Míkmawísimk – Mi'gmawi'simg

The language of the Mi'gmaq or Mi'gmaw people is spoken throughout eastern Canada in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Quebec. There are also speakers in New England. Because of the nation’s extensive territory, there is some dialect diversity. The term Micmac which is an English-spelling of Mi'gmaq is now out of favour in Canada; the term Mi'kmaq is typically found without comment in English-language text.

There is a very long history of literacy in the Mi'gmaq nation. In the 1600’s, a “hieroglyphic” (ideographic) system was already in use. This form of writing was documented by French missionaries who then began publishing prayer books in the orthography. There is some question as to the complexity of the original Native script: did the missionary La Clerq adopt the mnemonic pictures of the Mi'gmaq into a language-based orthography, or is this orthography indeed much older than its “discoverer” claims? I have not built a Mi'gmaq ideographic font for the languagegeek website, and will not discuss the subject further until I have learned more.

There have also been several Roman orthographies developed over the centuries. Three are discussed below, each of which is in current or recent use by speakers: the Listuguj, Francis-Smith, and Lexicon orthographies.

Note: There are several Roman Orthography conventions on this site that may require further explanation. On the charts below, there is lots of phonetic terminology that may not be familiar to everyone.

ISO 639-3 language code: mic


The 2011 Canadian Census (2006 figures in parentheses) indicates 8,035 (8,750) Mi'kmaq mother-tongue speakers, which does not include those who have learned the language later in life.


  bilabial alveolar lateral palato-alveolar palatal velar velar rounded
stop p t   j   g/k (k)  
fricative   s       q  
nasal m n          
resonant     l   y   w


  front central back
high tense/long i' (i:)   u' (u:)
high lax/short i   u
mid tense/long e' (e:)   o' (o:)
mid lax/short e '/ɨ (') o
low tense/long   a' (a:)  
low lax/short   a  


  • Where two versions of the same sound are separated with a slash, the first is Listiguj orthography, the second is Francis-Smith.
  • The Lexicon orthography is the same as those in the table above except where indicated by (parentheses).
  • Stops and fricatives sound voiceless in combination with another stop or fricative. Between vowels or after a resonant, the consonant sounds voiced.


  • Long vowels and the schwa (mid central lax vowel) are indicated either by a curly a’ or straight apostrophe a'
  • The velar stop is written g.


  • Long vowels are generally indicated by a straight apostrophe a' or angular tick mark .
  • A variant of Smith-Francis uses an acute accent á over the the vowel. The acute accent was a method to prevent word processors from applying smart-quotes – changing the tick to an undesirable curly apostrophe.
  • The schwa is written with a barred-ɨ.
  • The velar stop is written k.


  • Long vowels are indicated with a colon a:
  • The schwa is written with either with a curly a’ or straight apostrophe a'
  • The velar stop is written k.
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Last Modified: 30-Dec-2012