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First People's Language Resources





American Philosophical Society Native American Audio Collections
Executive Offices & Museum Gallery 104 South Fifth Street | Philadelphia, PA 19106-3387 | 215-440-3400
Library | 105 South Fifth Street | Philadelphia, PA 19106-3386 | 215-440-3400

A Survey of Linguistic Contact Phenomena in Contact Canadas by Martin Sneathfor Paul Cohen April 2014 In the paper I will reflect that linguistics has not been harmless to the Indigenous North Americans. Though this in nowhere explicitly stated, it is a defining part of the system that the colonial governments used to classify the indigenous peoples. This was a necessary step in alienating their land and relocating them onto reserves. Northern Iroquoian and Algonquian are the two linguistic families that the Europeans encountered in the Canadas.

Was the American phrase “suds and firewater” for beer and spirits a genuine translation from a Native-American language? Firewater - Do a shot of hard liquor and you'll feel the burn, which is why “firewater” is such an appropriate name. The word comes from a loose translation of the Native American term “ishkodewaaboo.” Here's the breakdown: “ishkode,” meaning “fire,” and “aabooo,” meaning “liquid.” In time, the loose translation “firewater” became popular slang for alcohol.


The American Philosophical Society has been collecting and working to preserve Native American languages since the time of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson collected a word list of the Unkechaug language on Long Island, a language that Jefferson believed to be on the brink of extinction. In 2010, the Unkechaug contacted the APS and requested a copy of the vocabulary list in order to begin the process of revitalizing their language. It is this long and proud heritage of preservation, partnership, and revitalization that this digital exhibit celebrates. There are 3,000 recordings, representing languages and songs of more than 40 Native American tribes, in the archives of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.
Some of them are over 100 years old, recorded on wax cylinders and wire spools. Most have been digitized, a couple dozen made readily available online. Many more will never be heard by the general public. "We've come to realize some recording are of sacred formulae," said Timothy Powell, director of the APS Native American Project. "To the Cherokee, it's dangerous; they can cause people harm. They believe if those recordings are digitized and put on the web — we would never do that, but should that happen — it kills the formulae." For the first time in its 269-year history, the American Philosophical Society is inviting Native Americans into its archive as experts of their own culture.
Tribal elders travel to Philadelphia in order to listen to these recordings and determine how sacred they are. Sacred recordings will be digitized and made available to visitors to the APS archive. But they will not be copied, even for academic research.
One of the indigenous ethnographers invited to listen to the tapes was Thomas Belt, a Cherokee teaching linguistics at West Carolina University. He came to the APS in 2010 to listen to a 1935 recording of Cherokee named Will West Long speaking in a formal oratory style. The Cherokees were split in 1938 when the American government forced Native Americans in the East and South to relocate: the Trail of Tears. The recordings at the APS show that both the Oklahoma Cherokees and those in North Carolina, though divided, maintained their traditional language and customs for over a century. "That's not a perception widley held by Cherokee people," said Powell. "What's fascinating is the style of oratory as much as language itself. It's a powerful message. It's way for Cherokee to reunite in the sense of a shared language." Said Belt in the 2010 recording made at APS, "it's a reminded we have that same concept of how to speak. We truly are the same people."

How many federally recognized tribes are there in the U.S... 564! See for yourself!

Carvings link Chinese with American Indians Asians may have crossed Bering Strait BEIJING Carvings identical to ancient Chinese characters have been found in American Indian sites dating back thousands of years, the China Daily reported. They so closely resemble the 3,000-year-old Shang Dynasty characters for the sun, sky, rain, water, crops, trees and astronomy that if they had not been found in America, Chinese experts would have classified them automatically as pre-221 B.C. Chinese script, the newspaper said. American Indian and Chinese pictographs in 56 matching sets were shown to senior academics at a symposium in Anyang, former capital of the Shang Dynasty.

The Mandan Language

From China

to Alaska

to Canada

Canada's Inuit seek unified script moves to unify writing system.
Signs in the mainly Inuit territory of Nunavut are written in the iconic Inuktitut syllabary as well as English. Inuktitut language is spoken by about 34,000 people across a vast area stretching from the Atlantic to Alaska, Inuktitut is currently written using two different scripts in Canada - a Latin-based version, and a script that uses symbols for Inuktitut syllables. There are also several regional variations for some words, the report points out. The word "moon" is written as tatqiq, takkik, tarqiq or a series of symbols, depending on location.

