different learning styles (visual, aural, tactile)  a culturally-appropriate lens can be conducive to learning and can help propagate traditional practices, values, etc.

For those interested to find out more, there were two articles that we discussed: Identity and the Language of the Classroom and Learning through an Aboriginal language – the impact on students’ English and aboriginal language skills. Also, Dr. Morcom has allowed us to post her slides from the seminar, which you can find here: Language Preservation, Education, and Diversity.

 

 

 

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!