The Mi'kmaq (properly pronounced 'meeg mah', and also spelled Míkmaq) were the dominant tribe in the Canadian Maritimes, but in most ways other than language, they were similar to the Maliseet in New Brunswick and the Abenaki of northern New England. The main difference in their lifestyle was that the Abenaki were able to place greater emphasis on agriculture because of their more southerly location. In today’s classifications, the Mi’kmaq belong to the Algonquian group.

The word Mi'kmaq actually comes from the word ni'kmaq, or 'my friends', which the early French misunderstood as the name of the people. The Mi’kmaq actually referred to themselves as l'nuk ('ull noog', or 'the people'.) The odd spelling comes from the efforts of early French missionaries to create a written equivalent of the language. In the phonetic system they invented, the letter 'k' was given a softer pronunciation, more like 'g', and the 'q' became a glottal stop, which is pronounced in some areas like the 'ch' in Bach, and in other areas like the sound in the middle of 'uh-oh'. However, if you are not familiar with the phonetic system, it is easy to look at the spelling of the word, and think that both the 'k' and the 'q' should be pronounced as hard 'k.' Thus, the word Mi'kmaq became mispronounced as 'Micmac,' which became the accepted spelling and pronunciation for years.

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Updated: 27 Mar 2016 Print Page