Algonquian: Wikis


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North America
ISO 639-2 and 639-5: alg
Algonquian langs.png
Pre-contact distribution of Algonquian languages

The Algonquian languages (also Algonkian; pronounced /ælˈɡɒŋkwiən/ or /ælˈɡɒŋkiən/)[1] are a subfamily of Native American languages that includes most of the languages in the Algic language family. The name of the Algonquian language family is distinguished from the orthographically similar Algonquin dialect of the Ojibwe language, which is itself a member of the Algonquian language family. The term "Algonquin" derives from the Maliseet word elakómkwik (pronounced [ɛlæˈɡomoɡwik]), "they are our relatives/allies".[2][3] Many Algonquian languages are extremely endangered today, with few native speakers, while a number have already become extinct.

Speakers of Algonquian languages stretch from the east coast of North America to the Rocky Mountains. The proto-language from which all of the languages of the family descend, Proto-Algonquian, was spoken at least 3,000 years ago. There is no scholarly consensus as to the territory where this language was spoken. For information on the peoples speaking Algonquian languages, see Algonquian peoples.


Family division

This large family of around 27 languages is divided roughly into three major groupings. These are as follows: Central, Plains, and Eastern Algonquian, groupings primarily for convenience. Only Eastern Algonquian constitutes a true "genetic" subgroup.

The languages are listed below[4] (dialects and subdialects are listed on the Central Algonquian, Plains Algonquian, and Eastern Algonquian pages):

A. Plains

1. Blackfoot
2. Arapahoan (including Arapaho proper, Gros Ventre (AKA Atsina), Nawathinehena, and Besawunena)
3. Cheyenne

B. Central

4. Cree-Montagnais
5. Menominee (also known as Menomini)
I. Eastern Great Lakes (also known as Core Central)
a. Ojibwe-Potawatomi (also known as Ojibwe-Potawatomi-Ottawa, Anishinaabemowin, or the Anishinaabe language)
6. Ojibwe (also known as Ojibwa, Ojibway, Ojibwa-Ottawa, or the Anishinaabe language)
7. Potawatomi
8. Fox (also known as Fox-Sauk-Kickapoo or Mesquakie-Sauk-Kickapoo)
9. Shawnee
10. Miami-Illinois

C. Eastern

11. Mi'kmaq (also known as Micmac, Míkmaq, Mi'gmaq, or Mi'kmaw)
I. Abenakian
12. Eastern Abenaki (also known as Abenaki or Abenaki-Penobscot)
13. Western Abenaki (also known as Abnaki, St. Francis, Abenaki, or Abenaki-Penobscot)
14. Maliseet (also known as Maliseet-Passamquoddy or Malecite-Passamquoddy)
15. Etchemin (uncertain - See Note 1)
II. Southern New England
16. Massachusett (also known as Massachusett-Narragansett)
17. Loup A (probably Nipmuck) (uncertain - See Note 1)
18. Loup B (uncertain - See Note 1)
19. Mohegan-Pequot
20. Quiripi-Naugatuck-Unquachog (also known as Quiripi-Unquachog)
III. Delawarean
21. Mahican (also known as Mohican)
i. Lenape (also known as Delaware)
22. Munsee
23. Unami
24. Nanticoke
25. Piscataway (also known as Conoy)
26. Carolina Algonquian (also known as Pamlico, Pamtico, Pampticough, Christianna Algonquian)
27. Powhatan (also known as Virginia Algonquian)
28. Shinnecock (uncertain)


1. Etchemin and Loup were ethnographic terms used inconsistently by French colonists and missionaries. There is some debate whether distinct groups could ever have been identified with those names.

Etchemin is only known from a list of numbers from people living between the St. John and Kennebec 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. Certain intriguing similarities between the Etchimin list and Wampanoag might suggest that languages closely related to Wampanoag might have been spoken as far north as the coast of Maine in the precontact period.

