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Native Languages of the Americas: Montagnais Innu (Innu-Aimun, Innu Aionun)

Le Montagnais (French version)

Language:: Montagnais Innu is an Algonkian language spoken by more than 9000 people in eastern Canada. The Montagnais and Naskapi are actually part of the same Indian nation, calling themselves Innu; their languages, however, have diverged enough that most linguists consider them separate languages (though some do class Naskapi as a dialect of Montagnais, or both as dialects of the Cree language). Montagnais is certainly very closely related to Cree, about as similar in features as Spanish is to Italian.

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Montagnais speakers call their own language Innu-Aimun, or Innu Aionun; since Naskapi speakers also call their language Innu-aimun, linguists tend to refer to the two languages as Montagnais Innu and Naskapi Innu for clarity's sake. Though the Innu face many social crises today, language loss is not one of them, and most Montagnais children are raised speaking their native language. Illiteracy is a bigger problem in these impoverished communities, where education is inadequate and usually in French. When the Montagnais language is written, the French alphabet is usually used. As many as 3000 Innu are monolingual in their native tongue, with the rest also speaking French (particularly in Quebec) or English (in Labrador). Like Cree and other Algonquian languages, Montagnais is a polysynthetic language with long words, complex verb morphology, and fairly free word order.

People: The two peoples known to white settlers as 'Montagnais' and 'Naskapi' were actually members of the same people, Innu. Living in different areas and wearing different clothing styles, they were dealt with separately by the colonizing Europeans, who called the larger group "Montagnais" (French for "mountaineer") and the smaller group "Naskapi" (Montagnais for "lousy dressers." I am not making that up.) Despite any deeply-held beliefs they might have had about whose fashion sense was superior, however, the Naskapi and Montagnais Indians have always considered themselves different communities within the same nation, and many Innu reject the labels "Montagnais" and "Naskapi" entirely. There are about 14,000 Innu people in Labrador and Quebec today, of whom all but 800 are Montagnais. Though the Innu and Inuit are neighbors, the similarity between their names is coincidental--their languages are not at all related and have no more in common with each other than with English.

History: Early Innu relations with Europeans were friendly and mutually beneficial, as the Innu traded furs with the French and allied with them against the Iroquois Confederacy. Unfortunately for the Innu, once other Europeans had erased the initial French advantage by selling firearms to the Iroquois as well, that powerful alliance of nations defeated French, Innu, and Algonquin alike, and between war and European diseases, the Innu population was decimated. The survivors were settled in villages by well-intended Europeans, but Innu land, unlike the land of the village-based Indians elsewhere in North America, was not well-suited to agriculture, and deprived of the their previously effective hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the Innu rapidly fell into poverty and dependency. The Innu tribe today is struggling to regain control over their traditional lands, which the governments of Canada and Quebec are using for mining, logging, building power plants, and running military exercises without the permission of the natives trying to eke out a living there. Most recently, mercury runoff from the power plants contaminated the drinking water of the Innu and their neighbors the Attikamek, and the Innu people are now calling for all industrial projects on Innu land to be immediately suspended.

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

Innu Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Innu people past and present.

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

Innu Legends
Introduction to Naskapi and Montagnais Indian mythology.

Montagnais Language Resources

Our Online Montagnais Language Materials

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

Montagnais Dictionaries and Language Books for Sale
Our organization earns a commission from any book bought through these links

Le Dictionnaire Montagnais-Français:
    Montagnais-French dictionary for sale (out of print, used copies go in and out of stock)
Labrador Innu-aimun:
    Sheshatshiu (Montagnais) Innu language learning workbook for sale. (CD may be available soon as well!)
Cree, Montagnais, Naskapi * Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi Publications:
    Bibliographies of Cree, Naskapi, and Montagnais language materials.
Société de Communication Atikamekw-Montagnais:
    Information about radio programming in Atikamekw and Montagnais Innu. Page in French.
English-Native American Dictionaries:
    Innu and other native language dictionaries and language materials for sale.

Montagnais Language Lessons and Linguistic Descriptions

    Website dedicated to the Naskapi and Montagnais Innu languages, with online lessons, texts, and linguistics papers. Mostly PDF format.
Cree Language Distribution:
    Map showing the areas in Canada where Atikamekw, Innu and Cree are spoken.
Montagnais Language, Alphabet and Pronunciation:
    Phonological inventory of Montagnais, with a sample text.
    Linguistic analysis of an Innu word
La Langue Montagnaise:
    Grammar, phonology, and verb morphology of Montagnais Innu. Page in French.
    Montagnais Innu orthography and text example.
Montagnais Language Tree:
    Theories about Montagnais Innu language relationships compiled by Linguist List.
Montagnais Innu Language Structures:
    Montagnais linguistic profile and academic bibliography.

Montagnais Dictionaries and Vocabulary Sets

Montagnais Innu Lexique:
    French-Montagnais glossaries.
    Short glossary of Innu toboggan terms, with information about toboggans.

Literature and Texts in the Montagnais Language

Myths and Tales From Sheshatshiu:
    Online collection of stories in the Montagnais Innu language. PDF format.
Montagnais Innu Prayers:
    Montagnais translation of the Lord's Prayer.
The World Around Me * Taking Charge:
    Oral history passages from Montagnais Innu speakers, with a few words glossed in French.

Montagnais Language Preservation and Usage

    Demographic information about Montagnais Innu from the Ethnologue of Languages.

Montagnais Proper Names

Innu Placenames in Nitassinan * Innu Place Names:
    Innu placenames (primarily Montagnais).
Native American Dog Names:
    Our new fundraiser offering names for dogs and other animals in Native American languages including Montagnais Innu.

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Additional Resources, Links, and References

  Wikipedia: Montagnais:
  Encyclopedia articles on the Montagnais Innu language.
  La Lengua Montañés:
  Article on the Montagnais Innu language in Spanish. With a language map.
  Montagnais Innu Language:
  Montagnais links.
  Montagnais Tribe:
  Montagnais Indian books.

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