Five Lost Native American Languages Rediscovered in Massachusetts

Native Amer Fish Knife, Smithsonian
A club from Massachusetts in the shape of a fish, probably Atlantic sturgeon, dates to about 1750. The area was previously thought to have only one language at the time of European contact, but new research reveals there were five Native American languages were spoken in the Connecticut Valley of central Massachusetts. (National Museum of the American Indian, catalog 202196).

American history has just been slightly rewritten. Previously, experts had believed that the Native Americans of central Massachusetts spoke a single language, Loup (pronounced “Lou,” literally meaning “wolf”). But new research shows that they spoke at least five different languages.

“It’s like some European families where you can have three different languages at the dinner table,” says Ives Goddard, curator emeritus and senior linguist in the department of anthropology at the Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of Natural History. “There was probably a lot of bilingualism. A question that is raised by there being so many languages is ‘how did that work?’ How did they manage to maintain five different languages in such a small area?”

The lost languages were re-discovered by taking another look at several manuscripts written by French missionaries who were also working as linguists in the late 1700’s. While working on her master’s thesis at the University of Manitoba, Holly Gustafson compiled a list of verb forms found in one of the manuscripts. Goddard noticed some contradictions in the compilation.

“In the course of doing this [Gustafson] sometimes says there’s this set of forms that is this way and another set of forms another way,” says Goddard. The fact that there were three different words recorded for beaver was also suspicious. “And I looked at this and thought there is too much difference. That made me think that there was more than one language involved,” he says … read more –>  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/

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