The name Etchemin has also been applied to other material from what many scholars of Algonquian ethnography and linguistics believe to be Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, or Eastern Abenaki.

Some of the attested Loup vocabulary can be identified with different eastern Algonquian communities, including the Mahican, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and other groups. Loup A and Loup B refer to two vocabulary lists which cannot be conclusively identified with another known community. Loup A is most likely Nipmuck, and is also somewhat similar to the handful of words attested for Agawam. Loup B seems like a composite of different dialects. It is closest to Mahican and Western Abenaki. They also may represent unknown tribes or bands, or may have been interethnic trade pidgins of some kind. Documentary evidence for Loup B is very thin (14 pages); the documentary evidence for Loup A is much more extensive (124 pages), being documented in a manuscript dictionary from the French missionary period. See Uncertain/Extinct Algonquian Languages.

Genetic and areal relationships

Only Eastern Algonquian is a true genetic subgrouping. The Plains Algonquian and the Central Algonquian groups are not genetic groupings but rather areal groupings. This means that Blackfoot is no more closely related to Cheyenne than it is to Menominee. However, these areal groups often do have certain shared linguistic features, but the features in question are attributed to language contact.[5] Paul Proulx has argued that this traditional view is incorrect,[6] and that Central Algonquian (in which he includes the Plains Algonquian languages) is a genetic subgroup, with Eastern Algonquian consisting of several different subgroups. However, this classification scheme has failed to gain acceptance by other specialists in the Algonquian languages.[7]

Instead, the commonly-accepted subgrouping scheme is that proposed by Ives Goddard (1994); the essence of this proposal is that Proto-Algonquian originated to the west, perhaps in the Plateau region of Idaho and Oregon or the Rocky Mountain-Great Plains boundary of Montana, and then moved east, dropping off subgroups as it went along. By this scenario, Blackfoot was the first language to branch off, which coincides well with its position as the most divergent language of Algonquian. In west-to-east order, the subsequent branchings were Arapaho-Gros Ventre, Cree-Montagnais, Menominee, Cheyenne, then the core Great Lakes languages (Ojibwe-Potawatomi, Shawnee, Sauk-Fox-Kickapoo, and Miami-Illinois), then finally, Proto-Eastern Algonquian. This historical reconstruction accords best with the observed levels of divergence within the family, whereby the most divergent languages are found furthest west (since they constitute the earliest branchings), and the shallowest subgroupings are found furthest to the east (Eastern Algonquian, and arguably Core Central). Goddard also points out that there is clear evidence for pre-historical contact between Eastern Algonquian and Cree-Montagnais as well as between Cheyenne and Arapaho-Gros Ventre, and that there has long been especially extensive back-and-forth influence between Cree and Ojibwe.[8]

It has been suggested that the 'Eastern Great Lakes' languages—what Goddard has called 'Core Central', e.g., Ojibwe-Potawatomi, Shawnee, Sauk-Fox-Kickapoo, and Miami-Illinois (but not Cree-Montagnais or Menominee), may also constitute their own genetic grouping within Algonquian, since they share certain intriguing lexical and phonological innovations. However, this theory has not yet been fully fleshed out and is still considered conjectural.

Algonquian is sometimes said to have included the extinct Beothuk language of Newfoundland, although evidence is scarce and poorly recorded, and the claim is mainly based on geographic proximity.[9] Etchemin and the pre-colonial language of the Lumbees may also have been Algonquian languages, but in both cases documentary evidence is at best very weak. There is no documentary evidence whatsoever of an aboriginal Lumbee language.

Grammatical features

The Algonquian language family is known for its complex polysynthetic morphology and sophisticated verb system.[10] Statements that take many words to say in English can be expressed with a single word. Ex: (Menominee) paehtāwāēwesew "He is heard by higher powers" (paeht- 'hear', -āwāē- 'spirit', -wese- passivizer, -w third-person subject) or (Plains Cree) kāstāhikoyahk "it frightens us". These languages have been famously studied in the structuralist tradition by Leonard Bloomfield and Edward Sapir among others.

