The Second Most Important Historical Native American Language: 1600s Massachusett

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Bob
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The Second Most Important Historical Native American Language: 1600s Massachusett

Post by Bob »

Quick thoughts on studying the 1600s Narragansett Language (aka Wampanoag aka Massachusett) for my Narragansett and Wampanoag friends and others:

This language is actually the second most important historical Native American language because of its heavy influence on English and the early years in which it was documented. It's actually a worldwide treasure for the window it gives unto prehistory and non-European civilizations (Eastern Algonquian Empires).

But it's especially relevant for Eastern Algonquian and East Coast Native Americans because it alone was earliest documented of the Eastern Algonquian languages.

Though notably Passamaquoddy from Maine or Nova Scotia has recently been made available in huge dictionary and free online and is remarkably well-preserved compared to 1600s Massachusett. 1600s Huron is also very notable.

The language is also neat because there's so many place names in it all around Massachusetts, including famous places like Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, and Salem, which are celebrated in American fiction.

It's also neat because it has one of the few writing systems to ever exist which are closely related to, or derived from, actual English orthography. It's actually a mix of mostly 1600s English spelling and Latin spelling. And its spelling has a very Shakespeare vibe to it, also, and is a good match for English literature from that era, including the monumental "Faerie Queene", which I have yet to read or study at any length. And which seems understudied in general and only studied by maybe some English majors.

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But otherwise, one of the most notable things about this language is that it seems to have the longest words in the world or close to it. It's comparable to modern and probably ancient Tamil from southern India. That said, the words are mostly that long because they repeat word parts three times as a part of word building. But the repetitions vary each time, so would take a special presentation by a language scientist to make this apparent to layfolk.

I have actually studied the related Central Algonquian language, Ojibwe, for years and years prior to studying 1600s Massachusett. Its words are of about the same length but I think 1600s Massachusett words are longer due to the language's phonology but also its very convoluted and English-like spelling system.

So it takes dedication to study the language at all because it's a strain to write out the long words. And I really ought to come out with an etymological dictionary explaining word parts because the language is even harder without that. There's a lot of that in the 1904 "Natick Dictionary" but totally not enough and it's not as accessible as it could be.

The last 3 years or so, I've been focusing on studying 1600s Massachusett Language most of the time. Though I've been on break since Christmas, so I've almost skipped a half year now. Still. So maybe I should say 2.5 years.

Oh, and though I've also made these points in recent posts on this language to facebook, it's notable that some languages save a lot of time in writing by using hieroglyphic writing systems. And 1600s Massachusett was probably one of them! I found evidence in 1600s documents telling of writing-like symbol systems used by several Algonquian peoples. This probably included the Wampanoag and Narragansett, though we have no accounts of them having such a "mnemonic symbol system" or the associated libraries described associated with it.

So Japanese today is notable for this, having borrowed Middle Chinese characters back around maybe the 900s AD, when the Kojiki was written. Other hieroglyphic writing systems, though, are not like this, in general, and don't save a whole lot of time with their spellings. Hieroglyphic, technically called logographic, writing systems, my specialty, typically just spell everything out by syllable and don't really have that many shortcuts.

Anyway, writing 1600s Masssachusett like that would get in the way of studying its word etymology. A lot of things about language are more accessible when an alphabet is used. That said, the greatest writings of all time will always be in hieroglyphic writing systems because their complexity allows for the inclusion of many ideas which alphabetic writing does not allow. Even very profound ideas. So exclusive study of alphabetic languages is actually a great tragedy, though typical all over the world now and for language scientists. ( I am maybe the first language scientist to do in-depth comparative study of all 50 or so known logographic writing systems, over the past 15 years. )

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That all said, I should also remind you that I am one of about 10 skilled scholars to ever do in-depth work on the 1600s Massachusett aka Narragansett aka Wampanoag language. In some ways, I might be the most educated of them all, from vast reading in many languages, though my linguistics is not as good as Goddard, though I have a BA Linguistics ( = Language Science), because I specialize in logographic writing systems and no more usual topics in language science. So the point is that few people have ever studied the language at all. Here's my interlinear glossed translations and you can see more at this website: https://anylanguageatall411.blogspot.co ... w=flipcard Here's the link to the homepage: https://anylanguageatall411.blogspot.co ... =flipcard

Which I think will change in the future, in consideration of recent attention given to the first most important historical Native American language, Mayan Hieroglyphic from the 300s AD onward. So we have actual writings from Native Americans from way before the Vikings or Columbus, though it's just timelines and object labels, no myths or other texts of any size and complexity. But still.

