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To appear in the Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages (2016)

Title:

Critical Mass in Michif

Authors:

Carrie Gillon

Nicole Rosen

Affiliations:

Arizona State University

University of Manitoba

Addresses:

Department of English

Department of Linguistics

Arizona State University

Fletcher Argue 54

P.O. Box 870302

15 Chancellors Circle

Tempe, AZ 85287-0302

University of Manitoba

USA

Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 5V5


Canada

email:

carrie.gillon@asu.edu nicole.rosen@umanitoba.ca

telephone:

480-965-0926

204-474-8568

Critical Mass in Michif*


In this paper, we examine mass and count in Michif, a language
often called a mixed language, which has elements from French
(and English) and Cree (and Ojibwe). French has an obvious
grammatical mass/count distinction (Doetjes 1997); Cree does not.
Michif could therefore display a mass/count distinction, like
French, or look like it lacks one, like Cree. In fact, the system is
mixed (contra Croft 2003:58): French-derived nominals display an
obvious mass/count distinction and the Cree-derived nominals do
not. Number, numerals and quantifiers disambiguate within the
French-derived part of the grammar but do not in the Cree-derived
part. Michif has inherited both the French system and the Cree
system, reflected in the behaviour of the nominals.
(Keywords: Michif, mixed languages, mass-count distinction, nominals)

1. Introduction
Michif is a language spoken by at least a few hundred Metis people, mostly
located in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada. It is usually called a mixed
language (Bakker 1997, Thomason 2003), due to the inability to trace Michif back
to a single language family. The majority of verbal elements in Michif come from
Cree (or Ojibwe) (Algonquian) and the majority of DP elements come from
French (or English) (Indo-European). As Michif is generally considered to be the
** Special thanks to Grace Zoldy of Camperville, Manitoba, and Verna Demontigny and Harvey
Pelletier, originally of Binscarth, Manitoba, our Michif language consultants. Other
acknowledgements here.

quintessential mixed language, there is a fair bit of discussion regarding its


categorization within contact languages and regarding its patterning in
comparison with that of its principal source languages, French and Plains Cree.
Bakker (1997) claims that Michif syntax is mixed, while Michif phonology
consists of a split system: there are two separate phonological inventories based
on language source, and French items pattern with French phonology, while Cree
items pattern with Cree phonology (see also Rhodes 1986, Bakker & Papen 1997
for arguments for a split phonology). In the case of Michif syntax, Bakker (1997)
examines the categorial sources within Michif as well as some agreement
patterning, and determines that the syntax is mixed Algonquian-French. In the
phonology, he focuses primarily on inventorial arguments to make his claim that
there are two phonological grammars. However, in comparing phonological
conflict sites (i.e. areas in which the grammars of the source languages differ
(Poplack 1993)), Rosen (2006, 2007) find little evidence for a split phonology1.
In this paper we turn to a syntactic conflict site between Plains Cree and French,
investigating the patterning of mass and count nouns in Michif. As Plains Cree
and French appear to treat mass2 nouns differently, Michif is potentially mixed
with respect to the mass/count distinction.
Algonquian languages do not appear to distinguish between count and
mass nouns (Rhodes 1990, Wiltschko 2009a, b; however see Mathieu 2007/in
press and Gillon 2009 for counterarguments).
(1)

a.waabigan/waabigan-ag

b.

bkwezhgan/bkwezhgan-an

1 Though note that Rosen & Brodner (2012) find that while most vowels in synchronic Michif
may be analyzed as a patterning as a single system, the shift from two phonologies to a unified
phonology may not be complete, as low vowels appear to still pattern separately, unlike the mid
and high vowels.
2 As we discuss below, mass is not the correct term. For the purposes of exposition we use the
term here.

bread/bread-IN.PL3

clay/clay-AN.PL

(Ojibwe; Mathieu 2007)


(2)

a.aaapan/aaapa-istsi

b.

isstsskn/isstssk-istsi

blood/blood-PL

dust/dust-PL
(Blackfoot; Frantz & Russell 1989)

(3)

a.

miku/miku-a

b.

pim/pim-a

blood/blood-IN.PL

oil/oil-IN.PL
(Innu-aimun; Gillon under review)

English and French, on the other hand, do distinguish morphologically


between count and mass nouns (Jespersen 1909, Doetjes 1997, Chierchia 1998,
among many others).
(4)

(5)

a.

clay/*clays4

c.

blood/*bloods

d.

dust/*dusts

e.

oil/*oils

f.

ink/*inks

a.

argile/*argiles

b.

pain/*pains

b.

bread/*breads

clay/clays
c.

le sang/*les sangs

bread/breads
d.

poussire/*poussires

3 In this paper, we use the following abbreviations. AN: animate, F: feminine, DEF: definite, DEM:
demonstrative, DET: determiner, DIST: distal, IN: inanimate, INDEF: indefinite, M: masculine, PL:
plural, PROX: proximate, and SG: singular.
4 Some of these allow the kind reading oils = types of oil. These readings are unavailable in
Algonquian languages (Mathieu in press; Gillon under review), as we discuss below.

blood/*bloods
e.

huile/*huiles
oil/oils

dust/*dusts
f.

