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Abenaki language

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Eastern: Alnombak, Alnôbak, Eastern Abnaki, Wawenock
Western: Abenaqui, Alnombak, Saint Francis, Western Abnaki
Eastern: Alənαpαtəwéwαkan
Western: Alnôbaôdwawôgan
Native toCanada, United States
RegionQuebec, New Brunswick, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire
Ethnicity1,800 Abnaki and Penobscot (1982)[1]
Native speakers
14 Western Abenaki (2007–2012)[2]
Last fluent speaker of Eastern Abenaki died in 1993.[2]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
aaq – Eastern Abenaki
abe – Western Abenaki
Glottologeast2544  Eastern Abenaki
west2630  Western Abenaki
Western Abenaki is classified as critically endangered by the Endangered Languages Project (ELP)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
PeopleAlnôbak (Wôbanakiak)
Western Abenaki territory

Abenaki (Eastern: Alənαpαtəwéwαkan, Western: Alnôbaôdwawôgan), also known as Wôbanakiak,[3] is an endangered Eastern Algonquian language of Quebec and the northern states of New England. The language has Eastern and Western forms which differ in vocabulary and phonology and are sometimes considered distinct languages.

Western Abenaki was spoken in New Hampshire, Vermont, north-western Massachusetts, and southern Quebec.[4] Odanak, Quebec is a First Nations reserve located near the Saint-François River — these peoples were referred to as Saint Francis Indians by English writers after the 1700s.[5] The few remaining speakers of Western Abenaki live predominantly in Odanak and the last fully fluent speaker, Cécile (Wawanolett) Joubert died in 2006.[4] A revitalization effort was started in Odanak in 1994; however, as of 2004 younger generations are not learning the language and the remaining speakers are elderly, making Western Abenaki nearly extinct.[6]

Eastern Abenaki languages are spoken by several peoples, including the Penobscot of what is now Maine. The last known natively fluent speaker of Penobscot Abenaki, Madeline Shay, died in 1993.[7][8] However, several Penobscot elders still speak Penobscot, and there is an ongoing effort to preserve it and teach it in the local schools;[9] much of the language was preserved by Frank Siebert.[10] Other speakers of Eastern Abenaki included tribes such as the Amoscocongon who spoke the Arosagunticook dialect,[11] and the Caniba, which are documented in French-language materials from the colonial period.


In Reflections in Bullough's Pond, historian Diana Muir argues that Abenaki neighbors, the pre-contact Iroquois, were an imperialist, expansionist culture whose cultivation of the corn/beans/squash agricultural complex enabled them to support a large population. They made war primarily against neighboring Algonquian peoples, including the Abenaki. Muir uses archaeological data to argue that the Iroquois expansion onto Algonquian lands was checked by the Algonquian adoption of agriculture, which enabled them to support populations large enough to raise sufficient warriors to defend against the threat of Iroquois conquest.[12][page needed]

In 1614, six years before the Mayflower arrived in New England, English explorer and slaver Captain Thomas Hunt captured 24 indigenous people, including Wampanoag member Tisquantum from the Patuxet tribe in what would later become Massachusetts, and took them to Spain to sell as slaves.[13] As a result, when the Mayflower landed and English settlers began to establish colonies in the southern end of Abenaki territory, relations between the settlers and natives remained guarded. The religious leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony discouraged social interaction with the natives.

By contrast, the French had already planted the colonies of New France in the northern part of Abenaki territory, and maintained reasonably cordial relations with the natives. Intermarriage between the French and natives gave rise to the Métis people. Over the next hundred years, conflicts between the French and the English often included their colonies and their respective native allies. The French treated their Abenaki allies with some respect; in 1706, Louis XIV knighted Chief Assacumbuit for his service, thus elevating him as a member of the French nobility.

Abenaki couple, 18th-century
Eastern Abenaki territory

Around 1669, the Abenaki started to emigrate to Quebec due to conflicts with English colonists and epidemics of new infectious diseases. The governor of New France allocated two seigneuries (large self-administered areas similar to feudal fiefs). The first was on the Saint Francis River and is now known as the Odanak Indian Reservation; the second was founded near Bécancour and is called the Wolinak Indian Reservation.[citation needed]

Abenaki wars[edit]

When the Wampanoag under Metacomet, also called "King Philip", fought the English colonists in New England in 1675 in King Philip's War, the Abenaki joined the Wampanoag. For three years there was fighting along the Maine frontier in the First Abenaki War. The Abenaki pushed back the line of white settlement by devastating raids on scattered farmhouses and small villages. The war was settled by a peace treaty in 1678.

During Queen Anne's War in 1702, the Abenaki were allied with the French; they raided numerous small villages in Maine from Wells to Casco, killing about 300 settlers over ten years. The raids stopped when the war ended. Some captives were adopted into the Mohawk and Abenaki tribes; older captives were generally ransomed, and the colonies carried on a brisk trade.[14]

The Third Abenaki War (1722–1725), called Dummer's War, erupted when the French Jesuit missionary Sébastien Rale (or Rasles, 1657?–1724) encouraged the Abenaki to halt the spread of Yankee settlements. When the Massachusetts militia tried to seize Rasles, the Abenaki raided the settlements at Brunswick, Arrowsick, and Merry-Meeting Bay. The Massachusetts government then declared war, and bloody battles were fought at Norridgewock (1724), where Rasles was killed, and at a daylong battle at Pequawket, an Indian village near present-day Fryeburg, Maine, on the upper Saco River (1725).

