Massachusett language

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Massachusett unnontꝏwaonk
/masatʃuːsət aːãtuːaãk/[1]

Native to United States
Region Eastern Massachusetts , south-eastern New Hampshire , and northern and south-eastern Rhode Island .[3][4]
Ethnicity Massachusett, Wômpanâak (Wampanoag), Pawtucket (Naumkeag, Agawam), Nauset, and Coweset. Neighboring Algonquian peoples as a second language.[5]
Extinct Extinct late 19th century.[6][7]
Revival Revitalization from 1993. As of 2014, 5 children are native speakers, 15 are proficient second-language speakers and 500 are adult second-language learners.[8][9]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 wam
Glottolog wamp1249[10]
Tribal Territories Southern New England.png
The location of the Massachusett/Wampanoag tribe and their neighbors, c. 1600
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The Massachusett language is an Algonquian language of the Algic language family, formerly spoken by several peoples of eastern coastal and south-eastern Massachusetts and currently, in its revived form, in four communities of Wampanoag people. The language is also known as Natick or Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) and historically as Pokanoket, Indian or Nonantum.[11]

The language is most notable for creating a community of literate Indians and for the number of translations of religious texts into the language. John Eliot's translation of the Christian Bible in 1663 using the Natick dialect, known as Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God, was the first printed in the Americas, the first Bible translated by a non-native speaker and one of the earliest example of a Bible translation into a previously unwritten language. Literacy spread quickly as Indian ministers and teachers, who were literate, spread literacy to the elites and other members of their communities. This is attested in the numerous court petitions, church records, Praying town administrative records, notes on book margins, personal letters and widespread distribution of other translations of religious tracts throughout the colonial period.[12]

The dialects of the language were formerly spoken by several peoples of southern New England, including all the coastal and insular areas of eastern Massachusetts, as well as south-eastern New Hampshire, the southernmost tip of Maine and eastern Rhode Island, but was also a common second or third language across most of New England and portions of Long Island.[7] The use of the language in the mixed-band communities of Christian converts—Praying towns— also spread the language to some groups of Nipmuc and Pennacook.[13][14]

The revitalization of the language began in 1993 when Jessie Little Doe Baird (at the time with the last name Fermino) began the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (WLRP), which has successfully re-introduced the revived Wampanoag dialect to the Aquinnah, Mashpee, Assonet and Herring Pond tribes of the Wampanoag of Cape Cod and the Islands, with a handful of children who are growing up as the first native speakers in more than a century.[15][16] The Massachusett people continue to inhabit the area around Boston and other Wampanoag tribes are found throughout Cape Cod and Rhode Island. Other descendants of Massachusett-language speakers include many of the current Abenaki people and the locals of Saint David's Island, Bermuda, both of whom absorbed large numbers of Indians of southern New England in the aftermath of King Philip's War.[16][17]


Algic Languages 

Yurok (Puliklah) language

Wiyot (Wishosk) language (†)


Plains Algonquian

Central Algonquian

Eastern Algonquian



 Southern New England Algonquian 

Massachusett language (revived)

Narragansett language (†)

Nipmuc language (†)[18]

Quripi-Naugatuck-Unquachog language (†)

Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk language (†)

Massachusett is a member of the Algic language family, which connects the Algonquian languages that span from the Rocky Mountains eastward to the Atlantic Ocean with Yurok (Puliklah) and Wiyot (Wishosk)—two relict languages only distantly related to Algonquian or each other of the Pacific Northwest. Proto-Algonquian (PA) diverged and spread eastward as the Algonquian languages. Proto-Eastern Algonquian (PEA) emerged from PA and later developed into the Eastern Algonquian languages (EA) from the Canadian Maritimes southward to the Carolinas. The Eastern Algonquian languages were the only true genetic grouping, to emerge from PA, as Central and Plains Algonquian branches are groupings based more on areal linguistic features than common descent.[19]

PEA split into the three sub-divisions of EA with the Abenakian languages of Québec and The Maritimes of Canada and northern New England, the Southern New England Algonquian (SNEA) languages—which include Massachusett—of southern New England and most of Long Island and the Delawaran languages of extreme western New England, the Hudson River valley, hugging the coast as far south as the northern tip of South Carolina.[19] Massachusett was most closely related to the other SNEA languages in a dialect continuum, showing closest relations to Narragansett and Nipmuc and to a lesser extent, Nehântick (Niantic), Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk and Quiripi-Naugatuck-Unquachog.[7] Due to the great extinction of indigenous American languages since European contact, the closest extant languages with native speakers are the Abenakian Mi'kmaq, Wolastoqiyik-Peskotomuhkati (Malecite-Passamoquoddy) and Odanak (Western Abenaki, Abénaqui d'Odanak) languages and the Delawaran Wíixcheew (Munsee) language, although the latter two are nearing extinction with fewer than ten speakers in old age and the rest are in vulnerable situations as few young people are learning their respective languages.[19][20]

Unique features[edit]

Massachusett has evolved certain features that differentiate it from most other SNEA languages, although many of these traits are also shared with Nipmuc and Narragansett.[21]

PEA *r becomes Massachusett /n/
This is the most defining feature of Massachusett in relation to other SNEA languages. PEA *r, itself a merger of PA *r and *θ appears as /n/ in Massachusett and sometimes in Narragansett (Coweset?), /l/ in Nipmuc, /j/ in Narragansett and /r/ in westernmost and northernmost SNEA dialects.

  • PA *aθemwa, 'dog,' becomes annùm' (anum) /anəm/ in Massachusett, alùm in Nipmuc and ayimp in Narragansett.
  • PA *aθankwa, 'star,' becomes anogqs' (anôq[ee]s') /anãkwees/[22] in Massachusett, anóckqus in Narragansett (Coweset?) and arráksak (plural form) in Quripi.
  • PEA *ra-nk, 'young,' as in a 'young boy,' with the latter as Massachusett nunkomp (nôkôp) /nãkãp/, Nipmuc langbasis and Unquachog rúngcump.
  • PEA *rōtēw, 'fire' or 'it burns,' becomes nꝏhtau (*n8htâw) /nuːhtaːw/, lȣte in Nimpuc, and ruht in Unquachog.

