|Eastern: Alnombak, Alnôbak, Eastern Abnaki, Wawenock // Western: Abenaqui, Alnombak, Saint Francis, Western Abnaki|
|Eastern: Alənαpαtəwéwαkan, Western: Alnôbaôdwawôgan|
|Native to||Canada, United States|
|Region||Quebec, New Brunswick, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire|
|Ethnicity||1,800 Abnaki and Penobscot (1982)|
|14 Western Abenaki (2007–2012)|
Last fluent speaker of Eastern Abenaki died in 1993.
Western Abenaki is classified as critically endangered by the Endangered Languages Project (ELP)
Abenaki (Eastern: Alənαpαtəwéwαkan, Western: Alnôbaôdwawôgan) is an endangered Eastern Algonquian language of Quebec and the northern states of New England. The language has Eastern and Western forms which differ in vocabulary and phonology and are sometimes considered distinct languages.
Western Abenaki was spoken in New Hampshire, Vermont, north-western Massachusetts, and southern Quebec. Odanak, Quebec is a First Nations reserve located near the Saint-François River — these peoples were referred to as Saint Francis Indians by English writers after the 1700s. The few remaining speakers of Western Abenaki live predominately in Odanak and the last fully fluent speaker, Cécile (Wawanolett) Joubert died in 2006. A revitalization effort was started in Odanak in 1994; however, as of 2004 younger generations are not learning the language and the remaining speakers are elderly, making Western Abenaki nearly extinct.
Eastern Abenaki languages are spoken by several peoples, including the Miꞌkmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot of coastal Maine. The last known natively fluent speaker of Penobscot, Madeline Shay, died in 1993. However, several Penobscot elders still speak Penobscot, and there is an ongoing effort to preserve it and teach it in the local schools; much of the language was preserved by Frank Siebert. Other dialects of Eastern Abenaki such as Caniba and Aroosagunticook are documented in French-language materials from the colonial period.
In Reflections in Bullough's Pond, historian Diana Muir argues that Abenaki neighbors, the pre-contact Iroquois, were an imperialist, expansionist culture whose cultivation of the corn/beans/squash agricultural complex enabled them to support a large population. They made war primarily against neighboring Algonquian peoples, including the Abenaki. Muir uses archaeological data to argue that the Iroquois expansion onto Algonquian lands was checked by the Algonquian adoption of agriculture, which enabled them to support populations large enough to raise sufficient warriors to defend against the threat of Iroquois conquest.[page needed]
In 1614, six years before the Mayflower arrived in New England, Captain Thomas Hunt captured 24 young Abenaki people from what would later become Massachusetts and took them to Spain to sell as slaves. As a result, when the Mayflower landed and English settlers began to establish colonies in the southern end of Abenaki territory, relations between the settlers and natives remained guarded. The religious leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony discouraged social interaction with the natives.
By contrast, the French had already planted the colonies of New France in the northern part of Abenaki territory, and maintained reasonably cordial relations with the natives. Intermarriage between the French and natives gave rise to the Métis people. Over the next hundred years, conflicts between the French and the English often included their colonies and their respective native allies. The French treated their Abenaki allies with some respect; in 1706, Louis XIV knighted Chief Assacumbuit for his service, thus elevating him as a member of the French nobility.
Around 1669, the Abenaki started to emigrate to Quebec due to conflicts with English colonists and epidemics of new infectious diseases. The governor of New France allocated two seigneuries (large self-administered areas similar to feudal fiefs). The first was on the Saint Francis River and is now known as the Odanak Indian Reservation; the second was founded near Bécancour and is called the Wolinak Indian Reservation.
Main article: French and Indian Wars
When the Wampanoag under Metacomet, also called "King Philip", fought the English colonists in New England in 1675 in King Philip's War, the Abenaki joined the Wampanoag. For three years there was fighting along the Maine frontier in the First Abenaki War. The Abenaki pushed back the line of white settlement by devastating raids on scattered farmhouses and small villages. The war was settled by a peace treaty in 1678.
During Queen Anne's War in 1702, the Abenaki were allied with the French; they raided numerous small villages in Maine from Wells to Casco, killing about 300 settlers over ten years. The raids stopped when the war ended. Some captives were adopted into the Mohawk and Abenaki tribes; older captives were generally ransomed, and the colonies carried on a brisk trade.