lencre/*les encres
ink/*inks

Given that Michif has vocabulary from both types of languages, the
question arises whether it takes after French and English or after Cree and Ojibwe
when it comes to the mass/count distinction. That is, does it freely allow plural
mass nouns like Algonquian languages, or are plural mass nouns dispreferred, like
French and English (as Croft 2003 claims)? There is a third option: that the
French/English-derived nouns display a mass/count distinction and the
Algonquian-derived nouns do not, a mixed syntactic system.
We show that the third option is the correct one. Michif is mixed with
respect to mass and count. This raises issues for the acquisition of such a system.
It also raises questions about how such a mixed system works. The nouns must in
some sense carry their history on their sleeves.
This paper has the following structure. In 2, we provide a sketch of Michif
nominals. In 3, we discuss our assumptions about the mass/count distinction, as
well as the mass/count distinction in French and English, and the (probable) lack
of one in Algonquian. In 4, we compare the French/English-derived nouns to the
Algonquian-derived nouns in Michif, showing that the two sets of nouns pattern
differently with respect to the mass/count distinction. In 5, we discuss some
issues that arise with respect to a split mass/count system.

2. Background on Michif
Michif was created by the Mtis people, the descendants of French fur traders and

Algonquian women who emerged as a new identity in the late 18th century in the
Red River Settlements in Manitoba. It is estimated to be spoken today by several
hundred Mtis people, primarily in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Most (but not
all) nominal elements come from French (exceptions: demonstratives and most
quantifiers). Most (but not all) verbal elements come from Cree. In (6) below, the
French-derived vocabulary is italicized; the Cree-derived vocabulary is bolded.
(6)

a.

Li

kofii

for

pi

ka-maayishpakwak nimiyoihten

DEF.SG.M

coffee strong and that-tastes.bad

I.like.it

I like strong, bitter coffee.


b.

Saenk lii

sheezh ver

five

chair green I.have.them

DET.PL

ndajaan.

I have five green chairs.


2.1 Michif nominal agreement
Michif nouns are marked for grammatical gender on determiners, as in French.
(7)

a.

la

fij

DEF.F.SG

girl

b.

the girl

(8)

a.

garson

DEF.M.SG

boy

the boy

la

tab

DEF.F.SG

table

the table

li

b.

li

nii

DEF.M.SG

nose

the nose

Michif nouns are marked for animacy on demonstratives, as in Plains Cree.


(9)

a.

awa

la

fij

DEM.PROX.AN.PL

DEF.F.SG

girl

this girl
b.

ooma

li

nii

DEM.PROX.IN.SG

DEF.SG.M

nose

this nose
(Most) Michif nouns are marked for plurality on determiners, as in French.
(10)

a.

li

nii

DEF.SG.M

nose

b.

the nose
c.

lii

nii

DET.PL

nose

the noses

la

fiiy

DEF.SG.F

girl

d.

the girl

lii

fiiy

DET.PL

girl

the girls

They can also be marked for plurality on demonstratives, as in Plains Cree.

(11)

a.

ooma

li

nii

DEM.PROX.IN.SG

DEF.SG.M

nose

this nose
b.

ohi

lii

nii

DEM.PROX.IN.PL

DET.PL

nose

these noses
c.

awa

la

fiiy

DEM.PROX.AN.SG

DEF.SG.F

girl

this girl
d.

okik

lii

fiiy

DEM.PROX.AN.PL

DET.PL

girl

these girls
Determiners thus agree with their nouns with respect to gender or number (like
French), and demonstratives agree with their nouns with respect to animacy and
number (like Algonquian).
2.2 Michif determiners and demonstratives
The Michif determiner and demonstrative systems are given in Tables 1 and 2
respectively.

Masculine

definite
indefinite

Singular
li
aen

Plural

Feminine

definite
indefinite

la
en
Table 1.

lii

Michif determiners (Rosen 2003)

Animate
Inanimate

Singular
awa
ana
naha
ooma
anima
neema
Table 2.

Proximate
Distal
More distal
Proximate
Distal
More distal

Plural
okik
anikik
neekik
onhin
anihi
neehi

Michif demonstratives (Rosen 2003)


French- and English-derived nominals always take a determiner (indefinite or
definite), even those with a numeral, quantifier or demonstrative (Rosen 2003), as
in (12a-c), other than a few nouns derived from former French partitives (12d).
(12)

a.

trwa

li

zhvo

anikik

three

DEF.SG.M

horse

DEM.DIST.AN.PL

those three horses

b.

peyak aen

zhveu

one

hair

INDEF.M

one hair
c.

mishtayi

lii

zhveu

lots

DET.PL

hair

lots of hair
d.

mishtayi

diloo

lots

water

lots of water
Cree- and Ojibwe-derived nominals do not require a determiner, either on their
own or with numerals or quantifiers.
(13)

a.

anihi

(lii)

takweminaan-a

kakijaw
DEM.DIST.IN.PL

(DET.PL)

chokecherry-IN.PL

all

all those chokecherries


b.