Lack of 'Abenaki-influenced syncope
The deletion of /a/ and /ə/ in word-final syllables and before certain consonant clusters is rare in Massachusett and Narragansett, but was more common east-to-west, showing up as a fairly common feature in Nipmuc (Loup?) and almost obligatory in the western SNEA languages of Connecticut and the Long Island Sound. When it does appear in rare instances in Massachusett, it seems to be due to dialectal interference or metrical reasons, such as in the sung versions of the Psalms of David in the Massachusee Psalter. It seems to have been a feature that originated in the Abenakian languages before spreading to Mahican and the SNEA languages.[23]

  • PA *keʔtahanwi, 'sea' or 'sea water,' becomes kehtahhan (kuhtahan) /kəhtahan/ in Massaachusett, kuthún in Naugatuck, kitthan in Narragansett.
  • Massachusett paskehheg (paskuheek) /paskəhiːk/, 'gun,' appears as posk_heege in Pequot, boshk_eag in Montauk and pask_ig in Nipmuc.
  • PEA *manət, 'god,' becomes mannit (manut) /manət/ in Massachusett, manìt in Narragansett, mon_dtu in Pequot and man_do in Unquachog.

Preference of the locative suffix /-ət/ over /-ək/
Massachusett, as well as Narragansett, favor the locative suffix -et/-ut/-it (-ut) /-ət/ 3:1 over -uck/-uk'/-ock (-uk) /-ək/ found in most other SNEA languages and the other EA languages. This feature, is rare in Nantucket and the Nauset areas and not universal in Nipmuc, indicating it was a novel feature of the Massachusett that was spreading.[24]

  • Massachusett/Wampanoag-language place names: Acushnet, Pawtucket, Nantucket, Shawmut, Neponset, Swampscott but also Pauketuck.[25][26]
  • Nipmuc-language place names: Hassunet (also Hassunek), Pascommuck, Quassuck and Quinnepoxet.[25][26]
  • Pocomtuc-language place names: Podatuck, Pocumtuck, Sunsicke, Norwotuck, Pachasock but also Pesceompscut.[25][26]
  • Mahican-language place names: Hoosic, Housatonic, Mahkeenak, Quassuck, Mananosick.[25][26]

Palatization of Proto-Algonquian *k to /tʲ/
PEA *k became the palatal stop *ty in PSNEA, especially when *k occurred before PEA *ē and some instances vowels that developed from PA *i and is a defining feature that separates the SNEA languages from the other sub-divisions of EA. Although this is universal, in some verbs, *k reverted to its original non-palatized form.

  • PA *weri-kiwa, 'it is good,' becomes wunnet (wuneetyuw) /wəniːtʲəw/ in Massachusett, but ȣligȣ in Nipmuc, woreeco in Unquachog and weyegoh in Pequot.

Differing word roots
Within SNEA, Massachusett, Narragansett and Nipmuc share words with the same linguistic roots not shared with the western SNEA languages.

  • Massachusett namohs (namâhs) /namaːhs/, 'fish,' appears as namens in Nipmuc, namohs in Narragansett but peremock in Montauk and pî'âmâ'g.
  • Massachusett kah (kah) /kah/, 'and,' appears as in Narragansett but quah in Pequot and Quiripi.
  • Massachusett peshai (puhshay) /pəʃaj/, 'it is blue' appears as peshaûi in Narragansett but seewamp-wayo in Unquachog and zî'wŏmbâ'ĭŏ in Mohegan.


As the Massachusett-speaking peoples spoke varieties existing along a dialect continuum, distinctions of language were based traditionally upon levels of mutual intelligibility. Dialects that were readily understood were simply hettꝏonk[27] (hut8ôk) /hətuːãk/, 'that which they [can] speak to each other.'[28] This constrasted with siogontoowaonk [29] (sayakôt8âôk) /sajakãtuːaːãk/,[30] 'difficult language,' for speech further away on the chain or related Algonquian languages that were understood only with difficulty, and penꝏwantꝏaog[29] (peen8wâôt8âôk) /piːnuːwaːãtuːaːãk/[31] When it was necessary to specify the language of a people, tribe, village or region, any of these were suffixed with unnontoowaog[29] (unôt8âôk) /ənãtuːaːãk/[32] to indicate 'its people's language' or 'its common language.'[29]

The Massachusett people, as well as most other peoples of New England who spoke its pidgin variety as a regional lingua franca, referred to the language as Massachusett/Massachusee unnontꝏwaonk (Mâsach8sut/Mâsach8see unôt8âôk) /mɑːsatʃuːsət/mmɑːsatʃuːsiː ənɔ̃tuːaːɔ̃k/[33] Especially in reference to either the Praying Indians of Natick or the written language, Natick unnontooaog may have possibly been used.[34] The name derives from local name for the sacred Great Blue Hill near Ponkapoag (Canton, Massachusetts), from missi-[35] (muhs-),[33][36] 'great,' [w]adchu[37] ([w]ach8),[38] 'mountain,' [e]s (-[ee]s), [diminutive suffix], and -ett (-ut), [locative suffix]. The name may also partially derive from, or was influenced by, Moswetuset Hummock, a small hill at the end of a barrier island near Squantum (Quincy, Massachusetts), that was the ceremonial meeting ground of Massachusett sachems. It derives from moswe- (*môsw-), 'to pierce' or 'arrow' and [w]achuset ([w]ach8sut), 'hill,' and signifies 'place of the arrow-shaped Hill' or 'arrow hill place.'[39]