The Third Abenaki War (1722–1725), called Dummer's War, erupted when the French Jesuit missionary Sébastien Rale (or Rasles, 1657?–1724) encouraged the Abenaki to halt the spread of Yankee settlements. When the Massachusetts militia tried to seize Rasles, the Abenaki raided the settlements at Brunswick, Arrowsick, and Merry-Meeting Bay. The Massachusetts government then declared war, and bloody battles were fought at Norridgewock (1724), where Rasles was killed, and at a daylong battle at Pequawket, an Indian village near present-day Fryeburg, Maine, on the upper Saco River (1725).
Peace conferences at Boston and Casco Bay brought an end to the war. After Rale died, the Abenaki moved to a settlement on the St. Francis River.
The Abenaki from St. Francois continued to raid British colonial settlements in their former homelands along the New England frontier during Father Le Loutre's War (see Northeast Coast Campaign (1750)) and the French and Indian War.
Due to French and English contact with Western Abenaki people in the 1640s and earlier, many loan words were quickly incorporated into Western Abenaki and have stayed for nearly four centuries. Yet during the latter half of the 19th century, word borrowing increased due to many Western Abenaki people being in close contact with summer resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire, as well as continued contact with French-Canadians.
Notably, plural English nouns were borrowed into Western Abenaki as a singular form that were then made plural by adding Abenaki plural endings. For example, the word oxen was borrowed as asken ‘an ox’ that was pluralized into aksenak. Similarly, the word potatoes was borrowed as badades ‘potato’ that was pluralized into badadesak.
The development of tourism projects has allowed the Canadian Abenaki to develop a modern economy while preserving their culture and traditions. For example, since 1960, the Odanak Historical Society has managed the first and one of the largest aboriginal museums in Quebec, a few miles from the Quebec-Montreal axis. Over 5,000 people visit the Abenaki Museum annually. Several Abenaki companies include: in Wôlinak, General Fiberglass Engineering employs a dozen natives, with annual sales of more than $3 million Canadian dollars. Odanak is now active in transportation and distribution. Notable Abenaki from this area include the documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin (National Film Board of Canada).
These two tribes are officially listed federally recognized as tribes in the United States. The Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine was recognized by the federal courts as a tribe, but not having a land trust with the government since never entering into a formal treaty. This launched the very long legal battle that paved the way for many other tribes across America to file suits regarding asset mismanagement. After winning the landmark case, similar cases were filed in 2006 by 60 tribes from throughout the United States. Among the Passamaquoddy's assets was $13.5 million in federal funds that were allocated to the tribe in 1980 through the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, which was settled for $81.5 million.
Many Abenaki living in Vermont have been assimilated, and only small remnants remained on reservations during and after the French and Indian War. Facing annihilation, many Abenaki had begun emigrating to Canada, then under French control, around 1669. The Abenaki who chose to remain in the United States did not fare as well as their Canadian counterparts.
The Sokoki-St. Francis Band of the Abenaki Nation organized a tribal council in 1976 at Swanton, Vermont. Vermont granted recognition of the council the same year, but later withdrew it. In 1982, the band applied for federal recognition, which is still pending. Four Abenaki communities are located in Vermont. In 2006, the state of Vermont officially recognized the Abenaki as a people, but not a tribe. The Vermont Elnu (Jamaica) and Nulhegan (Brownington) bands' applications for official recognition were recommended and referred to the Vermont General Assembly by the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs on January 19, 2011, as a result of a process established by the Vermont legislature in 2010. Recognition allows applicants to seek scholarship funds reserved for American Indians and to receive federal "native made" designation for the bands' arts and crafts. On May 7, 2012, the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi and the Koasek of the Koas Abenaki Traditional Band received recognition by the State of Vermont.
In New Hampshire the Abenaki, along with other Native American groups, have proposed legislation for recognition as a minority group. This bill was debated in 2010 in the state legislature. The bill would have created a state commission on Native American relations, which would act as an advisory group to the governor and the state government in general. The Abenaki want to gain formal state recognition as a people.
Opponents of the bill feared it could lead to Abenaki land claims for property now owned and occupied by European Americans. Others worried that the Abenaki may use recognition as a step toward opening a casino. But the bill specifically says that "this act shall not be interpreted to provide any Native American or Abenaki person with any other special rights or privileges that the state does not confer on or grant to other state residents." New Hampshire has considered expanding gambling separate from the Native Americans.
