LINGUIST List 6.744

Mon 29 May 1995

Sum: Cree dialects

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  • , Sum: Cree dialects

    Message 1: Sum: Cree dialects

    Date: Fri, 26 May 1995 16:12:25 Sum: Cree dialects
    From: <>
    Subject: Sum: Cree dialects

    Dear online linguists,

    in february I posted a query about the standardisation in the Cree language. I received a lot of really helpful answers, so I will send out a summary now. First, I repeat the original questions I asked:

    *************Begin of original query**************************************** For a class about "norm and variation" I am currently seeking for material about the dialects in Cree. The questions I have are: - what dialects are there in the Cree language? - is there a dialect or a variant of Cree, that can be called "Standard Cree"? - if yes, when did this standard arise ?

    Unfortunately there are no books available at my local University about Cree. So it would be fine, if you could email me a short statement about the topic, or point me to online sources, databases etc. Personal opinions are welcome! Thanks in advance!

    Thomas Schoeneborn student at the Linguistic Dept., University of Muenster, Germany Email: *************End of original query*****************************************

    I would like to say thank you to the following people who have send an answer or helped me in any other way:

    Michael Everson (EVERSONIRLEARN.UCD.IE) John O'Meara (jomearaFLASH.LakeheadU.CA) Alexander King ( George Aubin ( Amy Dahlstrom ( Mark Campana (campanauhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu) H. C. Wolfart (LINGDPTccm.UManitoba.CA) Bruce Nevin (bnevinLightStream.COM) R. D. Darnell ( Cody Hawver ( Leslie H. Stennes ( Kevin Russell (krussllcc.UManitoba.CA) Paul Ouimet ( Michael Patterson (aj096FreeNet.Carleton.CA) Michael J. Wilson (aa793FreeNet.Carleton.CA) Peter Bakker (

    I received a lot of bibliographical information about Cree in general but also relating the topic I was interested in. But most of the literature was not available at my university - fortunately I was able to look at last into some of the books, most of them were private copies of other people. These are the references:


    Pentland, David, & H. Christoph Wolfart. Bibliography of Algonquian Linguistics. rev. ed. (1st ed., 1974). Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1982.

    Basic references:

    Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics. ed. by John D. Nichols, University of Manitoba. [quarterly, current volume: 20, 1995]

    Papers of the Algonquian Conference. Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario. [since 1994] University of Manitoba Press.

    About Cree and the Cree dialects:

    Marguerite MacKenzie. Towards a dialectology of Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Toronto, 1980.

    H.C. Wolfart & J.F. Carroll Meet Cree: A Guide to the Cree Language. rev ed. (1st ed., 1973). Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1981. pp. xv-xx (non-technical)

    H.C. Wolfart Plains Cree: A Grammatical Study. American Philosophical Society, Transactions, n.s., vol. 63, pt. 5, Philadelphia, 1973. pp. 7-11

    Pentland, D.H. A historical overview of Cree dialects. In: W. Cowan, ed., Papers of the Ninth Algonquian Conference, 104-126, Ottawa, Carleton University, 1978.

    Rhodes, Richard, & Evelyn Todd Subarctic Algonquian languages. In: William C. Sturtevant, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 6, Washington, DC, 1981, 52-66.

    Freda Ahenakew & H.C. Wolfart (ed. & tr.) koohkominawak otaacimowiniwaawa / Our Grandmothers' Lives, As Told in Their Own Words. Told by Glecia Bear et al. Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers, 1992.

    References which are incomplete:

    Cree New Testaments from the Canadian Bible Society, Their address: Canadian Bible Society 150 Edna Street Kitchener, ONT N2H 6S1 CANADA

    Cree Lexicon containing 15,000 words and having both syllabic and Roman spelling with an English translation. The price then was $40.00 and could be ordered from: Cree Lexicon Curriclum Development Cree School Board Chisasibi QUEBEC J0M 1E0 CANADA

    Many books, grammars and dictionaries made by Anne Anderson, a Metis native speaker of Cree.

    Now follows what the people told me about the topic: the standardization. As you will see, there is a general agreement about the dialects of Cree and how to distinguish them, as is an agreement that there is no real standard dialect, but on the other side there is an interesting agreement of the personal observations about what dialect could be called 'standard' - if at all - and why. ---- )From Amy Dahlstrom (>:

    the major dialects of Cree are Plains, Swampy, Woods, Moose, and Atikamek, which display the following reflexes of Proto-Algonguian *l --

    Plains Cree *l) y (namo:ya `not') Swampy Cree *l) n (namo:na) Moose Cree *l) l (namo:la) Atikamek Cree *l) r (namo:ra) Woods Cree *l) eth [voiced interdental fricative] (namo:tha)

    The Plains dialect is spoken in central Saskatchewan and Alberta, Woods Cree is spoken in northern Saskatchewan and northwestern Manitoba, Swampy Cree is spoken in the rest of Manitoba and most of Ontario, Moose Cree is spoken near Moose Factory, on the west coast of James Bay, and Atikamek is spoken north of Trois-Rivie`res, Que'bec. (The Montagnais dialects of Que'bec and Naskapi in Labrador may also be considered part of a dialect continuum with Cree.)