The Wampanoag people use (Wôpanâôt8âôk) /wãpanaːãtuːaːãk/ to refer both to the local dialect of the Wampanoag as well as all other varieties of Massachusett as the 'Wampanoag language.' The name derives from wampan-[40] (wôpan-),[41] 'east' or 'dawn,' and thus signifies 'language of the easterners' or 'language of the people of the dawn.' Modern speakers of the revived dialect shorten this to Wôpanâak (Wampanoag), even though this technically refers only to the people.[2]


The English colonists of the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies initially settled among various peoples that were all speakers of a common language. The first settlers referred to the language as the Indian language because of its general use across the region. They also adopted the local names of peoples and places to refer to the language, including the still common Massachusett, Natick and Wampanoag as well as historical names such as Nonantum, Pokanoket and Aberginian.[42][43]

In linguistic and scholarly domains, Massachusett or Natick are generally more common, although the use of Wampanoag as well as the WLRP revived form '(Wôpanâak),' are appearing more frequently in print and other media due to the publicity that surrounds Baird's reclamation project.[2] Other names refer to the various groups that linguists of various camps believe spoke a common language, such as Massachuset-Wampanoag, Wampanoag-Massachusett, Massachusett-Coweset, Massachusett-Wampanoag-Narragansett or Massachusett-Narragansett, although Narragansett is considered by most a separate albeit closely related language. When grouped with other mutually intelligible languages into a supraregional language, it is called Southern New England Algonquian, specifically an SNEA N-dialect.[42][43]


The distinction between dialect and language is muddled in the case of Massachusett, as it is so closely related to what can be reconstructed or inferred about the other Southern New England Algonquian languages, the difference between the languages was probably similar to mainland North Germanic languages, since if mutual intelligibility were the sole defining criterion for inclusion as a dialect, all the SNEA languages would be dialects of a common SNEA language just as Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible languages that essentially exist in a dialect continuum and three national standards. With the exception of Massachusett, which was adopted as the lingua franca of Christian Indian proselytes and survives in hundreds of manuscripts written by native speakers as well as several extensive missionary works and translations, most of the other SNEA languages are only known from fragmentary evidence, such as place names. Quinnipiac (Quiripey) is only attested in a rough translation of the Lord's Prayer and a bilingual catechism by the English missionary Abraham Pierson in 1658. Coweset is only attested in a handful of lexical items that bear clear dialectal variation after thorough linguistic review of Roger Williams' A Key into the Language of America and place names, but most of the languages are only known from local place names and passing mention of the Native peoples in local historical documents.[44]

Within Massachusett, there were certainly dialects as it was spoken by several different peoples across a broad region, and widely adopted as a second language over most of New England and Long Island. The use of the dialect of the Massachusett—specifically the speech of the Praying town of Natick, with some Nipmuc influences—in the Bible led to it assuming the role of a de facto standard and prestige variant, especially in regards to writing. The spoken language was also highly influenced by the speech of Natick since a large number of the Indian missionaries, teachers and clerks included many men from prestigious, chiefly families from or with kinship connections there or had spent several years there in training before going on to serve other Indian communities. The Indians adopted literacy with the orthography of Eliot's Bible, and even began to adjust their speech, leading to dialect leveling across the region.[45] By 1722, only fifty-nine years after the publication Eliot's Bible translation, Experience Mayhew remarked on the leveling effects on Martha's Vineyard, where the local speech was quite distinct, '... most of the little differences betwixt them have been happily Lost, and our Indians Speak, but especially write much as the Natick do.[46][47]

Some vestiges of dialects continued even with leveling, and Martha's Vineyard islanders continued to use variant forms such as ohkuh instead of ohke (ahkee) /ahkiː/[48] 'earth' or 'land,' and ummenaweankanut, 'in his posterity,' instead of uppommetuwonkkanit (upumeetyuwôkanut) /əpəmiːtʲəwãkanət/[49][50] Occasional variation in spelling seems to indicate some dialectal interference. Syncopation, relatively rare in Natick speech, was a spreading feature and seems to have been an obligatory feature of late-stage SNEA languages, possibly an influence from the Abenakian languages. Thus, kuts, 'cormorant,' and ꝏsqheonk, 'his blood,' but more generally these words are found as non-syncopated kuttis (kutuhs) /kətəhs/[51] and wusqueheonk (wusqeeheôk) /wəskʷiːhiːjᵊãk/, respectively, that appeared in the Bible.[23] Nevertheless, most of the surviving manuscripts and documents that do demonstrate dialectal variation are often of uncertain geographical and ethnic origin.

Daniel Gookin, who traveled with John Eliot on his missions, brought the Indians under the jurisdiction of the colonial government and was responsible for bringing the Indians under English laws and governance. He noted that the Pawtucket, Massachusett and Pokanoket (Wampanoag) all spoke the same language, and may have considered the separate peoples to have spoken distinct dialects. Ives Goddard proposed the dialects of Natick, North Shore (Pawtucket), Wampanoag, Nauset and Coweset, produced somewhat similarly below, and is mostly grouped according to the various peoples known in history that are believed to have spoken the language.[5]


The Church of South Natick built over the original church in 1828. Services were conducted by Indian congregants in Massachusee unnontꝏwaonk well into the mid-18th century.[52]

The dialect specific to the Massachusett people was historically a prestigious dialect. Elderly converts informed Eliot and Gookin that the Massachusett were once the most politically powerful and numerical people in the region prior to the virgin soil epidemics that nearly wiped them out. The Massachusett were likely head of a local alliance of ethnic peoples, extending political influence and tributary relations, covering all the Massachusett-speaking peoples such as the Pawtucket and Pokanoket, and related peoples such as the Nipmuc and Pocumtuc as far west as the Connecticut River. The Massachusett people were also centrally located between the other Massachusett-speaking peoples, meaning that it was likely understood over a larger region than other varieties along the dialect continuum.[53] The traditional territory of the Massachusett covers most of the coastal plain including Greater Boston south of the Mystic River and extending as far west as the fall line of most rivers and South Shore region almost as far south as the environs of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Little is known about what made the Massachusett dialect of the language distinct, but the Natick documents tend to prefer the locative suffix -et/-it (-ut) /ət/ over the original -ock/-uck (-uk) /ək/ that was preferred in place names on Nantucket and Nauset-inhabited areas, half of known place names from Nipmuc areas and uncommon in the other SNEA languages. This feature may have been spreading from the Massachusett tribe. The dialect also seems particularly resistant to the syncope of vowels that effected other SNEA languages, especially in later stages. This may be in part due to fossilization of the language in a written form and its use in traditional oratory, such as Christian sermons, itself dependent on citing the Biblical passages from memory and required careful pronunciation.

