Mi'kmaq language/Grammar

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Chapter 5
Lesson : Mi'kmaq language
Previous chapter:Phonology
Next chapter :Counting

Mi'kmaq uses free word order, based on emphasis rather than a traditionally fixed order of subjects, objects and verbs. For instance, the sentence "I saw a moose standing right there on the hill" could be stated "sapmi'k ala nemaqt'k na tett ti'am kaqamit" (I saw him/there/on the hill/right-there/a moose/he was standing) or "sapmi'k ala ti'am nemaqt'k na tett kaqamit" (I saw him/there/a moose/on the hill/right-there/he was standing); the latter sentence puts emphasis on the moose by placing ti'am (moose) earlier in the utterance. Further complicating matters is the fact that Mi'kmaq, as a polysynthetic language, has verbs which usually contain the sentence's subject and object: for instance, the aforementioned sapmi'k translates to "I saw him".

Like other Algonquian languages, Mi'kmaq language has three types of words: nouns, verbs and particles. The particles' type includes the pronouns.

Note: all the words in the below tables are in Francis-Smith orthography, for more details, see Chapter 3.

Nouns[edit | edit source]

Mi'kmaq language has two genders for nouns which is called "animacy" for Algonquian languages. Those are "animate" and "inanimate". Animate nouns include persons, animals, spirits and large trees as well as some objects. While it is straightforward for persons and animals, it is not the case for all words. For example, in Mi'kmaq, the calf of the leg is an animate noun while the thigh is inanimate and a raspberry is animate while a strawberry is inanimate.

Examples of animate nouns
Mi'kmaq word English translation
aqam snowshoe
awa'qi'kn crooked knife
klitaw raspberry
mg'sn shoe
snawei maple tree
tmaqan smoking pipe
Examples of inanimate nouns
Mi'kmaq word English translation
a's'tuo'kuom church
ki'k your house
klpisun anchor
lasup soup
pe'skewey gun
sismo'qon sugar

Verbs[edit | edit source]

In Mi'kmaq verbs are either transitive or intransitive and both can be animate or inanimate. The animacy of intransitive verbs depends on the animacy of the subject they refer to. For example, the Mi'kmaq verb "she moves fast" is intransitive animate while the verb "it moves fast" is intransitive inanimate (assuming the "it" is an inanimate object). For transitive verbs, it is the animacy of the object that determines the animacy of the verb. For example, the verb "I pull him" is transitive animate while the verb "I pull it" is transitive inanimate (again, assuming the "it" is an inanimate object). Note that even if we assume here that "it" is an inanimate Mi'kmaq word, you need to remember that some objects are also animate words.

Examples of verbs
Mi'kmaq word English translation Type
Alasumteket He/she walks through snow Intransitive animate
Ekuma'toq He/she anchors it (inanimate object) Transitive inanimate
Etlatalk He/she is eating Intransitive animate
Malqutk He/she eats it (inanimate food) Transitive inanimate
Malqomatl He/she eats it (animate food) Transitive animate
Meni'kwet He/she strips off birch bark Intransitive animate

Particles[edit | edit source]

Particles is the third word type in Algonquian languages, including Mi'kmaq. Since pronouns in Mi'kmaq are not inflected, they are considered as the same word type as particles.

Examples of particles
Mi'kmaq word English translation
aqq and
ala' that
ki'l you
nankmiw immediately
ni'n I
ula' this