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Wampanoag language

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Title: Wampanoag language  
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Subject: Mahican, Mashpee, Massachusetts, Pocasset, Kenneth L. Hale, Hard clam, Eastern Algonquian languages, Etchemin language, Quequechan River, Massachusetts (disambiguation), Katama
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Wampanoag language

Native to United States of America
Region Coastal regions of Massachusetts and south-eastern portions of New Hampshire and Rhode Island.[1][2]
Ethnicity Several Algonquian peoples including the Massachusett, Wampanoag, Naumkeag, Nauset, Cowesit and others.[3]
Native speakers Extinct late 19th century.
Revived in 1993. As of 2011, 5 children are native speakers and 400 are adult second-language learners.[5]
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 wam
Linguist List
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Massachusett language is an Algonquian language of the Algic language family, formerly spoken by several tribes inhabiting coastal regions of Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the Islands. It was also commonly referred to as the Natic, Wômpanâak (Wampanoag), Pokanoket, or Indian language.[6] The language was used by John Eliot to print the first Bible in the Americas in 1663. The adoption of the orthography of the Bible led to widespread literacy amongst the indigenous peoples of southern New England.[7] The language went extinct in the late 19th century, but the language is currently being revived by Wampanoag tribal member Jessie Little Doe Baird, who started work on the Wômpanâak Language Reclamation Project in 1993. Classes for learners have been set up in four Wampanoag communities, and a handful of native speakers are now growing up in the language.[8]


Pre-colonial history

Human settlement of the region began as early as 9000 B.C. as hunters and gatherers reclaimed lands after the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier, and were joined by or absorbed into other populations that arrived.[9] Linguistically, the Algic languages are believed to have originated in the Pacific Northwest, around the Columbia River valley around 2000 B.C., but later groups moved southward into northern California, where Wiyot and Yurok are representative of the only known non-Algonquian Algic languages.[10] The Algonquian languages began to diverge around 1000 B.C., spreading east of the Rockies to the Atlantic Ocean. This movement eastward may have corresponded to the spread of the Ohioan mound-building cultures that span the Adena and Hopewell cultural periods.[11] The Eastern Algonquian languages began to diverge around 1000 A.D., around the time of the of the Early Woodland Period, spreading along the coast and separated from other Algonquian languages by pockets of Iroquoian speakers. The Southern New England languages diverged afterward, spreading southward and northward, which may have coincided with the Late Woodland Period and the appearance of Iroquoian influences in pottery.[12]

Early colonial period

The first English settlements, the Plymouth Colony by the Pilgrims in 1620, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Puritans in 1629, both were founded in Massachusett-language speaking territory.[13] The colonists depended on the Indians for survival, and some learned how to communicate with the Indians for trade.[14] As the population of the English increased with further Puritan migrations, and the Indians became outnumbered, moves to assimilate the Indians were enacted. With colonial backing and funding from the Society for the Propagation of the Bible, missionaries such as John Eliot, Thomas Mayhew and his descendants amongst the Wampanoag, and Roger Williams began to learn the local languages and convert the Indians.[15] Eliot began preaching at Nonantum (now Newton, Massachusetts), and starting 1651, established communities of converts, known as praying towns or Indian plantations, where the Indians were encouraged to adopt English customs and language, practice Christianity, and accept colonial jurisdiction.[16][17] Eliot printed a Bible in 1663, and the Indians at the praying towns began to adopt the orthography of the Natick dialect Bible.

Indian literacy

Education of the Indians was implemented to train Indians in Eliot's orthography and to return to preach in their local communities. The Indian College was active at Harvard University from 1655 - 1698.[18] Eliot trained many of the Indians, who often in turn trained others, including the teacher at Natick, Monesquassum. Thomas Mayhew began schools for the Wampanoag in 1651, and this was continued by his descendants, including Experience Mayhew.[19] Most of the students were being trained as Indian preachers for the Gospel, and had to be literate, but literacy also spread to the administrators of the praying towns and the descendants of the chiefly families. Many Indians became interpreters, clerks, and writers of deeds and sales for the Indian courts in the praying towns and the colonial government. Many of the Indians that assisted the missionaries also became literate. Eliot was greatly assisted in learning and translating the language by his Pequot servant Cockenoe, John Sassamon, his former student John Nesutan, and James Wawaus, a Nipmuc who also worked the printing machines. Experience Mayhew was assisted by Joel Hiacoomes, a graduate of Harvard University's Indian College, James Wowaus, and John Neesnummin.[20][21][22] By 1674, a request for literacy rates of the Indians in the Plymouth Colony by Daniel Gookin indicated that 29% of the converted Indians could read and 17% could write the Massachusett language, and only 2% could read English, and none could write it. The highest percentages for reading and writing ability were from the combined totals of the villages of Codtanmut, Ashimuit, and Weesquobs (all in modern-day Mashpee, Massachusetts), where the figures are 59% could read and 31% could write.[23]

