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.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

And now for an update...

Happy 2009! What better way to start the new year off than with a new government and president who is actually intelligent and can speak in complete, coherent sentences. Everyone expects miracles from Obama in his first few days in office, but, hey--it took at least 8 years for us to get into this mess and will take time to try and undo what can be undone. I'm glad to see that Obama is already undoing some of Bush's legacy. I'm only sorry that he is not pursuing an investigation of the last "administration" to bring to light all the dirty deeds of the last 8 years. But anyway, thank goodness that's over!

I only have one course this semester, a linguistic typology course. Besides this, I have research hours which I will be using to write my first of three 30-40 page field statements, which are required before beginning the dissertation. The first statement, which will be on Eastern Algonquian stem structure and compound formation, is due in May.

It was a rather productive, if rather bland, winter break. I reviewed the proof of my article "Rumsen Folklore: Two Tales" for the Journal of Folklore Research (JFR) and made a few last-minute corrections. It should be in print any day now, and I await my two copies of this issue of the Journal to arrive in the mail. I also wrote another article which should hopefully be included in the next edition of the Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics (KWPL). This article is titled, "Some Observations of Rumsen Ohlone Grammar," and is a brief grammatical sketch of Rumsen based on one of the folktales from my article published in the JFR (in which I did not include grammatical notes).
Little has been written on Ohlone grammar in general, and nothing on Rumsen in particular, so I felt getting these grammatical tidbits in print (at least electronically) was important.

I hope to go to the Siouan and Caddoan Linguistics Conference in Lincoln, NE this coming June, so I may have to come up with a topic for another article on Biloxi. Hopefully I can get some grant money in order to present it and pay a portion of trip expenses. Not sure what to write about yet, however.

I've also been working on the Biloxi ethnography or ethnohistory (not quite sure what to call it yet). This is to be included with the new dictionary and hopefully will be published at some point, some day.

That about covers the latest.