Unkechaug Language

Most of the Indian words in the novel are indeed Unkechaug words, but some are not. By the mid-19th century, Unkechaugs like Solomon probably knew only a smattering of words. In 1791 Thomas Jefferson visited Long Island and spent several days with the Unkechaug Indians. During this time, he compiled a dictionary of words and phrases. According to his record he encountered only three native speakers, all elderly women. Perhaps one was Solomon’s great-grandmother, his Grandma’s n├ínnax.

For phrases not found in the Unkechaug dictionary, I used Stephanie Fielding’s A Modern Mohegan Dictionary and “A Glossary of the Mohegan-Pequot Language,” by J. Dyneley Prince and Frank Speck in American Anthropology New Series #6 1904: 18-45. The language spoken by the Unkechaugs was closely related to Mohegan-Pequot, a part of the Algonquian language family. 

In 2009, the Unkechaug Nation received a grant to develop a language recovery and preservation project. Studies are being conducted of close living languages, such as Western Abenaki, in an attempt to reconstruct linguistic patterns and assemble a more extensive vocabulary. Such efforts are important, as language can play an integral part in expressing culture and traditional religious beliefs. 

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