Peace conferences at Boston and Casco Bay brought an end to the war. After Rale died, the Abenaki moved to a settlement on the St. Francis River.[15]

The Abenaki from St. Francois continued to raid British colonial settlements in their former homelands along the New England frontier during Father Le Loutre's War (see Northeast Coast Campaign (1750)) and the French and Indian War.

Language borrowing[edit]

Due to French and English contact with Western Abenaki people in the 1640s and earlier, many loan words were quickly incorporated into Western Abenaki and have stayed for nearly four centuries. During the latter half of the 19th century, word borrowing increased due to many Western Abenaki people being in close contact with summer resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire, as well as continued contact with French-Canadians. Notably, plural English nouns were borrowed into Western Abenaki as a singular form that were then made plural by adding Abenaki plural endings. For example, the word oxen was borrowed as asken ‘an ox’ that was pluralized into aksenak. Similarly, the word potatoes was borrowed as badades ‘potato’ that was pluralized into badadesak.[5]

Abenaki tribes and confederations[edit]

Abenaki Confederation[edit]

Amaseconti, Androscoggin, Kennebec, Maliseet, Ouarastegouiak, Passamaquoddy, Patsuiket, Penobscot, Pigwacket, Rocameca, Sokoni, and Wewenoc.

Seven Nations of Canada[edit]

Seven mission orientated communities along the St. Lawrence River in 1750: Caughnawaga (Mohawk), Lake of the Two Mountains (Iroquois and Nipissing), St. Francois (Sokoki, Pennacook, and New England Algonquin, Becancour (Eastern Abenaki), Oswegatchie (Onondaga and Oneida), Lorette (Huron), and St. Regis (Mohawk).

Eastern Abenaki tribes[edit]

Amaseconti (between upper Kennebec River and Androscoggin River, western Maine) Androscoggin (Amariscoggin, Ameriscoggin, Anasaguniticook, Arosaguntacook, Asschincantecook). Important note - Main village, on the river of the same name was called Arosaguntacook Town. Arosaguntacook is sometimes applied in error to the St. Francois Indians. Kennebec (Caniba, Sagadahoc, Kanibesinnoak, Norridgewock, Nurhantsuak) lived along the Kennebec River in northern Maine.

Penobscot (Pentagoet, Panaomeska). Meaning "rocky place", or "ledge place". Penobscot Tribe subdivisions and villages included: Moosehead Lake area tribes were known as "Moosehead Lake Indians". Villages: Agguncia, Asnela, Catawamtek, Kenduskeag, Mattawamkeag, Meecombe, Negas, Olamon, Oldtown, Passadumkeag, Pentagouet, Precaute, Segocket, and Wabigganus. Pigwacket (Pegouakki, Peguaki, Pequawket). Main village called Pequawket Town was located on the upper Saco River. Rocameca Upper Androscoggin River. Wewenoc (Ouanwinak, Sheepscot, Wawenock, Wawnock) Coastal areas of southern Maine. Wolinak (Becancour) Trois-Rivieres, Quebec.

Eastern Abenaki tribal villages[edit]

Amaseconti (Amesokanti, Anmissoukanti), Norridgewock (Naridgewalk, Neridgewok, Noronjawoke), Kennebec, and Sagadahoc.

Ossipee: located on a lake of the same name in east-central New Hampshire. Other names associated with the eastern Abenaki are Arsikantegou, Kwupahag (Kwapahag).

Maritime Abenaki[edit]

Closer in language and culture to the Micmac, the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy have been listed as Abenaki for historical reasons. The French usually referred to both tribes as the Etchemin. Maliseet (Aroostook, Malecite, Malicite, St. John's Indians). From the Mi'kmaq word malisit meaning 'broken talker'. Their own name Wulastegniak means 'good river people'. They were located along the St. John River in northeastern Maine and western New Brunswick. Devon, Kingsclear, Madawaska, Mary's, Medoctec (Medoktek, Meductic), Okpaak, Oromocto, St. Anne, St. Basile, The Brothers (Micmac), Tobique, Viger, and Woodstock.

Passamaquoddy (Machias Tribe, Opanango, Pesmokant, Quoddy, Scotuks, Scootuck, St. Croix Indians, Unchechauge, Unquechauge). The name means 'pollock spearing place' with their villages were located on Passamaquoddy Bay, the St. Croix River, and Schoodic Lake. Villages: Gunasquamekook, Imnarkuan, Machias, Sebaik, and Sipayik. There were other towns at Lewis Island and Calais in Maine with a few locations on the Canadian side of the St. Croix River.

Western Abenaki (Sokoki)[edit]

Originally composed of Abenaki tribes in Vermont and New Hampshire west of the White Mountains, Sokoki means 'people who separated'. Various forms of Sokoki are: Assokwekik, Ondeake, Onejagese, Sakukia, Sokokiois, Sokoquios, Sokoquis, Sokokquis, Sokoni, Sokwaki, Soquachjck, and Zooquagese. Some accounts include groups of the western Pennacook as Sokoki: Amoskeag, Naamkeek, Nashaway, Souheyan, and Winnipesaukee.

Sokoki is often confused with the Saco, a name given to eastern Abenaki who lived near the Saco River (a combination of Pigwacket, Kennebec, and Androscoggin). Cowasuck (Cahass, Cohassiac, Coos, Coosuc, Koes). Hoosac was a mixed settlement with the Mahican. Missisquoi (Mazipskoik, Misiskuoi, Missiassik, Missique, Missisco) means 'place of flint'. It was located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. Schaghticoke. Mixed Mahican and New England Algonquin on the Hudson River north of Albany, New York. Squakheag (Squaeg, Squawkeag). Mixed population and probably at various times was occupied by any of these tribes.

