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 switched to 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.
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.
Dialect variation 
Siebert's 1975 study also examined evidence for dialect variation. He found insufficient justification for assigning any apparent dialects to particular areas. Strachey’s material reflects considerable lexical variation and minor phonological variation, suggesting the existence of dialect differentiation. A speculative connection to the Chickahominy and Pamunkey Virginia Algonquian tribes has been suggested, but there is no evidence to support this link.
The table below gives a sample of words reflecting lexical variation. Each word is given as written by Smith or Strachey, followed by a proposed phonemic representation.
Powhatan Words Representing Two Dialects
||Dialect A Orthographic
||Dialect A Transcription
||Dialect B Orthographic
||Dialect B Transcription
|he is asleep
Loan words from Powhatan in English 
Siebert credited Powhatan with being the source of more English loans than any other indigenous language. Most such words were likely borrowed very early, probably before Powhatan—English conflict arose in 1622. Among these words are: chinquapin (Castanea pumila), chum (as in chumming), hickory, hominy, matchcoat, moccasin, muskrat, opposum, persimmon, pokeweed, pone (as in corn pone), raccoon, terrapin, tomahawk, and wicopy.
Reconstruction for the The New World 
For the film The New World (2005), which tells the story of the English colonization of Virginia and encounter with the Powhatan, Blair Rudes made a tentative reconstruction of the language "as it might have been." A specialist in the American Indian languages of North Carolina and Virginia, he used the Strachey and Smith wordlists, as well as the vocabularies and grammars of other Algonquian languages and the sound correspondences that appear to obtain between them and Powhatan.
See also 
- ^ Rudes, Blair A. 2011. "In the Words of Powhatan: Translation across Space and Time for 'The New World'", In Born in the Blood: On Native American Translation, edited by Brian Swann.
- Ethnologue entry for Powhatan
- Campbell, Lyle (2000). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514050-8.
- Feest, Christian. 1978. "Virginia Algonquin." Bruce Trigger, ed., Handbook of North American Indians. Volume 15. Northeast, pp. 253–271. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
- Lovgren, Stefan. 2006. "'New World' Film Revives Extinct Native American Tongue", National Geographic News, January 20, 2006
- Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge Language Family Surveys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Siebert, Frank. 1975. "Resurrecting Virginia Algonquian from the dead: The reconstituted and historical phonology of Powhatan," Studies in Southeastern Indian Languages. Ed. James Crawford. Athens: University of Georgia Press, pp. 285-453.
External links