Translation and literature

John Eliot personally translated several works into the Natick dialect, including a catechism and the New Testament (Nukkone Testament) in 1651, the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew in 1655, the Book of Psalms in 1658, the complete Bible in 1663 which included a translation of the Psalter in 1663, Richard Baxter's A Call to the Unconverted in 1664 and reprinted in 1688, Lewis Baley's The Practice of Piety in 1665 and again in 1686.[24] Experience Mayhew, using the Wômpanâak dialect of Martha's Vineyard and Eliot's former works, published the Indian Psalter, a collection of the Book of Psalms and the Gospel of John in 1709 and reprinted in 1720, the Indian Primer in 1720, and his own work, Indian Converts, mostly in English with Indian accounts in the native language, published in 1721.[25] Although printing ceased in the language, it continued to function as a written language in the Indian communities until the mid-eighteenth century, as evidenced by the various court records, land sales, personal letters, and religious tracts, and personal libraries written and kept by the Indians themselves.[26]


Just prior to the settlement of the English colonies of New England, mortality rates of 90% nearly wiped out the numerous Indians due to several outbreaks of smallpox, measles, diphtheria, and scarlet fever that occurred throughout the 16th and 18th centuries.[27] The ravages of King Phillip's War (1675-1676) would see the population of speakers reduced by 40%, as the Indians died from internment on Deer Island, execution, starvation, or sold into slavery in the West Indies.[28] Many of the Indians fled the region to join the Abenaki to the north or the Mahican to the west, where the speakers adopted the language of the tribes they had joined. Only four of the original praying towns and the larger Wampanoag communities survived into the 19th century, but continued to suffer from land encroachment and questionable land sales.[29] Indian men were recruited as scouts for various wars of the later colonial period, for most of the 18th century and including the Revolutionary War (1776-1783).[28][29] Intermarriage of Indian women with Black and White men outside the Indian speech community became increasingly common from the 18th century onwards due to the great gender imbalance.[30] Employment opportunities for the Indians were limited to the whaling industry, hard labor, basket sellers, indentured servants, and other dangerous or menial occupations which brought the Indians into greater contact with the English, Blacks, and the influx of other European immigrants throughout the 19th century. By 1798, only one speaker could be found amongst the Natick. The language lingered on till the late 19th century in the larger Wampanoag communities, but a few 'rememberers' of the language persisted into the early 20th century.[31]


The language remained dormant for over 150 years until 1993, when Jessie Little Doe Baird began its revival during the course of the Master's thesis in Algonquian Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which she completed in 2000. She worked closely with the late Professor Kenneth Hale, a specialist in indigenous languages around the world, and his successor, Professor Norvin Richards, a specialist in Algonquian languages. Combing over the large corpus of Massachusett-language documents such as the Natick Bible, Eliot's religious tracts, and the letters of the Indians themselves, Baird was able to study the vocabulary and grammar. She published a grammar of the language in 2000, and immediately started up the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project that year. Her efforts were rewarded in 2010, when she received a MacArthur Fellowship for her work.[32] The project has introduced the language to about 400 second-language students of the Wampanoag tribe, and a handful of children, including Baird's daughter, are the first fluent speakers of the language.[33] The project is still working on completing a dictionary, now at over 10,000 entries, providing more pedagogical materials, introducing immersion programs and camps, continuing to offer the classes, and to continue researching the archives of language documents.[34] Baird is assisted by teachers she has trained, such as Algonquian linguist Nitana Hicks of the Wampanoag people, but the students are expected to teach the language to other members of the tribe. The revival has been depicted in the news and in the documentary, We Still Live Here - Âs Nutayuneân, by the filmmaker Anne Makepeace, which was featured on the PBS series Independent Lens.[35] The project also fulfills the prophecies of the Wampanoag people that descendants of those who wiped out the language would help revive it. Baird is a descendant of Nathan Pocknett, who resisted Christian conversion attempts, and Professor Hale was a direct descendant of the missionary Roger Williams.[36] In June 2013, Mashpee High School’s graduation opened with a traditional Wampanoag travel blessing.[37]


Algic Languages 

Yurok (Puklikah) language

Wiyot (Wishosk) language (†)


Plains Algonquian

Central Algonquian

Eastern Algonquian



 Southern New England Algonquian 

Massachusett language (revived)

Narragansett language (†)

Nipmuc language (†)[38]

Quripi-Naugatuck-Unkachoag language (†)

Massachusett is a member of the Algic language family, which includes the Wiyot and Yurok languages of the Pacific Northwest with the Algonquian languages spoken from the Rockies eastward to the Atlantic. From the Algonquian languages, a genetic grouping, the Eastern Algonquian (EA) languages, diverged and spread from the Canadian Maritimes to the Carolinas. The Central and Plains Algonquian groupings, although descended from Proto-Algonquian (PA), are merely geographic groupings based on shared aerial features.[3] Massachusett is most closely related to the other Southern New England Algonquian (SNEA) languages, particularly the Narragansett language and Nipmuc languages. Within the SNEA languages, it is an N-dialect, due to the reflexes of proto-Eastern Algonquian *r.

Unique features of Massachusett[39]

Reflexes of PEA *r realized as /n/

  • PEA *arum, 'dog': Massachusett annúm, Nipmuc alùm, and Narragansett ayim

Lack of syncope

  • Montauk boshkeag', Pequot poshkeege, but Massachusett paskehheg /paskiːhək/, 'gun.'
  • Pequot nuxquatch, but Massachusett nukquosquatch /nukkəwaskəwatʃ/, 'I am cold.'

Intrusive Nasal

  • PA *a becomes Massachusett /ã/

Preference for Locative Suffix -et instead of -ek.

