Algonquian languages

The Algonquian languages (/ælˈɡɒŋkiən/ or /ælˈɡɒŋkwiən/;[2] also Algonkian) are a subfamily of Native American languages which includes most of the languages in the Algic language family. The name of the Algonquian language family is distinguished from the orthographically similar Algonquin dialect of the indigenous Ojibwe language (Chippewa), which is a senior member of the Algonquian language family. The term "Algonquin" has been suggested to derive from the Maliseet word elakómkwik (pronounced [ɛlæˈɡomoɡwik]), "they are our relatives/allies".[3][4] A number of Algonquian languages, like many other Native American languages, are now extinct.

Speakers of Algonquian languages stretch from the east coast of North America to the Rocky Mountains. The proto-language from which all of the languages of the family descend, Proto-Algonquian, was spoken around 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.[5] There is no scholarly consensus about where this language was spoken.

North America
Linguistic classificationAlgic
  • Algonquian
ISO 639-2 / 5alg
Algic langs
Pre-contact distribution of Algic languages

Family division

This subfamily of around 30 languages is divided into three groups according to geography: Plains, Central, and Eastern Algonquian. Only Eastern Algonquian constitutes a true genetic subgroup.[6]

The languages are listed below, following the classifications of Goddard (1996) and Mithun (1999). Extinct languages are marked with †, and endangered languages are noted as such. For dialects and subdialects, consult the separate main articles for each of the three divisions.

1. Blackfoot
Arapahoan (including Nawathinehena (†), and Besawunena (†))
2. Arapaho proper
3. Gros Ventre (†)
4. Cheyenne
5. Cree–Montagnais–Naskapi
6. Menominee (severely endangered)
7. Ojibwe
8. Potawatomi (nearly extinct)
9. Sauk–Fox–Kickapoo (severely endangered)
10. Shawnee (severely endangered)
11. Miami–Illinois (†)
12. Miꞌkmaq
13. Western Abenaki (nearly extinct)
14. Eastern Abenaki (†)
15. Malecite–Passamaquoddy
16. Massachusett
17. Narragansett (†)
18. Mohegan–Pequot (†)
19. Quiripi-Naugatuck-Unquachog (†)
20. Mahican (†)
21. Munsee (nearly extinct)
22. Unami (†)
23. Nanticoke–Piscataway (†)
24. Carolina Algonquian (†)
25. Powhatan (†)
26. Etchemin (†) (uncertain - See Eastern Algonquian languages)
27. Loup A (†) (probably Nipmuck (†), uncertain - See Eastern Algonquian languages)
28. Loup B (†) (uncertain - See Eastern Algonquian languages)
29. Shinnecock (†) (uncertain)


Eastern Algonquian is a true genetic subgrouping. The Plains Algonquian and the Central Algonquian groups are not genetic groupings but rather areal groupings. However, these areal groups often do share linguistic features, but the sharing is attributed to language contact.[7] Paul Proulx has argued that this traditional view is incorrect,[8] and that Central Algonquian (in which he includes the Plains Algonquian languages) is a genetic subgroup, with Eastern Algonquian consisting of several different subgroups. However, this classification scheme has failed to gain acceptance from other specialists in the Algonquian languages.[9]

Instead, the commonly accepted subgrouping scheme is that proposed by Ives Goddard (1994). The essence of this proposal is that Proto-Algonquian originated with people to the west, perhaps in the Plateau region of Idaho and Oregon or the Rocky Mountain-Great Plains boundary of Montana, and then moved east, dropping off subgroups as people migrated. By this scenario, Blackfoot was the first language to branch off, which coincides well with its being the most divergent language of Algonquian. In west-to-east order, the subsequent branchings were:

  • Arapaho-Gros Ventre, Cree-Montagnais, Menominee, and Cheyenne;
  • then the core Great Lakes languages: (Ojibwe–Potawatomi, Shawnee, Sauk–Fox–Kickapoo, and Miami–Illinois); and
  • finally, Proto-Eastern Algonquian.

