Michif audio lessons

Michif audio lessons

Taanshi mii zamii, nimihtaaten kaaya ee-kii-tootamaan ooma li blog. I’m sorry I haven’t updated in a while, I am hoping to do more Michif stuff soon. 

I just wanted to point your attention to these Michif podcasts by Muskwatch. They’re probably the best resources for learning the grammar of Michif out there right now, and they’re fantastic because you get to actually hear the language spoken. 

More on Michif Verbs

It’s finals week here at the University of Chicago and I am supposed to be studying for my linguistics exam, which of course means that it is time for me to procrastinate by blogging about Michif! In this post I’d like to go over a few more details about verbs, beyond their conjugations. A lot of these things have no explicit explanations that I’ve found, outside of a few linguistics papers, and I had to figure them out mostly on my own, so hopefully this will be helpful to people who don’t want to scour technical jargon.

First, there are some varieties in the VAI (animate & intransitive verbs) that aren’t visible in the post I made earlier about them. Freda Ahenakew describes the following categories for Cree verbs which are largely the same in Michif: -aaw verbs, -ew verbs, -iiw verbs, -oow verbs, -iw verbs, -ow verbs, and -n verbs.

Verbs that end in -aaw, -iiw, -oow, -iw, and -ow are inflected the same way as nipaw is in the above post. Verbs that end in -ew have a slight variation: in the independent order, the non-third forms change the -e to an -aa. For example:

pimohtew – he walks
bimohtaan – I walk
pimohtaan – you walk
bimohtaanaan – we (excluding you) walk
pimohtaanaan – we (including you) walk

The other forms all use the -e ending (pimohtewak “they walk,” e-pimohteyaan “as I walk” etc). (The reason why the “p” at the beginning changes to a “b” will be explained in just a minute.)

Verbs that end in -n also act differently. The paradigm for the verb pimishin “he lies down” is:

bimishinin – I lie down
pimishinin – you lie down
bimishinaan – we (excluding you) lie down
pimishinaan – we (including you) lie down
pimishinaawaaw – you all lie down
pimishin – s/he lies down
pimishinwak – they lie down
pimishiniyiwa – s/he (obviative) lies down

e-pimishiniyaan – as I lie down
e-pimishiniyan – as you lie down
e-pimishiniyaahk – as we lie down
e-pimishiniyeek – as you all lie down
e-pimishihk – as s/he lies down
e-pimishihkik – as they lie down
e-pimishiniyit – as s/he (obviative) lies down

pimishi – lie down (to 1 person)
pimishinik – lie down (to multiple people)
pimishinitaak – let’s lie down

I’ve bolded the forms that use “pimishi-” as their root. Notice that only 3rd person forms use it, all others use “pimishini-” as the root.

What’s with the “b”?

So, back to that mysterious “b” that popped up in some of the forms up there. This is a feature of verbs that is unique to Michif; Cree doesn’t do this (I’ve heard some speakers do, but I have no confirmation on that).

Basically, in Michif, whenever the prefix ni- is used in front of a verb that starts with p, t, k, or sh, it “softens” the consonant and the “ni” disappears. So p becomes b, t becomes d, k becomes g, and sh becomes zh. Thus, instead of nipimohtaan for I walk, you get bimohtaan. This happens even in front of prefixes, such as kii or ka for past/future tense. So to say “We slept,” you say “gii-nipaanaan.”

There’s also an interesting thing that happens in front of vowels. In both Cree and Michif, when you put the prefixes “ni” or “ki” in front of a word that starts with a vowel, you stick a “t” in between to make it easier to say. For “you sit,” for instance, you get ni-t-apin (apiw – s/he sits). Ni does the same thing, so in Cree you get nitapin, but in Michif, the softening happens. The end result is dapin, I sit.

The deeper reason why this happens is that “n” is a voiced consonant. So when it gets shoved into close contact with an unvoiced consonant like p, t, k, or sh, those second consonants tend to become voiced like n. This suggests there’s an intermediate form, before the n got dropped entirely, where you’d get things like “ndapin” for “I sit.”

And in fact, speakers from the Camperville area do use this form. For instance, the website Ota Nda Yanaan, which was started by Rita Flamand who is from that area, means “We are here.” Nda yanaan comes from the verb ayaaw, s/he is there. So this becomes ni-t-ayaanaan, then ndayaanaan, and in some areas, dayaanaan. I suspect that the retention of the n in Camperville may have to do with the fact that Ojibwe is also spoken there, and Ojibwe quite frequently retains the n in front of verbs this way.

A Michif Video Blog

This is a video I made a few weeks ago for the Tumblr campaign to retake the Native American hashtag. It’s basically four minutes of me talking about learning Michif and my other ancestral languages, in Michif.

