The Lord’s Prayer in Munsee:
Nooxwhna eepiian awasahkameew
leekuch eeliteehiian yoon tali ahkiing eelkihkwi leek tali awasahkameew
Miiliineen kway kiishkwihk wetapwaanumayeeng
waak miiweelundamuwiineen njanuwsoowaakaninanal
eelkih niiloona miiweelundamaweeng niik chechaniilaweemkweemgwiik
Waak chiil apawuneen li ahkwchihtoowaakanung
shukwund ktuniineen wunji meetihkung
Munsee, also called Munsee Delaware or Lunaape, was the main language of what is now metropolitan New York back in 1600. It is one of the two native languages spoken by the Delaware (Lenape) people, the other being Unami, which was spoken to the south.
- Speakers: 6 native speakers (all of them over 70).
- Countries: Canada (Moraviantown Reserve, Ontario).
- Script: Roman. Scholars use the International Phonetic Alphabet.
- Language family: Eastern Algonquian, whose languages were spoken all along the east coast of North America from Nova Scotia to North Carolina.
It is no accident that they are now in Canada: they fled there from George Washington‘s genocidal war of terror, which featured the Gnadhutton Massacre.
William Penn, who heard the closely related language of Unami, said:
“I know not a Language spoken in Europe, that hath words of more sweetness and greatness, in Accent and Emphasis, than theirs.”
Like Ancient Greek, its word order is free-form, but it has tons of word endings and word beginnings, some of them depending on whether the thing talked about is inanimate or not. For example, red is maxkeew if the object is inanimate, but maxksuw if it is not.
It has vowels that English does not have, and yet has no f or r (except sometimes in borrowed words).
Some words borrowed from Dutch:
- hé·mpət – shirt (Dutch: hemd)
- á·pə̆ləš – apple (Dutch: appel)
- kə̆nó·p – button (Dutch: knop)
- šə̆mə́t – blacksmith (Dutch: smid)
- pó·təl – butter (Dutch: boter)
- šó·kəl – sugar (Dutch: suiker)
Near beer: English words from Eastern Algonquian languages that are like those in Munsee:
- moccasin – from Powhatan makasin, “shoe” (Munsee: mahkusin)
- moose – from Narragansett moos (Munsee: móos)
- terrapin – from Powhatan (Munsee: tolpew, “turtle”)
Place names: There are tons of them in metro New York. Here are a few:
- Hackensack – “the stream which discharges into itself on low ground”
- Jamaica, Queens – yameko, “beaver”
- Manhattan – munahan “island”, or maybe e:nta menahahte:nk, “where one gathers [wood for] bows”
- Massapequa – from siipuw, “creek”
- Mosquito Cove – muskeg, “swamp”. A bilingual pun.
- Paramus – paramp seapus, “plum creek”
- Parsippany – parsipanong, “the place where the river winds through the valley”.
- Passaic – pahsayèk, “valley” or “place where the land splits”
- Pequannock – pequa, “stream”
- Poconos – poco-hanne, “stream between mountains”
- Ramapo – “underneath the rock”
- Rockaway – leekuwii ahkiing, “at a sandy land”
- Secaucus – “black snakes”
- Tuxedo Park – p’tuck-sepo, “crooked river” – where tuxedos caught on.
- Watchung – wachtsu + ahkiing, “mountain” + “place”
- Weehawken – “place of gulls”
- Whippany – whippanong, “place of the willows”
- Wyoming – chwewamink, “at the big river flat”, made popular by the poem “Gertrude of Wyoming'” (1809) by Thomas Campbell.
Whites all but wiped out the Munsee language by genocide and boarding schools. Since the 1970s there has been a push to revive it.
Fighting internalized racism: Velma Noah, who teaches Munsee, says that without the Munsee language, the Munsee people will continue to suffer from things like drug addiction and high rates of high school dropouts:
“It’s not the social workers that’ll help, it’s the language. If you know your language, you know who you are.”
– Abagond, 2016.
- The Delaware
- growing up Native American
- Notes towards a Native history of George Washington
- internalized racism