The council would be under the Department of Cultural Resources, so it would be in the same department as the State Council on the Arts. The bill would allow for the creation and sale of goods to be labeled as native-made to create a source of income for the natives in New Hampshire.
The numerous groups of natives in the state have created a New Hampshire Inter-tribal Council, which holds statewide meetings and powwows. Dedicated to preserving the culture of the natives in New Hampshire, the group is one of the chief supporters of the HB 1610; the Abenaki, the main tribe in the state, are the only people named specifically in the bill.
A new generation is actively preserving and revitalizing the language. The late Joseph Elie Joubert from the Odanak reservation and fluent speaker, Jesse Bowman Bruchac, lead partial immersion classes in the language across the Northeastern United States. They have created several Abenaki books, audio, video, and web-based media to help others learn the language. In July 2013, the Penobscot Nation, the University of Maine and the American Philosophical Society received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to expand and publish the first Penobscot Dictionary.
As with most Indigenous languages, due to residential schooling and colonialism, and with the fading of generations, the number of speakers has declined. Abenaki had as few as twelve native speakers in 2015, but with recent focus and extra efforts in the Abenaki community, this number seems to be growing. Today, there are some passionate Abenaki and non-Abenaki people like Jeanne Brink of Vermont who are trying to revitalize Abenaki culture, including their language and basket-making traditions. Currently, there are about 12,000 people of varying Abenaki heritage in the Canadian and New England regions. In Maine, there are about 3,000 Penobscot Native Americans, and this group is a large driving force of the language resurrection.
In addition to Brink and others, Jesse Bruchac is a loud voice in the Abenaki culture. Along with writing and publishing various Abenaki books, he created a movie and sound piece telling the Native American side of Thanksgiving, spoken in Abenaki. In this film, Saints & Strangers, the three actors not only memorized their lines in Abenaki but also learned the syntax behind the language. This revitalization of the famous Thanksgiving story from a new tongue and perspective offered a more original and full version of what Thanksgiving might have really been like so many years ago.
In his novel, Lȣdwawȣgan Wji Abaznodakawȣgan: The Language of Basket Making, Bruchac notes that Abenaki is a polysynthetic language, which allows for virtually unlimited means to express oneself. Abenaki consists of both dependent and independent grammar which addresses the gender of the speaker. Abenaki has nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adjectives. The structure of the sentence or phrase varies depending on whether the noun is animate or inanimate.
Although written primarily in English, Alnȣbak News helped to preserve the Abenaki language through the inclusion of Abenaki words and their translations. Alnȣbak News was a quarterly newsletter that discussed cultural, historical, and contemporary information regarding the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki. It was started in 1993 by Paul Pouilot, Sagamo of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki. The word Alnȣbak/Alnôbak (pronounced: /'al.nɔ̃.bak/) is often used as a synonym to Abenaki. Initially the newsletter was called Alnȣbaȣdwa National News (Alnȣbaȣdwa or Alnôbaôdwa means 'Speaking Abenaki'). Issues of the quarterly newsletter from 2003–2010 were published by the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki on their website. According to a statement made by the Band, after 2010, they stopped publishing the newsletter on their website due to a lack of financial support from online readers. Alnȣbak News included community-related information such as updates on governance issues, notices of social events, and obituaries. The newsletter also included Band history, genealogy, language lessons, recipes, plant and animal studies, books reviews, and writings by Band members.
The English word skunk, attested in New England in the 1630s, is probably borrowed from the Abenaki segôkw. About 500 Penobscot words are still being used in the community in everyday language such as Muhmum for 'grandpa' and nolke for 'deer'.
The 2015 National Geographic Channel miniseries Saints & Strangers told the story of the founding of Plymouth Plantation and the celebration of the "First Thanksgiving". It contained a considerable amount of dialogue in Western Abenaki. Several actors, including Tatanka Means (Hobbamock), and Raoul Trujillo (Massasoit) spoke the language exclusively throughout the series, and Kalani Qweypo (Squanto) spoke both Abenaki and English. Western Abenaki language teacher Jesse Bruchac of Ndakinna Education Center was hired as a language consultant on the film.
Eastern Abenaki dialects include Penobscot, Norridgewock, Caniba, Androscoggin, and Pequawket.
