Cree language

From Academic Kids

Cree is the name for a group of closely-related Algonquian languages spoken by approximately 50,000 speakers across Canada, from Alberta to Labrador.

We can divide the Cree dialect continuum by several criteria. Dialects spoken from north-eastern Ontario to Labrador make a distinction between (sh as in she) and s, while those to the west do not. In several dialects, including northern James Bay Cree and Woods Cree, the long vowels ê and î have merged into a single vowel. However, the most transparent phonological variation between different Cree dialects is in the evolution of the proto-Algonquian retroflex /l/ in the modern dialects.

The Plains Cree, speakers of the y dialect, refer to their language as Nehiyawewin, whereas Woods Cree speakers say nehithawewin, and Swampy Cree speakers say nehinawewin. This is similar to the alternation in the Siouan languages Dakota, Nakota, and Lakota, or the evolution of the Old Church Slavonic vowel yat into different present-day Slavic languages.

Missing image
Creemap.png
A rough map of Cree dialect areas

We can broadly classify the Cree dialects into nine groups. From west to east:

Swampy Cree in turn has an eastern and a western dialect which differ in the use of the . In the western dialect, has merged with s.
James Bay Cree has a northern and a southern dialect which differ in the number of vowel distinctions they make. The long vowels ê and î have merged in the northern dialect but are distinct in the southern. Nonetheless, the people from the two areas easily communicate.

Many Cree words also became the basis for words in the Chinook Jargon trade language used until some point after contact with Europeans.

Like many Native American languages, Cree features a complex polysynthetic morphology and syntax. A Cree word can be very long, and express something that takes a series of words in English, while at other times Cree is more explicit than English. For example, the Plains Cree word for "school" is kiskinohamatowkamikw, "Know-by.hand-caus-applicative-reciprocal-place," "The knowing-it-together-by-example place". To say "he always danced like that" in Plains Cree, however, is simply ki-isi-nanimihtow.

Cree dialects, except for those spoken in eastern Quebec and Labrador, are traditionally written using Cree syllabics, a variant of Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics, but can be written with the Roman alphabet as well. The easternmost dialects are written using the Roman alphabet exclusively.

A unique kind of creole of Cree and Quebec French, called Michif, is spoken by some Canadian Métis.

The social and legal status of Cree varies across Canada. Cree is one of the seven official languages of the Northwest Territories, but is only spoken by a small number of people there in the area around the town of Fort Smith. In many areas, it is a vibrant community language still spoken by large majorities and taught in schools. In other areas, its use has declined dramatically. Cree is one of the least endangered aboriginal languages in North America, but is nonetheless at risk since it possesses little institutional support in most areas.

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