#2: What is that?

In this lesson:

  • Gender and articles
  • Animacy and demonstratives
  • Yes-No Questions

In Michif, nouns have two qualities: gender and animacy. The first comes from French and is shown in the article. There are definite articles (THE shirt) and indefinite articles (A shirt), and a masculine and feminine gender. The Michif articles are as follows:

la shmiizh – the shirt (feminine singular definite)
enn shmiizh – a shirt (feminine singular indefinite)
li liiv – the book  (masculine singular definite)
aen liiv – a book (masculine singular indefinite)
lii shmiizh, lii liiv – the shirts, the books (masculine and feminine plural definite)

Animacy refers to whether an object is animate or inanimate. Humans, animals, and methods of transportation are animate, as well as some trees, plants, and other miscellaneous objects. We see animacy in the demonstratives, which come from Cree. Unlike in modern English, which only distinguishes between “this” and “that,” Michif also has a third demonstrative, meaning “over there,” like the old English “yon.” The demonstratives are split into animate/inanimate:

           This     That      That over there
(an)    awa      ana       naha
           okik     anikik  nekik
(inan)  oma    anima  nema
           onhin  anihi    nehi

To use these with nouns, you must pair them with a definite article. You cannot simply say anima liiv for “that book.” You say, anima li liiv. You can also place the demonstrative after the noun, such as li liiv anima. This is stronger, like saying “THAT book,” or “that book there.”

When you put the demonstrative after the noun, it can also mean “That is the book.” You can make sentences like so:

enn shmiizh oma. – this is a shirt.
li shyaen naha. – that over there is a dog.

To make this into a question, you can add “chi” which functions as a sort of verbal question mark to turn a statement into a yes or no question:

aen minosh chi naha? – Is that over there a cat?

You can also ask “What is that?” or “Who is that?” with the question words kekway “what (inanimate)” and awena “who (animate)”:

kekway oma? – what is this?
awena anikik? – who are they (those ones there)?

Note that when using question words, you do NOT use the yes-no word chi.

To say what something inanimate is called, you can use the verb ishinihkatew, meaning “it is called.”

oma ‘aen liiv’ ishinihkatew – this is called ‘a book.’
‘Enn maezon’ ishinihkatew chi? – Is this called ‘a house’?

The form that is used with question words is “e-ishinihkatek”:

kekway oma e-ishinihkatek? – what is this called?

The plural of the normal form is ishinihkatewa, and the plural of the question form is e-ishinihkateki.

kekway anihi lii liiv e-ishinihkateki? – what are those books called?
‘dictionaries’ ishinihkatewa – they are called ‘dictionaries.’

If you add aan Michif to mean “in Michif” you can ask the word for something in Michif:

kekway ‘a shirt’ e-ishinihkatek aan Michif? – what is ‘a shirt’ called in Michif?
‘enn shmiizh’ ishinihkatew aan Michif – it is called ‘aen shmiizh’ in Michif.

Likewise, aan nanglee means “in English.”

The verb “ishinihkatew,” along with the weather verbs from last lesson, are called “Inanimate Intransitive Verbs” or VII – which means that they have inanimate subjects and do not have any objects. They tend to end in either “n” or “w.” Those that end in “w” add “a” to make the plural, while those that end in “n” add “wa.” These are the forms:

mishaaw – it is big
mishaawa – they are big
miyoshin – it is good, nice
miyoshinwa – they are good, nice

Although Michif does have adjectives like in English (as we will see next lesson), in sentences like “the book is big,” Michif uses a VII to express “it is big” rather than a separate verb for “is” and an adjective for “big:”

li liiv mishaaw – the book is big
onhin lii shmiizh wiipawa – these shirts are dirty.


Maria: Taanshi, nohkom.
Grandma: Taanshi, Marii. Awena ana li lom?
Maria: Mon frenn Gabriel ana. Nohkom, wiipaw chi li–oh, kekway e-ishinihkatek “a dress” aan Michif?
Grandma: ‘Enn rob’ ishinihkatew.
Maria: Marsi. Ma rob wiipaw chi?
Grandma: No, pekan.
Maria: Ah, miyoshin!

