Sunday, January 25, 2009

English words from Mohegan - Kikátohkawôkansh wuci Mohiksuyôtowáwôk

Some English speakers might be surprised to know that several fairly common English words come from Mohegan or other closely related Eastern Algonquian languages. This should probably not come as a big surprise since Mohegans and their neighbors were among the first Native Americans encountered by Europeans in the New World. An encounter with a new culture on a new continent with new types of flora and fauna and new traditions usually leads to the "borrowing" of words from the indigenous culture and language into the newly arrived, in this case European, foreign one. Many indigenous words were adopted by the Spaniards, the French, and the English from American Indian languages, such as chocolate, persimmon, tipi, tobacco, kayak, abalone, muskrat, pecan, opossum, hominy, succotash, muck-a-muck, and malamute (Cutler 2002).

Here are some Mohegan words that have come into English in one form or another. Can you identify them without looking at the answers below?

páhpohs (pah-poos)

skôks (skoNks)

mahkus (mah-kus), pl. mahkusunsh

sqah (skwah)

mos (moos)

tôpôk (toNboNk), pl. tôpôkansh

Did you figure them out?

Here are the answers:

papoose (baby), skunk, moccasin (shoe), squaw, moose, toboggan. 'Moccasin' and 'tobaggan' probably look more familiar in their Mohegan plural form. 'Skunk' is actually singular in Mohegan, although it probably looked like plural to English speakers with the s at the end, so it lost the final s in English to look more singular to English speakers. And even though, curiously, 'squaw' became a rather derogatory word in English, in Mohegan it means just 'woman', pure and simple.


Cutler, Charles. 2002. Tracks that speak: the legacy of Native American words in North American culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Nick said...

We're setting up a "what's the origin of this word" game for Wini's Girl Scout Troop. "Skunk" was one of our words!

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of all those people who can't wrap their minds around Homo sapiens being singular.