Michif Language

Michif is the Language of the Metis Nation. It is a complex mix of:

  • Cree
  • French
  • English
  • Ojibwe
  • Assiniboine

Currently, Michif is spoken in scattered Métis communities in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada and in North Dakota in the U.S., with about 50 speakers in Alberta, all over age 60. There are some 230 speakers of Michif in the United States, most of whom live in North Dakota, particularly in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. There are around 300 Michif speakers in the Northwest Territories, northern Canada.

Michif emerged in the early 19th century as a mixed language, and adopted a consistent character between about 1820 and 1840.

In general, Michif noun phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax are derived from Métis French, while verb phrase phonology, lexicon, morphology, and syntax are from a southern variety of Plains Cree. (a western dialect of Cree.) Articles and adjectives are also of Métis French origin, but demonstratives are from Plains Cree.

The Michif language is unusual (and possibly even unique) among mixed languages, in that rather than forming a simplified grammar, it developed by incorporating complex elements of the chief languages from which it was born. French-origin noun phrases retain lexical gender and adjective agreement; Cree-origin verbs retain much of their polysynthetic structure. This suggests that instead of haltingly using words from another's tongue, the people who gradually came to speak Michif were fully fluent in both French and Cree.

The Michif language was first brought to scholarly attention in 1976 by John Crawford at the University of North Dakota. Much of the subsequent research on Michif was also related to UND, including four more pieces by Crawford, plus work by Evans, Rhodes, and Weaver.