(li)

takwaminaan ooma

(DET.PL)

chokecherry

DEM.PROX.IN.SG

this chokecherry
c.

payyek

kimoutiwin

one

loot

one stolen good

d.

takwaminaan-a
chokecherry-IN.PL
chokecherries

e.

mishtayi

takwaminaan-a

10

lots

chokecherry-IN.PL

lots of chokecherries
2.3 Summary
Michif determiners are derived from French, while the demonstratives and most
quantifiers are derived from Cree. Grammatical gender and animacy are marked
on determiners and demonstratives: the determiners agree in gender with the
noun, as in French, while the demonstratives agree in animacy, as in Algonquian.
Further, Cree-derived nouns do not require (though may combine with) a
determiner, as in Algonquian, and unlike the French-derived nouns, which behave
like French nouns. The blending of Algonquian and Romance features have led to
labeling Michif as a mixed, or intertwined language (Bakker 1997).

3. Mass and count in English and French vs. Algonquian


When we look at a putative mass/count distinction, we have to distinguish
between the semantic and syntactic notions of mass and count. Following Bale &
Barner (2009), we will refer to individuated nouns for semantically count nouns
and non-individuated nouns for semantically mass nouns in Algonquian and
Michif, reserving mass for grammatically mass nouns and count for
grammatically count nouns.
3.1 Mass vs. count nouns in English and French
3.1.1 Diagnostics for mass/count
In English and French, there are a number of grammatical processes that
distinguish between mass and count nouns (Jespersen 1909, Doetjes 1997,

11

Chierchia 1998). Specifically, mass and count nouns differ in their ability to be
pluralized, the (in)ability to occur with numerals without a measure phrase, and
the (in)ability to occur with certain determiners or quantifiers (Chierchia 1998).
Count nouns can be pluralized; mass nouns cannot (without coercion, see
3.1.2 for a discussion of coercion).
(14)

count: lauto, les autos, la table, les tables, etc.


car, cars, table, tables, etc.
mass: le sang, *les sangs, lencre, *les encres, etc.
blood, *bloods, ink, *inks, etc.

Only count nouns can co-occur with numerals without a measure phrase.
(15)

count: un auto, deux autos, une table, deux tables


one car, two cars, one table, two tables
mass: *un sang, *deux sangs, *un encre, *deux encres
*one blood, *two bloods, one ink, two inks

Some determiners and quantifiers only occur with count nouns, while others only
occur with mass nouns (16).
(16)

a.

count: un auto, plusieurs autos, plusieurs tables, quelques tables


a car, many cars, many tables, some tables
mass: *un sang, *plusieurs sangs, *quelques sangs
*a blood, *many bloods, *some bloods

12

b.

count: *little car, *much car


mass

little blood, much blood

can be pluralized
need a measure phrase/classifier with numeral
some quantifiers/determiners disambiguate
Table. 3

mass
no
yes
yes

count
yes
no
yes

Classic diagnostics for mass/count


English makes a grammatical distinction between count and mass nouns.
However, this grammatical distinction is not mapped from the semantic
distinction in a one-to-one fashion. In languages like English, most mass nouns do
not denote individuals. However, there are some mass nouns which are inherently
countable and do denote individuals. Doetjes (1997) makes a distinction between
mass-mass nouns (inherently uncountable) and count-mass nouns (inherently
countable).
(17)

a.

mass-mass nouns: oil, water, mud, blood, (non-individuated)

b.

count-mass nouns: furniture, hair, change, corn, (individuated)

c.

count-count nouns: cat, dog, human, table, chair, (individuated)

That is, there is a mismatch between the (non)-individuation of the nouns in (17b)
and their syntax. (Note that these mismatches vary from language to language. In
French, for example, meuble furniture is a count noun. In Italian, consiglio
advice is also count.)

13

3.1.2 Coercion
In languages like English, nouns can be coerced from count to mass, or mass to
count. The universal grinder (Pelletier 1975; ascribed to David Lewis) creates
mass nouns out of count nouns, as in (18).
(18)

There is banana in this smoothie.

Here, banana does not refer to an object, but rather banana stuff. Doetjes (1997)
argues that any noun describing a physical object can undergo the grinder;
abstract nouns cannot.
There are two ways to create count nouns out of mass nouns: the
universal sorter (Bunt 1985) and the universal packager (Jackendoff 1991).
The universal sorter provides kinds (19a), whereas the universal packager
provides portions (19b).
(19)

a.

I ordered oils.

(types of oil)

b.

I ordered beers.

(bottles/glasses of beer)

Doetjes (1997) argues that mass-count coercion is unpredictable: each


noun is coerced in a different way. As Lima (2010) points out, this means that
mass-count coercion cannot be a grammatical process. Not all languages allow
coercion to the same degree, and languages also vary with respect to which nouns
are coerceable (Doetjes 1997).
3.2 Mass and count in Algonquian

