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A question of legacy: Cree writing and the origin of the syllabics – CBC

Language history was made in Canada almost 180 years ago, but not everyone agrees on whose history it was.

In the northern reaches of what is now Manitoba, at Norway House, a Christian hymn was printed in Cree syllabics — a script alien to the Western eye. The syllabics are a writing system that represents the sounds of spoken Cree in shapes and forms, without analog in Roman lettering.

That was in 1840. Early the next year, a complete booklet of select Christian hymns in Cree was published in the same script. That hymnal consisted of 20 slim pages bound in Western book form — the first booklet printed in Cree syllabics.

But the origin of the writing system is contested. Historians generally did not credit the Cree with inventing the Cree syllabary (the system of Cree syllabics). Credit for that went to James Evans, a Wesleyan Methodist Christian missionary.

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