The Cree language (also called Cree-Montagnais-Naskapi) is spoken in many parts of Canada, from the Rocky Mountains in the West to Labrador in the East. Cree is also spoken in northern Montana in the United States. Often written in syllabics (i.e., symbols representing a combination of consonant and vowel, or just a consonant or vowel), Cree is the most widely spoken Indigenous language in Canada.
Indigenous languages are spoken in all regions of Canada. There are around 60 distinct Indigenous languages in Canada, falling into 10 separate language families. While in many places there has been decreased transmission of languages from one generation to the next, recognition of this has led to efforts by Indigenous peoples to revitalize and sustain their languages. Canada, and North America more generally, represent a highly complex linguistic region, with a large number of languages and great linguistic diversity. Indigenous languages are spoken widely, and are official languages in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, while the Yukon recognizes the significance of the Indigenous languages of the territory. On 6 December 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a plan to implement a new law to protect and preserve Indigenous languages in Canada.
Anishinaabemowin (also called Ojibwemowin, the Ojibwe/Ojibwa language, or Chippewa) is an Indigenous language, generally spanning from Manitoba to Québec, with a strong concentration around the Great Lakes. Elders share that the term Anishinaabemowin acknowledges the creation story of the Ojibwe people: “Anishinaabe” means “the spirit that is lowered down from above,” “-mo” refers to expression through speech and “-win” refers to the life energy within, used to do so. Linguists also explain that “-win” is a nominalizer that turns the verb Anishinaabemo (“he/she is speaking the Anishinaabe language”) into a noun.
It is often said that the Inuit have dozens of words to refer to snow and ice. Anthropologist John Steckley, in his book White Lies about the Inuit (2007), notes that many often cite 52 as the number of different terms in Inuktitut. This belief in a high number of words for snow and ice has been sharply criticized by a large number of linguists and anthropologists.
Chinook Jargon or Chinook Wawa — wawa meaning "talk" — is a pidgin language that was prevalent in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest in the 1800s and early 1900s. Its small vocabulary and simplified grammar and sound system made it ideal for communication between diverse communities, especially those engaged in trade. The language is based on Lower Chinook, Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka), French, English, with some contributions from Salishan, and other Indigenous languages. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 people could speak Chinook Wawa in 1875, and it was used widely in court testimony, newspaper advertising, missionary activity among Indigenous peoples, and everyday conversation from central British Columbia to northern California.
Inuktitut is an Indigenous language in North America spoken in the Canadian Arctic. It has approximately 34,000 speakers, located primarily in Nunavut and Québec, and is part of a larger Inuit language continuum (a series of dialects) stretching from Alaska to Greenland. Inuktitut uses a writing system called syllabics, created originally for the Cree, which represent combinations of consonants and vowels (see Cree Language). The language is also written in the Roman alphabet, and this is the exclusive writing system used in Labrador and parts of Western Nunavut. Inuktitut is a polysynthetic language, meaning that words tend to be longer and structurally more complex than their English or French counterparts.
Michif is a language spoken by Métis peoples mostly in parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Montana. Michif is mainly a combination of Cree and French, but the language also borrows from English and other Indigenous languages, including Ojibwa. Michif is considered an endangered language, with probably fewer than 1,000 speakers in North America.