Maria: Hello, grandma.
Grandma: Hello, Maria. Who was that man?
Maria: That was my friend Gabriel. Grandma, is it dirty, the–oh, what is “a dress” called in Michif?
Grandma: It is called “enn rob.”
Maria: Thank you. Is my dress dirty?
Grandma: No, it is clean.
Maria: Oh, that’s good!


li liiv – the book
la shmiizh – the shirt
li shyaen – the dog
li minosh – the cat
kekway – what
awena – who
chi – “question mark”
ishinihkatew – it is called
e-ishinihkatek – it is called (with question words)
e-ishinihkateki – they are called (with question words)
mishaaw – it is big
miyoshin – it is good, nice
wiipaw – it is dirty
nohkom – my grandmother
li lom – the man, person (also sometimes nom, zom)
mon frenn – my friend
la rob – the dress
ma rob – my dress
pekan – it is clean
wii – yes
no – no

#1: Intro to Michif

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
  • weather
  • dialogue
  • vocabulary

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

Basic Greetings

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
nimiyoayaan – I am well, fine
dishinihkashon – I am called
taanshi e-ishinihkashoyen – how are you called?
miina – also, again
miina kawapamitin – I will see you again
taanshi eshikiishikak – 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

How do you spell Michif?

One of the things that has made creating Michif materials difficult is the fact that there is no standardised spelling. This is largely because, like most other Amerindian languages, Michif has been primarily a spoken language rather than a written one. Michif has the additional challenge of having two parts, a French part and a Cree part, with different spelling conventions and different sounds.

There are roughly three spelling systems I have seen used for Michif so far:

  1. Turtle Mountain spelling
  2. Flamand-Papen spelling
  3. Source language spelling

Turtle Mountain spelling was the first system developed. It is basically Michif spelled ‘as it sounds’ with English letters. For instance, ‘aw’ represents the long a in father, ‘ee’ represents the i in machine, and so on. It was the creation of Michif speakers who also knew English and were attempting to spell a language that had rarely, if ever, been written down before.

Flamand-Papen spelling was adapted by a linguist (Robert Papen) from the system created by Rita Flamand. That original system can be seen on the Metis Resource Centre website. It attempts to link each individual sound to an individual letter, which is different from TM spelling, where the same sound may be spelled different (the a sound in mate, for instance, might be written either ‘ay’ or ‘ey’ in TM spelling, but is written ee in FP spelling). The main alterations to the system in the above link were to use double vowels instead of accented vowels, using ‘ii’ instead of ‘é’ for the sound /i/, and using ‘a’ instead of ‘u’ for the sound in ‘nut, hut.’

The last spelling system doesn’t have a fancy name. It consists of spelling the French part of Michif as it is spelled in standard French and the Cree part of Michif as it is spelled in standard Cree. This type of spelling seems to be most used when demonstrating the linguistic division that exists in Michif rather than as a commonly used writing system.

The same sentence, meaning “How is the weather?” in all three systems:

  1. Tawnshi li tawn?
  2. Taanshi li taan?
  3. Tanisi le temps?

There are pros and cons to the use of each of these systems, but on the whole I think Michif speakers and scholars are tending towards the use of the Flamand-Papen system. Although Turtle Mountain spelling may be more natural for English speakers, it’s generally not a good long-lasting solution to base a language’s spelling on the spelling of a language with very different sounds. And spelling Michif words as they are spelled in their ‘source language’ ignores the fact that Michif words have undergone certain changes in sounds so that they are not identical to the French or Cree word anymore. It also reinforces the idea that Michif is not a real language, just a code-switch or debased dialect.

In practice, I would say that few people use one system 100% of the time. Most seem to use a spelling based on Flamand-Papen, with some alterations. There are certain tricky spots caused by Michif phonology: one key tricky spot is the letter o/u. In both the French and Cree parts of Michif, the sound represented by o/u is roughly something like the vowel in ‘book,’ but it varies from a /u/ to an /o/ sound. There are, however, some words that definitely contain a /u/ or /o/ sound that cannot be replaced by the other sound. There’s also the issue that because Michif is so tied to speaking rather than writing, many words are pronounced differently depending on the speaker. As a result, in Michif texts, words are often spelled differently even within the same sentence.

So which spelling to use? For myself, I use something based on Flamand-Papen spelling. The best example of this is found in Norman Fleury’s telling of Cinderella. I have personal opinions, though – I have instinctive dislike for quite so many double vowels, especially, for instance, the ee in Cree verbs, where there is no single e sound to be found; I also tend to the o side of the o/u spelling. But I think that the FP spelling system is probably the best that Michif has at the moment.

Tet, nipol, zhnu pi pyii (zhnu pi pyii!)
Tet, nipol, zhnu pi pyii (zhnu pi pyii!)
Zyeu pi zarey pi bush pi nii,
Tet, nipol, zhnu pi pyii (zhnu pi pyii!)

la tet – the head
oshtikwann – his head
li nipol – the shoulder
li zhnu – the knee
lii pyii – the feet
lii zyeu – the eyes
lii zarey – the ears
otawakaya – her ears
la bush – the mouth
otunn – his mouth
li nii – the nose
pi – and

I used “feet” instead of “toes” (which are actually li zartey) partially because it would be too easy to mix up zartey and zarey, and partially because pi pyii is just fun to say.


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