, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 565–598 | Cite as

Learning from the computational modelling of Plains Cree verbs

  • Atticus G. HarriganEmail author
  • Katherine Schmirler
  • Antti Arppe
  • Lene Antonsen
  • Trond Trosterud
  • Arok Wolvengrey


This paper describes the ongoing process of creating a computational morphological model of Plains Cree, a language native to North America, making use of finite-state machines, and with a focus on verbs. We cover prior linguistic theoretical and descriptive models of Plains Cree, moving on to the computational implementation of (chiefly) inflectional phenomena, followed by relevant morphophonological processes. We evaluate the performance of our computational implementation with a hand-verified corpus of Plains Cree, and present a discussion of the morphological complexity found in the corpus, as compared to that of our model and its theoretical underpinnings. The results of this evaluation and research into natural language use inform us about the practical extent of morphological complexity for a polysynthetic language, and allow us to identify avenues for improvement of the model. Finally, this computational model for Plains Cree offers the opportunity to create various digital tools and applications for language users for the maintenance and revitalization of this language in the 21st century.


Plains Cree Computational modelling Finite state transducer Morphological modelling 



We would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers and the guest editors of this issue for their helpful and insightful comments, as well as Dustin Bowers for his comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this paper. Moreover, we appreciate the comments, feedback and suggestions we received during the Workshop on Computational Methods for Descriptive and Theoretical Morphology organized by Olivier Bonami and Benoît Sagot at the 17th International Morphology Meeting.

This research was made possible by a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant (# 890-2013-0047), a SSHRC Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship (Master’s), a Kule Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS) Research Cluster Grant, and a Killam Cornerstones Grant (University of Alberta).