  • Compare place names, such as Tatnuck, 'near hill place,' from the Nipmuc area, Taconic, 'forested place,' from the Mahican area, and Patuxet, 'little waterfalls place,' from the Wampanoag dialect region, but note also Pauketucke in Massachusett tribal areas.

Increased palatalization of PA /k/ to /tʲ/

  • PA *werikiwa, 'he is good': Massachusett wunnetu /wəniːtʲuː/ but Nipmuc 8lig8 and Pequot weyegoh.

Reduction of PSNEA Verb Ending *-eyəw to *ai

  • PEA *wapeyəw, 'it is white': Massachusett wompi /wãpaj/ versus Munsee wápew and Mahican wapayo.

Exonyms and endonyms

The English colonists referred to the Massachusett language by the names of the groups that spoke it, and was referred to as the Natick, Massachusett, Pokanoket, Wômpanâak (Wampanoag) and even Indian language. Under the influence of the missionaries, the Indians referred to the language as Indianne unnontꝏwaonk, the 'language of the Indians', but may have referred to related dialects simply hettuog or unnnontꝏwaonk. Languages that could no longer be understood were known as penꝏwantꝏwaonk.[40]

Geographic distribution

The language was primarily spoken across eastern and south-eastern portions of Massachusetts, including the North Shore, coastal areas along Massachusetts Bay, and southeastern Massachusetts including what is now Bristol and Plymouth counties, Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands. Speakers also extended into the lower Merrimack Valley and coastal regions of New Hampshire, and southeastern Rhode Island. The language was understood from the central coast of Maine to eastern Long Island, across most of central and southern New England, and perhaps further as the pidgin variety was used for inter-tribal trade and communication.[4] The language was spread to the Nipmuc and the Pennacook due to the influence of the Natick Bible in the Christian mixed-band Indian communities.[41][42] Abenakian languages were spoken to the north, Delawaran languages to the west and southwest, but immediate neighbors were mutually intelligible southern New England Algonquian languages.[43]

Descendants continue to inhabit the Greater Boston area and Cape Cod and the Islands, as well as a population in Bermuda descended enslaved Indians sold there after King Philip's War. Today, the language revival efforts re-introduced the language to the Wampanoag of Aquinnah, Mashpee, New Bedford, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, which are home to the Aquinnah, Mashpee (Massippee), Assonet, and Herring Pond (Manomet or Comassakumkanit) bands, respectively.[33]


Little is known about the dialects of the language, as the written language was codified from the Natick dialect. Dialects may have differed in syncopation, as some dialects shortened short vowels or to influences of neighboring speech varieties. Cf. syncopated kuts and ꝏsqheonk versus non-syncopated kuttis and wusqueheunk, 'cormorant' and 'blood,' respectively.[44] Proposed dialect groupings include the North Shore dialects, spoken by the Naumkeag and Agawam and recorded by William Wood; the Natick dialect, spoken by the Nipmuck and Massachusett that settled at Natick; the Wampanoag dialects, spoken across southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands; Nauset, spoken on the extreme end of the Cape, and Cowesit (Cowesett), which seems to be a transitional dialect with Narragansett.[3] Differences in dialects were leveled with the adoption of the Natick dialect for writing and speaking, and by 1722, John Mayhew, a missionary amongst the Wampanoag of Martha's Vineyard noted that 'most of the little differences betwixt them have been happily Lost, and our Indians Speak, but especially write much as the Natick do.[45] The following table shows possible dialectal features from Trumbull's recordings of Eliot's Natick dialect, the Wampanaak dialect of Plymouth as recorded by Josiah Cotton around 1707, the North Shore dialect of the Naumkeag people from William Wood's New England Prospectus of 1634, and comparisons with Coweset/Narragansett from Roger William's A Key into the Language of America:

English Natick[46] Wampanoag[47] North Shore[48] Narragansett
'fox' wonkqussis wonkussis pequas wonkis
'my mother' nꝏkas nookas nitka nókace
'one' nequt nequt aquit nquitt
'duck' quasseps seaseaps quequécum
'boy' nonkomp nonkomp nonkompees núckquachucks
'deer' ahtuck attuk ottucke attuck

Massachusett Pidgin

Massachusett Pidgin was the local version of the Eastern Algonquian trade jargon used up and down the Atlantic Coast of North America. Within New England, Indians used the language to communicate with other tribes, and the English colonists adopted it to communicate with the Indians. The vocabulary was mainly Massachusett, although some words, such as sagamore or sachem, 'chief', were adopted from other related languages instead of Massachusett sontim.[49] Expressions were simplified, such as the use of squaw-sachem, literally 'woman chief', instead of the standard sonkusq or sunksquaw. The complex verb system was simplified, using the inanimate forms as used in Pidgin Delaware. This can be seen in Massasoit's last words to his friend Edward Winslow: Matta neen wonckanet namen Winsnow, 'Not I again see Winslow', where namen, 'to see', is in the inanimate form where the animate would be expected.[50][51]

