Vol. IV No. 1 1/1/2023
The Algonkian Language: A Window into Indigenous Culture
by Michael Forbes Wilcox
The language we use reveals our values, and the words we hear help to shape our beliefs.
The Algonkian language co-evolved with the internal structure and cultural practices of a vibrant and sophisticated social system. Its many dialects reflect the diversity as well as the connectivity of the people of our region (and beyond).
The Algonkian language belongs to the Algic language group. The languages in this group can be mutually unintelligible because their vocabularies have evolved separately over thousands of years, but they all share the same structural elements, and account for 70% to 80% of all the Native languages in North America. Examples will be given in the Western Abenaki dialect (spoken in Vermont and surrounding areas). This dialect is similar to the Mahican dialect, spoken in the Berkshires and points west and south.
Rich vocabularies reveal the traditional importance of such things as kinship ties, beavers, and snowshoes.
We encounter values of cooperation and responsibility, in contrast with Colonial values of competition and ownership.
This Native American language reveals a dynamic view of the world not found in Indo-European languages
The word for "chair" literally means "a stiff thing you sit on" One word for "beaver" means "the cutter" English nouns are simply labels; in Algonkian, such words reflect dynamism and purpose.
I will be presenting a Berkshire OLLI course focused on the culture indigenous to this region.
Photo: James Lawson