Day 1: Greetings from Eskasoni!

Douglas, Carol Rose, Lola, Yuliya and Alan on Goat Island.

Douglas, Carol Rose, Lola, Yuliya and Alan on Goat Island, Eskasoni, NS.

Our latest venture has brought us (Alan, Carol Rose, Douglas, Lola, and Yuliya) 739 km southeast of Listuguj to Eskasoni, a Mi’gmaq First Nations Reserve in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Eskasoni is a model community where the Mi’gmaq language is alive and spoken daily between its community members. Leaving on Sunday, we set out to meet with community members and Mi’gmaq teachers who are helping preserve the language.

The first day we met with our host, Blaire Gould, the Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey Mi’gmaq Language Coordinator. Blaire Gould works with all programs related to education and the Mi’gmaq language. These tasks include working with Mi’gmaq online dictionary, leading professional development workshops, presenting on the Mi’gmaq language programs around the continent, coordinating Mi’gmaq language programs in and around Eskasoni and between all that she organizes the bienniel L’nuisultinej conference at St. Francis Xavier University.

Retired teachers (a.k.a. The Pioneers of the Immersion Program) Barbara Joe and Fran Young and former Mi’gmaq immersion teacher Mary Propser-Paul joined us over tea to talk about their experiences teaching Mi’gmaq.

Goat Island pathway

Goat Island pathway

We talked to them about our newest development, learnmigmaq quizlet, which they received with enthusiasm. Grade 1 Mi’gmaq immersion teacher Cindy Poulette, has been using a flashcard game in her classroom. The grade 1 children sit in groups while Cindy holds up a card with a picture on it. Whichever group gueses the correct Mi’gmaq word first receives a point. She liked the audio and image function that quizlet provides. Due to its versatile and accessible nature, quizlet can be used in classrooms via the internet and projected on a screen for such games. When offline, the quizlet app can also be accessed with a smartphone or tablet and any list that had been opened beforehand can be used. The quizlet interface can accommodate a game such as Cindy’s for classes of all ages and all levels.

Meeting at the Elder Centre, we talked with retired and current teachers about the state of the Mi’gmaq language in Eskasoni as well as the programs in effect and under development. Eskasoni has an immersion program up to grade 4. The immersion program is taught at the community school in Eskasoni where all courses are transmitted in the Mi’gmaq language. Grade 4 is the transition year where classes are bilingual English and Mi’gmaq to prepare them for grade 5 where all classes are in English.

Storage lodge on Goat Island.

Storage lodge on Goat Island.

In the afternoon we took a tour of Goat Island, a cultural walking experienced located in Eskasoni. We walked around the island which had  various mini villages set up along the way, each one having different theme. The themes of the mini villages included basket-making, waltes (a traditional Mi’gmaq game) and replicas of wigwams.

Learn Mi’gmaq with Quizlet!

With Mary Ann Metallic’s Mi’gmaq classes (high school graduate and post-graduate) in full swing, there’s been a lot of interest in reinforcing the material introduced in class outside of class time. With suggestions from the students in mind, we found Quizlet—an accessible and easy to use app that allows us to create flashcards that can be used by anyone (and everyone!) interested in learning Mi’gmaq.

The flashcards are posted after every class, which means that if you are not in Listuguj, you can still follow along and learn what we are learning! Thus far 21 sets about various topics, ranging from greetings to food, have been posted here.

Some great features of Quizlet include:

  • Compatibility with Android, iOS, and most web browsers
  • Ability to access offline (after pre-loading the sets)
  • Ability to import media–Mary Ann hand-picks the pictures that go along with each flashcard
  • Ability to record audio to hear what the words sound like in Mi’gmaq–in fact, we’ve been recording the flashcard sets with different voices from around the community, so the students can hear what different speakers sound like (and even some of the students are involved!)
  • Ability to test yourself in fun ways (matching, spelling, multiple choice, space race) and compete with others for a high score
  • Make your own flashcards–once you have a Quizlet account, you can either search for flashcard sets that are already made, or create your own
  • Great teacher function: Quizlet can generate quizzes from a set of flashcards and, depending on your preferences, can create multiple choice, matching, true false and written questions

Check out the “Learn Mi’gmaq Flashcards” tab at the top of our page and see how fun it is for yourself!

Compensation For Language Loss?

Conor Quinn recently brought to my attention an article by linguist Ghil’ad Zuckermann that proposes for compensation to be paid to Australian Aborigines specifically for language loss. He argues that such a scheme would “support the effort to reclaim and revive the lost languages”, helping to reverse, or at least hold off, the systematic linguicide that has been going on since the colonization of Australia. 

The proposed “Native Tongue Title” would parallel the pre-existing Native Title, which provides legal protection for Indigenous peoples’ land rights, and work in conjunction with existing grant schemes for language protection and revitalization. While Zuckermann recognizes the effectiveness of current language policies, he criticizes the fact that they are often subject to political ebb and flow and that different communities are forced to compete for the same limited resources.

Quoting Ken Hale, “when you lose a language, you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art. It’s like dropping a bomb on a museum, the Louvre.” A language protection policy with stronger foundations as suggested by Zuckermann could help to prevent such immeasurable loss. Of course, more money does not necessarily mean better language protection and the question of how to use available funds is of utmost importance.

Twitter, instagram, language club and more!

There are many new developments going on this summer to spread the Mi’gmaq language. Follow us on instagram, twitter and facebook to stay involved!

Twitter – @learnmigmaq follow word of the day #migmaqwordoftheday

Instagram – @learnmigmaq weekly videos with vocabulary and dialogue in the Mi’gmaq language. Also check out Savvy Simon’s videos on instagram (@msnativewarrior). L’nuisi, it’s that easy!

Listuguj Mi’gmaw Language Club – Weekly conversation group meeting every Thursday at 6pm at the Listuguj Education Directorate. All activities are solely in Mi’gmaq – a great way to practice conversation in Mi’gmaq.

Mi’gmaq Language Summer Workshop 2 - Check out our webpage under the workshop section for more information. This event will take place August 5th at the Listuguj Bingo Hall.

How to get involved

Be a part of our social media team! For Mi’gmaq videos, posts or pictures just use the hashtag #SpeakMikmaq or #SpeakMigmaq

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