Regional variation within Massachusett is unknown, but it is possible that there were some differences. Natick received a large influx of Nipmuc congregants shortly after its establishment, whereas Titicut and Mattakeesett were located close to traditionally Wampanoag areas and many of the Indians had established kinship relations with the Wampanoag communities. Massachusett documents, aside from Eliot's catechisms and translations, include the town records of Natick until 1721, when administrative control passed to English settlers. The language survived until the 1740s when the Indians were reduced to colonial wards under appointed guardians and large portions of the town were either sold or rented to English settlers. Only one speaker could be found in 1798, and the language likely went exist in the dawning years of the nineteenth century.[54] Although no speakers remain today, the two state recognized Massachusett tribes of Natick and of Ponkapoag continue to use the language in its colonial orthography for culural, sacred and liturgical purposes.[55][56][57] Both of these tribes have state recognition under the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs.[58]

Wampanoag (Pokanoket)[edit]

Traditional Wôpanâak clothing on display at the Cape Cod Museum. The Wampanoag were able to preserve much of their native culture and identity, and as of 1993, have also reclaimed their language.

(Wôpanâôt8âôk) /wãpanaːãtuːaːãk/, 'Wampanoaog language,' historically represented several divergent forms, mainly because of the numerous insular areas. The Wampanoag people, historically known as the 'Pokanoket' after an alliance that included almost all of the Wampanoag tribes. Historically, the Wampanoag 'dialect' was actually a diverse collection of forms, due to the many isolated, insular areas. Most of the Wampanoag of the mainland, but particularly away from the Cape Cod, spoke similar to the neighboring Massachusett. Those on the edge of the Cape Cod Peninsula and the islands shared some features in common, but Martha's Vineyard was said to be the most divergent, so much so that John Cotton, Sr., who grew up in the missionary life and was bilingual speaker on the island, wrote his son in Massachusett, who was also a bilingual speaker who worked with the Wampanoag just south of Plymouth noted:

'Mat woh nummissohhamꝏ͝un asuh matta newahĭteo webe yeu noowahteauun yeug Indiansog mat wahtanooog uag Indiansog ut nishnoh kuttooonganit.'
'I cant [sic] tell or dont [sic] know, only this I know, that these Indians dont [sic] understand every word of them Indians.'[59]

Despite the leveling effects that came with natural standardization around the speech and written forms of Eliot's Bible translation, documents written by Martha's Vineyard islanders continued to have a small set of vocabulary that persisted in native documents. Copies of these documents were often corrected by literate Wampanoag from the mainland. For example, nehpuk, 'my blood,' continues in use despite the standard form nusqeheonk (nusqeeheôk). Although all the Wampanoag in the colonial period had access to Eliot and the missionary translations, preservation of the dialect was likely facilitated by separate development of the mission. As most of the title to the land of Martha's Vineyard was in the hands of the Mayhew family, successive generations of Mayhews established schools and continued missionary work among the Indians, whereas the mainland peoples often accepted Indian missionaries from Natick and elsewhere.

The Wampanoag were able to buck the trend of reduction in their populations, with populations swelling in the eighteenth century with the acceptance of refugees from other tribes after King Philip's War as well as attracting Indians from other Praying towns seeking better treatment, as the English of the Plymouth Colony were more tolerant of the Indians, as well as access to the larger land bases. The Wampanoag communities were just isolated enough from English settlement but close enough to the whaling seaports where Indian men found employment as crewmen. The Wampanoag came to dominate Indian life in New England, and more than 70% of Indians in Massachusetts were members of various Wampanoag tribes. With larger communities, the language remained vibrant in most communities as a written language and predominate community language until the late 1770s, but anecdotal evidence suggests literacy continued into the first third of the nineteenth century. The language held on to native speakers the longest as well, with the last speakers on Nantucket being Abram Quarry, d. 1854 and Dorcus Honorable, d. 1855. Martha's Vineyard did not suffer the epidemic of Nantucket, and the last speakers likely died there, such as Tamsen Weekes of Aquinnah, d. 1890, who was likely the last speaker of the language. Frank Speck and Gladys Tantaquidgeon were able to extract a combined list of a hundred words from language rememberers. Gordon Day was even to record a reading of the Lord's Prayer in the Wampanoag dialect.

The majority of the known documents in the Massachusett language are from Wampanoag sources, since the Wampanoag were able to hold on to communal property and records longer than the other peoples. In addition, both the Cottons and the Mayhews spent significant time working with various Wampanoag communities, with successive generations growing up fluent in the language and a few of those members contributing significant translations for the Indians, with John Cotton, Sr. assisting John Eliot with the revisions of the second re-print of the Massachusett-language Bible and Experience Mayhew translating over five translations, including one of the most widespread primers among the Indians of the colony, into the first quarter of the eighteenth century. With the current success of the language thanks to the work of the WLRP, there is a growing L2 community of 15 (Wôpanâôt8âôk) speakers and 500 and growing students from the participating Mashpee, Aquinnah, Herring Pond and Assonet tribes and new records in the revived orthography such as complete teaching materials for pre-school through high school, a dictionary, a grammar and numerous other didactic publications.[8] There are just under 3,000 Wampanoag people split between the federally recognized tribes of Mashpee and Aquinnah (Gay Head) as well as the state-recognized Assonet, Pocasset, Herring Pond, Chappaquiddick and Seaconke tribes, but a total of 6,427 claimed Wampanoag ancestry in the 2010 U.S. census.[56]


The Pawtucket Falls. This is close to the site of the former Praying Town of Wamesit, but the Pawtucket fled north to join the Pennacook and Abenaki after Metacomet's Rebellion.