Massachusett Pidgin English

Some of the Indians, including Samoset and Tisquantum, picked up English from their experiences with the European slave raiders, and were able to communicate with the Pilgrim settlers. The use of Massachusett Pidgin English co-existed with the use of the language and its Massachusett Pidgin variety, and became more prevalent as more English settlers arrived and the Indians became more familiar with English in order to trade. It was mostly English in vocabulary, with loanwords, grammar features, and calques from Massachusett Pidgin. Massachusett Pidgin vocabulary adopted into the Massachusett Pidgin English vocabulary included meechin (from meechum, 'food'), sannap (from sanomp, 'young man'), and wunnegin, 'good.' Other features included generalized pronouns (using me for 'I' and 'me'), reduplication (by by to mean 'soon'), lack of definite and indefinite articles, and simplified negatives (using no for 'no' and 'not'), interference of /n/ for /l/ (the example from Massachusett Pidgin, Winsnow was used by Massasoit instead of 'Winslow'), and expressions like all one this, which is a calque of Massachusett Pidgin tatapa you. A peculiar feature was the addition of the animate plural ending -ak to plural loan words for animals, such as pigsack for 'pigs.'[52]

Examples of Massachusett Pidgin English[53][54]

  • English man all one speake, all one heart. 'What an Englishman says is what he thinks.')
  • Weaybee gon coates? (Away be gone coats?) 'Do you have any coats?'
  • What cheer, netop. 'Greetings, friend.' (netop, 'friend,' from Massachusett netomp.)
  • Little way, fetch pigsack. '[He went] not too far [to] fetch the pigs.')


Natick Bible orthography

John Eliot developed the first writing system of the Massachusett language, beginning with the 1651 translation of the New Testament. Since it was the Early Modern English of the 17th century, numerous archaisms from that period are present. Spelling was not standardized at the time, and numerous variations exist to spell the same word. Two diacritics are used, the circumflex (ˆ) and the acute accent (´). The circumflex over any vowel indicated the nasal vowel /ɑ̃/ whilst the acute accent indicated primary stress or a long vowel. Eliot's alphabet consists of 25 letters and one ligature followed by their names with modern orthography in parentheses:[55]

Aa a, Bb bee, Cc see, Chch chee, Dd dee, Ee e (ee), ef (af), Gg gee, Hh aitch (aych), Ii i, Jj ji (jay), Kk ka, Ll el (ul), Mm em (um), Nn en (un), Oo o, Ꝏꝏ , Pp pee, Qq keúh (keuh), Rr ar, Sſ/s es (us), Tt tee, Uu u, Vv vf or úph (uv), Ww wee, Xx ex (ux), Yy wy (way), Zz zad

  • Vowels with Á, Â, É, Ê, Í, Î, Ó, Ô, Ú, and Û.

Ch was considered by Eliot a separate letter, based on its prevalence, similar to its status in the Spanish language. It is also used for /tj/ in place of modern Ty.

  • Consonants are doubled in word-medial and word-final positions before E. Final /k/ often written as CK as in English.
  • Voicing distinctions are not made, so allographic pairs such as C or K/G, P/B, S/Z and T/D exist, although G, B, Z and D were also used with their phonetic English values in English loan words.
  • C and G 'soften' before E or I.
  • F, L, R, V, and X are rare as they exist only in loanwords. Voicing distinctions are not made, so allographic pairs such as C or K/G, P/B, S/Z and T/D exist, although G, B, Z and D were also used with their phonetic English values in English loan words but not in native lexical terms.
  • Nasal vowels could also be indicated by N after a vowel or M after a vowel but before P, but also as Â, Ô, Û.
  • Acute accent vowels include Á, É, Í, Ó, and Ú.

Eliot's alphabet and spelling contain many orthographical archaisms used in the Early Modern English period:

  • E is often a silent letter at the end of words, and consonants are generally doubled before them. Cf. Archaic 'shoppe' and Modern 'shop.'
  • J was not yet distinguished from I but J considered the consonantal variant of vocalic I. Cf. Archaic 'Ivlius' or 'Jvlius' and Modern 'Julius.'
  • O could indicate the short vowel [ʊ]. Cf. 'son' and 'sun.'
  • S had a lower-case long form ſ used in the middle of words, although when doubled, ſſ and ſs were both acceptable, but only s could appear at the end of a word. It was easily confused with the lower-case F (ƒ) as it was printed at the time. Cf. Archaic 'vnsaƒe' and 'Maſſachvsetts' or 'Maſsachuſetts' with Modern 'unsafe' and 'Massachusetts.'
  • U was still considered a variant of V. Eliot used V as a consonant, but note he still spelled the letter as vf /əf/. Other writers used V at the beginning and U in the middle of words. Archaic 'vp' and 'houer' with Modern 'up' and 'hover.'
  • Y was also used to represent /θ/ and /ð/ as a variant of the letter thorn, but these sounds do not exist in Massachusett.

Modern orthography

In 2000, Baird introduced a new orthography based on her reconstructions of its phonology. It is a more phonetic, consistent spelling system compared to colonial writing. It includes the digraphs Ch, Ee, Sh and TY, as well as the ligature . For collation, the digraphs and the double o ligature are treated as paired letters for the purposes of collation. The only diacritic is the circumflex, which is used over A to indicate the long vowel /ɑː/, and over O to indicate the nasal vowel /ɔ̃/. The alphabet consists of the following 26 letters, five digraphs, one ligature and two accented vowels followed by their names:[56]

Letters: A a, B bee, C see, D dee, E ee, F af, G gee, H haych, I ay, J jay, K ka, L ul, M um, N un, O o, P pee, Q keuh, R ar, S us, T tee, U u, V uv, W wee, X ux, Y way. Digraphs: Ay ay, Ch chee, Ee ee ee, Sh shee, Ty tyee. Ligature: . Accented vowels: Â â, Ô ô.