14

3.2.1 The diagnostics applied to Ojibwe and Innu-aimun


Most non-individuated nouns can be pluralized in Ojibwe (Rhodes 1990, Mathieu
2007, in press) and in Blackfoot (Wiltschko 2009a, b). All (known) nonindividuated nouns can be pluralized in Innu-aimun (part of the Cree dialect
continuum; Gillon 2009, under review).
On the surface, it looks as though Algonquian languages lack a mass/count
distinction. Researchers are split as to whether this is true. Rhodes (1990) argues
that Ojibwe lacks a grammatical distinction, as does Wiltschko (2009a, b) for
Blackfoot.
In Ojibwa there is no grammatical distinction like the mass/count
distinction of Indo-European. Thus mkwam can equally mean ice
or piece of ice. Nbiish can mean water or an amount of water.
(Rhodes
1990: 153)
However, Mathieu (2007, in press) argues that Ojibwe does have a grammatical
mass/count distinction, as does Gillon (2009) for Innu-aimun.
For our purposes, it does not matter if there is in fact a mass/count
distinction in Algonquian. What does matter is how these languages treat nonindividuated nouns. In French and English, non-individuated nouns are not
normally pluralized, do not usually occur with numerals, and cannot occur with
certain quantifiers. In Algonquian, none of these restrictions arise. In this paper,
we focus on the facts on Innu-aimun and Ojibwe.
There is no known non-individuated noun in Innu-aimun which cannot be
pluralized.
(20)

Innu-aimun

15

a.

neku/neku-a

b.

sand/sand-IN.PL
c.

mashkushu/mashkushu-a

breath/breath-IN.PL
d.

grass/grass-IN.PL
e.

kn/kn-at

ashissu/ashissu-at

mtshim/mtshim-a
food/food-IN.PL

f.

snow/snow-AN.PL
g.

neneu/neneu-a

mishkum/mishkum-at
ice/ice-AN.PL

h.

clay/clay-AN.PL

kashkuan/kashkuan-at
cloud/cloud-AN.PL
(Gillon under review)

The situation is more complicated in Ojibwe. Some non-individuated nouns


cannot be pluralized; however, many non-individuated nouns can be.
(21)

Ojibwe
a.

c.

maandaamin/maandaamin-ag b.

waabigan/waabigan-ag

corn/corn-AN.PL

clay/clay-AN.PL

aninaatig/aninaatig-oog

d.

maple/maple-AN.PL
e.

ki/ki-in

grass/grass-AN.PL
f.

earth/earth-IN.PL
g.

azhashki/azhashki-in
mud/mud-IN.PL

mashkosiw/mashkosiw-ag

manoomin/manoomin-an
rice/rice-IN.PL

h.

bkwezhgan/bkwezhgan-an
bread/bread-IN.PL

16

(Mathieu in press)

All individuated nouns in Innu-aimun and Ojibwe can occur with a numeral.
(22)

Innu-aimun
a.

nishtu mashku-at

b.

nishtu ushtshku-a

three bear-AN.PL

three

axe-IN.PL

three bears

three axes
(Gillon in review)

(23)

Ojibwe
a.

niizh

gwiizens-ag

two

boy-AN.PL

b.

two boys

niizh

baagan-an

two

nut-IN.PL

two nuts
(Mathieu in press)

Some non-individuated nouns in Innu-aimun and Ojibwe can also co-occur with a
numeral.5
(24)

Innu-aimun
a.

nishtu npsh-a

b.

nishtu shminpui-a

three tea-IN.PL

three

wine-IN.PL

three cups of tea

three glasses of wine


three bottles of wine

5 However, not all non-individuated nouns in Innu-aimun (or Ojibwe) can co-occur
with a numeral(i)
three

*nishtu

mtshim-a

food-IN.PL

See Gillon (under review) for more examples and discussion.

17

(Gillon under review)


(25)

Ojibwe
a.

n-gii-waaband-aa

bezhig mikom.

1SG-PAST-see-3

one

ice

I saw a (specific) piece of ice.


b.

n-gii-waaband-aa

bezhig manoomin.

1 SG -PAST-see-3

one

rice

I saw a (specific) portion of rice.

(Mathieu in press)

No determiner or quantifier distinguishes between individuated and nonindividuated nouns in either Innu-aimun or Ojibwe.
(26)

Innu-aimun
a.

mtshet

atiku

lots/many

caribou

b.

many caribou
c.

mtshet

namesh

lots/many

fish

d.

mtshet

utenau

lots/many

town

mtshet

lots/many

milk

mtshet

mishkum

lots/many

ice

lots of ice
f.

many towns
g.

ttshinpui

lots of milk

many fish
e.

mtshet

mtshet

mtshim

lots/many

food

lots of food
metukan

h.

mtshet

pim

18

lots/many

toy

lots/many

many toys

oil

lots of oil
(Gillon under review)

(27)

Ojibwe
a.

c.

gakina baagan

b.

gakina azhashki

every nut

every mud

every nut

every piece of mud

gakina gwiizens

d.

gakina ziinzibaakwad

every boy

every sugar

every boy

every piece of sugar


(Mathieu in press)

3.2.2 Coercion in Ojibwe and Innu-aimun


There is less evidence for a non-grammatical coercion process in Ojibwe or Innuaimun. In both languages the universal sorter is not available (see Rhodes 1990,
Mathieu in press for Ojibwe).