The Pawtucket were an assortment of tribes that spoke a dialect of the Massachusett language but were under tributary and political alliances with the Pennacook, an Abenakian people of the northern Merrimack River watershed. The Pawtucket occupied the North Shore region and Cape Ann and points north along the coast to what is now the southernmost tip of Maine as well as the lower Merrimack River valley as far west Wamesit (now Lowell, Massachusetts as well as adjacent and coastal areas of New Hampshire. The Wachusett, Washacum and Nashoba peoples are often listed as Nipmuc, but these tribes may have well been Pawtucket or just had extended kinship relationships with Pawtucket peoples. The name seems to be a common contraction pautuck (*pôhtuq) */pãhtək/ from pun-[60] (pun-) /pən/[61] and utuck (-uhtuq) /əhtək/[62] referring to the Pawtucket Falls in Lowell, Massachusetts close to the original site of the Praying town of Wamesit. It is related to 'Pentucket,' a non-contracted older name for Haverhill, Massachusetts.

The only knowledge of the Pawtucket speech comes from the few hundred words recorded by William Wood in his 1634 New Englands Prospect from Indians he had encountered somewhere either on Cape Ann or about what is now the city of Lynn, Massachusetts, where he resided, as well as numerous place names from the region such as Naumkeag, Agawam, Annisquam, Attitash, Chebacco, Winnikenni, and Quascancunquen . The material is too small to make definite arguments about the nature of the Pawtucket speech, but it does demonstrate that the language that Wood recorded was Massachusett, with a few words that seem to indicate some Abenakian influence.

The dialect was likely extinct by the early eighteenth century. The Pawtucket were forced to abandon in the Praying town of Wamesit in 1686, as they were dispossessed of most of the original land of the settlement and suffered continuous harrasment, retaliatory attacks and taunts by English neighbors who were in close proximity and eyed the rich farmlands and fishing sites of the Indian lands along the river. The vast majority of the Pawtucket seem to have fled and joined the Pennacook, who in turn joined and slowly assimilated into the Abenaki in what is now northern New England and the southern Quebec Province of Canada. Pawtucket and Pennacook ancestry is likely in the Abenaki that still inhabit these regions.[63][64][65]


Illustration of Sachem Iyannough bringing the lost boy, John Billington, back to Plymouth.

The Nauset were a people of the 'Outer Cape,' referring to all portions of the Cape Cod Peninsula east of the Bass River in Barnstable, Massachusetts, and possibly even outposts on some of the surrounding islands and Nantucket, but were particularly associated with a settlement also known as Nauset in what is now parts of Eastham and Truro, Massachusetts. Due to their restricted location, they have also been referred to as the 'Cape Cod Indians.' The indigenous name may refer to nash-[66], 'middle' or 'place between' but more likely descends from nôset[67] (nôw[ee]sut) /nãw[iː]sət/[68], referring to a 'place of small distance' probably referring to the narrowness of the Cape Cod peninsula as it bends northward from Chatham, Massachusetts.

The Nauset are sometimes considered a sub-group of the Wampanoag, but they were not always willing participants in the Pokanoket confederacy and were often at odds or subjugated by other Wampanoag peoples and are listed separately in many guides of Native American groups as in Swanton and Hodge and it is likely that Goddard just reiterated them separately. It is uncertain if they were a separate ethnic group or just an isolated and distinct community of Wampanoag, similar to the Wampanoag of Nantucket or Martah's Vineyard. Since the Nauset made up a large portion of the early settlers of Mashpee, joining the local Wampanoag there, they possibly influenced the speech of the community, and perhaps may explains peculiar features in Speck's recordings of Massachusett vocabulary from Mashpee elders, although this could also just represent late stage use of the language as well as interference from the first language, as all the vocabulary were taken from elders who themselves were likely one or two generations removed from the last native speakers in their family lines.[6] With dialect leveling, most of the colonial documents from Mashpee show little if any difference from those produced in Natick. What can be said of Nauset from older colonial records of most place names indicate that the region was primarily a hold out for the older /-ək/ locative suffix, but most place names were later 'standardized' with the /-ət/ used in most written sources.

Due to their isolated location jutting out to sea on edges of the Cape Cod Peninsula, the Nauset were the first to suffer from the introduction of diseases and blackbirding ships, but it also ensured that their neutrality was honored during King Philip's War and thus most of the Nauset survived the war. It also gave them a distinct culture from the other Wampanoag, since the sand dunes and salty soils supported little agriculture, forcing the Nauset to rely more on coastal resources than other peoples. When Mashpee was created a Praying town, a large Nauset contingent joined the local Wampanoag that lived there, thus, many members of the current Mashpee Wampanoag likely have some ancestry from Nauset ancestors.[69]

Coweset dialect (Narragansett?)[edit]

Engraving of Roger Williams meeting with members of the Narragansett. Statesman and theologian, Williams also recorded a vast vocabulary of Native vocabulary from the Indians of what is now Rhode Island, including the N-dialect Coweset.

