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How's your Michif and Bungi?

Mark Abley, Freelance The Gazette Saturday, April 13, 2013 We are the inheritors of silence, the heirs of languages that have fallen over ti e! "n 1#3#, $hen a baffled %ac&ues 'artier sailed upriver to $hat $e kno$ as the island of Montreal, he $as discovered by the people of (ochelaga! )ut they and the language they spoke * so e call it +,aurentian,+ others +St! ,a$rence "ro&uoian+ * soon disappeared! -ver the ensuing centuries, the river and the island $ould echo $ith voices speaking (uron, Moha$k, Algon&uin, .aelic, /iddish and other languages that struggle no$ to survive! What ost of us take for granted * a city $hose t$o ain languages are French and 0nglish * is the product of a particular history! For better or $orse, history could have taken a different course! 1he only place in 'anada that can rival Montreal in the richness of its linguistic past is the first a2or city of the $est3 Winnipeg! Apart fro the variety of aboriginal and 0uropean tongues that $ere and are still spoken there, the Winnipeg region also $itnessed the gro$th of a uni&ue language * and of a re arkable dialect of 0nglish! 1he language, $hich goes by the na e of Michif, is a byproduct of the 14th*and 15th* century fur trade! French*speaking voyageurs venturing $est for ed alliances $ith aboriginal $o en, and their children beca e fluent in the languages of both parents! 1he M6tis culture that gre$ up around the 7ed 7iver in southern Manitoba relied not only on French and 'ree 8and, to so e e9tent, -2ib$a and Assiniboine:, but also on a rich and subtle blend of these languages3 Michif! "ts nouns consistently co e fro French, its verbs fro aboriginal tongues! ;ntil they found out about Michif, e9perts considered such a language i possible! 1oday, hundreds of M6tis people across Western 'anada kno$ so e for of Michif, and efforts are under$ay to preserve it for the future! /ou can $atch kitchen*table conversations in the language on /ou1ube! 1he proble is that Michif, al$ays an infor al eans of conversing, has no standard or accepted version! 1he vocabulary differs fro place to place, depending largely on $hich aboriginal nation the voyageurs ade contact $ith generations ago! Michif is, at least, alive! Which is ore than can be said about )ungi 8also spelled )ungee:, a dialect of 0nglish that has nothing to do $ith 2u ping into oblivion $hile attached to an elastic cord! "t<s a counterpart to Michif3 an idio that developed in $hat<s no$ northern Manitoba, a ong the children of aboriginal $o en and Scottish traders e ployed by the (udson<s )ay 'o pany! ;nlike Michif, ho$ever, )ungi $as not a separate language! A dialect of 0nglish, it incorporated both 'ree and Scottish $ords 8the na e itself probably co es fro the -2ib$a $ord +panki,+ eaning +a little+:!

0ventually, it spread south as far as Winnipeg! 1he final speakers are thought to have died in recent years! So e $ords typical of )ungi $ould be fa iliar to ost people $ith a )ritish background, such as +cheeky+ 8i pudent: and +tuck+ 8a s&uare eal:! ,ess fa iliar are e9pressions like +kitchen s$eats+ 8a dance in a private ho e: and + oo*ley+ 8dehorned:, $hich clearly had a 'eltic origin! 1hen there are the 'ree ter s! +'hi uck+ eant to die suddenly, as in +When " die, "<ll go chi uck!+ "f a boat $ent +apichek$ani,+ it turned upside do$n! +=eeya + eant +never ind!+ And so on! Speakers of )ungi had a distinctive pronunciation, too * influenced by 'ree, they gave e&ual $eight to the syllables in $ords like +bannock+ and +canoe!+ 1hey also talked in a lilting, singsong tone! )ungi ight be alive yet if only its speakers hadn<t gro$n self*conscious, even asha ed! " gre$ up in Western 'anada, yet " never heard a $ord about either Michif or )ungi! Much of the infor ation in this colu n is derived fro a 154> thesis by 0leanor )lain, a linguist in Manitoba $ho recorded a fe$ of the re aining speakers! -ne of the , a lady over ?0, told her +that " don<t like to hear yself on tape because <" sound 2ust like an old "ndian!< + )ungee, in short, $as stig ati@ed! ,ike so any rural dialects, it carried a social disadvantage! 1he ainstrea , by contrast, shone $ith a pale and terrible gla our! As usual, %oni Mitchell $as right3 +/ou don<t kno$ $hat you got till it<s gone!+ arkableyAsy patico!ca B Montreal .a@ette 2013 )ungi ight be alive yet if only its speakers hadn<t gro$n self*conscious, even asha ed! " gre$ up in Western 'anada, yet " never heard a $ord about either Michif or )ungi! Much of the infor ation in this colu n is derived fro a 154> thesis by 0leanor )lain Csee belo$D, a linguist in Manitoba $ho recorded a fe$ of the re aining speakers! -ne of the , a lady over ?0, told her +that " don<t like to hear yself on tape because <" sound 2ust like an old "ndian!< + )ungee, in short, $as stig ati@ed! ,ike so any rural dialects, it carried a social disadvantage! 1he ainstrea , by contrast, shone $ith a pale and terrible gla our! As usual, %oni Mitchell $as right3 +/ou don<t kno$ $hat you got till it<s gone!+ arkableyAsy patico!ca )iography of 0leanor M! )lain 0leanor M! )lain $as a graduate student 8,inguistics: at the ;niversity of Manitoba! She graduated $ith a Master degree in 1545! While $orking on her thesis The Bungee dialect of the Red River Settlement, , she collected an oral history of the 7ed 7iver Settle ent

and )ungee dialect! 1he part of this collection also contains aterial collected by Frank Walters 8Eieces of the East3 'ollection of 1ales of -ld 7ed 7iver:!

0dited and 'o piled by ,a$rence )ark$ell 'oordinator of Metis (eritage and (istory 7esearch ,ouis 7iel "nstitute