  • The letters B, C, D, F, G, I, J, L, O (without circumflex), R, V, X and Z are not used in the revived language as they represent sounds that exist in English but are not found in Massachusett except for loan words. They have the same value as the loan word source language.
  • E alone is used to represent /j/ during cases of vowel affection.
  • Q is not followed by U in indigenous lexical terms. It represents /kʷ/ at the beginning of a syllable and /k/ at the end.
  • The double o digraph is sometimes rendered with an infinity symbol () or the numeral eight (8).

Writing samples

Many of the translations in the Massachusett language were of a religious nature, as the missionaries were hoping to win over converts by using the 'Indian language.' The following is an example of the Lord's Prayer as found in Eliot's 1661 publishing of the New Testament in Matthew 6:9:[57]

Nꝏshum keskqut quttianatamanack hꝏwesaouk.
'Our Father, who art in Heaven,'
Peyaumꝏutch kukkenau-toomoouk ne a nack okkeet neam keskqut.
'Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Nem-meet-sougash asekesuhokesu assnauean yedyee kesu-kod.
'Give us this day our daily bread,'
Kah ahquotaneas inneaen nummateheouqasu, neem machenekukequig nutahquoretawmomouag.
'and forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive those who trespass against us,'
Ahque sag hompagunaianeem enqutchuasouqauit webe pohquohwaossueau wutch matchitut.
'and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'
Nuwatche huhahteem ketassootamouk hah nuumkessouk, kah sosamꝏuk michene. Amen
'For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.'

An excerpt from Josiah Cotton's Vocabulary of the Massachusetts (or Natick) Indian Language, where the English is his own writings, and the Massachusett that of his father, John Cotton, a prominent preacher to the Wampanoag:[58]

Q: Uttuh woh nittinne nehtuhtauan Indianne unnontꝏwaonk?
'How shall I learn Indian?'
A: Nashpe keketookauaonk Indianeog kah kuhkinasineat ukittooonkannꝏ kah wuttinnohquatumꝏonkanꝏ.
'By talking with the Indians, and minding their words, and manner of pronouncing.'

Q: Kah uttuh unnupponꝏnat wutinnontꝏwaonk ne munohonk neit kohtohkomukcouk?
'And what is the difference between the language of the Island [Martha's Vineyard], and the main?'
A: Mat woh nummissohhamꝏunasuh matta aꝏwahiteo webe yeu nꝏwahteauum yeug Indiansog mat wahtanooog usg Indiansog ut nishnow kuttooonganit.
'I can't tell or don't know, only this I know, that these Indians don't understand every word of them Indians.'

An example of records from the Praying Town of Natick, written in 1700 by Thomas Waban, a descendant of Waban:[59]

Eight noh July wehquttum Thomas . Waban seniar wutch neh
'July 8. Thomas Waban Senior requested on behalf of his'
wunneechonnoh ' nneh Thomas waban Junior ' onk noh
'son, Thomas Waban Junior, and he'
wachonnum ' 2 ' arcers medow -
'has two acres of meadow.'
Ne nan kesukokot wehquttum Jon wamsquon - wutch
'The same day John Wamsquon requested on behalf of'
Tomas wamsquon onk woh wachonum meddow kah
'Thomas Wamsquon, and he may have a meadow, and'
owachannumun ' n4e nan ut - noh wehquttum - Isaak
'he has it. On the same Isaak'
wuttasukꝏpauin ne keesukot onk noh woh wachonnum
'Wuttasukoopauin requested, that day, and he may have'
two arcours ut wohquomppagok.
'two acres at Wohquomppagok.'

Conveyance of land from Soosooahquo to Noshcampaet, from Nantucket, in 1686[60]

Neen Soosahquo mache noonammattammen noshcampaet
'I Soosoahquo have bargained well with Noshcampaet,'
ta matahketa ahto ahkuh nukquepaskooe akerssoe wana
'At Mattahketa he has land, one hundred and'
nees akannu ta weessoonkiahkuh kattahtam meth wana
'two acres. At land by name Kattahtammeth and'
kabeaqut kashkututkquaonk neahmute kushinemahchak
'kabeaqut kashkuhtukqusonk neahmute that swamp is wide'
ne sechak wuttah naskompeat wessoonck ahkuh mussnata-
'the length of Naskompeat's land, (and) land by name Mussantaessuit,'
-essuit ne anneh kishkoh wessoonk ahkuh massooskaassak
'(and) the width of land by name Massooskaassak,'
wana wessooonk sakahchah nuppessunahqunmeth na-
'and by name Sakashchah nuppessunnahquemmeth as far as'
pache kuttahkanneth ahquampi 1686 month 10th day 3d.
'Kuttahkemmeth. The time was 1686, 10th month, 3d day.'