The Coweset people inhabited what is now central and northern Rhode Island, often grouped as a sub-division of the Nipmuc that also inhabited north-western Rhode Island. Given their political and kinship ties, the Coweset were likely under tributary and trade relations with the large Nanhigganeuck (Narragansett) people just to their south, and are sometimes listed as a group under the latter. The name refers to the 'small pine place' or 'place of small pine trees' akin to Massachusett kꝏwaset (*k8wasut) from kꝏwa-[70] (*k8wa-) /kuːwa/, 'pine,' -[e]s (-[ee]s), [diminutive suffix], and -et (-ut) [locative suffix].[71]

Aside from L- and R-dialects, there are at least three discernible N/Y-dialects in the Key, including an N-dialect that is identical to Massachusett in most regards, a Y-dialect and an N-dialect that has features more akin to neighboring Y-dialects. For example, the PSNEA form *ərāyəw, 'it is so,' appears in Massachusett as unnai (unây) /ənaːj/[72] and in the Key as eîu */əjaːjəw/ in a Y-dialect (Southern Narragansett? Eastern Niantic?), nni */[ə]naːj/ in an N-dialect similar to Massachusett (Coweset?) and nnîu */[ə]naːjəw/ in an N-dialect that preserves the verb ending -ew only found in Y-dialects (Northern Narragansett?).[73]

Although most of the vocabulary in the Key is attributed to Narragansett, the clear dialectal variation makes this problematic, as the majority of Williams' vocabulary is of an N-dialect.[74] When compared against a 45-word list of Narragansett vocabulary recorded by Ezra Stiles in 1769 from an elderly Narragansett women near Aquidneck (Newport, Rhode Island) and a twenty words extracted by Alfred Gatschet from a Narragansett-language 'rememberer' in Pôcasset (Providence, Rhode Island), it is clear that the language spoken near the end was unambiguously a Y-dialect.[75] The Narragansett suffered heavy losses in King Philip's War, especially the Great Swamp Massacre at the hands of the English and their Pequot allies, with any survivors seeking protection with the Nehântick (Eastern Niantic), along with survivors of other peoples, such as the Coweset, where the amalgamation assumed the name of the Narragansett people.[76] It is likely that N-dialect features were lost as the modern-Narragansetts (Eastern Niantic-Narragansett) likely adopted the Y-dialect of Eastern Niantic or Niantic helped re-enforce the Y-dialect features of Narragansett. Both Goddard and Costa propose that in the Key, the N-dialect vocabulary is Massachusett, the N-dialect with Y-dialect grammar is Coweset and the Y-dialect vocabulary represents Narragansett.[77]

The Coweset are extinct as a people today, as most likely merged into the Narragansett or left to join the Brothertown Indians, a collection of New England peoples mainly from Connecticut, Long Island and Rhode Island that later migrated to Wisconsin, or fled north or west to join the Abenaki in northern New England or Quebec or Mahican refugee communities, one of which also made it to Wisconsin. The specific dialect of the Coweset people likely went extinct by the beginning of the eighteenth century as the Coweset were scattered and lost their specific identity, merging into other remnant Indian communities in the aftermath of King Philip's War.[78]

Other dialects and dialect comparison[edit]

The Aquidneck Indian Council, a Rhode Island-recognized educational and cultural institution for Native Americans, re-translated the Algonquian content of Roger Williams' Key into the Language of America, in an effort to better document and revive the Narragansett language, using comparisons with the Massachusett-language corpus as well as reconstructions based on evolutionary patterns of linguistic change from PA to SNEA. This, however, would be considered by other specialists, such as Goddard and Costa, as conflation of the mixed dialects found in the Key. However, even if only using Y-dialect material to reconstruct Narragansett would still produce a language similar still similar to other SNEA languages, which were most likely as related to each other as the dialects of the Nordic languages whose speakers can communicate, using their respective languages, and still understand and be understood by other parties, with difficulties increasing with distance and certain aberrant dialects.

The Massachusett language also spread, with the majority of Eliot's Praying towns established in Nipmuc country as well as a few located near the confluence of Nipmuc, Pawtucket, Massachusett and Pennacook influence, such as Wamesit, but possibly also possibly Nashoba (Littleton, Massachusetts) as well as other missionary communities such as Washacum (Sterling, Massachusetts) and Nashaway (Lancaster, Massachusetts).[79] The Nipmuc also came to settle Natick, with James Printer said to be the most prolific translator as well as printer of Eliot's Indian Bible.[80] The Indians that chose to stay away likely preserved their languages. For instance, a French missionary priest near Montreal, Quebec recorded a language sometime in the mid-eighteenth century that was most similar to Massachusett, complete with numerous loan words from English but was clearly an L-dialect, so may represent the original Nipmuc language removed from the standardizing effects of the prestigious Massachusett used by the literate Indians or a related but unknown language of New England's central interior.[18]

Dialect Comparison
English Natick[81] Wôpanâak (Revived)[82][83][84] Wôpanâak (Plymouth)[85] North Shore (Pawtucket)[86] Narragansett (Coweset?)[87][88][89] Loup (Nipmuc?)[18]
'fox' wonksis1 (wôquhs) /wãkʷəhs/ wonkqǔssis1 peqwas, whauksis1 wonkis
'my mother' nꝏkas (n8kas) /nuːkas/ nookas, nutookasin, nútchēhwau nitka nókace, nitchwhaw nȣkass
'one' nequt (nuqut) /nəkʷət/ nequt aquit nquít
'duck' quasseps (seehseep), /siːhsiːp/ sesep, qunŭsseps seaseap quequécum
'boy' nonkomp (nôkôp) /nãkãp/ nonkomp nonkompees1 núckquachucks langanbasis1
'deer' ahtuck (ahtuhq) /ahtəhk/ attŭk ottucke attuck
'to kill' nush (nuhsh) /nəhʃ/ nish cram niss nissen
'shoe' mokis (mahkus) /mahkəs/ mohkis mawcus mockuss makissin /mahkəsən/
'head' muhpuhkuk (mupuhkuk) /məpəhkək/ muppuhkuk boquoquo uppaquóntap metep
'bear' mosq (masq) /mask/ mashq mosq, paukúnawaw
'canoe' mishꝏn (muhsh8n) /məhʃuːn/ muhshoon mishòon amizȣl /aməhsuːl/
'it is white' wompi (wôpây) /wãpaːj/ wompi wompey wómpi ȣanbai /wãpaːj/
'man' woskétop (waskeetôp) /waskiːtãp/ wosketop wosketomp
'chief' sachem, sontim (sôtyum) /sãtʲəm/ sachem sachem sâchem sancheman /sãtʲəmã/
'my father' nꝏshe (n8hsh) /nuːhʃ/ noosh noeshow2 nòsh nȣs */nuːhs/
  • ^1 Seems to have the diminutive suffix -ees appended.
  • ^2 Seems to have the obviative suffix -oh (-ah) appended.