  1. Ahenakew, A. (2000). âh-âyîtaw isi ê-kî-kiskêyihtahkik maskihkiy/They knew both sides of medicine: Cree tales of curing and cursing told by Alice Ahenakew. In H. C. Wolfart & F. Ahenakew (Eds.), Publications of the Algonquian Text Society Winnipeg. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. Google Scholar
  2. Ahenakew, F., & Wolfart, H. C. (1983). Productive reduplication in Plains Cree. In Actes du quatorzième congrès des algonquinistes [Québec, 1982] (pp. 369–377). Google Scholar
  3. Arppe, A., Antonsen, L., Trosterud, T., Moshagen, S., Thunder, D., Snoek, C., Mills, T., Järvikivi, J., & Lachler, J. (2015). Turning language documentation into reader’s and writer’s software tools. Paper presented at 4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICDLC), Honolulu, HI, 26 February–1 March 2015. Google Scholar
  4. Arppe, A., Harrigan, A., & Schmirler, K. (2016a). So similar in principle, but so different in practice–mixing texts, elicitation and experimentation in the study of the Plains Cree independent and conjunct verb constructions. Paper presented at the 2nd new ways of analyzing syntactic variation, Ghent, Belgium: Universiteit Ghent. Google Scholar
  5. Arppe, A., Lachler, J., Trosterud, T., Antonsen, L., & Moshagen, S. N. (2016b). Basic language resource kits for endangered languages: A case study of Plains Cree. In C. Soria, L. Pretorius, T. Declerck, J. Mariani, K. Scannell, & E. Wandl-Vogt (Eds.), CCURL 2016—Collaboration and computing for under-resourced languages – towards an alliance for digital language diversity (LREC 2016 workshop), Portorož, Slovenia, 23 May 2016. European Language Resource Association. Google Scholar
  6. Arppe, A., Junker, M. O., & Torkornoo, D. (2017). Converting a comprehensive lexical database into a computational model: The case of east cree verb inflection. In Proceedings of the 2nd workshop on the use of computational methods in the study of endangered languages, association for computational linguistics (pp. 52–56). Google Scholar
  7. Arppe, A., Schmirler, K., Silfverberg, M., Huldén, M., & Wolvengrey, A. (to appear). Insights from computational modeling of the derivational structure of Plains Cree. Papers of the 48th Algonquian Conference. Google Scholar
  8. Artstein, R. (2017). Inter-annotator agreement. In N. Ide & J. Pustejovsky (Eds.), Handbook of linguistic annotation (pp. 297–313). Netherlands, Dordrecht: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-94-024-0881-2_11, CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bakker, P. (2006). Algonquian verb structure: Plains Cree. In G. J. Rowicka & E. B. Carlin (Eds.), What’s in a verb? Studies in the verbal morphology of the languages of the Americas (Vol. 5, pp. 3–27). Uthrecht: LOT, Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics. Google Scholar
  10. Bear, G., Fraser, M., Calliou, I., Wells, M., Lafond, A., & Longneck, R. (1992). Kôhkominawak otâcimowiniwâwa/Our grandmothers’ lives: As told in their own words, edited by F. Ahenakew and H. C. Wolfart, Vol. 3. University of Regina Press Google Scholar
  11. Beesley, K. R., & Karttunen, L. (2003). Finite state morphology. Center for the Study of Language and Information. Google Scholar
  12. Bick, E. (2011). A barebones constraint grammar. In Proceedings of the 25th Pacific Asia conference on language, information and computation, Singapore, December 16–18, 2011 (pp. 226–235). Google Scholar
  13. Bick, E., & Didriksen, T. (2015). Cg-3—beyond classical constraint grammar. In Proceedings of the 20th Nordic conference of computational linguistics, NODALIDA 2015, Vilnius, Lithuania, May 11–13, 2015 (Vol. 109, pp. 31–39). Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, Linköpings universitet. Google Scholar
  14. Bloomfield, L. (1946). Algonquian. In Viking fund publications in anthropology: Vol. 6. Linguistic structures of native America, New York (pp. 85–129). Google Scholar
  15. Bowers, D., Arppe, A., Lachler, J., Moshagen, S. N., & Trosterud, T. (2017). A morphological parser for Odawa. In Proceedings of the 2nd workshop on the use of computational methods in the study of endangered languages, Association for Computational Linguistics, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA (pp. 1–9). Google Scholar
  16. Cenerini, C. A. M. (2014). Relational verbs: Paradigm and practice in a manitoba dialect of Swampy Cree. PhD thesis, Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, University of Regina. Google Scholar
  17. Cook, C. (2014). The clause-typing system of plains cree: Indexicality, anaphoricity, and contrast. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cook, C., & Muehlbauer, J. (2010). A morpheme index of Plains Cree.