Phonology and spelling


Reconstructed Massachusett consonant phonology[61][62]

Labial Alveolar Palatal/
Velar Glottal
Stop [p] [t], [tʲ] [tʃ] [k]
Fricative [s] [ʃ] [h]
Nasal [m] [n]
Approximant [w] [j]
Sound Orthography Native example English example Notes
[b] B Bithnia /ˈbiθˌnia/, 'Bithynia' boy Only used as /b/ in loan words. Used to represent [p] in native words where it is usually replaced by P.
[tʃ] CH, J
medial/final: DJ, DCH, DTCH, HCH, JT, TCH
cheeku /ˈtʃiːˈkuː/, 'after a long time' chalk
[d] D Ed'en /ˈiːˌdən/ dog Only used as /d/ in loan words. Used to represent /t/ in native words, where it is often replaced with T.
[f] F figse /ˈfiːkˌsə/, 'figs' father Very rare as it is only occurs in loan words.
[ɡ] G God /ɡad/, 'God' gate Only used as /ɡ/ in loan words. Used to represent /k/ in native words, where it is often replaced with K.
[h] H
medial/final: HH
howan /ˈhaˌwan/, 'who?' hat H was used to lengthen the preceding vowel or to indicate a breathy pause.
[d͡ʒ] J, G Jabal /ˈdʒeɪˌbəl/, 'Jabal' juice Only used as /d͡ʒ/ in loan words. Used with other consonants or alone to represent /tʲ/ or /tʃ/ in native words. G before E or I was sometimes also /d͡ʒ/, cf. Gentilsog, 'Gentiles'. Soft G as /ʒ/ may occur in rare loan words.
[k] C, K, Q
medial/final: CC, CK, G, GG, GH, GK, HK, KH, KK, CQ
kussokhoi /ˈkuˌsaˈkoj/, 'crag' or 'mountain summit' skin
[kw] KW, Q, QU
medial: CKQ, GW, GQU, KQU
medial/final: GHK, KQ
final: G, GK, GQ, K
quonꝏasq /ˈkwaˌnəˈwaːsˌkəw/, 'gourd' quality In many instances, words ending with /kw/ (or /kəw/) are only represented by consonants that represent /k/.
[l] L Lord /lɔrd/, 'Lord' lime Very rare as it only occurs in loan words.
[m] M
medial/final: MM
micheme /ˌməˈchiːˌmə/, 'forever' mother M after a vowel and before a consonant can indicate that the preceding vowel is /ã/.
[n] N
medial/final: NN
nippe /ˈnəpˌpə/, 'water' night N after a vowel and before /t/, /tʲ/, /tʃ/, or /k/ can indicate that the preceding vowel is /ã/. When doubled at the beginning of the word, the first N represents /nə/. This is also represented by N.
[p] B, P
medial/final: BB, BP, PB, PP
pohnque /ˈpãˌkəw/ spin
[r] R cherubimsog /ˈtʃɛˌrəˈbɪmˌsak/, 'cherubim' run Very rare as it only occurs in loan words.
[s] S, SH
medial/final: SS, SH
seep /siːp/, 'river' silk SH only represents /s/ in consonant clusters, such as SHK (/sk/).
[ʃ] SH, HSH anshap /ˈãˈʃãp/, 'fish net' shoe SH before a consonant represents /s/.
[sk] SC, SK, SKC, SHK, SHQ oskosk /ˌaˈskask/, 'hay' skill
[skw] SKW, SQ, SQU, SKW
medial/final: SGHK, SKQ
final: SG, SGK, SGQ, SK
squont /skwãt/, 'door' squid In many instances, words ending with /skw/ (or /skəw/) are only represented by consonants that represent /sk/.
[t] initial: D, DT, T
medial/final: D, DD, DT, T, TD, TT
tummunk /ˌtaˈmãk/, 'beaver' still
[tʲ] initial: D, DT, T
medial/final: D, DT, T, TT; possibly also JT or DJ. These forms are generally followed by the vowels E or I and sometimes U.
wetu /ˈwiːˈtʲuː/, 'dwelling' tune (Received Pronunciation)
[v] V silver /ˈsilvər/, 'silver' vice Very rare as it only occurs in loan words. Elsewhere, also appears as vowel form of V (in variation with U).
[w] W
initial/medial: OO, Ꝏ
wompi /ˈwãˌpaj/, 'it is white' wit W and U (as a vowel after consonants) are also /w/. The double o digraph and ligature are only /w/ in vowel combinations or after certain consonants. Word-medial and word-final, it is often an unwritten consonant.
[ks] X ox'suog /ˈaksˌwak/, 'oxen' fix Very rare as it only occurs in loan words, although /ks/ can appear in syncopated forms of Massachusett.
[j] Y
medial: E
yehquog /ˈjaˌkwak/, 'lice' yes E represents /j/ before the short vowels that occur after /iː/ and a consonant. Y is also used to sometimes represent the diphthong /aj/.
[z] Z zamzummin /ˈzamˌzəmˈmiːn/, 'Zamzummites' zebra Only used as /z/ in loan words. Used to represent /s/ in native words, where it is often replaced with S.

