Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session

Article Title

Obviation in Michif




Michif is a language growing out of the contact between Europeans and Native Americans, mostly French and Cree. Spoken by residents of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, as well as in parts of Canada, it has a noun phrase that is primarily French and a verb phrase and overall syntax that is primarily Cree.

This thesis examines the effect the loss of most Cree nouns has had on the proximate/obviative distinction usually found in Algonquian languages, of which Cree is one. This distinction is a cross-referencing system for identifying which of several third persons in a given context is being referred to by a given verb. In a language that has lost most of its Cree nouns it is possible that this distinction might have been lost when most of the Cree noun morphology was lost.

I present a sketch of Michif verb morphology, then examine the literature on obviation in Algonquian languages. This is followed by the presentation of a technique for eliciting obviative forms in Michif along with the results of the use of this technique. I conclude that the loss of most Cree nouns has not lead to a loss of the proximate/obviative distinction, but that sociolinguistic factors surrounding the replacement of Michif by English on the reservation may be leading to such a loss.

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