Friday, January 14, 2011

The Mohican Language: Is it Worth it?

I see that Lion Miles' Mohican Dictionary is posted on Debra Winchell's History's Faces blog (look for it in the upper right-hand corner). Just a casual look at the document convinces me that he worked very hard at compiling that dictionary. More than 90 percent of the dictionary is an "English to Mohican" section, with many English words having several Mohican pronounciations.

As a layperson I have only a fuzzy understanding of all the problems involved in compiling a dictionary of a language that was not spoken for several decades as well as being a language that was already changed by white contact by the time people began to interpret or translate it. The result of those (and other) problems is that Lion Miles' dictionary - an attempt at accurately re-creating Mohican - is too complex for ordinary people like you or I to use as a guide in learning Mohican.

But, you know, that is okay. Tribes and independent groups of Indians get together for language camps and that social context is really the best place for adults to learn a language.

Jim Northrup (pictured) organizes the annual Nagaajiwanaang Ojibwe Language Camp in Sawyer, Minnesota.

The language controversy among the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians (if I understand it correctly) is that the Lenape (or Delaware/Munsee) language is being learned along with some Mohican words. For many, including the tribe's Language and Culture Committee, this is good enough. But others feel that the uniqueness of the Mohican language is being kept from being fully realized by that way of teaching.

Rainer Posselt is one tribal member in the latter camp. In his comment to one of my earlier posts he expressed his disappointment that the Language and Culture Committee is essentially teaching Lenape but calling it 'Lenape-Mohican.' As Posselt says, "just tell us it is Lenape, you don't have to lie."

1 comment :

molly miller said...

Jeff - as clan mother of the Stockbridge-Munsee Language and Culture Committee I must bring you up to date. We are learning the Minsi dialect of the Lunaape Language (I call it Munsee Mahican) as it is still a "living"language. There is no longer a major controversy so would appreciate it if those from the "outside" would refrain from trying to stir it up. We will one day try to interpret all the many different ways the old Mohican words were written down by a variety of sources. We use the few that survived in families. We all wish the true Mohican was still spoken but it isn't so we went for the living and we're learning quickly...the children even quicker. Our children can greet each other and introduce themselves and pray. Those are important things to us. While the academic works, the linguistic work and dictionaries are helpful and needed we are learning to use the language in our daily lives. You should come visit us some time