Other names of Abenaki villages[edit]

Aquadocta, Cobbosseecontee, Ebenecook, Ketangheanycke, Mascoma, Masherosqueck, Mecadacut, Moshoquen, Muscongus, Negusset, Ossaghrage, Ouwerage, Pasharanack, Pauhuntanuc, Pemaquid, Pocopassum, Sabino, Sagadahoc, Satquin, Segotago, Sowocatuck, Taconnet, Unyjaware, and Wacoogo. ...end of section needing more work-->


The development of tourism projects has allowed the Canadian Abenaki to develop a modern economy while preserving their culture and traditions. For example, since 1960, the Odanak Historical Society has managed the first and one of the largest aboriginal museums in Quebec, a few miles from the Quebec-Montreal axis. Over 5,000 people visit the Abenaki Museum annually. Several Abenaki companies include: in Wôlinak, General Fiberglass Engineering employs a dozen natives, with annual sales of more than $3 million Canadian dollars. Odanak is now active in transportation and distribution. Notable Abenaki from this area include the documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin (National Film Board of Canada).[16]

United States federal tribal recognition[edit]

The Penobscot Indian Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe[edit]

These two tribes are officially listed federally recognized as tribes in the United States.[17] The Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine was recognized by the federal courts as a tribe, but not having a land trust with the government[18] since never entering into a formal treaty. This launched the very long legal battle that paved the way for many other tribes across America to file suits regarding asset mismanagement. After winning the landmark case, similar cases were filed in 2006 by 60 tribes from throughout the United States. Among the Passamaquoddy's assets was $13.5 million in federal funds that were allocated to the tribe in 1980 through the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, which was settled for $81.5 million.[19]


Many Abenaki living in Vermont have been assimilated, and only small remnants remained on reservations during and after the French and Indian War.[20] Facing annihilation, many Abenaki had begun emigrating to Canada, then under French control, around 1669. The Abenaki who chose to remain in the United States did not fare as well as their Canadian counterparts.

The Missisquoi Abenaki Tribe (also called the "Sokoki-St. Francis Band of the Abenaki Nation") organized a tribal council in 1976 at Swanton, Vermont. Vermont granted recognition of the council the same year, but later withdrew it. In 1982, the band applied for federal recognition, which is still pending. Four Abenaki communities are located in Vermont. In 2006, the state of Vermont officially recognized the Abenaki as a people, but not a tribe. The Vermont Elnu (Jamaica) and Nulhegan (Brownington) bands' applications for official recognition were recommended and referred to the Vermont General Assembly by the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs on January 19, 2011, as a result of a process established by the Vermont legislature in 2010. Recognition allows applicants to seek scholarship funds reserved for American Indians and to receive federal "native made" designation for the bands' arts and crafts.[21] On May 7, 2012, the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi and the Koasek of the Koas Abenaki Traditional Band received recognition by the State of Vermont.

New Hampshire and minority recognition[edit]

In New Hampshire the Abenaki, along with other Native American groups, have proposed legislation for recognition as a minority group. This bill was debated in 2010 in the state legislature. The bill would have created a state commission on Native American relations, which would act as an advisory group to the governor and the state government in general.[22] The Abenaki want to gain formal state recognition as a people.

Opponents of the bill feared it could lead to Abenaki land claims for property now owned and occupied by European Americans. Others worried that the Abenaki may use recognition as a step toward opening a casino. But the bill specifically says that "this act shall not be interpreted to provide any Native American or Abenaki person with any other special rights or privileges that the state does not confer on or grant to other state residents." New Hampshire has considered expanding gambling separate from the Native Americans.[23]

The council would be under the Department of Cultural Resources,[22] so it would be in the same department as the State Council on the Arts. The bill would allow for the creation and sale of goods to be labeled as native-made to create a source of income for the natives in New Hampshire.

The numerous groups of natives in the state have created a New Hampshire Inter-tribal Council, which holds statewide meetings and powwows. Dedicated to preserving the culture of the natives in New Hampshire, the group is one of the chief supporters of the HB 1610; the Abenaki, the main tribe in the state, are the only people named specifically in the bill.[24]

Language revitalization efforts[edit]

A new generation is actively preserving and revitalizing the language.[25] The late Joseph Elie Joubert from the Odanak reservation and fluent speaker, Jesse Bruchac, lead partial immersion classes in the language across the Northeastern United States. They have created several Abenaki books, audio, video, and web-based media to help others learn the language.[26] In July 2013, the Penobscot Nation, the University of Maine and the American Philosophical Society received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to expand and publish the first Penobscot Dictionary.[27]

Middlebury College in Vermont, in collaboration with Bruchac, opened its School of Abenaki in 2020, which offers a two-week immersion program in the summer.[28][29]

As with most Indigenous languages, due to residential schooling and colonialism, and with the fading of generations, the number of speakers has declined. Abenaki had as few as twelve native speakers in 2015, but with recent focus and extra efforts in the Abenaki community, this number seems to be growing. Today, there are some passionate Abenaki, like Jeanne Brink,[30] and non-Abenaki people who are trying to revitalize Abenaki culture, including their language and basket-making traditions. Currently, there are about 12,000 people of varying Abenaki heritage in the Canadian and New England regions. In Maine, there are about 3,000 Penobscot Native Americans, and this group is a large driving force of the language resurrection.[31]

In addition to Brink and others, Jesse Bruchac is a loud voice in the Abenaki culture. Along with writing and publishing various Abenaki books, he created a movie and sound piece telling the Native American side of Thanksgiving, spoken in Abenaki. In this film, Saints & Strangers, the three actors not only memorized their lines in Abenaki but also learned the syntax behind the language.[32] This revitalization of the famous Thanksgiving story from a new tongue and perspective offered a more original and full version of what Thanksgiving might have really been like so many years ago.