Derived languages[edit]

Massachusett Pidgin[edit]

Several varieties of regional pidgin varieties of major Eastern Algonquian languages are attested in colonial records, including those based on Mahican, Munsee, Powhatan and in New England, Massachusett. These pidgin varieties all featured reduced vocabulary, grammar simplifications and usage as the medium of communication between speakers of dialects or languages, not always easily mutually intelligible with each other, over a broader region.[90]

Massachusett Pidgin was used as a common language over New England and Long Island, and was likely the version of Massachusett used with the foreign English settlers. For instance, Edward Winslow describes a situation in his 1624 Good News from New England where he and a few other Pilgrims were able to converse and understand the Indians well, but the Indians would speak to each other at times in a similar but baffling tongue, either as their natural language but also probably to restrict information exchange with the foreign English settlers. The pidgin variety varied from Massachusett in the following ways:[91]

Simplification of vocabulary

  • squaw-sachem (*sqâsôtyum) /skʷa sãtʲəm/[92] instead of proper Massachusett sonkisquaw or syncopated sunksquaw and sonkisq *(sôkusqâ) /sãkəskʷaː/[93]

Use of non-Massachusett vocabulary

  • Abenakian sagamore *(sôkumô) /sãkəmã/[94] instead of Massachusett sachem (sôtyum), although both forms are derived from Proto-Algonquain *sa·kima·wa.
  • Abenakian or Unami wigwam *(weekuwôm) /wiːkəwãm/ instead of Massachusett wetu (weety8) /wiːtʲuː/,[95] although both forms descend from Proto-Algoquian *wi·kiwa·ʔmi.

Reduction of verbs to the intransitive inanimate

  • namen (nâmun), literally 'to see it' instead of proper Masachusett nunaw (nunâw) /nə naːw/,[96] transitive animate 'I see (someone or something alive)'. This can be seen in the example of 'Matta neen wonckanet namen Winsnow', 'I shall never see Winslow again' but literally 'Never I again see it Winslow.'
  • 'I see (something or some object)' in Massachusett proper would be nunaum[97] (nunâm) /nə naːm/[98]

Although the use of Massachusett Pidgin declined in favor of Massachusett Pidgin English, especially since the English settlers after they established their foothold saw little use in the language of a people whose lands they were usurping and were dying off from disease. Interest in Massachusett Pidgin, and other Algonquian pidgin languages, comes from the fact that they were likely the main source of words from the Algonquian languages. For instance, the early Pilgrims and Puritans only make references to 'wigwams' and never 'wetus' and 'sagamore' was in common frequency as 'sachem' in the early English of New England.[91]

Massachusett Pidgin English[edit]

A handful of Indians had rudimentary knowledge of English through occasional contacts with English seafarers, adventurers, fishermen and traders for a few decades before the first permanent English settlement of New England at Plymouth. When the Pilgrims established their outpost, they were greeted in English by Samoset, originally an Abenaki of coastal Maine, and Tisquantum ('Squanto'), a local Wôpanâak, but both of their home villages were also wiped out by an epidemic caused by infectious agents unknown in the New World. Tisquantum was abducted by an English vessel, sold into slavery in Spain, mysteriously found his way to London where gained employment on English explorations of the North American coast and later escaped and took up residence in a neighboring Wôpanâak village.[99]

As the Indians were already in a multi-dialectal, multi-lingual society, English was adopted quite quickly albeit with strong influences of Massachusett lexicon, grammar and likely pronunciation. As the number of English settlers grew and quickly outnumbered the local peoples, Natives grew to use English more often, and the English also used it to communicate with the Indians. The resulting pidgin was probably the vector of transmission of many of the so-called 'wigwam words,' i.e., local Algonquian loan words, that were once prevalent in the English of the Americas.

Massachusett Pidgin English was mostly English in vocabulary, but included numerous loan words, grammar features and calques of Massachusett Pidgin. Amongst the Indians, it co-existed with the use of the 'standard' Massachusett language, local speech and other dialects or languages, Massachusett Pidin and English. As the Indians began a quick process of language shift at the end of the eighteenth century, it is likely that Massachusett Pidgin English lost its native features and merged with the evolution of local speech, one of the varieties of Eastern New England English or even General American of the majority non-Indians of the region in a process similar to decreolization. Massachusett Pidgin English had the following characteristics:[100]

Massachusett loan words (shared Masachusett Pidgin vocabulary)

  • meechin from Massachusett metsuwonk[101]/(meech8ôk)[102] /miːˌtʃuːˈãk/, 'food' via Massachusett Pidgin meechum, 'food.'
  • sannap from Massachusett for 'young man.'
  • wunneekin, 'good,' from Massachusett wunnegin[103]/(wuneekun)[104] 'it is good.'

Generalized pronouns

  • Use of 'me' for both 'I' and 'me.'

SNEA N-dialect interference

  • English 'lobster' and English surname 'Winslow' with Massachusett Pidgin English nobstah and Winsnow, respectively, substitution of /n/ for /l/ of English.
  • English 'Frenchmen' adopted as panachmonog, substitution of /n/ for /r/ of English.


