This is the first of the Michif lessons that I am making. They are intended mostly to present the grammar and a basic vocabulary in a way that can be understood by non-linguists, since most existing Michif resources are either extremely basic and phrase-based or extremely academic. A written course will never make you fluent in Michif, because it is so quintessentially a spoken language. Eventually, despite the fact that I myself am not a native speaker, I would like to make audio lessons that will give people a better grasp of speaking Michif. That, however, is the future!
In this lesson:
- sounds of Michif
- basic greetings
The Sounds of Michif
Michif comes from two languages, French and Cree, and as a result, the sounds in Michif words are a combination of these two language’s sound systems. There is debate over whether there are two sound systems at work in Michif or if they have become one unified system, but that is a debate for linguists. The following is based on a combination of the work of Nicole Rosen (2007) and my personal observation of Michif speakers’ pronunciation.
The consonants b, p, m, t, d, f, v, s, z, l, sh, ch, y, k, g, h, w are pronounced as in English. The letter r is pronounced as a flap, like in the Spanish word pero (note: NOT a trill or “rolled r”). The combination zh is pronounced like the z in “azure.” In words of French origin, the letter n after a vowel is often pronounced nasally like in French ‘bon,’ while the English pronunciation of n is sometimes written nn. There are also four “preaspirated” consonants: hp, ht, hk, and hch. These sound like p, t, k, and ch, but with a heavy breathy ‘h’ sound before it. The h in hk often comes out like the ‘ch’ in Bach or loch, and the combinations ‘ht’ and ‘hch’ are pronounced ‘st’ and ‘sch’ by a large number of speakers as well.
The situation of vowels is slightly more complicated, as there are more vowels than there are easy ways to write them. This is the most common (vowels given with IPA pronunciation and rough equivalent):
a – /a/ between English apple and father, like the vowel in cow without the w
aa – /ɑ/ as in English spa
e – /ɛ/~/e/ in words of French origin as in English bed, in words of Cree origin closer to English made
ee – /e/ as in English made
i – /ɪ/ as in English bit
ii – /i/ as in English beet
o – /ʊ/, /u/~/o/, /ɔ/ one of the most varying vowels. In most words, roughly as in English book, but can vary from like in English moon to English boat. In some words of French origin, it is pronounced like English boat or English bought
oo – /ʊ:/, /u:/~/o:/ like o, but held longer, often nasal or with the lips closer together
u – /ʊ/, /u/~/o/ same as o above
uu – /ʊ:/, /u:/~/o:/ same as oo above
ae – /æ/~/ɛ/ between English bad and English bed
eu – /œ/, /y/ as in French soeur (try to say the vowel in bed with your lips in the position to say the vowel in moon), rarely as in French tu
The most basic greeting in Michif is taanshi. Literally, it means “how,” but used alone means “hello.” To ask how someone is doing, you just add a pronoun after, such as kiya “you.” So, taanshi kiya means “how are you?” A typical response would be nimiyo-ayaan “I am well.” You can then ask, kiya maaka “And you?” which is literally “you but” as maaka means “but.” And of course, it is always polite to add marsi “thank you.”
To ask someone’s name, you ask taanshi e-ishinihkashoyen, literally “how are you called?” To answer, say [name] dishinihkashon “my name is [name].” A common good-bye is miina ka-wapamitin, literally “I will see you again.”
The Metis have always considered the land they live on to be very important. Because in the past the Metis often lived off the land, weather was a very important topic, and it is still usually remarked upon when meeting someone. It is very easy to talk about the weather in Michif, because most verbs that describe weather are only one word. To ask about the weather, say taanshi e-shikiishikak “how is the weather?” You can also say taanshi li taan “how is the weather?”
You can talk about the weather in general by saying miyokiishikaw “it is good weather” or machikiishikaw “it is bad weather.” You could say kimuwan “it is raining,” or mishponn “it is snowing,” or if you live in Chicago like me, yootin “it blows” – meaning it’s rather windy!
You can also remark on the temperature. Kishitew means “it is hot” while kishinaw means “it’s cold.” Perhaps tahkayaw “it is cool” or, as is likely in Canada, ahkwatinn “it is freezing.” Lastly, you could mention if it is sunny – waasheshkwann – or cloudy – yiikwashkwann.
A Michif Conversation
Gabriel: Taanshi! Gabriel dishinihkashon. Taanshi e-ishinihkashoyen?
Maria: Maria dishinihkashon. Taanshi kiya?
Gabriel: Nimiyo-ayaan. Kiya maaka?
Maria: Nimiyo-ayaan, marsi. Mafwee, miyokiishikaw anosh!
Gabriel: Wii, yootin, maaka waasheshkwan.
Maria: Tapwe. Miina ka-wapamitin, Gabriel!
Gabriel: Miina ka-wapamitin!
Gabriel: Hello! My name is Gabriel. What’s your name?
Maria: My name is Maria. How are you?
Gabriel: I’m fine. How about you?
Maria: I am fine, thank you. Wow, the weather is nice today!
Gabriel: Yes, it’s windy, but the sky is clear.
Maria: Indeed. See you later, Gabriel!
Gabriel: See you later!
taanshi – how, hello
kiya – you
maaka – but
marsi – thank you
nimiyo–ayaan – I am well, fine
dishinihkashon – I am called
taanshi e-ishinihkashoyen – how are you called?
miina – also, again
miina ka–wapamitin – I will see you again
taanshi e–shikiishikak – how is the weather?
miyokiishikaw – the weather is good
machikiishikaw – the weather is bad
kimuwan – it is raining
mishponn – it is snowing
yootin – it blows, it is windy
kishitew – it is hot
kishinaw – it is cold
tahkayaw – it is cool
ahkwatinn – it is freezing
waasheshkwann – it is sunny
yiikwashkwann – it is cloudy
mafwee – my goodness! wow!
tapwe – indeed
anosh – today