(28)

Innu-aimun
a.

nip-a

b.

shminpui-a

water-IN.PL

wine-IN.PL

i)

bottles/glasses of water

i)

bottles of wine

ii)

lots of water

ii)

lots of wine

19

iii) types of water

iii)

types of wine
(Gillon under review)

If there is a coercion process, it is only the universal packager. (However, since


all or most non-individuated noun in each language can be packaged, it looks
like a grammatical process. We set this issue aside.) The universal sorter only
appears to exist in languages with an obvious mass/count distinction.
3.3 Summary
Innu-aimun and Ojibwe look very different from English and French with respect
to the presence/absence of a mass/count distinction. While we remain agnostic as
to the presence/absence of a mass/count distinction in Algonquian, nonindividuated nouns behave different in the two systems. We summarize these
differences in Table 4 below.

plural on non-individuated nouns


numerals can co-occur with

English
no
no

French Innu-aimun Ojibwe


no
yes
yes
no
yes
yes

(some/most) non-individuated nouns


quantifiers disambiguate between

yes

yes

no

no

individuated and non-individuated

20

universal sorter can apply to some

yes

yes

no

no

non-individuated nouns
Table 4.
Mass/count systems
In the next section, we compare Michif to these four languages, using
pluralization, co-occurrence with a numeral, and disambiguation of quantifiers as
diagnostics for the French/English type of system vs. the Algonquian type of
system.

Mass and count in Michif

Does Michif look more like French and English or like Innu-aimun and Ojibwe
with respect to the mass/count distinction? Can non-individuated nouns be freely
pluralized in Michif, co-occur with numerals, and co-occur with the same
quantifiers as individuated nouns (like they can be in Innu-aimun and Ojibwe), or
do they resist pluralization, not co-occur with numerals, nor co-occur with the
same quantifiers and individuated nouns (like they do in French and English)?
Recall that some vocabulary in Michif comes from French (and English)
historically, and some comes from Cree or Ojibwe. There are three possible
patterns in Michif: (i) all non-individuated nouns behave like French/English nonindividuated nouns, regardless of history, (ii) all non-individuated nouns behave
like Cree/Ojibwe non-individuated nouns, regardless of history, and (iii)
French/English-derived non-individuated nouns behave like French/English nonindividuated nouns, whereas Cree/Ojibwe non-individuated nouns behave like
Cree/Ojibwe non-individuated nouns. We will show that Michif displays a split
system, as in the third option.

21

4.1 French and English derived nouns


4.1.1 Plural
French/English-derived individuated nouns can be pluralized via the plural
definite determiner lii.
(29)

a.

li

garson

DEF.SG.M

boy

b.

the boy

lii

garson

DET.PL

boy

(the) boys

French/English-derived non-individuated nouns cannot be pluralized with lii.


(30)

a.

li

manzhi

DEF.SG.M

food

b.

*lii
DET.PL

manzhi
food

the food
c.

li

van

DEF.SG.M

wind

d.

*lii
DET.PL

van
wind

the wind

e.

diloo

f.

water

*lii
DET.PL

diloo
water

water
g.

li

mos

DEF.SG.M

moss

h.

*lii
DET.PL

mos
moss

22

the moss
Another way to mark plurality is via plural demonstratives. Frenchderived individuated nouns can take singular or plural demonstratives. When the
demonstrative is plural, the determiner matches in number.
(31)

a.

li

lii

ooma

DET.PL

bed

DEM.PROX.IN.SG

this bed
b.

lii

lii

ohi

DET.PL

bed

DEM.PROX.IN.PL

these beds
The French-derived non-individuated nouns do not combine with plural
demonstratives.
(32)

a.

*diloo onhin
water

b.

DEM.PROX.IN.PL

water

these waters

(33)

a.

diloo ooma
DEM.PROX.IN.SG

this water

*li/lii
DEF.SG.M/DET.PL

zhuu

onhin

juice

DEM.PROX.IN.PL

these juices
b.

li

zhuu

ooma

DEF.SG.M

juice

DEM.PROX.IN.SG

23

this juice'
(34)

a.

*li/lii
DEF.SG.M/DET.PL

fwen

onhin

grass

DEM.PROX.IN.PL

'these grasses
b.

li

fwen

ooma

DEF.SG.M

grass

DEM.PROX.IN.SG

'this grass
The French vocabulary in Michif follows the French/English pattern.
4.1.2 Indefinite aen
French/English-derived individuated nouns can take the indefinite marker aen.
(35)

ae

garson

INDEF.SG.M

boy

a boy
French/English-derived non-individuated nouns cannot take the indefinite marker
aen.
(36)

a.

li

fwen

DEF.SG.M

straw/hay

b.

*ae
INDEF.SG.M

fwen
straw/hay

straw, hay
c.

li

manzhi

DEF.SG.M

food

d.

*ae
INDEF.SG.M

manzhi
food

24

the food
e.

li

mos

DEF.SG.M

moss

f.

*ae
INDEF.SG.M

mos
moss

the moss
The French vocabulary in Michif follows the French/English pattern.
4.1.3 Numerals
French/English-derived individuated nouns can occur with numerals.
(37)

a,

trwa

li

zhvo

three

DEF.SG.M

horse

the three horses


b.

trwa

aen

zhvo

three

INDEF.SG.M

horse

three horses
c.

trwa

li

garson

three

DEF.SG.M

boy

the three boys


d.

trwa

aen

garson

three

INDEF.SG.M

boy

three boys
French/English-derived non-individuated nouns cannot take numerals. This is

25

perhaps not unexpected, since they cannot be pluralized.


(38)

a.

*trwa
three

lii

fwen

DET.PL

straw

b.