  19. Dahlstrom, A. (2014). Plains cree morphosyntax. Routledge Library Editions: Linguistics, Routledge. Google Scholar
  20. Ethnologue (2016). Cree, plains.
  21. Goddard, I. (1990). Primary and secondary stem derivation in Algonquian. International Journal of American Linguistics, 56(4), 449–483. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gutierrez-Vasques, X., Sierra, G., & Pompa, I. H. (2016). Axolotl: a web accessible parallel corpus for Spanish-Nahuatl. In N. Calzolari, K. Choukri, T. Declerck, S. Goggi, M. Grobelnik, B. Maegaard, J. Mariani, H. Mazo, A. Moreno, J. Odijk, & S. Piperidis (Eds.), Proceedings of the tenth international Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC 2016), Paris, France: European Language Resources Association (ELRA). Google Scholar
  23. Harrigan, A. G., & Arppe, A. (2015). oswêw êkwa ê-tipiskâk, mâka mâcîw âhpô ê-mâcît? Paper presented at the 47th algonquian conference, Winnipeg, Canada. University of Manitoba. Google Scholar
  24. Harrigan, A., & Tucker, B. (2015). Vowel spaces and reduction in Plains Cree. Journal of the Canadian Acoustics Association, 43(3), 124–125. Google Scholar
  25. Hulden, M. (2009). Foma: a finite-state compiler and library. In Proceedings of the 12th conference of the European chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (pp. 29–32). Association for Computational Linguistics. Google Scholar
  26. Johnson, R., Antonsen, L., & Trosterud, T. (2013). Using finite state transducers for making efficient reading comprehension dictionaries. In S. Oepen, K. Hagen, & J. B. Johannessen (Eds.), NEALT proceedings series: Vol. 16. Proceedings of the 19th Nordic Conference of Computational Linguistics (NODALIDA 2013) (pp. 59–71). Linköping, Sweden: Linköping University Electronic Press. Google Scholar
  27. Kâ-Nîpitêhtêw, J. (1998). Counselling speeches of Jim Kâ-Nîpitêhtêw. F. Ahenakew & H. C. Wolfart (Eds.). University of Manitoba Press. Google Scholar
  28. Karlsson, F. (1990). Constraint grammar as a framework for parsing unrestricted text. In H. Karlgren (Ed.), Proceedings of the 13th international conference of computational linguistics (Vol. 3, pp. 168–173). Stroudsburg, PA, USA: Association for Computational Linguistics. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Karlsson, F., Voutilainen, A., Heikkilä, J., & Anttila, A. (Eds.) (1995). Natural language processing: Vol. 4. Constraint grammar: a language-independent system for parsing unrestricted text. Berlin: de Gruyter. Google Scholar
  30. Karttunen, L. (2003). Computing with realizational morphology. In A. Gelbukh (Ed.), Computational linguistics and intelligent text processing: 4th international conference, CICLing 2003 Mexico City, Mexico, February 16–22, 2003 proceedings (pp. 203–214). Berlin: Springer. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kazeminejad, G., & Huldén, M. (2017). Creating lexical resources for polysynthetic languages—the case of Arapaho. In Proceedings of the 2nd workshop on the use of computational methods in the study of endangered languages, Association for Computational linguistics, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA (pp. 10–18). Google Scholar
  32. Lacombe, A. (1872). Dictionnaire et grammaire de la langue crise. Montreal: Beauchemin and Valois. Google Scholar
  33. LeClaire Nancy, Cardinal, G., Hunter, E., & Waugh, H.E. (1998). Alberta Elders’ Cree Dictionary =: Alperta ohci kehtehayak nehiyaw otwestamâkewasinahikan. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. Google Scholar
  34. Lewis, P. M., & Simons, G. F. (2012). Assessing Endangerment: Expanding Fishman’s GIDS. Revue roumaine de linguistique Editura Academiei: Bucuresti, 55(2), 103–120. Google Scholar
  35. Lindén, K., & Pirinen, T. (2009). Weighted finite-state morphological analysis of Finnish compounding with hfst-lexc. In K. Jokinen & E. Beck (Eds.), Proceedings of the 17th Nordic Conference of Computational Linguistics (NODALIDA 2009) (Vol. 4, pp. 89–95). Northern European Association for Language Technology. Google Scholar
  36. Lindén, K., Axelson, E., Hardwick, S., Silfverberg, M., & Pirinen, T. (2011). HFST-framework for compiling and applying morphologies. In Proceedings of second international workshop on Systems and Frameworks for Computational Morphology (SFCM) (pp. 37–85). Google Scholar
  37. Martínez-Gil, C., Zempoalteca-Pérez, A., Soancatl-Aguilar, V., de Jesús Estudillo-Ayala, M., Lara-Ramírez, J. E., & Alcántara-Santiago, S. (2012). Computer systems for analysis of Nahuatl. Research in Computing Science, 47, 11–16. Google Scholar
  38. Maskwachees Cultural College (1997). Nehiyaw Pîkiskwewinisa. Maskwachees Cultural College. Google Scholar