I'm so happy I did as it really deserves me getting a big place in American History for the great global importance of the language to anthropology and prehistory studies. I now have huge bragging rights. I should mention that I'm actually probably related to the Wampanoag and Narragansett by blood, as I'm Mohawk by blood. I have read that before the 1600s, they would intermarry (as well as fight). Which is a shocker, right, because I look totally White? But that's what my relatives who do genealogy tell me and I haven't checked it because my thing is the study of ancient and historical languages. I believe it, though, one of my great grandpas lived on reservations in good old Canada.

But otherwise, I'm really very little into anything about America. I've actually studied the writings in Mayan Hieroglyphic a lot because I mostly study hieroglyphic and ancient languages, few of which are from the USA or even the New World. The slight evidence is that there was writing and semi-writing all over the Americas (Incan, Mayan, Aztec, Powhatan, Walam Olum, Proto Micmac Hieroglyphic, Ojibwe Medicine Bark Symbols, etc). But it seems that somehow it was all destroyed and it's just not clear who entirely did it, Native Americans or Europeans. Ain't that a heartbreaker? But Native American scholars should join me in studying Mayan Hieroglyphic and the other ancient languages of the world. So send your scholars and join my facebook groups. There's still plenty of sizeable ancient and historic writings from all around the world, and even many sizeable texts, notably myths, that have been documented and even await decipherment in Native American languages.

Also, special thanks to Professor Jessie Baird whose Wampanaak Language Reclamation Project inspired all of my studies. Of all modern people, she deserves the most credit for this. She's a treasure not just to the Narragansett, Wampanoag, and nearby "Massachusett Language" peoples, she's a great treasure to the whole world owing to the overall and scientific importance of the 1600s version of the language. (Her version is closely based on the 1600s version but uses a way easier spelling system which is more in line with how most languages, including Spanish and German, but not French, are written. I prefer the original spelling system because it's famous from place names and I think people should use it for that reason. But it's difficult to pronounce on the order of Chinese and actually way worse than English or French spelling, maybe, so Baird's choice is not clear-cut.)

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I hope to resume my studies of 1600s Massachusett by next year or earlier. I'm trying hard to avoid getting coronavirus, in my early 30's, and only a little fat with some recent history of weight lifting and jogging. It actually doesn't get a lot of people but it does get people of every age, especially overweight ones. I do worry for certain friends and relatives of mine who are fat, and lost my uncle in law a few months ago to coronavirus aka covid 19.

Image: Here's KJV Psalms 1:2 from the 1709 bilingual Psalms in 1600s Massachusett. It was translated by Anglicans with probably Puritan leanings, types of Christians. Most of the 1600s Massachusett corpus is a c 1650s translation of the entire KJV Bible but without the Apocrypha included in the original KJV. Part of why I've done this project is that I'm an expert on the 20 or so ancient languages of the Bible and on Bible translation. I chose this passage because it's right at the beginning. There's a lot of static about most of the corpus being the Bible but it really unfortunately overshadows the importance of the language and its writing system. A big part of it is people making excuses to not study the language. A lot of historic and ancient languages are documented by religious and controversial texts.
https://archive.org/details/massachuset ... 9/mode/2up

Image

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This post was originally written for a facebook group for modern Narragansett and Wampanoag peoples, with some friends allowed. This is why I hedge the terminology. I also was posting about this language to Zompist Bboard before I started posting on this website instead.

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Here's other work I'm doing. My work on 1600s Massachusett actually involves conlanging because I have to make up the occassional word. To make it easy, I just derive them from existing words by adding a superscript vowel given broad semantic categories. So like an Egyptian determinative, yes.

[ This is a special preface I made for conlanging facebook groups. ]

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Bob
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Re: The Second Most Important Historical Native American Language: 1600s Massachusett

Post by Bob »

The IPA of the sample is something like:

k^wat wataapiiniimuuwaank ahtiija ...

a : schwa
aa: IPA a
ii : IPA i
uu : IPA u
k^w : like qu in quick

For an example of word-building,
WUTTAPENEAMOOONK : his delight

I think the core root is PEN but I can't think of what it might mean. I'll make a folk etymology of ( continue PE in general N ).

Its analysis might be:
( his delight < his WUTT noun A continue PE general N verb base material related to transitivity EAM base or oblique suffix OO common noun-creative suffix ONK )

As mentioned in the essay, the words get hellishly long when a root like QUAN gets reduplicated three times and each time is slightly different due to root and pattern morphology and or ablaut or whatever. "Grasshopper" is a good example and actually typical. I doubt the 1600s top scholars of Europe were able to figure that sort of thing out from what all I've read of what they said about this and other foreign languages. Latin uses reduplication quite a bit, though but I think it's quite straightforward and without much ablaut.


