Cree Syllabics (ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐍᐏᐣ)

James Evans, a Wesleyan missionary and amateur linguist, invented a syllabary for language based partly on Devanagari and Pitman shorthand, while working at Norway House in Hudson's Bay. It was published in 1837. Evans' syllabary for Ojibwe consisted of just nine symbols, each of which could be written in four different orientations to indicate different vowels. This was sufficient to write Ojibwe.

In about 1841 Evans adapted his script to write Swampy Cree, and translated parts of the Bible and other religious works into Ojibwe and Cree. He printed them using type carved from wood, or made from melted-down linings of tea chests.

The script proved popular with Ojibwe and Cree speakers, and within about 10 years, many of them had learnt to read and write it, learning it mainly from family or friends. As paper was scarce at the time, they wrote on birch bark with soot from burnt sticks, or carved messages in wood, and nicknamed James Evans 'The man who made birch bark talk'.

The Cree script continued to be widely used until the 1950s and 1960s, when the integration policies of Department of Indian and Northern Affairs led to a decline in use to the script among Cree children taught to write in the Roman alphabet.

Today the Cree syllabics are used in schools in northern Quebec and Ontario. There is on-going debate about the use of Cree syllabics in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. On the whole, however, Cree communities strongly identify with the syllabic script.

Main source: Murdoch, John Stewart, Syllabics: A Successful Educational Innovation (University of Manitoba, 1981).

Another story about the origins of Cree syllabics

According to Cree and Hopi legends, Cree syllabics were first given to Badger-Call or Calling Badger, a teacher-healer of the Wood Cree, long before James Evans came along. Apparently Calling Badger died and went to the spirt world, where he learnt the syllabics, then came back to life and taught them to his people. When missionaries came along they learnt the syllabics from the Cree, and James Evans helped to popularise them.

Notable Features

Cree syllabics

Cree syllabics

Download a script chart for Cree (Excel)

Notes

Cree syllabics

Sample text in Cree Syllabics in Swampy Cree

ᒥᓯᐌ ᐃᓂᓂᐤ ᑎᐯᓂᒥᑎᓱᐎᓂᐠ ᐁᔑ ᓂᑕᐎᑭᐟ ᓀᐢᑕ ᐯᔭᑾᐣ ᑭᒋ ᐃᔑ ᑲᓇᐗᐸᒥᑯᐎᓯᐟ ᑭᐢᑌᓂᒥᑎᓱᐎᓂᐠ ᓀᐢᑕ ᒥᓂᑯᐎᓯᐎᓇ᙮ ᐁ ᐸᑭᑎᓇᒪᒋᐠ ᑲᑫᑕᐌᓂᑕᒧᐎᓂᓂᐤ ᓀᐢᑕ ᒥᑐᓀᓂᒋᑲᓂᓂᐤ ᓀᐢᑕ ᐎᒋᑴᓯᑐᐎᓂᐠ ᑭᒋ ᐃᔑ ᑲᓇᐗᐸᒥᑐᒋᐠ᙮

Tranliteration

misiwe ininiw tipēnimitisowinik ēshi nitawikit nēsta pēyaᑾn kici ishi kanawapamikowisit kistēnimitisowinik nēsta minikowisiwina. ē pakitinamacik kakētawenitamowininiw nēsta mitonēnicikaniniw nēsta.

Translation

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 Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Videos about the history of Cree and Cree Syllabics

Information about Cree Syllabics | Learning materials

Links

Information on Cree syllabics
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Aboriginal_syllabics
https://medium.com/naheyawin/sakikin-sharing-knowledge-did-james-evans-invent-cree-syllabics-53253e00e95a
https://creeliteracy.org/beginning-to-read-plains-cree-in-standard-roman-orthography/another-version-of-cree-literacy-the-cree-story-of-syllabics/
http://www.languagegeek.com/typography/syllabics/syl1.html

Syllabic Transliterators
http://www.syllabics.net/

Cree fonts
http://www.wazu.jp/gallery/Fonts_Cree.html
https://www.eastcree.org/cree/en/resources/how-to/cree-fonts/

Information about James Evans
http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio.php?id_nbr=3376
https://library.vicu.utoronto.ca/collections/special_collections/f10_james_evans
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Evans_(linguist)
https://archive.org/details/jamesevansinven00maclgoog/page/n7

Algonquian languages

Abenaki, Algonquin, Arapaho, Atikamekw, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Chippewa, Cree (Moose), Cree (Plains), Cree (Swampy), Cree (Woods), Innu (Montagnais), Kickapoo, Malecite-Passamaquoddy, Fox, Loup, Massachusett (Wampanoag), Menominee, Miami, Míkmaq, Mohegan, Mohican, Munsee, Narragansett, Naskapi, Ojibwe, Oji-Cree, Ottawa, Penobscot, Powhatan, Potawatomi, Quiripi, Shawnee, Unami (Lenape)

Languages written with Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics

Blackfoot, Carrier, Chipewyan, Inuktitut, Moose Cree, Naskapi, Ojibwe, Oji-Cree, Plains Cree, Woods Cree

Abugidas / Syllabic alphabets

Ahom, Aima, Arleng, Badagu, Badlit, Balinese, Balti-A, Balti-B, Batak, Baybayin, Bengali, Bhaiksuki, Bhujimol, Bilang-bilang, Bima, Blackfoot, Brahmi, Buhid, Burmese, Carrier, Chakma, Cham, Cree, Dehong Dai, Devanagari, Dham Lipi, Dhankari / Sirmauri, Ditema, Dives Akuru, Dogra, Ethiopic, Evēla Akuru, Fraser, Gond, Goykanadi, Grantha, Gujarati, Gunjala Gondi, Gupta, Gurmukhi, Halbi Lipi, Hanifi, Hanuno'o, Hočąk, Ibalnan, Inuktitut, Jaunsari Takri, Javanese, Kaithi, Kadamba, Kamarupi, Kannada, Kawi, Kerinci, Kharosthi, Khema, Khe Prih, Khmer, Khojki, Khudabadi, Kirat Rai, Kōchi, Kulitan, Kurukh Banna, Lampung, Lanna, Lao, Lepcha, Limbu, Lontara/Makasar, Lota Ende, Magar Akkha, Mahajani, Malayalam, Manpuri, Meroïtic, Masarm Gondi, Modi, Mon, Mongolian Horizontal Square Script, Multani, Nandinagari, Newa, New Tai Lue, Ojibwe, Odia, Pahawh Hmong, Pallava, Phags-pa, Purva Licchavi, Qiang / Rma, Ranjana, Rejang (Kaganga), Sasak, Savara, Satera Jontal, Shan, Sharda, Siddham, Sinhala, Sorang Sompeng, Sourashtra, Soyombo, Sukhothai, Sundanese, Syloti Nagri, Tagbanwa, Takri, Tamil, Tanchangya (Ka-Pat), Tani, Thaana, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Tigalari, Tikamuli, Tocharian, Tolong Siki, Vatteluttu, Warang Citi

Page last modified: 27.05.22

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