In his novel, L8dwaw8gan Wji Abaznodakaw8gan: The Language of Basket Making, Bruchac notes that Abenaki is a polysynthetic language, which allows for virtually unlimited means to express oneself. Abenaki consists of both dependent and independent grammar which addresses the gender of the speaker. Abenaki has nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adjectives. The structure of the sentence or phrase varies depending on whether the noun is animate or inanimate.[33]

Although written primarily in English, Aln8bak News helped to preserve the Abenaki language through the inclusion of Abenaki words and their translations. Aln8bak News was a quarterly newsletter that discussed cultural, historical, and contemporary information regarding the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki. It was started in 1993 by Paul Pouilot, Sagamo of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki.[34] The word Aln8bak/Alnôbak (pronounced: /'al.nɔ̃.bak/) is often used as a synonym to Abenaki. Initially the newsletter was called Aln8ba8dwa National News (Aln8ba8dwa or Alnôbaôdwa means 'Speaking Abenaki').[35] Issues of the quarterly newsletter from 2003–2010 were published by the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki on their website.[36] According to a statement made by the Band, after 2010, they stopped publishing the newsletter on their website due to a lack of financial support from online readers.[37] Aln8bak News included community-related information such as updates on governance issues, notices of social events, and obituaries. The newsletter also included Band history, genealogy, language lessons, recipes, plant and animal studies, books reviews, and writings by Band members.[34]

The English word skunk, attested in New England in the 1630s, is probably borrowed from the Abenaki segôkw.[38] About 500 Penobscot words are still being used in the community in everyday language such as Muhmum for 'grandpa' and nolke for 'deer'.[27]

The 2015 National Geographic Channel miniseries Saints & Strangers told the story of the founding of Plymouth Plantation and the celebration of the "First Thanksgiving". It contained a considerable amount of dialogue in Western Abenaki. Several actors, including Tatanka Means (Hobbamock), and Raoul Trujillo (Massasoit) spoke the language exclusively throughout the series, and Kalani Qweypo (Squanto) spoke both Abenaki and English. Western Abenaki language teacher Jesse Bruchac of Ndakinna Education Center was hired as a language consultant on the film.[39]


Eastern Abenaki dialects include Penobscot, Norridgewock, Caniba, Androscoggin, and Pequawket.[citation needed]

Western Abenaki dialects are Arsigantegok, Missisquoi, Sokoki, Pennacook, and Odanak.[citation needed]



Front Central Back
Close ɪ~i o~ʊ
Mid e ə
Open-mid nasal ɔ̃
Open a~ɑ
  • [a] is a low back unrounded vowel; before /m/ in a final syllable it becomes close to [u] in English 'goose'[5]
  • [ə] is a mid-central unrounded vowel; normally pronounced like in the English word 'label'; occurs only in the middle of a word between consonants, except for three words––enni 'which', enna 'who' and enigakw 'a spear'––[e] in these words is pronounced like in the English word 'end'.[5]
  • [i] is a lower-high front vowel; normally pronounced between the English words 'peat' and 'pit', it varies between the high front tense vowel [i] and the mid front lax vowel [e].[5][6]
  • [o] is a higher mid-back vowel pronounced like in the English word 'poke', however some speakers pronounce it like [ʊ].[5]
  • [ɔ̃] is a rounded nasalized vowel and is sometimes written as ⟨ô⟩ or simply as “8”.[6][40]
  • Historically, it was common for speakers to drop h between vowels and to drop w before the nasal vowel [ɔ̃].[5]


Both the Eastern and Western dialects of Abenaki have 18 consonant sounds in total.[6][41]

  Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Labio-
Plosive p  b t  d   k  ɡ   ɡʷ  
Affricate t͡s  d͡z
Fricative   s  z     h
Nasal m n      
Lateral approximant   l      
Semivowel j w
  • In Western Abenaki there is a distinction between fortis consonants (always voiceless and aspirated) represented as [p, t, k, s, ts], and lenis consonants (voiced between resonants, voiceless in word-initial and word-final positions and before a fortis consonant, unaspirated but become aspirated when they close a strongly accented syllable, which includes all final syllables) represented as [b, d, g, z, dz].[5][6] The lenis consonants generally exist between vowels and at the end of words but rarely next to each other or at the beginning of words.[5]
  • [b] is a lax bilabial stop; between [a, e, i, o, j, m, n, l] it is voiced and pronounced like in the English word 'habit'; beginning a word it is voiceless and pronounced like a weak English /p/ but unaspirated; at the end of a word it is voiceless and made long by the stress assigned on the final syllable.[5]
  • [ts] is a tense apico-alveolar affricate that's voiceless in all positions and pronounced by most speakers like /ts/ in English 'hats'.[5]
  • [d] is a lax apico-alveolar stop that is voiced between resonants and pronounced like in English word 'body'; at the start of a word it is voiceless and pronounced that a weak English /t/ but unaspirated; at the end of a word is it voiceless and made long and tense by the stress assigned on the final syllable, pronounced like in English 'hit'.[5]
  • [g] is a lax velar stop; between resonants is it pronounced like in English 'ago'; beginning a word it is pronounced like a weak unaspirated /k/; at the end of a word it is voiceless and made long and tense by the stress assigned on the final syllable, pronounced like /k/ in 'score'.[5]
  • [h] occurs only before a vowel or /l/ and is pronounced like in English word 'heel', 'hat', or 'hit'; lax consonants before it become voiceless; when is it between vowels it is usually dropped by speakers in most words.[5]
  • [dz] is an apico-alveolar affricate pronounced between resonants like the /dz/ in English word 'adze'; at the start of a word it is pronounced like /ts/ in the English word 'lets'; at the end of a word it is pronounced like the /ts/ in 'hats'.[5]
  • [k] is a tense, dorso-velar stop, long, voiceless and unaspirated in all positions and pronounced like /k/ in English word 'score'.[5]
  • [l] is a lateral sonorant; it is pronounced with a lot of tongue tension and is influenced by the vowel which follows it, or, in syllable-final position, by the vowel that precedes it.[5]
  • [m] is a bilabial nasal sonorant pronounced in all positions like English /m/.[5]
  • [n] is an apico-alveolar sonorant pronounced in all positions like English /n/.[5]
  • [p] is a bilabial stop, tense, voiceless, unaspirated, and long in all positions; it's similar to the combined sounds of a /p/ ending a word and beginning the next, like in 'stop payment'.[5]
  • [s] is a tense alveolar fricative that is always voiceless and long, much like the English /s/ in all positions.[5]
  • [t] is a tense apico-alveolar stop that is always voiceless and long, longer than the English /t/, similarly to the Western Abenaki [p].
  • [w] is a mid-back rounded non-syllabic with a similar sound to [o]; occurs before or after a vowel; at the end of a word after /k/ or /g/ it becomes a voiceless fricative.[5]
  • [y] is a high front non-syllabic with a similar sound to [i] but is pronounced before a vowel with greater tongue tension than [i].[5]
  • [z] is a lax alveolar fricative that is voiced, and between resonants is pronounced like English /z/; voiceless when it's at the beginning of a word, both voiceless and long when it's at the end of a word.[5]

It's important to note that historically Western Abenaki speakers varied in the ways they pronounced the alveolar affricate phonemes /ts/ and /dz/. More than half of the population pronounced ⟨c⟩ like /ts/ and ⟨j⟩ like /dz/ and the rest pronounced ⟨c⟩ like /ʃ/ and ⟨j⟩ like /ʒ/.[5]


There isn't one Western Abenaki orthography that is generally accepted by linguists or Abenaki speakers, but speakers typically do understand the orthographies of Joseph Laurent and Henry Lorne Masta––Western Abenaki writers who taught the language at Odanak.[5]

Masta and Laurent's orthographies.[6]

Phoneme Allophone Masta Laurent
p 'p ph --
p p p / pp
b p p p
b p / b b
t 't
t t / tt t
d t t t
d t / d d
k 'k kh
k k / kk k
g k k k
g k / g g
s 's sh
s s / ss s
z s s s
z s / z z
c 'c ch
c c / ts ch
j c c / ts c
j c / j / dz j
m m m m
n n n n
h h h h
w w w / u w / u / '
l l l l
'l lh hl
i (ɛ) i (ɛ) i i
ə ə e e / u
a a a a
ɔ̃ ɔ̃ 8 ô
o o o / w o


Stress within words in Western Abenaki is based on an alternating stress rule:

  • Stress is initially assigned to the final syllable and then to every other syllable from right to left.[6][42] Yet this assignment skips the vowel /ə/ and falls to the next syllable, even if the nucleus of that syllable is also /ə/.[6] In fact, the presence of the unstressed /ə/ results instead in a lengthening of the preceding consonant and the vowel is often deleted in writing and rapid speech.[5][42]
  • Personal prefixes ne-, ke-, we- are not stressed, thus in words containing these prefixes, the stress shift with not occur on the syllable to the right.[42]

As of 2004, linguists are unsure if a minimum syllable count is present in order for a word to be stressed.[6]

Stress within sentences:[43]

  • In a declarative sentence, the pitch goes from high-low.
  • Questions have a low-high pitch at the end of the sentence, yet the entire sentence is generally said with a higher pitch.
  • Stressed syllables that exist in the middle of a sentence tend to be pronounced at a standard pitch level.

When a word is pronounced on its own, its stressed final syllable is typically high pitched. However, this is not necessarily characteristic of the specific word, because as stated above, declarative sentences end on a low pitch.[43]


The words of Western Abenaki are generally made up of a central core (the root) with affixes attached. Often a single word will translate to a phrase in English. The affixes themselves typically don’t translate to just one word either. Western Abenaki utilizes both suffixes and prefixes, often in combination (prefix-…-suffix; …-suffix -suffix; etc).[40] The affixes tend to be quite short compared to the root of the word. With these observations in mind, Western Abenaki can be considered a synthetic agglutinative language.


