Please join the Language Variation and Change Workshop this Friday, November 11th at 3:30 PM in Cobb 116, for a talk from our invited speaker, Nicole Rosen. Details below.
“Nominal Contact in the Michif Language”
University of Manitoba
Michif is an endangered Metis language with its roots in the Fur Trade in Canada, where it arose through the intermarriage of Cree and French people in Canada’s Red River Valley. It is considered a contact language, mixing Plains Cree and French. Michif has received considerable attention in the language contact literature due to its seemingly unusual syntactic and phonological patterns arising from the French-Plains Cree contact situation in which it was created. Bakker (1997) described the language as being formed through a process called language intertwining, resulting in a mixed language posited to have an NP/VP split, where French lexical items pattern like French and Cree lexical items pattern like Plains Cree. Since this time, the accepted view of the language is that the French-source DPs behave like French, while the Cree-source VPs behave like Plains Cree. In this talk I will argue against this received view, showing that this analysis of Michif holds only at a very superficial level. Once we examine the constituency of the DP and investigate the underlying structure in a more rigorous manner, the picture becomes quite different. Using evidence from gender, number and DP constituency, I show that the Michif DP in fact shows very little structural similarity to its parent French DP. As a result, with the one domain said to be French no longer looking French-like, we are left with a language which follows regular Algonquian-type syntax and semantics, with some particularities to allow for the introduction of French elements and some resulting Michif-specific innovations. Although it may be useful to historical linguists to describe its creation as V-N language mixing, I argue that this designation holds little insight into synchronic patterning of the Michif grammar, and that there is little motivation for this exoticization of the language, which patterns according to structures already available cross-linguistically.