|Extinct||Late 18th century|
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.
This table is based on the reconstruction that was done by Frank T. Siebert in his reconstruction of the language. He used the notes of John Smith but mostly the work of William Strachey in the 1600s. Siebert also used his knowledge of the patterns of other Algonquian languages in determining the meaning of Strachey's notes. This table not only used the practical symbols, but also the IPA symbols, which are in parenthesis.
|Stop||p [p]||t [t]||k [k]|
|Fricative||s [s]||h [h]|
|Nasal||m [m]||n [n]|
|Glide||w [w]||y [j]|
Siebert gives a very simplified table in his work with very little indication of whether a tone is high or low, but based on standard IPA, we can assume that "i" is high, "e" and "o" is mid and "a" is Low. He also mentions that the short "a" and "e" are weak vowels. As seen in the Constant chart, Sibert's original lettering and the IPA symbols are both represented in this chart wit the IPA symbols in parenthesis.
|High||i· [iː], i [ɪ]|
|Mid||e· [ɛː],e [ɛ]||o· [oː], o [ʊ]|
|Low||a [ʌ]||a· [aː]|
The work of Siebert does not specifically go over the structure of syllables, but using the lexicon and examples that he does provide, the patterns can be determined. There is a wide use of the CVC pattern as well as the CVːC. There is also allowance to have two CVC patterns together.
The Powhatan language uses syncope to determine the stressed syllable in words, more specifically the syncopation of weak vowels, /a/ and /e/. Syllable weight is determined based on whether or not the first syllable contains a weak vowel. If it does, then even numbered syllables are heavy and odd numbered syllables are light. If the word starts with a strong vowel, then it is the opposite, with the even numbered syllables being light and the odd numbered syllables being heavy.
There are two kinds of syncope: major and minor. Major syncopation happens in morphemes that are three or more syllables in the middle of the word. This especially happens in light syllables ending in /s/ or /h/. Some examples of this are in the words spoon and broom. "Spoon" would be pronounced /eː | meh | koːn/, but with major syncopation, it is pronounced /eːm | koːn/. For "broom", it would pronounced /čiː | keh | kahi | kan/, but with the syncopation, it ends up /čiːk | kahi | kan/. Minor syncopation tends to be optionally and only seen is specific dialects. Syllable weight is not a factor and instead it depends on if the word begins with /m/ or /n/ and ends with /s/ or a cluster including /s/ such as /sk/. An example of this is in the word "five" which would be pronounced /pa | reːn | eskw / and is instead pronounced as /pa | reːn| esk/ or /pa|reːn| sk/.
In Powhatan, nouns take inflective affixes depending on their class. There seems affixes only added to 3rd person noun. These nouns are not only categorized as singular and plural, but also animate and inanimate. For the animate group there are the Proximate and Obviative classes. This is quite common for Algonquian languages. The singular proximate class receives no affix, while the plural receives an /-ak/ suffix. For the obviative class, there is no distinction between singular and plural, both receiving an /-ah/ suffix. Finally, for inanimate nouns, singulars receive no suffix and plurals receive an /-as/ suffix.
There are 3 types of verb affixes highlighted in Siebert's analysis of the Powhatan language.
The first group is for animate intransitive verbs. 1st person singular has a /ne___/ pronoun and if the verb ends in /-aː/ then it takes the Circumfix /ne____m/. An example of this is seen in /nenepaːm/, which means "I am asleep". 2nd person singular takes the prefix /ke____/, unless ending in /aː/, which then takes the circumfix /ke_____m/. 3rd person singular takes a /_____w/ suffix. For 1st person plural there are two forms: "we' exclusive, which has a /ne____men/ affix and "we" inclusive, which has a /ke____men/ affix.For 2nd person plural, there is a /ke____moːw/ affix. And finally 3rd person plural takes a /____wak/ suffix.
The second group of verbs is for inanimate transitive verbs. These verbs only have singular subjects, but that does not prevent them from having a singular and plural form. These verbs also fall into 3 different classes of their own. The reasoning behind this division is not explained, however.
For class 1, 1st singular has a circumfix of /ne____amen/ and for 1st person plural, a suffix of /_____amena/. 2nd person singular has a circumfix of /ke___amen/, and like the previous plural form, the suffix for 2nd person plural is /___amen/. Finally, 3rd person singular has a circumfix of /o___amen/ and for the plural form, continues the pattern of taking a /___amen/ suffix. This class also has a negative for, which consists of the prefix part of the circumfix ei. /ne__/, /ke___/, and /o___/. If it is plural, then there is a /___amen/ suffix added.
For class 2, 1st person singular, there is a /ne_____aːn/ circumfix and for the plural form, there is a /____aːna/ suffix. The 2nd person singular takes a /ke____aːn/ circumfix and the plural form takes a /aːna/ suffix. Finally the 3rd person singular takes a /____oːw/ suffix as in the example of /peːtoːw/ which means "he brings'. However, the plural form is unknown in Siebert's research.
For the 3rd class, the 1st person singular form takes a /ne____an/ affix and the plural counterpart takes a /___ena/ suffix. 2nd person singular takes a /ke___an/ affix and the plural takes the /___ena/ suffix. 3rd person singular takes a /o___an/ affix and the plural takes the /___ena/ suffix. Following certain consonants the /___en/ part of singular affix turns into a /iː/ instead is in the example of /netayiːn/, which means "I have it". This class also has a negative form. This consist of the prefix part of the circumfix, /ne__/, /ke___/, and /o___/. If it is plural, then there is a /___oːwen/ suffix added.
The third group of verbs are the transitive animate verbs. For 1 person subjects acting on 3rd person objects, verbs take a /ne___aːw/ affix. For 2nd person subjects acting on 3rd person objects, verbs takes a /ke___aːw/ affix as in the example of /nekiːskamaːw/ which means " you cut his hair". For 1st person subjects acting on 2nd person objects, verbs take /ke___aːs/ affix. For negative 1st person subjects acting on 2nd person objects, there is a / ke____eroːw/ affix that verbs take.
Based on the conclusions of Siebert, it can be concluded that Powhatan is a language that follows an an [Agglutination|agglutinative]] pattern. Although it might have lost some of its strict rule, there is a clear pattern where the indication of person is pretty consistent regardless of the type or class of verb.
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.
|English||Dialect A Orthographic||Dialect A Transcription||Dialect B Orthographic||Dialect B Transcription|
|he is asleep||<nuppawv̄>, <nepauū>||/nepe·w/||<kawwiu>||/kawi·w/|
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.
- Mithun 1999, p. 332.
- Siebert 1975, p. 290.
- Lovgren 2006.
- Siebert 1975, p. 291.
- Campbell 2000, p. 20.
- Siebert 1975, pp. 295–296.
- Feest 1978, p. 253.
- Siebert 1975.
- 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.
- 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.
- How a linguist revived ‘New World’ language accessed 16 April 2006.
- Language Resources of Virginia Indians
- UNC Charlotte linguist restores lost language, culture for 'The New World' accessed 16 April 2006.
- Native Languages of the Americas: Powhatan
- Online version of both Strachey & Smith's word lists link broken
- "Powhatan Language Revitalization Project". Just another Rising Voices site. Retrieved 2012-09-02.
- OLAC resources in and about the Powhatan language