This historical reconstruction accords best with the observed levels of divergence within the family, whereby the most divergent languages are found furthest west (since they constitute the earliest branchings during eastern migration), and the shallowest subgroupings are found furthest to the east (Eastern Algonquian, and arguably Core Central). Goddard also points out that there is clear evidence for pre-historical contact between Eastern Algonquian and Cree-Montagnais, as well as between Cheyenne and Arapaho-Gros Ventre. There has long been especially extensive back-and-forth influence between Cree and Ojibwe.[10]

It has been suggested that the "Eastern Great Lakes" languages – what Goddard has called "Core Central", e.g., Ojibwe–Potawatomi, Shawnee, Sauk–Fox–Kickapoo, and Miami-Illinois (but not Cree–Montagnais or Menominee) – may also constitute their own genetic grouping within Algonquian. They share certain intriguing lexical and phonological innovations. However, this theory has not yet been fully fleshed out and is still considered conjectural.

Algonquian is sometimes said to have included the extinct Beothuk language of Newfoundland, whose speakers were both in geographic proximity to Algonquian speakers and who share DNA in common with the Algonquian-speaking Miꞌkmaq.[11][12] Linguistic evidence is scarce and poorly recorded however, and it is unlikely that reliable evidence of a connection can be found.[13]

Grammatical features

The Algonquian language family is known for its complex polysynthetic morphology and sophisticated verb system.[14] Statements that take many words to say in English can be expressed with a single word. Ex: (Menominee) paehtāwāēwesew "He is heard by higher powers" (paeht- 'hear', -āwāē- 'spirit', -wese- passivizer, -w third-person subject) or (Plains Cree) kāstāhikoyahk "it frightens us". These languages have been extensively studied by Leonard Bloomfield, Ives Goddard, and others.

Algonquian nouns have an animate/inanimate contrast: some nouns are classed as animate, while all other nouns are inanimate.[14] There is ongoing debate over whether there is a semantic significance to the categorization of nouns as animate or inanimate, with scholars arguing for it as either a clearly semantic issue, or a purely syntactic issue, along with a variety of arguments in between. More structurally inclined linguistic scholars have argued that since there is no consistent semantic system for determining the animacy of a noun, that it must be a purely linguistic characterization. Anthropological linguists have conversely argued the strong connection between animacy and items viewed as having spiritual importance.

Another important distinction involves the contrast between nouns marked as proximate and those marked as obviative. Proximate nouns are those deemed most central or important to the discourse, while obviative nouns are those less important to the discourse.[15]

There are personal pronouns which distinguish three persons, two numbers (singular and plural), inclusive and exclusive first person plural, and proximate and obviative third persons. Verbs are divided into four classes: transitive verbs with an animate object (abbreviated "TA"), transitive verbs with an inanimate object ("TI"), intransitive verbs with an animate subject ("AI"), and intransitive verbs with an inanimate subject ("II").[15]


See the lists of words in the Algonquian languages and the list of words of Algonquian origin at Wiktionary, the free dictionary and Wikipedia's sibling project.

Loan words

Because Algonquian languages were some of the first with which Europeans came into contact in North America, the language family has given many words to English. Many eastern and midwestern U.S. states have names of Algonquian origin (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, etc.), as do many cities: Milwaukee, Chicago, et al. Ottawa, the capital of Canada, is named after an Algonquian nation, the Odawa people.

For a more detailed treatment of geographical names in three Algonquian languages see the external link to the book by Trumbull.

See also

Femme algoquien
The word 'woman' in the different Algonquian languages


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Algonquian". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ "Algonquian". Retrieved 2008-07-07.
  3. ^ Campbell 1997, p. 401, notes 133, 136.
  4. ^ Bright 2004, p. 32.
  5. ^ Goddard 1978, p. 587.
  6. ^ Mithun 1999, pp. 328, 333-335.
  7. ^ Goddard 1994, p. 187.
  8. ^ Proulx 2003.
  9. ^ Goddard 1994, p. 199.
  10. ^ Goddard 1994.
  11. ^ Goddard 1979, pp. 106-7.
  12. ^ Kuch et al. 2007.
  13. ^ Mithun 1999, p. 368.
  14. ^ a b Pentland 2006, p. 163.
  15. ^ a b Pentland 2006, p. 164.


