East Cree

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East Cree
ᐄᔨᔫ ᐊᔨᒨᓐ Īyiyū Ayimūn (crl)
ᐄᓅ ᐊᔨᒨᓐ Īnū Ayimūn (crj)
Native toCanada
RegionEeyou Istchee, Quebec
Native speakers
400 (2016)[1]
Canadian Aboriginal syllabics
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
crl – Northern
crj – Southern
Glottologsout2978  southern
nort1552  northern
ELPEast Cree
Linguasphere62-ADA-af (northern)
62-ADA-ag (southern)
Northern East Cree is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
PeopleEeyou / Eenou
ᐄᔨᔫ / ᐄᓅ
LanguageEeyou / Eenou Ayimūn
ᐄᔨᔫ / ᐄᓅ ᐊᔨᒨᓐ
CountryEeyou / Eenou Istchee
ᐄᔨᔫ / ᐄᓅ ᐊᔅᒌ

East Cree, also known as James Bay (Eastern) Cree, and East Main Cree, is a group of Cree dialects spoken in Quebec, Canada on the east coast of lower Hudson Bay and James Bay, and inland southeastward from James Bay. Cree is one of the most spoken non-official aboriginal languages of Canada. Four dialects have been tentatively identified including the Southern Inland dialect (Iyiniw-Ayamiwin) spoken in Mistissini, Oujé-Bougoumou, Waswanipi, and Nemaska; the Southern Coastal dialect (Iyiyiw-Ayamiwin) spoken in Nemaska, Waskaganish, and Eastmain; the Northern Coastal Dialects (Iyiyiw-Ayimiwin), one spoken in Wemindji and Chisasibi and the other spoken in Whapmagoostui. The dialects are mutually intelligible, though difficulty arises as the distance between communities increases.

East Cree is not considered an endangered language thanks to the large population of younger people who speak it (Mela S.; Mali A. 2009). There are estimated to be more than 18,000 first-language speakers.[3]


The long vowels *ē and *ā have merged in the northern coastal dialects but remain distinct in the southern coastal and southern inland dialects; southern inland has merged *s with *š, which remain distinct in the coastal dialects. Neighbouring Naskapi has both.[clarification needed]

In East Cree there are thirteen consonants:[4]

Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Velar Labiovelar Glottal
Stop Voiceless p t k
Voiced b
Nasal m n
Fricative s ʃ h
Glide j w

There are eight vowels:[5]

Front Central Back
High i u
Mid-high ɪ ʊ
Mid e ə
Low a


In East Cree you have Primary Derivation, Secondary Derivation, and Composition.

Primary Derivation

Words constructed by primary derivation, are made up of two or more stems, that are not words that stand on their own.

For example, the verb ᐱᓱᐸᔨᐤ pisupiyiu, s/he/it goes slow is made up of an initial pisu- and a final piyi- that are not words themselves.

pisu piyi u
Initial Final Personal Suffix
Stem Stem Inflection

English Translation: She/he/it goes slow.

Secondary Derivation

Words constructed by secondary derivation, are made up of core word stems and at least one other stem-building elements.

For example, the verb ᐱᓱᐱᔨᐦᑖᐤ pisupiyihtaau s/he makes it go slow is made up of the stem of the existing verb ᐱᓱᐱᔨᐤ pisupiyiu and the causative final -htaa.

pisu piyi htaau
Initial Final Causative final/Personal suffix
Initial Final
Stem Stem Inflection

English Translation: she/he/it makes it go slow.


Words constructed by composition contains independent elements, like two existing word stems, or a preform and another word stem.

For example, the noun ᒥᔥᑎᑯᓈᐹᐤ mishtikunaapaau carpenter is made by conjoining two other noun stems: ᒥᔥᑎᒄ mishtikw wood and ᓈᐹᐤ napaau man.

Independent elements forming with Verbs

miyu chiishinkaau
preverb verb stem
good it is day

English Translation: It is a good day

Independent elements forming with Nouns

mishtikw napaau
stem stem
wood man

English Translation: carpenter

Gender, number, person[edit]


Gender is a grammatical distinction. East Cree has 'Animate' and 'Inanimate' gender differentiation. However, it is not possible to know for sure if words are animate or inanimate at first glance.

Animate nouns refer to humans, animals, and general living creatures, as well as some plants and some personal belongings, such as pants and sleds. To indicate the plural, you generally add the suffix -ich; in some cases, when the word ends in -w, you drop the -w and add -uch.

Number Word Translation
Singular paayikw awaashish one child
Plural niishu awaashishiich two children

Some more examples of Animate nouns are:

Number Word Translation
Single piyichiis pair of pants
Plural piyichiisich pairs of pants
Single mishtikw tree
Plural mishtikuch trees
Single utaapaanaaskw sled
Plural utaapaanaaskuch sleds

Inanimate plural is formed with the suffix -h.