Like all Algonquin languages, the animacy of nouns is important to distinguish in Western Abenaki. Animate nouns refer to animals, people, and other living or powerful things. Inanimate nouns refer to lifeless things. This is necessary to know because the animacy of a noun plays a large role in what form the endings of other words connected to them will take. However, some classifications are arbitrary. For example, the word zegweskimen 'raspberry' is animate while the word zata 'blueberry' is inanimate. So the animacy of certain nouns must be learned individually.[40]

Noun plurality[edit]

The plural suffixes of both noun forms:

  • Animate: -ak, -ik, -ok, -k
  • Inanimate: -al, -il, -ol, -l

Each suffix is used according to the final sound of the noun:

  • -ik after d, t; both -dik and -tik become -jik
  • -il after g, k
  • -ok, -ol after -gw, -kw and the w drops (also sometimes words ending in m or n)
  • -k, -l after a, ô
  • -ak, -al after other consonants and the vowels o, i

There are a few exceptions to these rules that have to be learned individually.


In most Western Abenaki sentences, pronouns are expressed as affixes attached to other words. However, separate words are sometimes used to emphasize the pronoun in use.[40]

Pronoun English Term Possessive Pronoun Affixes
nia I, me 1st person singular n- / nd-
kia you (singular) 2nd person singular k- / kd-
agma he, she, him, her 3rd person singular w- (o-) / wd-
niona we, us (exclusive) 1st person plural exclusive n- / nd- ... -na(w)
kiona we, us (inclusive) 1st person plural inclusive k- / kd- ... -na(w)
kiowô you (plural) 2nd person plural k- / kd- ... -(o)wô
agmôwô they, them 3rd person plural w- (o-) / wd- ... -(o)wô

The first person plural exclusive and inclusive pronouns are very important distinctions in Western Abenaki. The inclusive form means you are including the person you are talking to in the "we" or "us". While the exclusive form means you are excluding them from the "we" or "us".

The form of the possessive pronoun affix you must use depends on the sound it's supposed to attach to. The forms nd-, kd-, wd- are used if the word begins with a vowel. The w- forms become o- in front of consonants. If a k- form needs to be attached to a word that begins with g- or k-, they fuse into a single k- as the prefix. Possessive pronoun prefixes are written with an apostrophe before the word (as shown in examples below).

It's important to note that /w/ is pronounced as /o/ when it appears at the beginning or end of a word before a consonant or between two consonants. It is sometimes written as ⟨o⟩ in these situations and is still considered a consonant.

Examples of the possessive pronoun affixes on an animate and inanimate noun:

Possessed animate noun
Possessed inanimate noun
my n'kaozem 'my cow' n'paskhigan 'my gun'
thy k'kaozem 'thy cow' k'paskhigan 'thy gun'
his w'kaozema 'his cow' w'paskhigan 'his gun'
our excl n'kaozemna 'our cow' n'paskhiganna 'our gun'
incl k'kaozemna 'our cow' k'paskhiganna 'our gun'
your k'kaozemwô 'your cow' k'paskiganowô 'your gun'
their w'kaozemwô 'their cow' w'paskhiganowô 'their gun'


Two main verb distinctions in Western Abenaki are intransitive verbs and transitive verbs.[40]

  • Intransitive verbs only need one participant that is doing the action or has the quality, such as 'to run', 'to jump', or 'to be angry'. Western Abenaki examples are abi 'to sit' and aloka 'to work'.
  • Transitive verbs need two participants: one doing the action (subject) and one being acted on (object), such as 'to hit', 'to see', 'to love'. Western Abenaki examples are namiha 'to see' and wawtam 'to understand something'.

In thinking about these two verb types along with Western Abenaki’s distinction between animate and inanimate things, this results in a split of four different types of verbs in Western Abenaki (which is true of all Algonquian languages).

Transitivity and Animacy in Western Abenaki
Inanimate Animate
Intransitive wligen 'it is good' nd’abi 'I sit'
gezabeda 'it is hot' kd’aloka-ji 'you will work'
Transitive giktawa 'to listen to someone' agida 'to read'
n’namiô 'I see him/her' miji 'to eat'

Morphological processes[edit]

There are seven morphological processes in Western Abenaki. These processes are used to describe the changes to affixes that occur when they are combined in different ways.[6]

  • Vowel truncation –– the initial vowel of a suffix is deleted when it follows a vowel. The only exception is -wi followed by peripheral formatives, here the initial vowel of the suffix is not deleted.  
  • Final glide delegation –– suffix-final glide w is deleted after a vowel when the suffix is word-final.
  • Vocalization –– glide w changes to a vowel o when the glide becomes the nucleus of a syllable due to affixation.
  • Coalescence of aw+e –– the combination of aw+e results in a single vowel o or 8.
  • Coalescence of aw+a –– the preterit -ob is created from the combination of aw+ab(ani).
  • Coalescence of a+a –– long /a:/ becomes nasalized ɔ̃ in some instances such as -ba+ab(ani).
  • Coalescence of wV –– w coalescence that explains why the plural peripheral formative -ak occasionally becomes -ok.


