Confused About The Spelling Of

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The name Mi'kmaq derives from the term nikmaq, a word in the language which means "my kin-friends," or, in the sense of its use as a greeting in the 1600s, "my brothers!" French lawyer Marc Lescarbot, visiting what is now Nova Scotia in AD 1606, reported that the First Nations peoples there had taught this greeting to the French and Basque fishermen and explorers who were beginning to come over from Europe each summer season. So the French would greet the First Nations peoples here by saying, "Nikmaq!" or "My brothers!", as they themselves had been greeted.

In letters to France, they referred to First Nations people here as "Notres nikmaqs" or "our brothers" [literally "our my-brothers"], adding an unnecessary s on the end of an already plural form. This began the tradition of what came to be regarded as the "tribal" name. Eventually "nikmaq" was anglicized to Mikmak, Mickmack, Mick Mack, Mic Mac, and any other possible combination.

In 1980, with the launching of the television series Mi'kmaq, which returned to a more accurate spelling and pronunciation of this name, the Nova Scotia Museum began using Mi'kmaq as the First Nations name, replacing Micmac. You will still see it as Micmac in older titles or publications, however.

The increased use of this name, Mi'kmaq, which is the plural non-possessive form derived from nikmaq, still generates a number of errors.

It should NOT be written as:
Mi'Kmaq [the K is not capitalized]
Mi'qmak [K and Q reversed]
Mik Maq [this is not two words, but one]
Mi'kmaqs [this word is already plural; to add an S is like saying "the Frenches" instead of "the French."]

The singular form of the word is Mi'kmaw. In this First Nations language, adjectives agree with nouns in terms of singular or plural. So, speaking this language, one would use the adjective Mi'kmaw with a singular noun; and the adjective Mi'kmaq with a plural noun. English as a language does not do this, which has led to confusion.

Some people are now using Mi'kmaq as the name, and Mi'kmaw as the only adjectival form in English, regardless of whether or not it agrees with the noun in number. English as a language does not accommodate any other language's structure in this way. We say, in English, "The French as a nation eat French food" or "A French man buys a French wine." There is no difference between the noun and the adjective, or any attempt to incorporate singular forms and plural forms in English.

To avoid confusion, the Nova Scotia Museum uses Mi'kmaq for everything, when writing in English. When writing in the Mi'kmaq language, we write as Mi'kmaq would be spoken or written.

In the interests of historical accuracy, we have given it as written in any quotation or artist's title.

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