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Native Languages of the Americas: Cree

Language: Cree is an Algonquian language spoken by more than 70,000 people across southern Canada and into Montana. There are five major Cree dialects: Western/Plains Cree, Northern/Woodlands Cree, Central/Swampy Cree, Moose Cree, and Eastern Cree. Some linguists consider these distinct languages, but they are largely mutually intelligible. The most divergent is Eastern Cree, which some consider a closer relative to the Innu languages Montagnais and Naskapi than to the other Cree dialects--then again, others consider Montagnais, Naskapi, and/or Attikamekw to be dialects of Cree themselves. This lack of linguistic consensus reveals the remarkable diversification of the Cree language. In general, Cree people can understand the dialects of communities closest to them, but not those further away: though a Northern Cree may understand both a Western Cree and an Eastern Cree, they might have trouble understanding each other, and only the East Cree speaker would have hope of understanding Montagnais. All five Cree dialects (though not Atikamekw or the Innu languages) are written in a unique syllabary which uses shapes to represent consonants and rotates them in the Four Directions to represent vowels. There are two more languages which, while not Cree, are heavily influenced by Cree: Michif, a Metis creole combining French nouns with Cree verbs, and Severn Ojibway, an Ojibwe dialect often called "Oji-Cree" because it has borrowed liberally from Cree and uses the Cree syllabary instead of the Roman alphabet used by most other Ojibwe speakers. One of the most important and influential of American Indian languages, Cree also has one of the best chances of conitnued survival, with many children being raised bilingually or in Cree with English or French as a second language. Cree is a polysynthetic, verb-based language with long words and fairly free word order.



People: The Cree are Canada's largest native group, with 200,000 registered members and dozens of self-governed nations. "Cree" comes from the French name for the tribe, "Kristenaux," variously said to be a corruption of the French word for "Christian" or an Algonquian word for "first people." When speaking their own language the Cree refer to themselves as Ayisiniwok, meaning "true men," Nehiyawok, meaning "speakers of our language," or Iyiniwok, meaning simply "the people" (this word has the same Central Algonquian root as the Montagnais word Innu). There are also more than 100,000 people known as Métis, of mixed-blood Cree, French, and other Canadian ancestry. Though many Cree regard the Metis as Cree brethren--and, indeed, though many registered Cree Indians are also mixed-blood--the Metis have a unique culture and their own creole tongue (known as Michif). The Atikamek and the Innu (Montagnais and Naskapi) are also related to the Cree but consider themselves distinct.

History: Cree history is very hard to synopsize because the Cree tribe spans such a broad territory, from the Rocky Mountains all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Though their common culture and language bind them together as a people, the James Bay Cree and Woodland Cree tribes do not necessarily have any more shared history than the white people in Quebec and Alberta do. With that caveat, though, the Cree Indians as a whole have weathered European colonization better than perhaps any other group of Native Americans. Their sheer numbers and broad range helped keep them from being too decimated by European diseases to maintain stability, as happened to many smaller nations, and their particular cultural affinity for intertribal marriage (remarked upon in the oral histories of their Indian neighbors) meshed well with the intent of the French, the primary Europeans to have dealings with them. Where the English tended to try to move Indian groups further away from their civilization, the French tried to engulf them. The Cree, who had held a similar attitude towards colonization before the French ever got there, engulfed back. The result was the Metis, a race of primarily French-Cree mixed-bloods, and distinct French and Cree populations who generally got along pretty well. Since Canadian nationhood, the Cree people have faced the same problems of self-determination and land control that every aboriginal group has, but they remain better-equipped to face them than most, and the Cree language is one of the few North American languages sure of surviving into the next century.



Cree Language Resources
Cree language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Cree Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Cree Indians past and present.

Cree Indians Fact Sheet
Our answers to frequently asked questions about the Crees, their language and culture.

Cree Legends
Introduction to Cree Indian mythology.



Cree Language Resources

Our Online Cree Language Materials

Cree Vocabulary:
    List of vocabulary words in the Cree language, with comparison to words in other Algonquian languages.
Cree Pronunciation Guide:
    How to pronounce Cree words.
Cree Animal Words:
    Illustrated glossary of animal words in the Plains Cree language.
Cree Body Parts:
    Online and printable worksheets showing parts of the body in the Cree language.
Cree Colors:
    Worksheet showing color words in the Cree language.
Cree Numbers:
    Worksheet showing how to count in the Cree language.
Cree Possession:
    Lesson on the use of Cree possessive prefixes.
Cree Animate Nouns:
    Lesson on Cree animate and inanimate nouns.

Cree Dictionaries, Audio Tapes and Language Resources

Alberta Elders' Cree Dictionary (Plains/Woods) * Cree Words * Cree-English Lexicon:
    Cree dictionaries.
Spoken Cree: Level One * Spoken Cree: Level Two:
    Cree, Language of the Plain (Audiotape) * Cree Syllabics Manual:
    Cree language books and tapes for sale.
Outline for a Comparative Grammar of some Algonquian Languages:
    Linguistics text comparing the Cree language to several other Algonquian languages.
Cree Language * Cree Fontware:
    Cree language software for sale.
Our Grandmother's Lives:
    Reader of Cree-language stories with English translation.
Learning Cree:
    Bibliographies of Innu and Cree language learning materials.
Department of Indian Languages, Literature and Linguistics:
    Language courses in Cree and other indigenous languages at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.
CanTalk:
    Canadian translation service specializing in English, French, Chippewa, and Cree.
Ojibway and Cree Cultural Center:
    OCCC offers Ojibway and Cree translation, transcription, and interpretation.
Cree Language Structures: A Cree Approach * Cree, Language of the Plains:
    Origins of Predicates: Evidence from Plains Cree * Cree Narrative:
    Cree linguistics books for sale.
Eastern Cree Bible:
    New Testament translations into the James Bay Cree language, in print and on audiocassette.
Nipehten Nipehtawaw:
    Plains Cree storybook for children.
Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi Publications * Cree Bibliography:
    Bibliographies of Montagnais, Naskapi, and Cree linguistics papers.
Native American Language Dictionaries:
    Cree and other American Indian dictionaries and language materials for sale.