* trwa
three

lii

manzhi

DET.PL

food

If French/English-derived non-individuated nouns occur with a numeral, they


must also occur with some kind of measure.
(39)

deu

boutey diloo

two

bottles water

two bottles of water


Non-individuated nouns can also receive a kind reading, like English and French
mass nouns (and unlike Algonquian non-individuated nouns).
(40)

trwa

wil

three oil
three oils
= three bottles of oil (universal packager)
= three kinds of oil (universal sorter)
The French vocabulary in Michif follows the French/English pattern.
4.1.4 Quantifiers
Most quantifiers do not disambiguate between non-individuated and individuated
French/English-derived nouns. Mishtayi lots can combine with any
French/English-derived noun, regardless of ontological status.

26

(41)

a.

mishtayi

diloo

lots

water

b.

lots of water

mishtayi

lii

zanfan

lots

DET.PL

child

lots of children

However, mishtayi does disambiguate in one way: it requires the plural


determiner lii when it combines with an individuated French/English-derived
noun, but the French/English-derived non-individuated nouns cannot be
pluralized.
(42)

a.

*mishtayi
lots

c.

*mishtayi
lots

lii

diloo b.

DET.PL

water

* mishtayi
lots

li

zanfan

DEF.SG.M

child

lii

wil

DET.PL

oil

One quantifier that unambiguously disambiguates is papeyak one by one.


French-source count nouns can combine with this quantifier
(43)

kii-mowew

anihi

lii

pom

kakijaw

he.ate.it

DEM.DIST.IN.PL

DET.PL

apple all

paapeyak
one.by.one

He ate all those apples one by one.


French-derived non-individuated nouns cannot combine with paapeyak one by
one, as in (44).
(44)

a.

*kii-mowew
s/he.ate.it

li

mangii

paapeyak.

DEF.SG.M

food

one.by.one

(intended: S/he ate the food one by one.)

27

b.

*kii-minihkwew

diloo paapeyak.

s/he.drank.it

water one.by.one

(intended: S/he drank the water one by one.)


Our consultants Demontigny and Pelletier say that it is not possible to break li
mangii the food into parts. The sentences become grammatical only when we
add a measure, as below.
(45)

a.

kii-minihkwew

lii

ver

diloo paapeyak.

s/he.drank.it

DET.PL

glass

water one.by.one

S/he drank the glasses of water one by one.


b.

kii-miichiw

lii

zasyet

s/he.ate.it

di-manzhii paapeyak.

DET.PL

plate

PART-food

one.by.one

S/he ate the plates of food one by one.

mishtayi
paapeyak

individuated nouns
plural only

Table 5.

non-individuated nouns
singular only

Quantifiers and F/E-derived nominals


Only paapeyak disambiguates between individuated and non-individuated nouns,
but it also follows the French/English pattern.
4.1.4 Summary
The French-derived vocabulary behaves like French: that is, it displays a
mass/count distinction. Only individuated nouns can be regularly pluralized, can

28

combine with a numeral directly and can combine with one of the quantifiers
(paapeyak one by one). Also like French, when a non-individuated noun is
pluralized, it can sometimes be coerced via the universal sorter.

can be pluralized
numerals require measure phrase
some quantifiers disambiguate
universal sorter can apply

non-individuated
a few
yes
yes
a few
Table 6.

individuated
yes
no
yes
n/a

French/English-derived nominals
4.2 Cree/Ojibwe-derived nouns
4.2.1 Plural
Cree/Ojibwe-derived individuated nouns may be pluralized with the suffix -a
(inanimate) or -ak (animate).
(46)

a.

takwaminaan/takwaminaan-a
chokecherry/chokecherry-IN.PL

b.

otoohtooshim/otoohtooshim-a
breast/breast-IN.PL

c.

shaapomin/shaapomin-ak
gooseberry/gooseberry-AN.PL

Cree/Ojibwe-derived individuated nouns may also be pluralized with the

29

determiner lii.
(47)

lii

takwaminaan

DET.PL

chokecherry

(the) chokecherries
Cree/Ojibwe-derived individuated nouns can also be pluralized both ways at the
same time.
(48)

lii

takwaminaan-a

DET.PL

chokecherry-IN.PL

The two Cree-derived non-individuated nouns we were able to find (so far) can be
pluralized with the suffix -a.
(49)

a.

c.

kimoutiwin

b.

kimoutiwin-a

loot

loot-IN.PL

loot, bounty

stolen goods

tominikan

d.

tominikan-a

oil

oil-IN.PL

oil/grease

oils/greases

They can also be pluralized with lii or both lii and -a/-ak simultaneously.
(50)

a.

lii

kimoutiwin

b.

lii

kimoutiwin-a

30

DET.PL

loot

DET.PL

stolen goods
c.

loot-IN.PL

stolen goods

lii

tominikan

DET.PL

oil

d.

oils/greases

lii

tominikan-a

DET.PL

oil-IN.PL

oils/greases

As with the French-derived individuated nouns, Cree-derived individuated


nouns can also be pluralized with plural demonstratives. They must also be
pluralized, this time with the -a/-ak suffix or with lii and the -a/-ak suffix
simultaneously.
(51)

a.

(li)

takwaminaan ooma

DEF.M.SG

chokecherry

DEM.PROX.IN.SG

this chokecherry
b.