Consonant clusters include /tʃw/, /ks/, /kw/, /ps/, /sk/, /skw/, /st/, and /ts/ can occur, especially after a short vowel or contraction of the diminutive suffix -ees, but syncopation, the deletion of short vowels between consonants, is a rare feature of the language and is only sparsely attested as a dialectal feature. For instance, ahtuk, 'deer,' in diminutive form is ahtukees, 'little deer,' but in syncopated varieties becomes ahtuks, such as the surname of Crispus Attucks, who was of African and Indian, possibly Massachusett or Wampanoag, descent.[62][63][64]


Reconstructed Massachusett vowel phonology[62][63][64]

Front Central Back
Close [iː] [uː]
Mid [ə]
Open [aː] [ã]

Sound to spelling correspondence[62][63][64]

Sound Representation in orthography Native example English example Notes
[a] A, AU, O, OU, OH, U ouwassu /ˌaˈwaˌsuː/, 'he warms himself' father Values for /a/ could have also included /ɑ/ and /ɔ/
[aː] A, Á, AA, AÁ, AH, AI, AIH, O, OH, OO, Ó, OH nagum /ˈnaːkˌem/, 'himself' aardvark Values for /a/ could have also included /ɑː/ and /ɔː/
[ã] Ã, AM, AN, ÁU, AÚ, Õ, OM, ON, Û nâmâg, /ˈnãˌmãk/, 'fish' French blanc A followed by N is /ã/ if the following sound is /t/, /tʲ/, /tʃ/, /k/. A followed by M if the following sound is /p/. OH can be nasal if it occurs after N.
[ə] A, À, E, I, O, OO, Ꝏ, OH, U, UH
final: AH
onkhup /ˈãˌkəp/, 'strong drink' about The double o digraph and the double o ligature at the beginning of words represents /ə/ or /əw/ in some vowel combinations. It can also appear unwritten between consonants and a corresponding W or U or vowel combination starting with /w/.
[uː] OO, Ꝏ, U, Ú msi /ˈmuːˌsaj/, 'bald' food OO, Ꝏ, and U can represent /w/ in vowel combinations and other situations. U can also represent /juː/.

The language was also rich in various vowel and vowel-semivowel combinations, some of which are /a/ a/, /aː a/, /aː ã ã/ /ã ə/, /aː iː/, /ãwa/, /əj/, /əw/, /əwa/, /əwaː/, /əwã/, /əwə/, /awa/, /aːw/, /aw/, /ja/, /jã/, /iːw/, and /iːə/. Due to the wide variance of spelling, the vowels have been hardest to reconstruct for the language. The exact value is unknown, and the vowels /a/, /ã/, and /aː/ could have had values of /ɑ/, /ɑ̃/, /ɑː/, or /ɔ/, /ɔ̃/, /ɔː/. The digraph AU could represent /a/, /a/, /aw/ or variants of /a/ previously listed.[62][63][64]


The Massachusett language shared several features in common with other Algonquian languages. Nouns have gender based on animacy, based on the world-view of the Indians on what has spirit versus what does not. A body would be animate, but the parts of the body are inanimate. Nouns are also marked for obviation, with nouns subject to the topic marked apart from nouns less relevant to the discourse. Personal pronouns distinguish three persons, two numbers (singular and plural), inclusive and exclusive first-person plural, and proximate/obviative third-persons. Nouns are also marked as absentative, especially when referring to lost items or deceased persons. Sentence structures are typically SVO or SOV, but adherence to strict word order does not alter the meaning due to the synthetic structure.[65] Verbs are quite complex, and can be broken into four classes of verbs: animate-intransitive (AI), inanimate-intransitive (II), animate-transitive (AT), and inanimate-transitive (IT). Verbs are also prefixed and suffixed with various inflections, particles, and conjugations, so complex things can easily be described just by a verb.[66][67]


Massachusett shares most of its vocabulary with other Algonquian languages. The following table, mostly taken from D. J. Costa's description of the SNEA languages, demonstrates the relationship of Massachusett with other languages, such as closely related Eastern Algonquian languages such as the Loup and Narragansett—both also SNEA languages—Penobscot, a representative of the Eastern branch of Abenakian languages, Munsee, a Lenape language, and more distant relatives, such as Arapaho, a Plains Algonquian language and Ojibwe, a Central Algonquian language.[68]

English Massachusett[69] Loup (Nipmuc?) Narragansett Penobscot[68][70] Munsee[71][72] Arapaho[73] Ojibwe[74]
'deer' ahtuhq attekeȣe nóonatch nòlke atóh hé3owoonéihii waawaashkeshi
'my father' noohsh nȣs nòsh n'mitangwes noxwe neisónoo noose
'canoe' muhshoon amisȣl mishoon ámasol amaxol 3iiw jiimaan
'hawk' owóshaog ('hawks') awéhle ('broadwinged hawk') 'awéhleew cecnóhuu gekek
'three' nushwe chȣi nìsh nahs nxáh nehi niswi
'thirty' swinnichak chȣinchak swínchek nsinska nxináxke nisimidama
'broken' poohkshau pȣkȣ'sau pokésha poskwenômuk ('to break') paxkhílew ('it breaks') tówo'oni ('to break') bookoshkaa
'dog' annum alum ayim adia mwáakaneew he3 anim(osh)
'flint' môshipsq mansibsqȣe masipskw mahləs wóosóó3 biiwaanag(oonh)

English influences in the Massachusett language

Eliot introduced many Biblical persons, toponyms, and religious terms foreign to the Indians, even inflecting them with the numerous affixes or compounding them with native words to produce new concepts. Examples from translations of the Bible include up-Biblum ('his [God's] Bible'), Testament, cherubimsog ('cherubim'), God, Jehovah manitt ('Jehovah spirit' (possibly 'God' or 'Holy Ghost' or 'the God Jehovah')), Paradise, Adam, Canaane ('Canaan'), ark, golde, horseumoh Pharaoh ('Pharaoh's horsemen'), and shepsoh ('shepherd').[75] Plural English nouns were suffixed with /-ek/, the animate plural, such as cowsuck ('cattle'), pigsack ('pig'), sheepsog, and horseog ('horses').[76] Other English loan words found in the Indian texts include acre, day, month, judge, wheat, and barley.[77] As many of the Indians were also conversant in Massachusett Pidgin English, it is likely that the pidgin became closer to standard English in a process similar to decreolisation.[78]