  • Bloomfield, Leonard (1946). "Algonquian". Linguistic Structures of Native America, ed. Harry Hoijer. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology: 6. New York.
  • Bright, William (2004). Native American Place Names of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Cappel, Constance, (2006), Odawa Language and Legends: Andrew J. Blackbird and Raymond Kiogima, Bloomington, IN: Xlibris.
  • Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Goddard, Ives (1978). "Central Algonquian Languages". In Trigger, Bruce G. (ed.). Northeast. Vol. 15 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 583–587. ISBN 978-0-16-004575-2.
  • ———— (1979a). "Comparative Algonquian". In Lyle Campbell & Marianne Mithun, eds., The Languages of Native North America: Historical and Comparative Assessment, pp. 70–132. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • ———— (1994). "The West-to-East Cline in Algonquian Dialectology." In William Cowan, ed., Papers of the 25th Algonquian Conference, pp. 187–211. Ottawa: Carleton University.
  • ———— (1996). "Introduction". In Ives Goddard, ed., "Languages". Vol. 17 of William Sturtevant, ed., The Handbook of North American Indians. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Kuch, Melanie (2007). "A preliminary analysis of the DNA and diet of the extinct Beothuk: A systematic approach to ancient human DNA" (PDF). American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 132 (4): 594–604. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20536. PMID 17205549. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-25.
  • Mithun, Marianne (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Moondancer and Strong Woman (2007). A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England: Voices from Past and Present. Boulder, Colorado: Bauu Press. ISBN 0-9721349-3-X.
  • "Uncertain/Extinct Algonquian Languages".
  • O'Brien, Frank Waabu (2010). "Understanding Indian Place Names in Southern New England". Boulder, Colorado: Bauu Press. ISBN 978-0-9820467-6-0.
  • Pentland, David H. (2006). "Algonquian and Ritwan Languages", in Keith Brown, ed., Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics (2nd ed.), pp. 161–6. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
  • Proulx, Paul (2003). "The Evidence on Algonquian Genetic Grouping: A Matter of Relative Chronology", Anthropological Linguistics 45:201-25.

External links

Algic languages

The Algic (also Algonquian–Wiyot–Yurok or Algonquian–Ritwan) languages are an indigenous language family of North America. Most Algic languages belong to the Algonquian family, dispersed over a broad area from the Rocky Mountains to Atlantic Canada. The other Algic languages are the Yurok and Wiyot of northwestern California, which, despite their geographic proximity, are not closely related. All these languages descend from Proto-Algic, a second-order proto-language estimated to have been spoken about 7,000 years ago and reconstructed using the reconstructed Proto-Algonquian language and the Wiyot and Yurok languages.

Algonquin language

Algonquin (also spelled Algonkin; in Algonquin: Anicinàbemowin or Anishinàbemiwin) is either a distinct Algonquian language closely related to the Ojibwe language or a particularly divergent Ojibwe dialect. It is spoken, alongside French and to some extent English, by the Algonquin First Nations of Quebec and Ontario. As of 2006, there were 2,680 Algonquin speakers, less than 10% of whom were monolingual. Algonquin is the language for which the entire Algonquian language subgroup is named. The similarity among the names often causes considerable confusion. Like many Native American languages, it is strongly verb-based, with most meaning being incorporated into verbs instead of using separate words for prepositions, tense, etc.

Arapaho language

The Arapaho (Arapahoe) language (Hinónoʼeitíít) is one of the Plains Algonquian languages, closely related to Gros Ventre and other Arapahoan languages. It is spoken by the Arapaho of Wyoming and Oklahoma. Speakers of Arapaho primarily live on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, though some have affiliation with the Cheyenne living in western Oklahoma.

Beothuk language

The Beothuk language ( or ), also called Beothukan, was spoken by the indigenous Beothuk people of Newfoundland. The Beothuk have been extinct since 1829 and there are few written accounts of their language, so little is known about it.

Carolina Algonquian language

Carolina Algonquian (also known as Pamlico, Croatoan) is an Algonquian language of the Eastern Algonquian subgroup formerly spoken in North Carolina, United States. Carolina Algonquian language was formerly spoken by Secotan (later known as Machapunga), Chowanoke and Weapemeoc (subgroups Poteskeit and Paspatank) peoples.