Number Word Translation
Single paayikw mischin one shoe
Plural niishu mischinh two shoes


As shown above we can see that the Number is dependent on the Gender therefore if we have an Animate word then the ending for the plural will be ich in most cases and in some cases when the word ends in a w the ending will be uch after you drop the w. On the other hand, for Inanimate words the ending to indicate the plural will be adding an h to the end of the word.


To indicate possession, noun stems take a personal prefix. In East Cree there are Independent and Dependent nouns.

Independent nouns are ones that can appear without personal prefixes. Therefore, they can stand alone as a word, and if you want to indicate to whom it belongs to, you would add the prefix. Example shown below.

Gender Number Noun Translation
Inanimate Singular mischisin shoe
Inanimate Singular nimischisin my shoe
Inanimate Plural mischisinh shoes
Inanimate Plural nimischisinh my shoes

We can see that for this example the noun is Independent because it can stand alone, also, we see that it is an inanimate noun because the plural form adds an h at the end when the plural is indicted. Please refer to Gender to understand the relationship of Animate and Inanimate nouns in respect to gender.

Dependent nouns are those that can not stand alone without a prefix. These type of nouns express kinship, body parts, and personal belongings, like certain pieces of clothing.

Gender Noun Translation
Animate nimushum my grandfather
Inanimate nishtikwaan my head

Below is the table of Prefixes and Suffixes for some Dependent Nouns that are Animate

Possessors Animate noun Translation
2 chimis your older sister
1 nimis my older sister
2p chimisiwaau your (plural) older sister
21p chimisinuu our (including you) older sister
1p nimisinaan our (excluding you) older sister
3 umis-h his/her older sister(s)
3pe umisiwaauh their older sister(s)
3'(p) umisiyuuh his/her/their older sister(s)

Classification on verbs[edit]

East Cree adds suffixes on verbs in order to distinguish classes based on two factors, transitivity and gender. When referring to transitivity it means if the verbs is intransitive or transitive, and when referring to gender, it means if the subject or object of the verb is animate or inanimate. When we are looking at intransitive verbs, we see that the animacy of the subject matters. However, when we are looking at a transitive verb, we see that the animacy of the object is what matters. Below is a table that describes the differences between the transitive, intransitive and animate, inanimate in regards to the verbs and their role.

Animate Inanimate
One Role (Intransitive) masinaasuu masinaateu
Two Roles (Transitive) masinahweu masinaham
Verbs Gloss Classification
masinahweu She writes him (his name) down Transitive Animate (VTA)
masinaham She is writing it Transitive Inanimate (VTI)
masinaasuu She (her name) is written down Animate Intransitive (VAI)
masinaateu It is written Inanimate Intransitive (VII)

Different classes have different endings. Below is a table that describes the different ending for each classification. The classifications are, Verb Transitive Animate (VTA), Verb Intransitive Inanimate (VII), Verb Transitive Inanimate (VTI), Verb Animate Intransitive (VAI).

Verb Intransitive Inanimate (VII) only have one role (intransitive) filled by an inanimate subject. These verbs have endings such as, -n or vowels.

Verb Gloss
chiinaau It is pointed
wiihkan It is tasty
waaskamaau It is a clear day
yuutin It is windy

Verb Transitive Inanimate (VTI) have two roles (transitive) filled by an animate subject and an inanimate object. These verbs have an -am ending. They can be found in all orders with all persons.

Verbs Gloss
masinaham masinahiikaniyuu Ruth Ruth is writing a book
iiskupatam utaas He is pulling up his socks
manaham chiistaaskwaanh She is pulling out nails

Verb Transitive Animate (VTA) have two roles (transitive) filled by an animate subject and an animate object. Both the agent and the patient are animate. They can end in many endings, but one of them is -eu.

Verb Gloss
misinahuweu utawaashiimh Luci Luci is enrolling her child
chispahweu waahkupaanikiikh Daisy Daisy is mixing fish-egg pancakes
wepaashtimeu umuusuuyaanimh Marguerite Marguerite let her moosehide blow away

Verb Animate Intransitive (VAI) usually only have one role (intransitive) filled by an animate subject. They end in -n and -vowels'.

Verbs Gloss
masinaasuu nuushimish My grandchild's name is on the list
weyikaapuu Daisy che niimit Daisy stands ready to dance
utaamikachisheshin John John falls on his behind

Space and time[edit]


In East Cree there are Demonstrative Pronouns this are distinguished by three areas. The Proximal noted by uu, which can occur with suffixes. The proximal is used to indicate either a person or an object that is close to the speaker and in sight of the speaker. Then there is the Distal noted by an at the beginning of a word. The distal is used to indicate something or something specific that is slightly farther away from the speaker. In addition, there is the Remote noted as (a)naa or (a)nwaa and is used to indicate that someone or something is far away from the speaker. In East Cree, there are two sets of demonstratives. One is to use in a normal speech setting which means, to just speak to one another and the other form is used with gestures such as hand gestures, to point or signal.