Our Mother Tongues
Frequently when one hears about the Native American experience in the United States, the focus is on the loss of traditions, folkways, and language. In contrast, this website was created to highlight a recent documentary by Anne Makepeace that focuses on the ways in which Native American languages have recovered and thrived in recent times. On the site, visitors should start by clicking on the interactive "Language Map". Here visitors can learn about twelve different languages, including Crow, Cherokee, Dakota, Euchee, and Lakota. Clicking on the "Voices" area gives visitors the opportunity to listen to Native Americans from different tribal communities speaking in their mother tongues. Additionally, visitors can send an electronic postcard from the site, read the site blog, and learn more about the project and the documentary.

11/1/14 The people who want their language to disappear
It's not unusual to hear about attempts to save a disappearing language - but in one place in rural California, some Native Americans actually want their language to die out with them. "We believe the way you reach richness in life is through knowledge. It gives you power and it is your responsibility to use that wisely. If you pass that knowledge on, you are responsible for the outcome. If someone misuses the knowledge you give them, if they use it to hurt someone, you as the person who gave it to them, are responsible for that hurt." Language is a potent force - more than the words alone, it can communicate a community's mindset, attitudes and priorities. The Maidu people and other groups struggling to retain their identity may be wary of sharing the key to it. The language barrier is one of the few defences they can still put up against the outside world. What will happen if the world is let in?


Esther Martinez Act: Native-languages bill becomes law. President Bush has signed into law legislation named after an Ohkay Owingeh storyteller and linguist.
Many of the original birch bark scrolls were destroyed by missionaries who saw the Midewiwin as an obstacle to Christianizing the Ojibwe.

the Ojibwe People's Dictionary


Cherokee Syllabary Pronunciation Key Sequoyah, a Cherokee mountaineer, invented the original first syllabary in modern times. The Cherokee alphabet is written in the syllabary form. A syllabary is an alphabet in which each letter in a word stands for a whole syllable (such as "ga" ) instead of a single letter (such as "g"). With the exception of the letter "s," Cherokee is a complete syllabary. Cree Syllabrary Pronounciation Key

Story Telling of North Carolina Indians

Center for Multilingual Multicultural Research

The Comanche Language and Cultural Preservation Committee

Pima County Arizona Radio Reference

"Redskin" Term Did Not Begin as Insult, Smithsonian Scholar Says
Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution linguist Ives Goddard spent seven months researching the history of the word "redskin." His conclusion: the word did not begin as an insult. Redskin was first used by Native Americans in the 18th century to distinguish themselves from whites encroaching on their lands and culture. The earliest known use of "redskin" was in a 1789 statement made by Illinois tribal chiefs negotiating with the British to switch loyalties away from the French. "I shall be pleased to have you come to speak to me yourself," said one statement attributed to a chief named Mosquito. "And if any redskins do you harm, I shall be able to look out for you even at the peril of my life." The French used the phrase "peaux Rouges " -- literally "red skins" -- to translate the chief's words. When it first appeared as an English expression in the early 1800s, "it came in the most respectful context and at the highest level," Goddard said. "...white people and Indians talking together, with the white people trying to ingratiate themselves." In July 22, 1815, "red skin" first appeared in print in a Missouri Gazette news story. Government envoys were rebuking Midwestern tribes for refusing to yield territory claimed by the United States. Meskwaki chief Black Thunder was unimpressed: "Restrain your feelings and hear calmly what I say," he told the envoys. "I have never injured you, and innocence can feel no fear. I turn to all red skins and white skins, and challenge an accusation against me." Goddard admits it is impossible to know whether the chiefs said "redskin" in their own languages or was merely translated that way by interpreters. The same is true of "white-skin." American Indian activist Susan Harjo is not impressed. "I'm very familiar with white men who uphold the judicious speech of white men," said the Cheyenne-Muscogee writer. "Europeans were not using high-minded language. [To them] we were only human when it came to territory, land cessions and whose side you were on." Harjo argues that the word "redskin" grew from the practice of offering bounties to anyone who killed Indians. Bounty hunters "needed proof of kill, but they had a storage problem," she said, adding that instead of a body, they accepted scalps or other parts of a "redskin." Linda Shoemaker, a University of Connecticut historian, weighed Goddard's research and Harjo's comments with her own studies. The final message, Shoemaker suggested, is that "even if the Indians were the first to use it, the origin has no relationship to later use. What happened at the beginning doesn't justify it today." Goddard's report appears in the European Review of Native American Studies.