Central Algonquian languages

The Central Algonquian languages are commonly grouped together as a subgroup of the larger Algonquian family, itself a member of the Algic family. Though the grouping is often encountered in the literature, it is an areal grouping, not a genetic grouping. In other words, the languages are grouped together because they were spoken near one another, not because they are more closely related to one another than to other Algonquian languages. Within the Algonquian family, only Eastern Algonquian is a valid genealogical group.

Within the Central Algonquian grouping, Potawatomi and Chippewa, otherwise known as Ojibwe, are closely related and are generally grouped together as an Ojibwa-Potawatomi sub-branch. David J. Costa speculated in his 2003–2004 web publications that Central Algonquian has a specific language sub-branch that he refers to as "Eastern Great Lakes". The hypothesis for the subgroup is based on lexical and phonological innovations.

Cheyenne language

The Cheyenne language (Tsėhésenėstsestȯtse), is the Native American language spoken by the Cheyenne people, predominantly in present-day Montana and Oklahoma, in the United States. It is part of the Algonquian language family. Like all other Algonquian languages, it has complex agglutinative morphology. This language is considered endangered, at different levels, in both states.

Eastern Algonquian languages

The Eastern Algonquian languages constitute a subgroup of the Algonquian languages. Prior to European contact, Eastern Algonquian consisted of at least 17 languages, collectively occupying the Atlantic coast of North America and adjacent inland areas from what are now the Maritimes of Canada to North Carolina. The available information about individual languages varies widely. Some are known only from one or two documents containing words and phrases collected by missionaries, explorers or settlers, and some documents contain fragmentary evidence about more than one language or dialect. Nearly all of the Eastern Algonquian languages are extinct. Miꞌkmaq and Malecite-Passamaquoddy have appreciable numbers of speakers, but Western Abenaki and Delaware are each reported to have fewer than 10 speakers after 2000.

Eastern Algonquian constitutes a separate genetic subgroup within Algonquian. Two other recognized groups of Algonquian languages, Plains Algonquian and Central Algonquian, are geographic but do not refer to genetic subgroupings.

Etchemin language

Etchemin was a language of the Algonquian language family, spoken in early colonial times on the coast of Maine. The word Etchemin is thought to be either French alteration of an Algonquian word for "canoe" or a translation of "Skidijn" the native word for people in use by the inhabitants of the St. John, Passamaquoddy and St. Croix Rivers.

The only known record of the Etchemin language is a list of the numbers from one to ten recorded by Marc Lescarbot in the early 17th century and published in his book The History of New France (1609). The numerals in the list match those of Malecite-Passamaquoddy, Eastern Abenaki, as well as languages of southern New England such as Wampanoag, but as a set they do not match any other Algonquian language. The Etchemin language disappeared not long after Lescarbot's visit, and it is unknown what became of the tribe. All other language records called 'Etchemin', under more detailed analysis, appear to be the neighboring Malecite-Passamaquoddy language.

Fox language

Fox (known by a variety of different names, including Mesquakie (Meskwaki), Mesquakie-Sauk, Mesquakie-Sauk-Kickapoo, Sauk-Fox, and Sac and Fox) is an Algonquian language, spoken by a thousand Meskwaki, Sauk, and Kickapoo in various locations in the Midwestern United States and in northern Mexico.

Gros Ventre language

Atsina, or Gros Ventre (also known as Ananin, Ahahnelin, Ahe and A’ani), is the ancestral language of the Gros Ventre people of Montana. The last fluent speaker died in 2007, though revitalization efforts are underway.

Nanticoke language

Nanticoke is an extinct Algonquian language formerly spoken in Delaware and Maryland, United States. The same language was spoken by several neighboring tribes, including the Nanticoke, which constituted the paramount chiefdom; the Choptank, the Assateague, and probably also the Piscataway and the Doeg.

Narragansett language

Narragansett is an Algonquian language formerly spoken in most of what is today Rhode Island by the Narragansett people. It was closely related to the other Algonquian languages of southern New England like Massachusett and Mohegan-Pequot. The earliest study of the language in English was by Roger Williams, founder of the Rhode Island colony, in his book A Key Into the Language of America (1643).