Below is a table demonstrating the relation of prefixes on the words using the proximal, distal, and the remote for Animate Pronouns. Simple Speech no gestures required.

Pronoun Proximate Obviative
Singular Plural Singular or Plural
Proximal uu uuchii / uuch uuyuuh / uuyeyuuh
Distal an anichii / anich anuyuuh / anuyeyuuh
Remote (a)naa / (a)nwaa (a)nechii / (a)nech (a)neyuuh

Below is a table demonstrating the relation of prefixes on the words using the proximal, distal, and the remote for Inanimate Pronouns.

Pronoun Proximate Obviative
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Proximal uu uuyuuh / uuhii uuyuu / uuyeyuu uuyuuh / uuyeyuuh
Distal an aniyuuh / anihii aniyuu / aniyeyuu aniyuuh / aniyeyuuh
Remote (a)ne (a)neyuuh / (a)nehii aneyuu aneyuuh


East Cree tense is marked on the preverbs attached to the pronoun. There is an indicative of past and future tense on the preverb such as, che, chii, kata, chika, nika, chechii, wii, nipah, chipah, e, kaa, uhchi. These preverbs indicate different aspects of the tense and when you use each one. Below is a table that shows the different environment for each preverb.

Preverb Usage Example Gloss
che Future marker for conjunct verbs
  • 1. che nikamuyaan
  • 2. che nikamuyin
  • 3. che nikamut
  • 1. I will sing
  • 2. You will sing
  • 3. S/he will sing
chii Past tense marker
  • 1. nichii miichisun
  • 2. chichii miichisun
  • 3. chii miichisuu
  • 1. I ate
  • 2. You ate
  • 3. S/he ate
kata Future preverbs for independent verbs used only with 3p. kata miichisuu utaakushiyiche S/he will eat this evening
chika future preverb for independent verbs used with second and third persons
  • 1. chika miichisuu utaakushiyiche
  • 2. chika miichisun utaakushiche
  • 1. S/he will eat this evening
  • 2. S/he will eat this evening
nika future preverb for independent verbs used with first persons nika miichisun utaakushiche I will eat this evening
chechii conjunct preverb
  • 1. wanichischisuu chechii petaat aniyuu akuhpiyuu
  • 2. nituweyimaau chechii ihtuutahk
  • 1. He forgot to bring that jacket
  • 2. I want him to do it
chii can always preceded by a future preverb
  • 1. nika chii ihtuhten
  • 2. chika chii ihtuten
  • 3. chika chii ihtuteu
  • 4. che chii ihtuhtewaane
  • 1. I can go
  • 2. You can go
  • 3. S/he can go
  • 4. If I can go
wii want
  • 1. niwii miichisun
  • 2. chiwii miichisun
  • 3. wii miichisuu
  • 1. I want to eat
  • 2. You want to eat
  • 3. S/he wants to eat
nipah should used with first persons shaash nipah kuushimuun uu e ishpishipayich I should be in bed at this hour
chipah should used with second and third persons shaash chipah kuushimuun uu e ishpishipayich You should be in bed at this hour
e conjunct preverb
  • 1. nimiyeyihten e masinahiicheyaan
  • 2. chimiyeyihten e masinahiicheyin
  • 3. miyeyihtam e masinahiichet
  • 1. I like to write
  • 2. You like to write
  • 3. S/he likes to write
kaa Conjunct preverb
  • 1. kaa ayimiyaan
  • 2. kaa ayimiyin
  • 3. kaa ayimit
  • 1. When I spoke
  • 2. When you spoke
  • 3. When s/he spoke
uhchi from, because used in the negative independent with namui or in the negative conjunct with ekaa
  • 1. namui uhchi chii nipaau e chii kushtaachit
  • 2. namui nuuhchi chii nipaan e chii kushtaachiyaan
  • 1. S/he could not sleep because s/he was afraid
  • 2. I could not sleep because I was afraid

Word order[edit]

In East Cree, all six word orders SVO, SOV, OVS, OSV, VOS, and VSO are grammatical. Below is a chart to see how they could all be used to construct the sentence, The children killed some ducks

Word order Example Gloss
SVO awasisak nipahewak sisipa children killed ducks
SOV awasisak sisipa nipahewak children ducks killed
VSO nipahewak awasisak sisipa killed children ducks
VOS nipahewak sisipa awasisak killed ducks children
OVS sisipa nipahewak awasisak ducks killed children
OSV sisipa awasisak nipahewak ducks children killed


There is a ranking system of the grammatical functions where the subject outranks the object. This appears on the transitive verb with an animate object in order to indicate the person hierarchy, whether it be aligned (DIRECT) or crossed (INVERSE). Below is a table that demonstrates the hierarchy and the functions.