In general, the sentence structure appears to be SOV (Subject-Object-Verb), but word order is largely free, being mainly dependent on pragmatic factors.[6][43] While the verb phrase tends to not have a common, basic order, there are still complementizer phrases and inflectional phrases that are more clear.[43] In Abenaki, there are no apparent complementizers, but it is assumed that wh-words (who, what, when, why) start complementizer phrases, while declarative sentences are assumed to be inflectional phrases.[43]

Enclitic particles[edit]

Enclitic particles function in a syntactically interesting way. In Western Abenaki, there are ten enclitic particles.[43]

=ahto 'probably' =ka 'focus'
=aa 'they say, it is said' =nawa 'then, therefore'
=ci 'future' =pa 'conditional'
=hki 'contrast, focus' =ta 'emphasis'
=hpəa 'in fact' =tahki 'but, however'

These are also known as 'second-position' clitics because they come after the first word within the complementizer phrase or inflectional phrase.[43] However, clitics don’t always simply follow the first word of a sentence. Clitics can also attach to clause-initial conjunctions, such as tta ‘and’, ni ‘and then’, and ala ‘or’ or to the word that follows the conjunction.[43] A focused noun phrase sometimes appears between a conjunction and the word that could potentially host the clitic, in this case the clitic won’t be attached to the conjunction, but to the word after the noun phrase.[43] In general, though they may typically exist in the second word of the sentence, clitics are mainly clause dependent, and are situated according to what clauses are functioning in a sentence and where, according to conjunctions.[43]


pazekw = one
nis = two
nas = three
iaw = four
nôlan = five
ngwedôz = six
tôbawôz = seven
nsôzek = eight
noliwi = nine
mdala = ten

List of roots[edit]

A root is an element in a stem; it doesn't have lexical meaning like a stem does. In other words, a root is dependent on other pieces of meaning to create a word.

This list is just a handful of Western Abenaki roots. Roots attached to the front of a stem are written with a hyphen at the front (typically refer people or parts of the body), roots that are attached to the end of a stem are written with a hyphen at the end, and roots that constitute the only element of a stem are written without a hyphen.[5]

adag- 'dishonest, uncertain, unreliable'

akika 'sow, plant'

alem- 'continuing, going farther'

aodi- 'fight as in battle, make war'

azow- 'change, exchange, trade'

basoj- 'near in space or time'

-beskwan 'the back of the body'

bid- 'unintentional, accidental, by mistake'

cegas- 'ignite, kindle, burn'

cik- 'sweep'

cow- 'must, certain, need, want'

dab- 'enough'

dok- 'wake'

-don 'mouth'

gata- 'ready, prepared'

gelo- 'speak, talk'

gwesi- 'respect, honor'

-ilalo 'tongue'

jajal- 'incapable'

-jat 'sinew, tendon'

jig- 'let, allow'

-kezen 'shoe, moccasin'

kwaji- 'outside, outdoors'

la 'be true'

lakann- 'travel'

legwas- 'dream'

lina- 'seem, feel, appear like'

mad- 'bad'

msk- 'grass'

nakwh- 'sneeze'

-nijôn 'child'

nsp- 'with'

odana 'village'

ômilka 'smoke dry meat'

-ôwigan 'spine, backbone'

pkwam- 'ice'

pôlôba- 'proud, vain'

segag- 'vomit'

skoôb- 'wait and watch'

spôz- 'early, in the morning'

tekwen- 'arrest, make prisoner'

-tôgan 'Adam's apple'

waja- 'kiss'

wazas- 'slippery'

wôgas 'bear's den'

-zegwes 'mother-in-law'

zowi 'sour'

zôkwta 'exhaust, run out of'

Place names (Western Abenaki)[edit]

bitawabagwizibo ‘Lake Champlain River’

masisoliantegw ‘Sorel River’

masipskwbi ‘Missisquoi Bay’

baliten ‘Burlington’


Other words[edit]

sanôba = man
phanem * = woman
kwai = hello (casual)
pahakwinôgwezian = hello; lit. you appear new to me (after long separations)

