The Eastern Algonquian languages
constitute a subgroup of the larger Algonquian family
, itself a member of the Algic family
. Prior to European contact, Eastern Algonquian consisted of some seventeen or more languages occupying contiguous territory on the Atlantic coast of North America and adjacent inland areas, from the Canadian Maritime
provinces to North Carolina
. Many of the Eastern Algonquian languages are now extinct, and the available information about individual languages varies widely. Some are known only from one or two documents containing words and phrases collected by missionaries, explorers or settlers, and some documents contain fragmentary evidence about more than one language or dialect.
Eastern Algonquian constitutes a separate genetic subgroup within the Algonquian family. The Eastern Algonquian languages are hypothesized to descend from Proto-Eastern Algonquian, an intermediate common language that is itself descended from Proto-Algonquian. Two other groups of Algonquian languages are sometimes recognized, Plains Algonquian, and Central Algonquian; these are geographic terms of convenience, and do not refer to genetic subgroupings.
Although the Algonquian language family was once one of the largest in America, extending from the Rocky Mountains
to the eastern seaboard and down to North Carolina
, and survival for the early English
settlers required their learning the language, when the English became dominant, they stopped learning the language. The Algonquians, however, who had a long tradition of bilingualism, learned English; in time, English became so dominant in the mixed society that speaking most of the Algonquian languages died out virtually completely.
According to Blair Rudes, a specialist in past and present American Indian languages from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte,
- For the most part, subjects would come first, objects would come second, verbs would come last. But sometimes objects would come after verbs. Adverbs would frequently come at the very beginning of a sentence.
- The Algonquian are among the easier [Native American languages] in terms of pronunciation for a European. They tend to be somewhat like Spanish, for example, in terms of having a consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel structure. This is one of the reasons why the English borrowed quite a number of words from the Algonquian language that we still have today, like pecan, opossum, and moccasins.
The known Eastern Algonquian languages are listed below, along with any recognized dialects. The list of languages below, with names for dialects, represents a consensus classification, with some emendation, for example treatment of Massachusett and Narragansett as distinct languages. In the case of poorly attested languages, particularly in southern New England, conclusive classification of written records as representing separate languages or dialects may not be possible.
Headings in upper case denote proposed subgroups within Eastern Algonquian.
1. Míkmaq (also known as Micmac, Mi’kmaq, Mi’gmaq, or Mi’kmaw)
- 2. Eastern Abnaki (also known as Abenaki or Abenaki-Penobscot)
- * Penobscot (also known as Old Town or Old Town Penobscot)
- * Caniba
- * Aroosagunticook
- * Pigwacket
- 3. Western Abnaki (also known as Abnaki, St. Francis, Abenaki, or Abenaki-Penobscot)
- 4. Malecite-Passamaquoddy (also known as Maliseet-Passamquoddy)
- * Maliseet (also known as Malecite)
- * Passamaquoddy
5. Etchemin (uncertain - See Note 1)
II. SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND
- 6. Massachusett
- * North Shore
- * Natick
- * Wampanoag
- * Nauset
- * Cowesit
- 7. Narragansett
- 8. Loup A (probably Nipmuck) (uncertain - See Note 2)
- 9. Loup B (uncertain - See Note 1)
- 10. Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk
- * Mohegan
- * Pequot
- * Niantic
- * Montauk
- * Shinnecock (uncertain)
- 11. Quiripi-Naugatuck-Unquachog
- * Quiripi (also known as Quinnipiak or Connecticut)
- * Naugatuck
- * Unquachog
- 12. Mahican (also known as Mohican)
- * Stockbridge
- * Moravian
- 13. Munsee
- 14. Unami (also known as Lenape)
- * Northern Unami
- * Southern Unami
- * Unalachtigo
- * Nanticoke
- * Piscataway (also known as Conoy)
- * Choptank
(also known as Virginia Algonquian)
17. Carolina Algonquian
(also known as Pamlico, Pamtico, Pampticough, Christianna Algonquian)
Notes on Classification
is only known from a list of numbers taken from people living between the St. John
Rivers recorded in 1609 by Marc Lescarbot
. The numbers in this list share features in common with different Algonquian languages from Massachusetts to New Brunswick, but as a set do not match any other known Algonquian language. Some other materials have been labelled as Etchemin but appear to represent other languages.
2. Loup A is the name given to an otherwise unknown language represented primarily by a single 124-page word list of a language probably spoken in central Massachusetts and nearby areas of northeastern Connecticut and northwestern Rhode Island. The manuscript contains some dialect mixture, and may reflect the language of known tribes in the area such as Nipmuck or Pocumtuck but a more definitive conclusion is not possible.
3. Loup B is known only from a 14–page word list that represents a number of different speech varieties. It has some features of Mahican and Western Abenaki but there is no further information available.
Eastern Algonquian as a Genetic Subgroup
The languages assigned to the Eastern Algonquian group are hypothesized to descend from an intermediate common ancestor proto-language
, referred to as Proto-Eastern Algonquian (PEA). By virtue of their common ancestry the Eastern Algonquian languages constitute a genetic subgroup, and the individual Eastern Algonquian languages descend from PEA.