Western Abenaki dialects are Arsigantegok, Missisquoi, Sokoki, Pennacook, and Odanak.
Both the Eastern and Western dialects of Abenaki have 18 consonant sounds in total.
|Plosive||p b||t d||k ɡ||kʷ ɡʷ|
It's important to note that historically Western Abenaki speakers varied in the ways they pronounced the alveolar affricate phonemes /c/ and /j/. More than half of the population pronounced /c/ like /ts/ and /j/ like /dz/ and the rest pronounced /c/ like /ch/ and /j/ like /dg/.
There isn't one Western Abenaki orthography that is generally accepted by linguists or Abenaki speakers, but speakers typically do understand the orthographies of Joseph Laurent and Henry Lorne Masta––Western Abenaki writers who taught the language at Odanak.
Masta and Laurent's orthographies.
|p||p||p / pp|
|b||p / b||b|
|t||t / tt||t|
|d||t / d||d|
|k||k / kk||k|
|g||k / g||g|
|s||s / ss||s|
|z||s / z||z|
|c||c / ts||ch|
|j||c||c / ts||c|
|j||c / j / dz||j|
|w||w||w / u||w / u / '|
|i (ɛ)||i (ɛ)||i||i|
|ə||ə||e||e / u|
|o||o||o / w||o|
Stress within words in Western Abenaki is based on an alternating stress rule:
As of 2004, linguists are unsure if a minimum syllable count is present in order for a word to be stressed.
Stress within sentences:
When a word is pronounced on its own, its stressed final syllable is typically high pitched. However, this is not necessarily characteristic of the specific word, because as stated above, declarative sentences end on a low pitch.
The words of Western Abenaki are generally made up of a central core (the root) with affixes attached. Often a single word will translate to a phrase in English. The affixes themselves typically don’t translate to just one word either. Western Abenaki utilizes both suffixes and prefixes, often in combination (prefix-…-suffix; …-suffix -suffix; etc). The affixes tend to be quite short compared to the root of the word. With these observations in mind, Western Abenaki can be considered a synthetic agglutinative language.
Like all Algonquin languages, the animacy of nouns is really important to distinguish in Western Abenaki. Animate nouns refer to animals, people, and other living or powerful things. Inanimate nouns refer to lifeless things. This is necessary to know because the animacy of a noun plays a large role in what form the endings of other words connected to them will take. However, some classifications are arbitrary. For example, the word zegweskimen 'raspberry' is animate while the word zata 'blueberry' is inanimate. So the animacy of certain nouns must be learned individually.
The plural suffixes of both noun forms:
Each suffix is used according to the final sound of the noun––
There are a few exceptions to these rules that have to be learned individually.
In most sentences of Western Abenaki, pronouns are not expressed as separate words but as affixes attached to other words. However, separate words are sometimes used to emphasis the pronoun in use.
|Pronoun||English||Term||Possessive Pronoun Affixes|
|nia||I, me||1st person singular||n- / nd-|
|kia||you (singular)||2nd person singular||k- / kd-|
|agma||he, she, him, her||3rd person singular||w- (o-) / wd-|
|niona||we, us (exclusive)||1st person plural exclusive||n- / nd- ... -na(w)|
|kiona||we, us (inclusive)||1st person plural inclusive||k- / kd- ... -na(w)|
|kiowô||you (plural)||2nd person plural||k- / kd- ... -(o)wô|
|agmôwô||they, them||3rd person plural||w- (o-) / wd- ... -(o)wô|
The first person plural exclusive and inclusive pronouns are very important distinctions in Western Abenaki. The inclusive form means you are including the person you are talking to in the "we" or "us". While the exclusive form means you are excluding them from the "we" or "us".
The form of the possessive pronoun affix you must use depends on the sound it's supposed to attach to. The forms nd- / kd- / wd- are used if the word begins with a vowel. The w- forms become o- in front of consonants. If a k- form needs to be attached to a word that begins with 'g' or 'k' they fuse into a single 'k' as the prefix. Possessive pronoun prefixes are written with an apostrophe before the word (as shown in examples below)
It's important to note that /w/ is pronounced as /o/ when it appears at the beginning or end of a word before a consonant or between two consonants. It is sometimes written as 'o' in these situations and is still considered a consonant.
