Sunday, November 1, 2009

Language Issues: A Minority Viewpoint is Published in Mohican News

The pre-contact distribution of Algonquian languages according to

"Mohawk" is not only the name of an Iroquois-speaking Indian nation, it is also a fairly common last name among the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians (the tribe/nation usually referred to here as the Stockbridge Mohicans). A letter to the editor in the November 1, 2009 issue of Mohican News by Jeremy Mohawk is the subject of this post.

As you may know, today's Stockbridge Indians have been working on the Mohican language. Some of them like to assert that the Mohican language is not dead. Others speak of "reviving" the Mohican language. In fact, a revival of Mohican seems to me to be the best that can be hoped for. Meetings have gone on recently in which interested Stockbridges have guessed at pronunciations of Mohican words that were written by or under the supervision of the tribe's missionaries and they have also borrowed words and pronunciations from other groups of Indians. Proper grammar for the Mohican language is also a work in progress.

On the other hand, as Jeremy Mohawk writes, there is no need to revive the Munsee Delaware/Lenape language, since it never ceased being spoken at Moraviantown, Ontario, Canada.

The Munsee dialect of Lenape has been brought to our reservation and a lot of people are using it. The Language and Culture Board has adopted it as a language for our people. We have been using this language for our feasts, prayers at the feast, titles of our feasts and in our homes.

Mohawk added that the Munsee dialect of Lenape is the language that is taught at the Stockbridge Mohicans' language camps and the teachers are authentic Munsee speakers from Moraviantown in Canada. Learning from people who actually speak the language really is the best (or possibly only) way to ensure that you'll learn the correct pronunciations of a language.

As Jeremy Mohawk sees it, members of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians have common ancestors, some spoke Mohican, and others spoke Munsee [Delaware] Lenape. For that reason wouldn't the whole tribe be better off to learn a language that is still living than to work hard on the Mohican language but never know if you're speaking it correctly?

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