Massachusett influences in the English language

The English colonists adopted numerous terms for the local flora, fauna, foods, and Indian-specific culture. Many of these words were used when communicating with or about the Indians, and were known as 'wigwam words'. Many of these expressions, often interjected into the Massachusett Pidgin English, fell out of use at the beginning of the 18th century, as the wars with the Indians ended support for Indian culture, but some continue to be used. This includes terms such as 'peag' (short for Massachusett wampumpeag, 'money'), 'matchit' ('bad'), 'nocake' ('johnnycake'), 'samp' (Massachusett nasampe/Narragansett nausamp), 'skunk' (squnck), 'muskrat' (musquash), 'mugwump' (muggumquomp, 'war leader'), and 'squash' (askosquash, 'marrows').[79] Since the Eastern Algonquian languages are so closely related, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of many of the loanwords, but the following have recognisable Massachusett cognates: 'moose' (mꝏs), 'papoose' (papaseit, 'young child'/Narragansett papoos), 'moccasin' (makussin, 'shoe'), 'kinnikinnick' (kenugkiyeuonk, 'mixture'), 'terrapin' (tꝏsnuppasog, 'tortoise'), 'hominy' (toggahhum, 'he grinds it'), 'quahog' (pooquaw), 'tuckahoe' (toggahhum), 'caucus' (kogkateamau, 'he advises'), 'pipsissewa' (peshau, 'flower'), 'tomahawk (tongkong), 'totem' (wutokhit, 'belonging to this place'), 'manitou' (manitt, 'spirit'), 'pogamoggan' (pogkomunk, 'club, rod'), and 'pone' (uppónnat, 'to roast').[69][80][81] Some unique and most likely obsolete words in the eastern varieties of New England English include 'toshence' (from mattasons, 'last child of the family' but used historically in the region to mean 'the last of anything'), 'nunkom' (from nunkomp, 'young man' in both languages), 'neshaw' (neshaw, to refer to the 'silver' stage of the American eel), 'tuckernuck' (after Tuckernuck Island, where it refers to the 'shape of a loaf of bread' and used in the sense of 'picnic'), 'wickakee' ('Hieracium' or 'Indian paintbrush'), 'tom pung' ('a one-horse sleigh', probably cognate with 'toboggan'), pauhagan ('menhaden', native name means 'fertilizer' as in the traditional use of the fish), and pishaug ('a young or female Surf Scoter').[82]

Topographical legacy

Numerous streets, ponds, lakes, hills, and villages across eastern Massachusetts have Massachusett-language origins. The name of the state itself may mean 'near the big hill' or 'hill shaped like an arrowhead'. Very few cities and towns have Indian names, most ultimately linked to towns and villages in England, but the ones that probably have a Massachusett origin include Acushnet ('calm water resting place'), Aquinnah ('under the hills'). Cohasset (quonnihasset, 'long fishing point'), Mashpee (massanippe, 'great water'), Nantucket, 'in the midst of the waters', Natick, 'place of hills', Saugus ('the outlet, the extension'), Scituate, 'cold brook', Seekonk, and Swampscott, 'at the red rock' or 'broken waters'.[83] Other notable Indian placenames include 'Shawmut' (mashauwomuk, former name for Boston, 'canoe landing place'), 'Neponset' (a river that flows through the Dorchester section of Boston and a village of Dorchester, meaning unknown), Cuttyhunk Island (poocuohhunkkunnah, 'a point of departure'), Nantasket (a beach in Hull, 'a low-ebb tide place'), and Mystic River ('great river').[84]



  • Little Doe Fermino, Jessie. (2000). An Introduction to Wampanoag Grammar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MS thesis.
  • Goddard, Ives. (1978). "Eastern Algonquian Languages" in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15 (Trigger, Bruce G., ed.). Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution.
  • Goddard, Ives and Bragdon, Kathleen J. (eds.) (1989) Native Writings in Massachusett, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISBN 0-87169-185-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
  • Walker, Willard B. (1997). "Native Writing Systems" in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 17 (Ives Goddard, ed.). Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution.

External links

  • The Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) Language Reclamation Project
  • Wampanoag Language and the Wampanoag Indian Tribe (general information and links)
  • Katherine Perry (Director) (2012-11-23). Retrieved 2013-01-20. 11 min.
  • "We Still Live Here" Documentary - "We Still Live Here" Documentary about Wampanoag language

Dictionaries and grammar

  • Natick Dictionary
  • Vocabulary of the Massachusetts (or Natick) Indian language (1829)
  • at the Internet Archive)


  • , MIT
  • . Cambridge: Marmaduke Johnson.


  • "Algonquian Texts" (features many Wampanoag texts, including the bulk of the Eliot bible and subsequent missionary writings), University of Massachusetts
  • Eliot, "Translation of the Book of Genesis, 1655, Kings Collection
  • . Boston, N.E: Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England.
  • OLAC resources in and about the Wampanoag language

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