Examples of the possessive pronoun affixes on an animate and inanimate noun:
–Possessed animate noun 'cow':
n'kaozem `my cow'
k'kaozem `thy cow'
w'kaozema `his cow'
n'kaozemna `our cow' [excl]
k'kaozemna `our cow' [incl]
k'kaozemwô `your cow'
w'kaozemwô `their cow'
–Possessed inanimate noun 'gun':
n'paskhigan `my gun'
k'paskhigan `thy gun'
w'paskhigan `his gun'
n'paskhiganna `our gun' [excl]
k'paskhiganna `our gun' [incl]
k'paskiganowô `your gun'
w'paskhiganowô `their gun'
Two main verb distinctions in Western Abenaki are intransitive verbs and transitive verbs.
In thinking about these two verb types along with Western Abenaki’s distinction between animate and inanimate things, this results in a split of four different types of verbs in Western Abenaki (which is true of all Algonquian languages)
There are seven morphological processes in Western Abenaki. These processes are used to describe the changes to affixes that occur when they are combined in different ways.
In general, the sentence structure appears to be SOV, but word order is largely free, being mainly dependent on pragmatic factors. While the verb phrase tends to not have a common, basic order, there are still complementizer phrases and inflectional phrases that are more clear. In Abenaki, there are no apparent complementizers, but it is assumed that wh-words (who, what, when, why) start complementizer phrases, while declarative sentences are assumed to be inflectional phrases.
Enclitic particles function in a syntactically interesting way. In Western Abenaki, there are ten enclitic particles.
|=ahto 'probably'||=ka 'focus'|
|=akʷa 'they say, it is said'||=nawa 'then, therefore'|
|=ci 'future'||=pa 'conditional'|
|=hki 'contrast, focus'||=ta 'emphasis'|
|=hpəkʷa 'in fact'||=tahki 'but, however'|
These are also known as 'second-position' clitics because they come after the first word within the complementizer phrase or inflectional phrase. However, clitics don’t always simply follow the first word of a sentence. Clitics can also attach to clause-initial conjunctions, such as tta ‘and’, ni ‘and then’, and ala ‘or’ or to the word that follows the conjunction. A focused noun phrase sometimes appears between a conjunction and the word that could potentially host the clitic, in this case the clitic won’t be attached to the conjunction, but to the word after the noun phrase. In general, though they may typically exist in the second word of the sentence, clitics are mainly clause dependent, and are situated according to what clauses are functioning in a sentence and where, according to conjunctions.
pazekw = one
nis = two
nas = three
iaw = four
nôlan = five
ngwedôz = six
tôbawôz = seven
nsôzek = eight
noliwi = nine
mdala = ten
A root is an element in a stem, it doesn't have lexical meaning like a stem does. In other words, a root is dependent on other pieces of meaning to create a word.
This list is just a handful of Western Abenaki roots. Roots attached to the front of a stem are written with a hyphen at the front (typically refer people or parts of the body), roots that are attached to the end of a stem are written with a hyphen at the end, and roots that constitute the only element of a stem are written without a hyphen.
adag- 'dishonest, uncertain, unreliable'
akika 'sow, plant'
alem- 'continuing, going farther'
aodi- 'fight as in battle, make war'
azow- 'change, exchange, trade'
basoj- 'near in space or time'
-beskwan 'the back of the body'
bid- 'unintentional, accidental, by mistake'
cegas- 'ignite, kindle, burn'
cow- 'must, certain, need, want'
gata- 'ready, prepared'
gelo- 'speak, talk'
gwesi- 'respect, honor'
-jat 'sinew, tendon'
jig- 'let, allow'
-kezen 'shoe, moccasin'
kwaji- 'outside, outdoors'
la 'be true'
lina- 'seem, feel, appear like'
ômilka 'smoke dry meat'
-ôwigan 'spine, backbone'
pôlôba- 'proud, vain'
skoôb- 'wait and watch'
spôz- 'early, in the morning'
tekwen- 'arrest, make prisoner'
-tôgan 'Adam's apple'
wôgas 'bear's den'
zôkwta 'exhaust, run out of'
bitawabagwizibo ‘Lake Champlain River’
masisoliantegw ‘Sorel River’
masipskwbi ‘Missisquoi Bay’
sanôba = man
phanem * = woman
kwai = hello (casual)
pahakwinôgwezian = hello; lit. you appear new to me (after long separations)
* letters in square brackets often lost in vowel syncope.
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