Cree Language Community and Tools

Cree Font for Macintosh * Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics for Windows:
    Cree fonts for free download.
Anishnaabemowin Radio:
    Ojibwe- and Cree-language radio broadcasts.
Speak Cree:
    Cree language community mailing list, poetry, announcements, and links.
Cree Classes:
    List of Ojibway and Cree language courses in Canada, the US, and by distance learning.

Cree Language Lessons and Linguistic Descriptions

Cree Language Description * James Bay Cree:
    Overviews of the Cree language.
How To Say It In Cree * Cree Language Lessons:
    Online Cree language courses (with pronunciation guides, grammar, vocabulary, and exercises).
East Cree Language Web:
    Language lessons, grammar, traditional stories and an online dictionary in the East Cree dialect.
Cree Syllabics:
    The Cree syllabary.
Cree Syllabary:
    Introduction to the Cree writing system, with a sample text.
Nehiyawewin:
    Cree orthography and text example.
About the Cree Language * Cree Dialects:
    Overviews of Cree dialects.
Cherokee and Cree Writing Systems:
    Argument that Cree and other Native American writing systems predated European conquest.
Cree Language Dictionary:
    Text of an 1874 French-Cree dictionary.
Cree Tipi Words:
    Pictures of tepees with associated Plains Cree vocabulary.

Literature and Texts in the Cree Language

Cree Elders Speak:
    Stories in Cree and Dene, with English translation.
Dyes for Porcupine Quills * .GIF of the syllabics (if you don't have Cree fonts):
    Story in Cree, both Roman alphabet and syllabary, with English translation.
Human Rights: Cree Language * English translation:
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Swampy Cree.
O Canada In Cree:
    Text of the Canadian national anthem in Cree.
Moose Cree Language: * Moose Cree Orthography: * Moose Cree Alphabet * Moose Cree Writing:
    Moose Cree Pronunciation * Moose Cree Text:
    Scanned-in Moose Cree language materials from the Rosetta Project.
Plains Cree Language: * Plains Cree Book: * Plains Cree Alphabet * Plains Cree Orthography * Plains Cree Writing:
    Plains Cree Spelling * Plains Cree Text * Plains Cree Bible Translation * Plains Cree Story:
    Scanned-in Plains Cree language materials from the Rosetta Project.
Lord's Prayer in Central Cree * Western Cree Prayers:
    Cree translations of Christian prayers.
Language Museum: Central Cree * Language Museum: Western Cree:
    Bible passages in the Cree Indian language.
Omushkego (Swampy) Cree * Omushkego Cree in Syllabics * Plains Cree:
    Plaques on the Canadian Human Rights Tribute.

Cree Language Preservation and Usage

Cree Retention Committee:
    Organization dedicated to Cree language maintenance.
Ojibway and Cree Cultural Centre: Language:
    Program to maintain the Ojibway and Cree languages.
Nahentah! Cree:
    Essay about Cree sociolinguistics.
Cree Language of Instruction Project:
    Sociolinguistics paper analyzing the specifics of Cree-language schooling.
Mandate Fulfilled:
    Summary report of the 1997 Cree Language and Culture Language Conference.
Finding My Talk:
    Cree documentary about language loss and revival among the Cree, Tlingit, Mohawk, and Inuit.
House of Languages: Cree:
    Information about Cree language usage.
Plains Cree * Woods Cree * Swampy Cree * Moose Cree * East Inland Cree * East Coastal Cree:
    Demographic information about Cree from the Ethnologue of Languages.
Plains Cree Language Tree * Woods Cree Language Tree * Eastern Cree Language Tree:
    James Bay Cree Language Tree * Moose Cree Language Tree * Swampy Cree Language Tree:
    Theories about Cree's language relationships compiled by Linguist List.
East Cree Language Structures * West Cree Language Structures:
    Cree linguistic profiles and academic bibliographies.

Cree Proper Names

Cree Place Names * Cree Placenames:
    Place names and their meanings in the Cree Indian language.
Aboriginal Place Names of Alberta:
    List of Blackfoot, Stoney, Cree, Slavey, and Sarcee placenames in southern Alberta, with their English translations.
Indian Dog Names:
    Our new fundraiser offering names for dogs and other animals in Native American languages (including Cree).

Additional Resources, Links, and References

  Wikipedia: Cree: * Plains Cree Language:
  Encyclopedia articles on the Cree language.
  La Lengua Cree * Silabario Cree * Idioma Cree:
  Articles on the Cree language in Spanish. With a language map and text examples.
  Cree Language:
  Cree links.
  Cree Tribe:
  Cree Indian books.



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