For the Direct we can see that the Proximant is reflected on the Subject and the Agent while the Obviative is reflected through the Object and the Patient.

For the Inverse we can see that the Proximate is reflected inversely through the Object and then through the Patient, then we can see that the Obviative is reflected through the Subject and then through the Agent.

For the Passive we can see that the Proximate is reflected through the Subject then through the Patient. Then we see the Obviative through the Object and then the Agent.

The notation in the example is represented with an X to indicate the switch.

Gloss S/hePROX likes her/himOBV S/heOBV likes her/himPROX S/hePROX is liked
------ PROX______OBV PROX______OBV PROX_______ OBV
------ ↓__________↓ ______X________ ↓___________↓
------ SUBJ_____ OBJ SUBJ______ OBJ SUBJ______ (OBJ)
------ ↓____________↓ ↓___________↓ ______X______
------ Agent______ Patient Agent______ Patient Agent______ Patient
------ Miyayim-e-u Miyeyim-iku-u Miyeyim-aakanu-u
------ like-DIR(3›3')-3 like-INV(3‹3')-3 like-PASS-3


East Cree marks its possessions on the nouns by adding a secondary suffix to a possessed noun with a third-person prefix. See examples below that indicate the addition of suffixes and prefixes. There is a difference in which suffix and prefix you use if the noun in questions is animate or inanimate.

------ Noun Possessed Noun Verb "S/he has..." Verb "I have..."
Word maschisin umaschisin umaschisinuu numaschisinin
Gloss shoe his/her shoe umaschisinuu I have shoes
Word awaash utawaashishiimh utawaashishiimuu nutawaashishiimin
Gloss child his/her child s/he has a child/children I have a child/children


In East Cree sometimes one sentence is contained within another sentence, this is known as a subordinate or embedded clause. The verb of the subordinate clauses have conjunct suffixes and often a conjunct preverb. Below is a table detailing the subordinate clauses.

The bold part of the sentence indicates the subordinate clause in both languages.

------ Complement clauses
Sentence nichischeyihtaan e waapach waskahiik
Gloss I know that the house is white
Sentence nichii kukwechimaau wiyaapaach waaskah
Gloss I asked if the house is white
Sentence nichischeyihten ekaa waapaach waaskahiika
Gloss I know that the house is not white

Adverbial clauses is when the subordinate clause provides information about the time at which something happened, or the frequency with which it happens. Below are some examples of adverbial clauses.

------ Adverbial Clauses
Sentence kaa nipaat chitakushiniyuuh
Gloss While she was sleeping, he arrived
Sentence iy aahkusich-h maatuu
Gloss Whenever s/he is sick, it rains

Relative Clauses is when the subordinate clause functions as a complement to a noun. Below is an example.

------ Relative Clauses
Sentence Waapahtam muuhkumaan kaa piikupayiyic
Gloss She sees the knife that is (was) broken (the broken knife)


  1. ^ Northern at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
    Southern at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian (2022-05-24). "Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi". Glottolog. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Archived from the original on 2022-10-15. Retrieved 2022-10-29.
  3. ^ Neacappo, Mimie. ""Land Talk" in Iiyiyiuyimuwin (Eastern James Bay Cree)".
  4. ^ Swain, Erin. 2008. "The Acquisition of Stress in Northern East Cree: A Case Study"
  5. ^ Cree vowels

Swain, Erin. "The Acquisition of Stress in Northern East Cree: A Case Study." Order No. MR55290 Memorial University of Newfoundland (Canada), 2008. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 31 Jan. 2014.

"The Structure of Cree Words." Eastern James Bay Cree Language. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.

"Nouns Inflected for Gender." Eastern James Bay Cree Language. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.

"Nouns Inflected for Gender." Eastern James Bay Cree Language. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.

"Nouns with Person Inflection." Eastern James Bay Cree Language. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.

"Demonstrative Pronouns." Eastern James Bay Cree Language. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar.

"Cree Verb Classes." Eastern James Bay Cree Language. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2014.

Junker, M. (2004). Focus, obviation, and word order in East Cree. Lingua, 114 (3), pp. 345–365

Junker, Marie-Odile, Marguerite MacKenzie, and Julie Brittain. "Comparative Structures of East Cree and English." (2012): 1-57. Print

Nikkel, Walter. Language Revitalization in Northern Manitoba: A study of a Cree Bilingual Program in an Elementary School

Www12.statcan.gc.ca,. (2014). Aboriginal languages in Canada. Retrieved 8 May 2014

External links[edit]