Morningstar sheds light on Cree verb conjugator
By Michael Brown
Martin Beaudoin, a French-language linguist, was given a Cree name on May 27 in recognition of the Cree verb conjugation software he designed for Blue Quills First Nations College.
“My Cree name is Wâpanatâhk, which means Morningstar,” said Beaudoin of his new name, which was also happened to be the name of a ‘70s transfer program that allowed first- and second-year U of A education students to study at Blue Quill. “I was told that the name usually comes directly from the (elder) leading the ceremony, but in my case he says he prayed and as given the name directly from the creator.”
The naming ceremony, conducted as part of a larger rite where spirits were invited to partake in the night’s food and dance, was the culmination of nearly two years of work creating this Cree-language website.
“Cree verb conjugation is currently taught through a textbook, but (instructors) wanted a way to better show students the processes of creating and searching for verbs that can’t be done on paper,” said Beaudoin. “Because I built a French conjugation website, one of the textbook authors thought something similar would be good for the program.”
Beaudoin, who is part Iroquois, explained the difficulty in this endeavour comes from the fact that Cree is a constantly evolving polysynthetic language where each verb is made up of particles of meaning.
“If you walk it will be ‘foot’ with ‘movement.’ If you run, it’s ‘foot’ with ‘movement’ with ‘fast.’ If you smile at the same time, you add one component, and if you smile and you’re not sincere, you add another component, and so on,” he said. “In a book it is really difficult to show and can be very cumbersome. On the computer you can show it with colours, mouse-overs and things like that.”
The evolution of the Cree language also means Beaudoin’s software has to be quite malleable.
“It’s not a language that is set in stone like French or English,” he said. “We have a structure that will eventually allow users to build their own verbs. They choose the verb roots and combine them the way they want them, and click on ‘conjugate’ and get the conjugation for the new verb they created.”
The spinoff from the project that Beaudoin is most proud of is reinforced links between Blue Quill and the university.
“(Blue Quill) already has links with the Department of Education, but we would like to have a more formal link with Faculté,” he said. “We already have the institute for Canadian Studies here, and a large component of that is native studies, so it is very important for us.”
As for the name, Beaudoin is still waiting to see if it will stick.
“I guess when I interact with the Cree people I am supposed to use it, and my wife calls me it sometimes, but that’s about it.”
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