    In Saskatchewan, where I did fieldwork for my dissertation, the Plains dialect was definitely considered more prestigious by speakers of Woods Cree. (for example, if asked for a word they would try to give the Plains version rather than their own word) I think this is due in part to the use of Plains dialect in Bible translations and other written materials by early missionaries.

    ---- )From H.C. Wolfart (LINGDPTccm.UManitoba.CA>:

    despite the best efforts of 19th-century missionaries, no dialect of Cree has emerged as the standard -- for that, after all, you need an army and a navy! Cree is much like German in this respect, a lg-complex in the sense of Hockett 1957 (with Low German and Very High German (Alemannic) at the extremes and many small, gradual steps in between).

    ---- )From Regna Darnell (>:

    There is no standard Cree though various efforts have been made to devise one over the years. The major proponent is Doug Ellis, emeritus from McGill. He worked on James Bay Cree. The person who has done dialect survey work is Chris Wolfart at Manitoba (Lx).

    There are 4 major dialects, distinguished by their reflexes of proto-Algonquian theta a la Bloomfield. James Bay has Moose and Swampy Cree with nina/nila as the word for "I". Plains Cree in the prairies has Niya, Woods Cree (much smaller, northern prairies) has nitha. In between the two major branches there is considerable lexical difference. They are separated by an Ojibwe belt, some of which is more Cree-like. Montagnais is treated as a Cree dialect by many/most.

    And there is lots of difference from one community to the other within each dialect.

    ---- )From Cody Hawver (>:

    I believe that there are 4 main dialects of Cree: Moose Cree, Swampy Cree, Woods Cree and Plains Cree. The variation between the four main dialects are mainly phonological, and rather slight. I never ran across any suggestion that one dialect is more standard than another, but that is not to say that a standardized form doesn't exist. I'd like to know myself!

    ---- )From Kevin Russell (krussllcc.UManitoba.CA>:

    There appears to be no accepted standard dialect of Cree. While various dialects of Cree can have a fair bit of prestige among other language communities (e.g., Ojibwe, Chipweyan), no dialect within it seems to have much more prestige than any other.

    That being said, there is a VERY slight form of de facto standardization, coming from the fact that Christian missionaries for some obscure reason chose to make the most inland and inaccessible dialect, Plains, the standard dialect for publishing religious material (e.g., bible translations, hymnbooks). This means that many speakers of other dialects have ended up with more exposure to Plains than Plains speakers have had exposure to other dialects. I've noticed a slight tendency in my Swampy consultants to be more tolerant toward Plains constructions and lexical items than to constructions and lexical items from more eastern dialects, though this may just be a result of where my Swampy speakers sit on the dialect cline.


    Enclosed my vision on standardization of spelling:

    There are of course two ways of writing Cree, in syllabics and in Roman. There is quite a bit of religious literature in syllabics and they have two different systems, according to religion (catholic and anglican, I guess), but I do not know the details. I think only one denotes vowel length. As for Roman script, the standard which is now developing for Cree is set by a number of publications edited by Freda Ahenekew and Chris Wolfart, which uses a rather phonemic system, with macrons over the vowels to denote vowel length. Some older publications also have high bars over vowels, but the macron is much easier to type. This is now mostly used at universities and in books. On the other hand, there are also many publications made by Native groups themselves who are not aware of these systems. They sometimes uses a roughly English-based system. There are also many books, grammars and dictionaries made by Anne Anderson, a Metis native speaker of Cree (if she is still alive, she must be in her 90s now), who used her own roughly English-based system. It has some ambiguities in writing, as the spelling is partly English-based. Nevertheless, her books are widespread throughout libraries and they are also used in schools especially in Alberta. She received an honorary doctorate for her work on Cree education. The spelling system as used by some of the old missionaries is luckily [something missing ???] ----

    It seems that the only attempt to establish a standard was made from outside, from the missionaries. They decided to use one dialect as the standard for their translations, and it seems to have a little success, if not at all.

    Additionally Nicole Stuckenberger ( told me: It is maybe insteresting for you to note that the language professors of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (Regina, Cananda) discuss the matter, too. The present teaching standard is that of the Plains dialect. That means that all students, independent from where they are, have to learn it. The discussion takes the direction to change this standard in the way that all dialects have the "chance" to become accepted as written language without any hierachy. During my fieldwork in Stanley Mission I got the impression that this disscussion is somewhat more academic than important for the speakers, anyway.

    I hope this is helpful to someone else. Many Greetings

    Thomas Schoeneborn student at Linguistic Dept., University of Muenster, Germany Email: