The Eastern Algonquian languages
constitute a subgroup of the Algonquian languages
The Algonquian languages also Algonkian) are a subfamily of Native American languages which 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 a...
. Prior to European contact, Eastern Algonquian consisted of at least seventeen languages collectively occupying the Atlantic coast of North America and adjacent inland areas, from the Canadian Maritime
The Maritime provinces, also called the Maritimes or the Canadian Maritimes, is a region of Eastern Canada consisting of three provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. On the Atlantic coast, the Maritimes are a subregion of Atlantic Canada, which also includes the...
provinces to North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...
. 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. Nearly all of the Eastern Algonquian languages are extinct. Mi'kmaq and Malecite-Passamaquoddy have appreciable numbers of speakers, while Western Abnaki and Delaware are each reported to have fewer than ten speakers post 2000.
Eastern Algonquian constitutes a separate genetic subgroup
Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:* to describe and account for observed changes in particular languages...
within Algonquian. Two other groups of Algonquian languages that are recognized, Plains Algonquian
The Plains Algonquian languages are commonly grouped together as a subgroup of the larger Algonquian family, itself a member of the Algic family. Though this grouping is often encountered in the literature, it is an areal grouping rather than a genetic one...
and Central Algonquian
The Central Algonquian languages are commonly grouped together as a subgroup of the larger Algonquian family, itself a member of the Algic family. Though this grouping is often encountered in the literature, it is an areal grouping rather than a genetic one...
are geographic, and do not refer to genetic subgroupings.
A consensus classification of the known Eastern Algonquian languages and dialects by Goddard (1996) is given below 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 be ultimately impossible. Headings in upper case denote proposed subgroups within Eastern Algonquian.
(also known as Micmac, Mi’kmaq, Mi’gmaq, or Mi’kmaw)
The Abenaki language is a dialect continuum within the Eastern Algonquian languages, originally spoken in what is now Vermont, New Hampshire, northern Massachusetts and Maine...
- 2. Eastern Abnaki
Eastern Abnaki is an extinct language once spoken by the Penobscot in the coastal area of the state of Maine, United States. The last known speaker died in the 1990s in Penobscot, Maine.-External links:* at Native-languages.org....
(also known as Abenaki or Abenaki-Penobscot)
- Penobscot (also known as Old Town or Old Town Penobscot)
- 3. Western Abnaki
Western Abnaki is one of the World's most endangered languages. In 1991 it was spoken by 20 individuals along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec City, who lived mostly at Odanak, the site of the former mission village of St. Francis and about 50 individuals living throughout New...
(also known as Abnaki, St. Francis, Abenaki, or Abenaki-Penobscot)
- 4. Malecite-Passamaquoddy
Malecite–Passamaquoddy is an endangered Algonquian language spoken by the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy peoples along both sides of the border between Maine in the United States and New Brunswick, Canada. The language consists of two major dialects: Malecite, which is mainly spoken in New...
(also known as Maliseet-Passamquoddy)
- Maliseet (also known as Malecite)
The Passamaquoddy are the First Nations people who live in northeastern North America, primarily in Maine and New Brunswick....
Etchemin was a language of the Algonquian language family, spoken in early colonial times on the coast of Maine. The word Etchemin is a French alteration of an Algonquian word for "canoe"....
(uncertain – See Note 1)
II. SOUTHERN NEW ENGLAND
- 6. Massachusett
The Massachusett language was a Native American language, a member of the Algonquian language family. It is also known as Wôpanâak , Natick, and Pokanoket....
- North Shore
- 7. Narragansett
Narragansett is an extinct Algonquian language formerly spoken in most of what is today Rhode Island by the Narragansett people. It was closely related to the other Algonquian languages of southern New England like Massachusett and Mohegan-Pequot...
- 8. Loup A (probably Nipmuck) (uncertain – See Note 2)
- 9. Loup B (uncertain – See Note 1)
- 10. Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk
Pequot people are a tribe of Native Americans who, in the 17th century, inhabited much of what is now Connecticut. They were of the Algonquian language family. The Pequot War and Mystic massacre reduced the Pequot's sociopolitical influence in southern New England...
The Montaukett is an Algonquian-speaking Native American group native to the eastern end of Long Island, New York and one of the thirteen historical indigenous centers...
The Shinnecock Indian Nation is a federally recognized tribe, headquartered in Suffolk County, New York, on the south shore of Long Island. Shinnecock are an Algonquian people from Long Island...
- 11. Quiripi-Naugatuck-Unquachog
Quiripi was an Algonquian language formerly spoken by the the indigenous people of southwestern Connecticut and central Long Island, including the Quinnipiac, Naugatuck, Unquachog, Mattabesic, Potatuck, Weantinock, and Paugussett. It has been effectively extinct since the end of the 18th century,...
(also known as Quinnipiak or Connecticut)
- 12. Mahican
Mahican is an extinct language of the Eastern Algonquian subgroup of the Algonquian language family, itself a member of the Algic language family....
(also known as Mohican)
- 13. Munsee
Munsee is an endangered language of the Eastern Algonquian subgroup of the Algonquian language family, itself a branch of the Algic language family. Munsee is one of the two Delaware languages...
- 14. Unami
Unami is an extinct Algonquian language formerly spoken by Lenape people in what is now the lower Hudson Valley area and New York Harbor area, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, but later in Ontario and Oklahoma. It is one of the two Delaware languages, the other being Munsee...
(also known as Lenape)
- Northern Unami
- Southern Unami
Nanticoke is an extinct Algonquian language formerly spoken in Delaware and Maryland, United States. The same language was spoken by several neighboring tribes, including the Nanticoke, which constituted the paramount chiefdom; the Choptank, the Assateague, and probably also the Piscataway and the...
- Piscataway (also known as Conoy)
Powhatan or Virginia Algonquian is an extinct language belonging to the Eastern Algonquian subgroup of the Algonquian languages. It was spoken by the Powhatan people of tidewater Virginia. It became extinct around the 1790s after speakers switched to English. The sole documentary evidence for this...
(also known as Virginia Algonquian)
17. Carolina Algonquian
Carolina Algonquian is an extinct Algonquian language of the Eastern Algonquian subgroup formerly spoken in North Carolina, United States....
(also known as Pamlico, Pamtico, Pampticough, Christianna Algonquian)
Eastern Algonquian as a genetic subgroup, pro and con
The languages assigned to the Eastern Algonquian group are hypothesized to descend from an intermediate common ancestor proto-language
A proto-language in the tree model of historical linguistics is the common ancestor of the languages that form a language family. Occasionally, the German term Ursprache is used instead.Often the proto-language is not known directly...
, 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. In historical linguistics in general, the primary criterion for status as a genetic subgroup is that there exist a number of shared innovations assigned to the proposed subgroup that cannot be assigned to the ultimate ancestor language. A complex series of phonological
Phonology is, broadly speaking, the subdiscipline of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language. That is, it is the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language, or the field of linguistics studying this use...
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...
innovations define Eastern Algonquian as a subgroup. "There is less diversity, by any measure, among [Eastern Algonquian languages] 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 by Pentland and Proulx. Pentland questions the Eastern Algonquian status of the southern New England languages, as well as Powhatan and Carolina Algonquian. Proulx has proposed that the similarities can be explained as the result of diffusion. Goddard has countered 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 analyzed 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
In linguistics, palatalization , also palatization, may refer to two different processes by which a sound, usually a consonant, comes to be produced with the tongue in a position in the mouth near the palate....
of Proto-Eastern-Algonquian (PEA) *k; (b) merger of PEA consonant clusters *hr
(c) shift of word-final PEA *r
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, Connecticut 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 Lenape
The Lenape are an Algonquian group of Native Americans of the Northeastern Woodlands. They are also called Delaware Indians. As a result of the American Revolutionary War and later Indian removals from the eastern United States, today the main groups live in Canada, where they are enrolled in the...
) 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.