A practical dictionary for everyday Cree

Learning a language gets harder as people age, but Kevin Brousseau is hoping that his method, in the form of researching and writing a 5,000-word dictionary, will make the Cree language more accessible and easy to learn for lynu and non-lynu of all ages.

Brousseau laments the fact that he never learned his language as a youngster and saw this project as a way to learn Cree. He learned how to read and write syllabics and speak “rough” Cree during the three years it took him to produce the book.

“This is the first of its kind where a Native person took the initiative to do it by himself with no financial support,” said Brousseau. “Usually outside linguists are hired to do this.”

He is very proud of that fact, but he is not bitter about it. Instead he sees it as his way of contributing to Cree society.

“We have to be responsible for the preservation and promotion of our language,” he said. “When we always hire out, we’re not showing that interest. If the certain entities are not really pushing for funding of new works or providing translation of literature and writing in the language, it’s up to us as lynu people to take up the slack and start producing these things. The idea is to create our own literature.”

The Practical lynu Dictionary sells for $30. It has an easy-to-use style that aids people who want to use everyday phrases and words, but don’t have a strong enough background in the language.

The other Cree dictionary that people currently use is much larger in size and covers many more specific, detailed words. However, it uses a Cree-to-English index only, whereas The Practical lynu Dictionary also uses the English-to-Cree index for more flexibility.

“You won’t learn about specific terms in hunting, but you’ll learn words that will help you every day,” said Brousseau, who is currently doing his masters in linguistics at the Universite de Quebec a Montreal.

Brousseau released the dictionary through his company, Nikan Publishing. After an initial printing run of 60 copies sold out quickly, he is waiting for more to come in.

“I really didn’t think they would move so fast. The reaction I got was amazing,” he said.

His mom and grandmother helped out with many of the words, as both are fluent speakers.

Athough he reconstructed a couple of dictionaries from the 1700s and 1800s and searched for old words to study the origin and come up with a clearer understanding of the word, Brousseau said that his dictionary is a contemporary one that drew its strength from lynu speakers. He also researched early Jesuit relations with Eenouch to get further definitions of words.

The Practical lynu Dictionary focuses on the southern inland dialect, but Brousseau said that his dream is to work on all lynu dialects, including the dialects of the Attikamek and Innu.

“The idea was to create language learning tools. This was the first in a line of hopefully many tools and future editions,” said Brousseau, 27, who has been independently studying lynu dialects since he was 18.

The amount of work that went into creating the dictionary took a toll on Brousseau and now that he is done he feels like a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders.

“It was tough sometimes, going over the dictionary over and over and staying up till 2 am just to make sure I had correct forms or trying to understand a specific form that was obscure. But it was worth it for sure!”

Although Cree is strong right now, all that could change in the coming years, especially if non-natives continue to expand up north and more and more Crees move out of the communities. With The Practical lynu Dictionary, Crees can stay in touch with their language no matter where they go.

“We’re lucky that people speak the language within the community,” he said. “The idea is to take it to the next level and make people conscious about the fact that we can use our language in a modern-day world. We can have literature in our language and translate scientific and medical terms into our language. We can do everything in our language, that’s our goal.”

For more information on how to obtain a copy of The Practical lynu Dictionary, send an email to info@nikanpublish-ing.com or call Kevin Brousseau at 514-633-6439.