Naskapi language

Naskapi (also known as Iyuw Iyimuun in the Naskapi language) is an Algonquian language spoken by the Naskapi in Quebec and Labrador, Canada. It is written in Eastern Cree syllabics.

The term Naskapi is chiefly used to describe the language of the people living in the interior of Quebec and Labrador in or around Kawawachikamach, Quebec. Naskapi is a "y-dialect" that has many linguistic features in common with the Northern dialect of East Cree, and also shares many lexical items with the Innu language.

Although there is a much closer linguistic and cultural relationship between Naskapi and Innu than between Naskapi and other Cree language communities, Naskapi remains unique and distinct from all other language varieties in the Quebec-Labrador peninsula.

Nawathinehena language

Nawathinehena is an extinct Algonquian language formerly spoken among the Arapaho people. It had a phonological development quite different from either Gros Ventre or Arapaho proper. It has been identified as the former language of the Southern Arapaho, who switched to speaking Arapaho proper in the 19th century. However, the language is not well attested, being documented only in a vocabulary collected in 1899 by Alfred L. Kroeber from the Oklahoma Arapaho.

While it shares many important phonological innovations with Arapaho, it presents the merger of *r, *θ and *s with *t as t instead of n as in Arapaho, a sound change reminiscent of Blackfoot and Cheyenne (Goddard 1974, Jacques 2013). PA *w changes to m instead of merging with *r, *s and *n as n.

Plains Algonquian languages

The Plains Algonquian languages are commonly grouped together as a subgroup of the larger Algonquian family, itself a member of the Algic family. Though the grouping is often encountered in the literature, it is an areal grouping rather than a genetic one. In other words, the languages are grouped together because they were spoken near one another, not because they are more closely related to one another than to any other Algonquian language. Within the Algonquian family, only Eastern Algonquian constitutes a separate genetic subgroup.

Powhatan language

Powhatan or Virginia Algonquian is an extinct language belonging to the Eastern Algonquian subgroup of the Algonquian languages. It was spoken by the Powhatan people of tidewater Virginia. It became extinct around the 1790s after speakers were forced under duress to speak English. The sole documentary evidence for this language is two short wordlists recorded around the time of first European contact. William Strachey recorded about 500 words and Captain John Smith recorded only about 50 words. Smith also reported the existence of a pidgin form of Powhatan, but virtually nothing is known of it. Like many Algonquian languages, Powhatan did not have a writing system, so all that is left are the recordings from the 17th century and the piecing together that can be done using related Algonquian languages.

Strachey’s material was collected sometime between 1610 and 1611, and probably written up from his notes in 1612 and 1613, after he had returned to England. It was never published in his lifetime, although he made a second copy in 1618. The second copy was published in 1849, and the first in 1955. Smith’s material was collected between 1607 and 1609 and published in 1612 and again in 1624. There is no indication of the location where he collected his material. In 1975, Frank Siebert, a linguist specializing in Algonquian languages, published a book-length study claiming the "reconstitution" of the phonology of the language.

Although the language had become extinct, some of the tribes that were part of the Powhatan chiefdom still remain close to their lands. These tribes include Mattaponi, Nansemond, Chickahominy, Pamunkey and Patawomeck, all of whom are either recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia or the Federal Government. There is also the Powhatan Renape Nation (formerly located on the Rankokus Indian Reservation in Burlington, New Jersey) that is working to reclaim their culture and educate the public.

Quiripi language

Quiripi (pronounced , also known as Quiripi-Unquachog, Quiripi-Naugatuck, and Wampano) was an Algonquian language formerly spoken by the indigenous people of southwestern Connecticut and central Long Island, including the Quinnipiac, Unquachog, Mattabesic, Podunk, Tunxis, and Paugussett (subgroups Naugatuck, Potatuck, Weantinock). It has been effectively extinct since the end of the 18th century, although Frank T. Siebert, Jr., was able to record a few Unquachog words from an elderly woman in 1932.

Shawnee language

The Shawnee language is a Central Algonquian language spoken in parts of central and northeastern Oklahoma by the Shawnee people. It was originally spoken in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. It is closely related to other Algonquian languages, such as Mesquakie-Sauk (Sac and Fox) and Kickapoo.

Algonquian languages
Plains Algonquian
Central Algonquian
Eastern Algonquian

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