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Mi'kmaq or Mi'gmaq, also called Micmac, is a language spoken by the Aboriginal nation of the same name in Eastern Canada and United States. The language status is "threatened" with approximately 8,000 speakers. The majority language in Mi'kmaq's communities is English or French (in Quebec). The population of actual Mi'kmaq speakers is decreasing, most speakers being the elders of the communities. There is no monolingual Mi'kmaq speaker and Mi'kmaq is not the first language of the younger generations that speak Mi'kmaq.

Technical info[edit]

  • Language family: Algic languages/Algonquian languages
  • Regions: Eastern Canada (Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador) and United States (Maine and Massachusetts)
  • Number of speakers: approx. 8,100
  • Script(s): Latin alphabet (LTR)
  • Majority language(s): English (mostly) and French (some)

Writing systems[edit]

See detailed page: Mi'kmaq Orthographies

Today, Mi'kmaq is written with the latin alphabet. However, a Mi'kmaq hieroglyph writing system has been used in the past. Those hieroglyphs are partially from Native creation, making Mi'kmaq one of the few American languages to have a writing system pre-contact with the Europeans. However, those hieroglyphs were more pictographs used as visual memory aids than a real writing system.

Different orthographies exist to write in Mi'kmaq (see the table below). The most widely used is the Francis-Smith orthography, developed in 1974. It is used in Nova Scotia and it's the orthography used by the Mi'kmaq Grand Council. The Listuguj orthography is used in Quebec and is the same as the Francis-Smith except the "k" is replaced by "g". The Pacifique orthography has been developed in early 20th century by Father Pacifique, but it omits couple vowels. The Rand orthography, developed in late 19th century by Reverand Silas Tertius Rand, is not used anymore and is more complex (even more complex than the table below suggests as far as the number of vowels is concerned).

The main orthographies used to write Mi'kmaq today have an alphabet of six vowels and thirteen consonants. The vowels include five full vowels, that are represented with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) by [a], [e], [i], [o], and [u] and are respectively written "a", "e", "i", "o" and "u", and one reduced vowel represented by [ə] in IPA that is called the "schwa". The schwa is written by a barred-i, ɨ, in Francis-Smith orthography and by an apostrophe in the Listuguj orthography. However, since the location of the schwa in a word can be predictable for a Mi'kmaq speaker, it is not always written. There are twelve consonants plus the "i" which also serves as a consonant that sounds like the "y" in English, in Francis-Smith and Listuguj orthographies.

Mi'kmaq orthographies
IPA a e i ə k l m n o p x s t u w j
Francis-Smith a a'/á e e'/é i i'/í ɨ j k l m n o o'/ó p q s t u u'/ú w y
Listuguj a a' e e' i i' ' j g l m n o o' p q s t u u' w y
Lexicon a a: e e: i i: ɨ j k l m n o o: p q s t u u: w y
Pacifique a e i tj g l m n ô p s t o
Rand ă a â ĕ ā ĭ e ŭ ch c k l m n ŏ o ō b h s d t ŏŏ oo u w y

Borrowed words[edit]

Mi'kmaq language reflects contact with English and French languages. Many words that didn't exist in Mi'kmaq when Europeans began to commerce in North America are borrowed from French words. The conversion to the Catholic religion also had an influence on the Mi'kmaq language. Some examples of borrowed words are shown in the table below.

Mi'kmaq word English word French word
lasiet plate (l')assiette
lapol bowl (le) bol
lasup soup (la) soupe
laclem cream (la) crème
mapos pocket (ma) poche
alame's mass (à la) messe
atiu goodbye adieu
lapulusan jail (la) prison

Mi'kmaq speakers at the time of contact with Europeans also developed words by analogy for new concepts, such as "wenjitia'm" which litteraly means "French-moose" for the word "cow" (cows have been imported on the North American continent by Europeans).


See detailed page: Mi'kmaq Animacy

Mi'kmaq, like most Algonquian languages, uses "animacy" (animate or inanimate) to classify all nouns into two categories, the same way French and Spanish use "gender" (masculine or feminine) for example. Animate nouns are generally alive things such as people and animals and inanimate nouns are generally not alive things such as objects and places. However, there are a lot of exceptions. For example, gmu'jmin (raspberry) is an animate noun while aloqoman (grape) is an inanimate noun.

Animacy determines which ending the noun will take in its plural form. Generally, animate nouns take the ending "-k" or "-g" (depending of the orthography) and sometimes the ending "-q" while inanimate nouns generally take the ending "-l" and sometimes the ending "-n". The animacy of the subject also determines the ending of verbs.

In most Mi'kmaq dictionaries, the abreviations "n.a." and "n.i." are used for "noun animate" and "noun inanimate" respectively.


See detailed page: Mi'kmaq Person and number

Person is a grammar concept that is used to know the relations between people, or objects, involved in a sentence. For example, in English there are three persons: first (I), second (you) and third (he/she/it and they). Mi'kmaq has five persons: first, second, third, fourth and zero (see the table below). The first, second and third persons are the same as in English. The fourth person is called "obviate" (see next section) and the zero person is used to refer to inanimate things.

Person Term English equivalent
1 First person, the speaker I, me
2 Second person, the listener you
3 Third person (animate), neither the speaker nor the listener he, she, him, her, it
4 Fourth person, obviate his "brother", her "son"
0 Third person (inanimate) it


See detailed page: Mi'kmaq Obviation

Obviation is a grammar concept to distinguish different "third persons". In a sentence, if there are two animate third persons, the one being the object takes the obviate ending "-l", "-al" or "-tl". Since the order of the words in a sentence is not important in Mi'kmaq this help to keep track of who is the subject and who is the object in a sentence. For example, in the following sentence "the hunter" is the subject and "the deer" is the object: "The hunter shoots the deer.", so, in Mi'kmaq, the word "deer" takes the obviate ending. Plural nouns don't take any obviate ending.

Verbs also take obviate endings. For verbs, obviative endings are generally "-l" for singular and "-i" or sometimes "-a" for plural. For example, the verb "gesalatl" which means "he/she loves him/her" has the ending "-l" to mark a singular third person as being the object while the verb "gesalaji" which means "he/she loves them" has the ending "-i" to indicate that the object is plural.


See detailed page: Mi'kmaq Person and number

In grammar, number is used to indicate how many people or things the subject of a verb encompasses. For example, English has two numbers: singular (I, you and he/she/it) and plural (we, you and they). Mi'kmaq has three numbers: singular, dual and plural. Singular is the same as English and refers to only one person. Dual is used for two people, equivalent to English "you two" for example, while plural refers to more than two. The dual number is only used with animate intransitive verbs, all other types of verbs have only singular and plural (so for those verbs, plural actually means more than one).

However, even if it is gramatically incorrect, more and more, orally, only the dual number is used even to refer to more than two and the plural number is almost not used, especially by the younger generations of Mi'kmaq speakers.


See detailed page: WikiLang/Mi'kmaq Counting

Like English and French, the Mi'kmaq language uses the arab numbers for numeric symbols and uses a decimal numeral system. The numbers in the table below are only the roots, since different endings are used if the number is used to count animate or inanimate nouns. Generally, the ending "-ijik" or "-ijig" (depending of the orthography) is used for counting animate things while the ending "-kna'q" or "-gna'q" (depending of the orthography) is used to count inanimate things.

# Mi'kmaq word
(Francis-Smith orthography)
1 ne'wt
2 ta'pu
3 si'st
4 ne'w
5 na'n
6 asukom
7 l'uiknek
8 ukmuljin
9 pesqunatek
10 newtiska'q, mtln

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