Linguists Find the Words, and Pocahontas Speaks Again
A growing number of linguists and anthropologists are recreating dead or dying Indian languages. Their field, called "language revitalization," is the science of reconstructing lost languages. One benefit of these studies is the Virginia Algonquian dialogue spoken in "The New World," a movie about Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America (1607). Virginia Algonquian had not been spoken for more than two centuries. Only two modern accounts -- one by Captain John Smith and the other by the Jamestown colony secretary, William Strachey -- preserved some Virginia Algonquian words. So, when movie director Terrence Malick decided that Powhatan should speak in his own language, he called in Dr. Blair Rudes, a linguist involved with many Algonquian language projects. The first challenge for Dr. Rudes was the limited vocabulary. Smith set down just 50 Indian words, and Strachey compiled 600. The lists were written phonetically by Englishmen whose spelling and pronunciation differed, making it difficult to determine the actual Indian word. For instance Strachey set down words for walnut, shoes and two kinds of beast,
"paukauns:" paka-ni (meaning large nut),
"mawhcasuns:" maxkesen (shoe)
"aroughcoune :" i árehkan (raccoon)
"Opposum:" wápahshum

Dr. Rudes had to apply techniques of historical linguistics to rebuilding a language from these sketchy, unreliable word lists. To discover the language, Rudes depended upon several elements:
Each Algonquin language is different, but as closely related. Comparing the related Algonquin languages reveals common elements of grammar and sentence structure and many similarities in vocabulary.
Proto-Algonquian is an early language common to all Algonquian speech. A list complied by linguists contains 4,000 words from the surviving tongues and documentation of the extinct ones. He compared this list to Strachey's words.
A translation of the Bible into Munsee Delaware, an Algonquin language once spoken by Massachusetts Indians, offered Dr. Rudes insights. He adapted some of those words for Virginia Algonquian.
100-year-old recordings of the last Munsee Delaware speakers were a valuable guide to pronunciations.



RIP 2017 Passamaquoddy birchbark canoe maker David Moses Bridges.
He was recognized as a Traditional Arts Master by the Maine Arts Commission. David Moses Bridges - Canoe Maker Video Theresa Secord, a Penobscot basketmaker and National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow, said Bridges' death reverberates across Maine and the country. “David was an inspiration to many, especially young male Wabanaki artists, and a draw to many of our events, as a truly gifted artist, teacher and culture bearer,” she said. “He will always be remembered among the brightest stars of our Wabanaki culture today. The Passamaquoddys have a song, and some of the words are, 'We are the stars who sing, we sing with our light.' David now sings with his light.”

FACTS - Endangered Langages Hear Passamaquoddy - Penobscot and others
The related Algonquian languages were among the first in America to die out. No one is known to have spoken Virginia Algonquian since 1785. Like many other Indians, Algonquian speakers had no writing system, and their grammar and most of their vocabulary were lost.
Of the more than 15 original Algonquian languages in eastern North America, the two still spoken are Passamaquoddy-Malecite in Maine and Mikmaq in New Brunswick.
Like most of the 800 or more indigenous languages in North America, Virginia Algowhen became extinct as Indians declined in number, dispersed and lost their cultural identity due to European Invasion.
At least half the world's estimated 6,000 languages have so few remaining speakers that they are threatened with extinction. By 2100, it's believed less than 3,000 languages will survive.
Phil Konstatin's October 2006 Newsletter

William Bright, 78, Expert in Indigenous Languages, Is Dead
Colorado: William Bright spent more than 50 years studying the vanishing languages of indigenous people. In 1949, Bright received a bachelor's degree in linguistics from UC Berkeley. He then began his fieldwork among the Karuk, whose languages spoken by just a handful of elders. Since encounters with Europeans had rarely ended well for the Karuk, the community had little reason to welcome an outsider. But Bill Bright was deferential, curious and, at 21, scarcely more than a boy. He was also visibly homesick. The Karuk grandmothers took him in, baking him cookies and cakes and sharing their language. They named him Uhyanapatanvaanich, “little word-asker.” Shortly before his death, he was made an honorary member of the Karuk tribe, the first outsider to be so honored. Mr. Bright's approach to studying language was to learn it within its cultural context, which might include songs, poetry, stories and everyday conversation. And so, lugging unwieldy recording devices, he continued to make forays into traditional communities around the world, sitting down with native speakers and eliciting words, phrases and sentences. Among the languages on which he worked were Nahuatl, an Aztec language of Mexico; Cakchiquel, of Guatemala; Luiseño, Ute, Wishram and Yurok, languages of the Western United States; and Lushai, Kannada, Tamil and Tulu, languages of the Indian subcontinent.