By contrast, other Algonquian languages are hypothesized to descend directly from Proto-Algonquian, the ultimate common language ancestor of the Algonquian languages. It should be noted that one other possible subgroup apart from Eastern Algonquian may involve Ojibwe and Potawatomi, although further investigation is required.
The primary criterion for status as a genetic subgroup is that there exists a number of shared innovations assigned to the proposed subgroup that cannot be assigned to the ultimate ancestor language. A complex series of phonological and morphological innovations define Eastern Algonquian as a subgroup. These changes are consistent with the observation that the Eastern Algonquian languages, taken as a group, are comparatively homogenous, and show "that there is less diversity, by any measure, among them as a group than among the Algonquian languages as a whole or among the non-Eastern languages."
The validity of PEA as a genetic subgroup has been disputed. Pentland suggests that the strongest proof for the existence of Eastern Algonquian involves Micmac, Malecite-Passamaquoddy, Western and Eastern Abenaki, Munsee and Unami. He questions the Eastern Algonquian status of the southern New England languages, as well as Powhatan and Carolina Algonquian. Proulx has challenged the status of PEA as a genetic subgroup, while acknowledging the similarities shared by the Eastern languages. He has proposed that the similarities can be explained as the result of diffusion. Goddard has noted that the extent of the similarities would require extensive diffusion very early in the breakup of the Eastern Algonquian languages, and that such a position would be difficult in principle to differentiate from analyzing PEA as a genetic subgroup.
Eastern Algonquian Subgroupings
Similarities among subsets of some of the Eastern Algonquian languages have led to several proposals for further subgroupings within Eastern Algonquian: Abenakian, Southern New England Algonquian
(SNEA), and Delawaran,
with the latter consisting of Mahican and Common Delaware,
a further subgroup. The amount of evidence for each subgrouping varies, and the incomplete record for many parts of the Eastern Algonquian area makes interpretation of relations between the languages difficult.
As well, diffusion means that some common features may have spread beyond their original starting point through contact, and as a result, a number of characteristics occur in a language assigned to a proposed subgroup, but the same feature is also found in other adjacent languages that are not analysed as part of the subgroup in question. Appeal to both genetic subgroups and areal diffusion is required. Goddard notes: “Each Eastern Algonquian language shares features with each of its immediate neighbors, and the resulting continuum is of a sort that is likely to have resulted from the spread of linguistic innovations among forms of speech that were already partly differentiated but still similar enough to make partial bilingualism easy.”
Proceeding north to south, the languages of the Maritimes and New England are strongly differentiated from those further south (i.e. Mahican, the Delaware languages, Nanticoke, Carolina Algonquian, and Powhatan). At the same time the Southern New England languages (discussed below) share significant similarities, indicating a closer degree of relationship between them.
Micmac has innovated significantly relative to other Eastern Algonquian languages, particularly in terms of grammatical features, although it shares a number of phonological innovations and lexical features with Maliseet-Passamaquoddy and Eastern and Western Abenaki.
The proposed Abenakian subdivision comprises Eastern and Western Abenaki as well as Maliseet-Passamaquoddy; several phonological innovations are shared by these three languages.
Southern New England Algonquian (SNEA)
Goddard notes the similarities shared by the Southern New England languages. Siebert made the first explicit proposal for a Southern New England subgroup. Costa develops the proposal in some detail, providing arguments based upon several shared innovations found within SNEA.
Costa, largely following Siebert, proposes that the following languages are assigned to SNEA: Massachusett, Narragansett, Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk (probably also including Western and Niantic), Quiripi-Naugatuck, Unquachog, and Loup A. Etchemin may also have been part of this group but the very small amount of material available precludes a more definitive conclusion. Costa outlines three sound changes that are innovations uniquely assignable to Proto-Eastern Algonquian, and hence constitute evidence for the subgrouping (the asterisk denotes a reconstructed sound in the proto-language: (a) palatalization of Proto-Eastern-Algonquian (PEA) *k; (b) merger of PEA consonant clusters *hr and *hx; (c) shift of word-final PEA *r to š.
As well, refining a proposal made by Siebert, Costa adduces evidence indicating an east-west split with the SNEA subgroup. On both phonological and lexical grounds a distinction within SNEA can be made between a Western SNEA group consisting of the languages of central and Eastern Long Island, Connecticutt and southern Rhode Island: Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk, Quiripi-Naugatuck, and Unquachog; and an Eastern group consisting of Massachusett and Narragansett. Loup, probably aboriginally found on the northern border of the Western SNEA area and to the west of Massachusett, would appear to share features of the Western and Eastern subgroups.
Delawaran and Common Delaware
The closely related Delaware languages Munsee and Unami form a subgroup, with the two languages descending from an immediate ancestor called Common Delaware (CD). Goddard notes a small number of innovations in morphology and phonology that set Munsee and Unami off from their neighbours. As well, similarities between the Delaware languages and Mahican have been recognized in that Mahican shares innovations with Munsee and Unami, suggesting a subgroup containing Common Delaware and Mahican; this group has been referred to as Delawaran.
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