Part of the exhilaration of studying this language, though, is that really almost no one else has ever studied it. Even back in the 1600s, it doesn't seem like people were lining up in English or elsewhere to study this language. But it's quite possible that they were but we just don't have evidence of it. Which is also part of the mystique of this language and its related body of mythology. There is evidence that a lot of people were talking about them all over Europe, mostly in little unrelated decorations found in books from the era and depicting Native Americans. And what's creepier, scholars today seem entirely unaware of this. See, it's an insight of mine from vast comparative ethnography study and art history study: A rare and pioneering approach and technique. Of course, for this one, I think there's an edge of speculation and possible wishful thinking at play. But I don't think it's much wishful thinking. You'd have to be an expert in art and examine the art for yourself. Now, getting anything out of art of any era is very very tricky business, mind you, and requires a lot of study. Prehistory Studies is notably filled with all sorts of really pseudo-science and pathetic ideas about ancient art, notably even by top scholars. Yet, notwithstanding.

Part of my research is not avoiding controversy but saying what I think. People can dismiss me for not being a professor but they're missing out.

Most of the value of the language, by the way, lies in the etymologies of the words. Though it requires extensive expert-made folk etymology to be made easier to study. But it's more like the actual etymologies and study of the words that sheds real light on world prehistory and the Wampanoag Empire associated with it, with its native road systems, fortifications, organization, armies, and the comparable Powhatan Empire from a bit further south (Jamestown was in the middle of this one, near the capital).
Last edited by Bob on 15 Aug 2020 20:37, edited 1 time in total.
Bob
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Re: The Second Most Important Historical Native American Language: 1600s Massachusett

Post by Bob »

Notably, before discovering the importance of this language in its etymologies, I don't think I expected to find what I found. Though it's obvious what the language contains because it's mostly a translation of the KJV Bible, so to speak. (It's actually with heavy reference to the Biblical Hebrew and such.)

I had studied Mayan Hieroglyphic extensively but didn't have much of an idea about how rare 1600s Massachusett was in terms of post-1492 documentation of Native American languages. See, Mayan Hieroglyphic is head and shoulders above other New World Indigenous languages because it's the only sizeable and deciphered language from way before 1492, except maybe (I think so myself) the very small corpus of Epi-Olmec. But probably I anticipated discoveries like what I made because I started 1600s Massachusett about July 23, 2017 and have been making amazing historical and prehistorical discoveries in my comparative study of all logographic writing systems since about 2006 when I started my linguistics research.

Oh, but you know what? I hadn't reviewed the academic literature any before I started about July 23, 2017 and assumed that all this sort of thing about the language had already been discovered and made accessible. But it turns out that it hasn't and the academic literature for language science, history, and everything, for Colonial America, is in pathetic shambles. Mostly because they're terrible with Early Modern English and language science. Apparently almost no one worldwide has ever cared much about this topic, not even Americans. Colonial America is generally forgotten and avoided. I think Revolutionary America gets more attention.

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Note: I sometimes call "linguistics", the academic discipline, "language science" for the sake of my large non-academia audience as well as for myself. About 95% of people out there hear "linguistics" and think "translator" and "polyglot". People probably hear "language science" and think "prescriptivist grammar", though, but notwithstanding.
Bob
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Re: The Second Most Important Historical Native American Language: 1600s Massachusett

Post by Bob »

It's funny, the etymologies are typically like
( possessor (his)
- noun prefix
- root reduplicated three times in different ways due to ablaut
- maybe other roots, the weird sorts you find in Native American languages
- many word building suffixes whose meaning, if any, is obscure
- further possessor affixes (his) ).

I'm not really good with this like people like the Whimenz person from Zompist Bboard, so I struggle with the 1993 Hewson Proto-Algonquian dictionary and what etymologies by professors that I can find.

I've considered that it might be a "ritual language" that's used to translate the Bible and other texts but I really don't think so, I think it's the everyday that we're looking at. The words are super long because there's few phonemes.

But if so, why aren't words this long in Hiligaynon (central western Philippines, in which I am fluent and have done most of my amateur fieldwork)? One answer might be the extensive use of "ablaut reduplication". I also suspect that the translations avoid the noun incorporation that the actual language probably used a lot of. So the words are clunky because they were more all mashed up than what we get. I wish I could do extensive studies of Ojibwe and Passamaquoddy texts to get more of an idea but I really should not because I need to focus on my specialization in all 50 known logographic writing systems.
Bob
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Re: The Second Most Important Historical Native American Language: 1600s Massachusett

Post by Bob »

Here's a facebook post image by me giving an etymology of the word for "grasshopper" in 1600s Massachusett.

Image

I think that -ONT is a uncommon variant of -ONK (common verb to noun suffix) but I maybe haven't looked it up yet.

"螽蟖 is Japanese for "grasshopper" where 虫 is a bug, wings [|] and legs T." I put it there for comparison.

It's from this post to my facebook group about this language, you have to join it to see the post, though. New members welcome.
Thanksgiving Indian Language for All (Massachusetts Narragansett Wampanoag)

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2001846 ... 160882105/
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