(lii)

takwaminaan-a

ohi

DET.PL

chokecherry-IN.PL

DEM.PROX.IN.PL

these chokecherries
Cree-derived non-individuated nouns can also take singular or plural
demonstratives.
(52)

a.

kimoutiwin-a ohi
loot-IN.PL

DEM.PROX.IN.PL

these stolen goods (ie 2)


b.

kimoutiwin

ooma

31

loot

DEM.PROX.IN.SG

this stolen good'


c.

tominikan-a

ohi

oil-IN.PL

DEM.PROX.IN.PL

these oils (ie 2 bottles)


d.

tominikan

ooma

oil

DEM.PROX.IN.SG

this (bottle of) oil


The Cree-derived vocabulary follows the Algonquian pattern.
4.2.2 Indefinite aen
Cree-derived individuated nouns can occur with the indefinite marker aen.
(53)

aen

takwaminaan

INDEF.M.SG

chokecherry

a chokecherry
Cree-derived non-individuated nouns can also occur with the indefinite marker
aen.
(54)

a.

aen

kimoutiwin

INDEF.M.SG

loot

one stolen good


b.

aen

tominikan

32

INDEF.M.SG

oil

one bottle of oil


The Cree-derived vocabulary follows the Algonquian pattern. Although
Algonquian languages lack an indefinite marker, we expect to see no
disambiguation with aen. It is often translated as one, and as we see below,
numerals do not disambiguate either.
4.2.3 Numerals
Cree-derived individuated nouns may occur with numerals.
(55)

trwa

lii

koohkum

three

DET.PL

grandmother

three grandmothers
Cree-derived non-individuated nouns may also occur with numerals, but can only
be interpreted as an amount of a substance, not a kind.

(56)

a.

payyek kimoutiwin
one

loot

b.

payyek tominikan
one

oil

one stolen good

one amount of oil

one kind of stolen goods

one kind of oil/grease

When Cree-derived non-individuated nouns occur with a numeral, plural marking


is dispreferred.

33

(57)

a.

trwa

kimoutiwin

three loot
three stolen goods
three kinds of stolen goods
b.

?? trwa
three

C.

??

lii

kimoutiwin-a

DET.PL

loot-INAN.PL

trwa

kimoutiwin-a

three loot-INAN.PL
d.

?? trwa
three

lii

kimoutiwin

DET.PL

loot

Unlike the French-derived vocabulary, pluralized non-individuated nouns can


only be interpreted as an amount, not a kind. The universal sorter cannot be used.
These Cree-derived nouns in Michif therefore pattern like Algonquian nouns.

4.2.4 Quantifiers
Quantifiers do not disambiguate between individuated and non-individuated
nouns.
(58)

a.

mishtayi

(lii)

koohkum(-a)

lots

(DET.PL)

grandmother(-IN.PL)

lots of grandmothers

34

b.

mishtayi

(lii)

takwaminaan(-a)

lots

(DET.PL)

chokecherry(-IN.PL)

lots of chokecherries
c.

mishtayi

kimoutiwin

lots

loot

lots of loot
d.

mishtayi

tominikan(-a)

lots

oil(-IN.PL)

lots of oil
Individuated nouns can combine with the quantifier paapeyak one by one.
(59)

ki-mowew

anihi

takweminaan-a

kakijaw

he.ate.it

DEM.DIST.IN.PL

chokecherry-IN.PL all

paapeyak
one.by.one

He ate all the chokecherries one by one.


The Cree-derived non-individuated nouns can also combine with paapeyak one
by one. This quantifier does not disambiguate between individuated and nonindividuated Cree-derived nouns (although it does for the French/English-derived
nouns).
(60)

a.

giiwawapahten

anihi

kimoutiwin-a paapeyak.

I.saw.them

DEM.DIST.IN.PL

loot-IN.PL

one.by.one

I saw the stolen goods one by one.

35

b.

kiimishkam

tominikan-a

paapeyak.

I.found.them oil-IN.PL

one.by.one

I found the oils/lotions one by one.


individuated nouns

Table 5.

mishtayi
paapeyak

non-individuated nouns

Quantifiers and Cree-derived nominals.


The Cree-derived vocabulary follows the Algonquian pattern: no quantifier
disambiguates between individuated and non-individuated nouns, not even
paapeyak.
4.3 Summary
In Table 4, we summarize the findings of this section. Based on our diagnostics,
Michif has a mixed mass/count system. The French-derived nouns display an
obvious mass/count distinction and the Cree-derived nouns do not.

plural mass Ns
mass nouns require a

English/

Algonquia

Michif E/F-

Michif

French
no
yes

n
yes
no

derived
no
yes

A-derived
yes
no

yes
yes

no
no

yes
yes

no
no

classifier/measure with a
numeral
quantifiers disambiguate
universal sorter

36

Table 6.
Mass/count diagnostics

5.