  39. Masuskapoe, C. (2010). piko kîkway ê-nakacihtât: kêkêk otâcimowina ê-nêhiyawastêki. In H. C. Wolfart F. Ahenakew (Eds.), Algonquian and Iroquoian linguistics. Google Scholar
  40. Minde, E. (1997). kwayask ê-kî-pê-kiskinowâpahtihicik/Their example showed me the way. F. Ahenakew & H. W. Edmonton (Eds.). University of Alberta Press. Google Scholar
  41. Muehlbauer, J. (2012). Vowel spaces in Plains Cree. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 42(1), 91–105. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Okimâsis, J. L. (2004). Cree, language of the Plains = nêhiyawêwin, paskwâwi-pîkiskwêwin. University of Regina publications: Vol. 13. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center. Google Scholar
  43. Ratt, S. (2016). Mâci-nêhiyawêwin = Beginning Cree. Regina: University of Regina Press. Google Scholar
  44. Rios, A. (2016). A basic language technology toolkit for Quechua. Procesamiento de Lenguaje Natural, 56, 91–94. Google Scholar
  45. Russell, K. (2008). Sandhi in Plains Cree. Journal of Phonetics, 36(3), 450–464. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schmirler, K., Arppe, A., Trosterud, T., & Antonsen, L. (2017). Computational modelling of Plains Cree syntax: A Constraint Grammar approach to verbs and arguments in a plains cree corpus. Paper presented at the 49th algonquian conference, Montreal, QC. Google Scholar
  47. Schmirler, K., Harrigan, A. G., Arppe, A., & Wolvengrey, A. (to appear). Plains Cree verbal derivational morphology: A corpus investigation. Papers of the 48th Algonquian Conference. Google Scholar
  48. Snoek, C., Thunder, D., Loo, K., Arppe, A., Lachler, J., Moshagen, S., & Trosterud, T. (2014). Modeling the noun morphology of Plains Cree. In Proceedings of the 2014 workshop on the use of computational methods in the study of endangered languages, Association for Computational Linguistics (pp. 34–42). Google Scholar
  49. Statistics Canada (2015). Population with an aboriginal mother tongue by language family, main languages within these families and their main provincial and territorial concentrations, Canada, 2011.
  50. Stump, G. T. (2001). Inflectional morphology: A theory of paradigm structure. no. Cambridge studies in linguistics: Vol. 93. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Trosterud, T. (2006). Grammatically based language technology for minority languages. In A. Saxena & L. Borin (Eds.), Lesser known languages of South Asia (pp. 293–316). Hague: de Gruyter. Google Scholar
  52. Valentine, R. (2001). Nishnaabemwin reference grammar. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Google Scholar
  53. Vandall, P., & Douquette, J. (1987). wâskahikaniwiyiniw-âcimowina/Stories of the house people. F. Ahenakew (Ed.). University of Manitoba Press. Google Scholar
  54. Whitecalf, S. (1993). kinêhiyâwiwininaw nêhiyawêwin/The Cree language is our identity: The La Ronge lectures of Sarah Whitecalf. Publications of the algonquian text society/collection de la société d’édition des textes algonquiennes Winnipeg. University of Manitoba Press. Edited and translated by H. C. Wolfart and F. Ahenakew. Google Scholar
  55. Wolfart, H. C. (1973). Plains Cree: A grammatical study. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society: new ser., v. 63, pt. 5, Philadelphia, American Philosophical Society, 1973. Google Scholar
  56. Wolfart, H. C. (1996). Sketch of Cree, an Algonquian Language. In Languages: Vol. 17. Handbook of American Indians (pp. 390–439). Washington: Smithsonian Institute. Google Scholar
  57. Wolvengrey, A. (2001). nêhiyawêwin itwêwina = Cree: Words, bilingual edition edn. Regina: University of Regina Press. Google Scholar
  58. Wolvengrey, A. (2011). Semantic and pragmatic functions in Plains Cree syntax. PhD thesis, University of Amsterdam. Google Scholar
  59. Wolvengrey, A. (2012). The verbal morphosyntax of Aspect-Tense-Modality in dialects of Cree. Paper presented at the 2nd international conference on functional discourse grammar, Ghent, Belgium: Universiteit Ghent. Google Scholar
  60. Wolvengrey, A. (2015). Preverb combinations, co-occurrences and sequences: Preliminary findings from a preliminary Plains Cree corpus. Paper presented at the 2nd prairie workshop on language and linguistics. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Atticus G. Harrigan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katherine Schmirler
    • 1
  • Antti Arppe
    • 1
  • Lene Antonsen
    • 2
  • Trond Trosterud
    • 3
  • Arok Wolvengrey
    • 4
  1. 1.University of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Universitetet i Tromsø—Norges arktiske universitetTromsoNorway
  3. 3.Universitetet i Tromsø—Norges arktiske universitetTromsoNorway
  4. 4.First Nations University of CanadaReginaCanada

Personalised recommendations