LINGUIST List 6.744

Mon 29 May 1995

Sum: Cree dialects

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  1. , 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
- 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
*************End of original query*****************************************

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

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
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
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

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

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
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

)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
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