Discussion

We have found evidence that Michif is a syntactically mixed language: with


respect to mass-count distinctions, Algonquian-derived nouns behave like nouns
in Algonquian, while European-derived nouns behave like nouns in IndoEuropean. Syntactic features for distinguishing mass and count have not been
generalized over the whole vocabulary, either in favour of a European system or
an Algonquian system. This is interesting for three reasons. Firstly, Croft (2003)
claimed that Michif lacked a mass/count distinction altogether. We have shown
that this is not the case. Secondly, Rosen (2006, 2007) claims that Michif
phonology patterns similarly regardless of source language, while we have found
that this is not the case for (at least part of) the syntax. This is perhaps less
surprising than it seems on first blush: lexical items differ with respect to their
syntactic information in all languages (e.g., intransitive vs. transitive verbs vary
with respect to the number of arguments they take), and it could be expected that
lexical items in a new language would be incorporated along with this syntactic
information. Finally, nouns in Michif wear their history on their sleeves, in a
sense. Another example of this is the word zhveu hair. The French word for hair
cheveux is a count noun, whereas hair is mass in English. Zhveu remains count in
Michif.
(61)

a.

Mishtayi

lii

zhveu ayaaw.

a.lot

DET.PL

hair

she.has

She has lots of hair.

37

b.

Peyak aen
one

zhveu

INDEF.DET.SG.M

hair

ayaaw.
she.has

She has one hair.


French/English-derived vocabulary items maintain their count or mass
status in Michif, i.e. the mass/count distinction is preserved in part of the Michif
vocabulary. Michif Cree-derived vocabulary items, on the other hand, appear to
behave like Cree nouns, meaning that any Cree-derived noun can be pluralized
freely or occur with numerals or quantifiers. The universal sorter is also only
available to the French-derived part of the vocabulary, not the Cree-derived part.
This is particularly remarkable given that Cree-derived nouns are rare, and Creederived non-individuated nouns are but a small subset of these nouns. Even given
the rarity of these nouns, they maintain their syntactic features and the French
features are not generalized over them.
Its not only the nouns that maintain their historical features. Unlike
French, only one quantifier in Michif disambiguates between non-individuated
and individuated nouns, and only in the French part of the vocabulary (paapeyak
one by one). Since the quantifiers are derived from Cree, its not surprising that
most of them do not disambiguate. The meaning of mishtayi lots makes no
reference to individuals, unlike many in English. Paapeyak one by one does
disambiguate, which suggests that it does make reference to individuals.
In the Cree part of the vocabulary, paapeyak does not disambiguate;
however, this is not surprising since the Cree-derived non-individuated nouns can
be individuated via the plural marking. This may be evidence of a lack of a
grammatical distinction in the Cree part of the vocabulary. However, we remain
agnostic here as to whether there is a grammatical distinction or not.
The facts in Michif raise questions as to the nature of mass and count.

38

Many researchers claim that there is a split between mass/count and nonmass/count languages (e.g., Chierchia 1998, Bale & Barner in press). Michif
poses a problem for these analyses, as Michif looks like both types of languages
simultaneously. In fact, Michif is particularly problematic for Chierchia (1998),
who claims that the distinction is categorical. Languages lacking in a mass/count
distinction have bare arguments, obligatory classifiers and display numberneutrality, as in Table 7. (Bale & Barner reduce these to only the last: they claim
that languages lacking in mass/count also must display number-neutrality, but the
rest of the features are irrelevant.)

bare arguments
obligatory

Mass-count
no (except mass nouns in some

not mass-count
yes

languages)
no

yes

classifiers
number-neutrality
no
yes
example language
English
Mandarin
Table 7. Mass-count vs. non-mass-count languages in Chierchia (1998)
Michif does not allow bare arguments (except in a limited number of Cree-source
nouns), there are no obligatory classifiers, and it does not display numberneutrality. A singular noun can only refer to singular entities. As many have
argued before (Cheng & Sybesma 1999, Deprez 2005, Wilhelm 2008, Bale &
Barner in press, among many others), Chierchias (1998) analysis is problematic,
so it is unsurprising that Michif does not fit into this categorization. However, any
analysis that suggests that languages behave internally the same with respect to
the mass/count distinction will have similar problems accounting for Michif.

39

Other researchers have argued that all languages display a mass/count


distinction (Doetjes 1997, Chierchia 2010). While we have not argued decisively
that the Algonquian part of the grammar completely lacks a mass/count
distinction, Michif is still potentially problematic for this kind of account. First,
there is little, if any, evidence for a mass/count distinction in the Algonquian part
of the grammar. What does this mean for an analysis that has every language
display a distinction? Michif does, in fact, have a distinction (contra Croft 2003),
but only in part of the grammar. It is not clear how Doetjes (1997) or Chierchia
(2010) would handle such a language. Further, even if both parts have a
mass/count distinction, the distinction is realized in different ways in each part,
which is potentially a problem for a unified analysis of mass/count within a
language.
Michif is perhaps even more problematic for any analysis of the
acquisition of a mass/count distinction. In particular, Bale & Barner (in press)
argue that children realize their language has mass/count because their singulars
are real singulars, and not number-neutral. At the time of acquisition, the child
learning Michif should correctly realize their language has a mass-count
distinction. But how are they to learn that either a) only the French part of the
grammar displays that distinction or b) that the Cree and French halves behave
differently? It is not clear how any theory of the acquisition of a mass/count
distinction would account for Michif.
We have shown that Michif is a puzzle: the mass/count system is not neat
and simple. Only the French part clearly displays a mass/count distinction. It
remains to further research whether the Cree part does as well, and what this
difference means for the acquisition of mass/count.
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