Algonquian nouns have an animate/inanimate contrast: some nouns are classed as animate, while all other nouns are inanimate.[11] There is ongoing debate over whether there is a semantic significance to the categorization of nouns as animate or inanimate, with scholars arguing for it as either a clearly semantic issue, or a purely syntactic issue, along with a variety of arguments in between. More structurally inclined linguistic scholars have argued that since there is no consistent semantic system for determining the animacy of a noun, that it must be a purely linguistic characterization. Anthropological linguists have conversely argued the strong connection between animacy and items viewed as having spiritual importance.

Another important distinction involves the contrast between nouns marked as proximate and those marked as obviative. Proximate nouns are those deemed most central or important to the discourse, while obviative nouns are those less important to the discourse.[12]

There are personal pronouns which distinguish three persons, two numbers (singular and plural), inclusive and exclusive first person plural, and proximate and obviative third persons. Verbs are divided into four classes: transitive verbs with an animate object (abbreviated "TA"), transitive verbs with an inanimate object ("TI"), intransitive verbs with an animate subject ("AI"), and intransitive verbs with an inanimate subject ("II").[12]


See the lists of words in the Algonquian languages and the list of words of Algonquian origin at Wiktionary, the free dictionary and Wikipedia's sibling project.

Loan words

Because Algonquian languages were some of the first with which Europeans came into contact in North America, the language family has given many words to English. Many eastern and midwestern U.S. states have names of Algonquian origin (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc.), as do many cities: Milwaukee, Chicago, et al. The capital of Canada is named after an Algonquian nation - the Odawa people.

For a more detailed treatment of geographical names in three Algonquian languages see the external link to the book by Trumbull.

See also


  1. ^ "Algonquian". Retrieved 2008-07-07.  
  2. ^ Campbell (1997:401 n. 133, 136)
  3. ^ Bright, William (2004). Native American Place Names of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, pg. 32
  4. ^ This classification follows Goddard (1996) and Mithun (1999)
  5. ^ Goddard 1994:187
  6. ^ Proulx 2003
  7. ^ Goddard 1994:199-200
  8. ^ Goddard 1994
  9. ^ Goddard 1979:106-7
  10. ^ Pentland 2006:163
  11. ^ Pentland 2006:163-4
  12. ^ a b Pentland 2006:164


  • Ethnologue entry for Algonquian languages
  • Bloomfield, Leonard (1946). "Algonquian". Linguistic Structures of Native America, ed. Harry Hoijer. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology: 6. New York.
  • Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Goddard, Ives (1979a). "Comparative Algonquian". In Lyle Campbell & Marianne Mithun, eds., The Languages of Native North America: Historical and Comparative Assessment, pp. 70–132. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • ———— (1994). "The West-to-East Cline in Algonquian Dialectology." In William Cowan, ed., Papers of the 25th Algonquian Conference, pp. 187–211. Ottawa: Carleton University.
  • ———— (1996). "Introduction". In Ives Goddard, ed., "Languages". Vol. 17 of William Sturtevant, ed., The Handbook of North American Indians. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution.
  • Grimes, Barbara F. (ed.). (2000). Ethnologue: Languages of the world, (14th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-55671-106-9. Online edition:, accessed on March 3, 2005.
  • Mithun, Marianne (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Moondancer and Strong Woman (2007). "A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England: Voices from Past and Present." Boulder, CO: Bauu Press. ISBN 0-9721349-3-X.
  • Pentland, David H. (2006). "Algonquian and Ritwan Languages". In Keith Brown, ed., Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics (2nd ed.), pp. 161–6. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • Proulx, Paul (2003). "The Evidence on Algonquian Genetic Grouping: A Matter of Relative Chronology." Anthropological Linguistics 45:201-25.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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  1. Relating to a group of North American languages.


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