* letters in square brackets often lost in vowel syncope.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eastern Abenaki at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009) Closed access icon
  2. ^ a b Eastern Abenaki at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
    Western Abenaki at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  3. ^ Bruchac, Margaret (2006). "Malian's Song–Abenaki Language Glossary". Vermont Folklife Center (152). hdl:20.500.14332/1418.
  4. ^ a b LeSourd 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Day 1994a.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Beach 2004.
  7. ^ "Penobscot". Native Languages of the Americas. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  8. ^ Abenaki language at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009) Closed access icon
  9. ^ "Penobscot". Abbe Museum. Archived from the original on March 20, 2016. Retrieved February 21, 2016.
  10. ^ Gregory, Alice (April 19, 2021). "How did a self-taught linguist come to own an indigenous language?". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on April 12, 2021.
  11. ^ "Arosaguntacook Indian Tribe". Native Languages. Archived from the original on January 9, 2024. Retrieved January 9, 2024.
  12. ^ Muir, Diana (February 22, 2024). Reflections in Bullough's Pond. University Press of New England. ISBN 978-0-87451-909-9. OCLC 651847175.
  13. ^ Bourne, Russell (1990). The Red King's Rebellion, Racial Politics in New England 1675-1678. Atheneum. p. 214. ISBN 0-689-12000-1.
  14. ^ Morrison, Kenneth (1984). The Embattled Northeast: The Elusive Ideal of Alliance in Abenaki-Euramerican Relations. Berkeley: University of California Press. hdl:2027/heb93675.0001.001. ISBN 9780520051263.
  15. ^ Tucker, Spencer C., ed. (2011). The Encyclopedia of North American Indian Wars, 1607–1890: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 249. ISBN 9781851096978.
  16. ^ "Administration". Cbodanak.com. Archived from the original on July 20, 2012. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
  17. ^ "Tribal Directory". U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
  18. ^ Roessel, Faith. "Federal Recognition - A Historical Twist of Fate" (PDF). NARF Legal Review. Native American Rights Fund. Retrieved September 12, 2019.
  19. ^ Walsh, Tom (April 2, 2012). "Passamaquoddy tribe awarded $11.4 million in asset mismanagement dispute". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved September 12, 2019.
  20. ^ "Vermont: Eugenics: Compulsory Sterilization in 50 American States". University of Vermont. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  21. ^ Hallenbeck, Terri (January 20, 2011). "Abenaki Turn to Vermont Legislature for Recognition". Burlington Free Press [permanent dead link]. Retrieved January 20, 2011.
  22. ^ a b "HB 1610-FN – As Amended by the House". NH General Court. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
  23. ^ "Gambling Bill Would Create 6 Casinos, Allow Black Jack". WMUR. March 4, 2010. Archived from the original on February 26, 2021.
  24. ^ "The New Hampshire Inter-Tribal Native American Council: Mission Statement". Retrieved March 22, 2010.
  25. ^ "Native Languages of the Americas: Penobscot (Eastern Abnaki, Penawahpskewi, Penobscott)". native-languages.org. Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  26. ^ "Western Abenaki Dictionary and Radio Online: Home of the Abenaki Language". Retrieved November 11, 2012.
  27. ^ a b McCrea, Nick (July 11, 2013). "Penobscot Nation, UMaine win grants to help revive tribe's language". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  28. ^ Asch, Sarah (January 29, 2020). "Middlebury College adds Abenaki language program to prestigious summer roster". VTDigger. Retrieved July 14, 2023.
  29. ^ Cooney, Melissa (July 3, 2023). "Middlebury College launches program to preserve Abenaki language". WCAX. Gray Television. Retrieved July 14, 2023.
  30. ^ Lindholm, Jane. "Preserving Abenaki Language Culture". VPR. Vermont Public Radio. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  31. ^ "Abnaki-Penobscot (Abenaki Language)". Native Languages of the Americas. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  32. ^ Johnson, Scott (November 17, 2015). "Telling Thanksgiving's Story in a Vanishing American Language". NationalGeographic.com. Archived from the original on November 20, 2015. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
  33. ^ Bruchac, Jesse; Brink, Jeanne; Joubert, Joseph (January 31, 2011). L8dwaw8gan Wji Abaznodakaw8gan: The Language of Basket Making. lulu.com. pp. 1–4, 34–39. ISBN 978-0557632107. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
  34. ^ a b "Digitizing Tribal Newsletters". Dawnland Voices 2.0. Dawn Land Voices. November 3, 2012. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  35. ^ "Aln8bak News Vol 2003 Issue 1 January February March 2003". Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People. COWASS North America. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  36. ^ "Ethnic and Alternative Newspaper Collections - Online: Native North Americans". University of Kentucky Libraries. University of Kentucky. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  37. ^ "Aln8bak Quarterly News Special Announcement". Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People. COWASS North America. Archived from the original on November 18, 2016. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  38. ^ Walter William Skeat (1882). A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Harper & Brothers. p. 440.
  39. ^ "TV". National Geographic.com. Archived from the original on November 6, 2015. Retrieved September 12, 2019.
  40. ^ a b c d e Bach 2014.
  41. ^ Voorhis 1979.
  42. ^ a b c Warne 1975.
  43. ^ a b c d e f g h i j LeSourd 2011.
  44. ^ Day, Gordon M (1981). "Abenaki Place-Names in the Champlain Valley". International Journal of American Linguistics. 47 (2): 143–171. doi:10.1086/465683. S2CID 143643483 – via JSTOR.


  • Bach, Emmon (2014). "Wôbanakiôdwawôgan: Sketch of Western Abenaki Grammar". Linguistics Department Faculty Publication Series. Amherst: University of Massachusetts. — this paper has been withdrawn
  • Beach, Jesse (2004). The Morphology of Modern Western Abenaki (Thesis). Dartmouth College.
  • Day, Gordon M. (1994a). Western Abenaki Dictionary. Vol. 1: Abenaki to English. Hull, QC: Canadian Museum of Civilization. ISBN 978-0-660-14024-7.
  • Day, Gordon M. (1994b). Western Abenaki Dictionary. Vol. 2: English to Abenaki. Hull: Canadian Museum of Civilization. ISBN 978-0-660-14030-8.
  • Harvey, Chris. "Abenaki". Language Geek. Retrieved March 12, 2007.
  • Heald, B. (2014). A History of the New Hampshire Abenaki. Charleston, SC: The History Press.
  • Laurent, Joseph (2006) [1884, Quebec, Joseph Laurent]. New Familiar Abenakis. Vancouver: Global Language Press. ISBN 0-9738924-7-1.
  • LeSourd, Philip S. (June 2011). "Enclitic Particles in Western Abenaki: The Syntax of Second Position". Anthropological Linguistics. 53 (2): 91–131. doi:10.1353/anl.2011.0009.
  • LeSourd, Philip S. (July 2015). "Enclitic Particles in Western Abenaki: Form and Function". International Journal of American Linguistics. 81 (3): 301–335. doi:10.1086/681577. S2CID 141980112.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  • Masta, Henry Lorne (2008) [1932; Victoriaville, QC; La Voix des Bois-Franes]. Abenaki Legends, Grammar and Place Names. Toronto: Global Language Press. ISBN 978-1-897367-18-6.
  • Voorhis, Paul (October 1979). Grammatical Notes on the Penobscot Language from Frank Speck's Penobscot Transformer Tales. University of Manitoba Anthropology Papers. Vol. 24. hdl:1993/18305.
  • Warne, Janet (1975). A historical phonology of Abenaki (MA thesis). McGil University.

External links[edit]