This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Nuts and Bolts: Swampy Cree.

If there's a language in the world with a more lovable name than Swampy Cree then I don't know what it is.

Swampy Cree is spoken in a series of communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario. In 1982 there were only about 4,500 speakers of Swampy Cree, and some of those speakers showed the influence of Moose Cree in their speech (Moose Cree? There's a language called Moose Cree? How brilliant is that?).

Swampy Cree is fantastic. It has no adjectives at all, so if you want to say "he is strong" you have to say, more or less, "he strongs".

It doesn't have male, female and neuter, either: instead it divides the world into alive and not-alive. Mostly it's easy to tell which is which, though kettles, stones and, most remarkably, socks, come into the alive category.

(Actually, the sock thing is deeply sinister and horrifying, and I'm jolly glad that our laundry basket lives safely on the landing.)

Swampy Cree writing was introduced by James Evans in the 1860s. Swampy Cree speakers were thrilled with it, and nearly all of them became literate in a very short space of time.

Here's an example:

Sample text in Cree

(misiwe ininiw tipenimitisowinik eshi nitawikit nesta peywakan kici ishi kanawapamikiwisit kistenimitisowinik nesta minikowisiwima. e pakitimamacik kaketawenitamowininiw nesta mitonenicikaniniw nesta wicikwesitowinik kici ishi kamawapamitocik.)

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 1 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It suddenly strikes me that if that particular passage has been translated into Swampy Cree then it must have been translated into pretty much every language on earth.

You wouldn't think it, sometimes, would you.

Word To Use Today: swampy. This word probably comes from the Middle Dutch somp, and before that from the Greek somphos, which means sponge.

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