  • all one this, calque of Masachusett Pidgin tatapa you, 'like this.'
  • big, calque of muhsuh-/*muhsh
  • Reduplication
    E.g. by and by, 'soon.'

Use of Massachusett animate plural suffix for domesticated animals introduced by the English

  • cowsack/(*cowsak) 'cows' or 'cattle.'
  • horseog/(*horseak), 'horses.'
  • pigsack/(*pigsak), 'pigs.'

Examples of Massachusett Pidgin English[105][106]

  • English man all one speake, all one heart. 'What an Englishman says is what he thinks.')
  • Weaybee gon coates? (Away be gone coats?) 'Do you have any coats?'
  • What cheer, netop. 'Greetings, friend.' Netop, 'friend,' from Massachusett netomp/(neetôp).
  • Little way, fetch pigsack. '[He went] not too far [to] fetch the pigs.'


Pre-colonial history[edit]

Distribution of the Algonquian languages of the Algic language family. The development of Eastern Algonquian was likely a consequence of its isolation, separated from other Algonquian languages by speakers of Iroquoian and Siouan-Catawban languages.

Although human history in New England probably dates back to 10000 BC, when Paleo-Indians entered the tundra exposed by the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier at the end of the Pleistocene, glottochronology and some corroborating archaeological evidence traces the history of the language to the Northwest Plateau region, or the areas of the Pacific Northwest separated from the coastal plains by high mountains, around the middle and upper regions surrounding the Columbia River. This area is likely the Urheimat associated with Proto-Algic speakers.[107] Migrations, cultural influences and language shift led to the displacement by speaker of the Kalapuyan (†), Na-Dene, Palaihnihan, Plateau Penutian, Salishan, etc., as well as languages of the coast which may have had a broader distribution. The Algic languages were displaced from this area with coastal areas of northern California home of the distantly-related, only known non-Algonquian Algic languages, Wiyot and Yurok.[108]

A descendant of Proto-Algic, Proto-Algonquian, diverged and spread east, likely around 1000 BC, the ancestor of the Algonquian languages which form the bulk of known Algic languages, spoken in the northern and eastern parts of the United States and Canada east of the Rockies all the way to the coast. The exact location where Proto-Algonquian was spoken is likely in the Northwest Plateau region, possibly Idaho where the westernmost Algonquian languages are spoken, but any region between here an just west of the Great Lakes have all been posited.[109] Algonquian languages splintered off as they moved eastward, probably facilitated by the spread of the mound-builder cultures that developed in the Adena (1000-200 BC) and Hopewell (200-500 AD) cultural periods.[110]

Circa 1000 AD, Proto-Eastern Algonquian emerged in what is now southern Ontario, and east, where the daughter Eastern Algonquian languages later spread from Atlantic Canada south to North Carolina. This period is marked by small-scale migrations into New England, likely introducing the beginnings of Three Sisters agriculture and influences of Iroquoian pottery. Since there is not evidence of large migrations, the spread of Eastern Algonquian seems to be more to the culturally advanced migrants triggering language shift since the last large movement of populations was during the Archaic Period (8000-2000 BC).[111]

A few centuries later, Proto-Southern New England Algonquian (PSNEA) diverged into the SNEA languages. This development might coincide with the success of new strains of the tropical maize plant better suited to northern climes and the increased use of coastal resources around 1300 AD, during the Late Woodland Period. The improvement to agriculture supported large populations in the arable lands near the coast or along the larger rivers. Population movements seem to indicate the spread of the language from south-eastern New England, spreading it into Connecticut and northward. Competition over resources, more sedentary and permanent habitations and an influx of small migrations from the north and south-west probably fueled territoriality which may be evidenced by newer pottery styles with restricted local production areas. Shortly after this time, the languages, peoples and technologies would have likely been recognizable to the Europeans that began visiting the coasts at the end of the sixteenth century.[112]

Early colonial period[edit]

The first English settlements, the Plymouth Colony by the Pilgrims in 1620, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Puritans in 1629, both were founded in Massachusett-language speaking territory.[113] The colonists depended on the Indians for survival, and some learned how to communicate with the Indians for trade.[114] As the population of the English increased with further Puritan migrations, and the Indians became outnumbered, moves to assimilate the Indians were enacted. With colonial backing and funding from the Society for the Propagation of the Bible, missionaries such as John Eliot, Thomas Mayhew and his descendants amongst the Wampanoag, and Roger Williams began to learn the local languages and convert the Indians.[115] Eliot began preaching at Nonantum (now Newton, Massachusetts), and starting 1651, established communities of converts, known as praying towns or Indian plantations, where the Indians were encouraged to adopt English customs and language, practice Christianity, and accept colonial jurisdiction.[116][117] Eliot printed a Bible in 1663, and the Indians at the praying towns began to adopt the orthography of the Natick dialect Bible.

Translation and literature[edit]

John Eliot, after beginning his mission to the Indians, quickly saw the need for literacy so that the new converts could experience Biblical inspiration on their own. With the help of local interpreters and Eliot's frequent contacts with the Indians, he became fluent in the language and began writing the sounds he heard in Natick in an ad hoc fashion, using the conventions of English spelling. By 1651, Eliot produced a hand-written catechism he used for teaching literacy and religion at Natick, followed by a translation of the Book of Psalms which was hand-copied. A small group of literate Indians began teaching it to others, and Eliot established a school to train Indian missionaries who were literate and able to read these materials.[118]

As the Indians gained literacy and Eliot's notoriety grew, funding was given from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England. The Society, which supported Calvinist and Congregationalist missions banned under the influence of Anglo-Catholic monarchs and leaders of the Church of England. In 1655, the Indian College of Harvard University, its first brick building, was constructed and a printing press and materials were sent.[119] Eliot began right away, printing copies of the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew that same year. In 1663, Eliot printed the completed translation of the Bible, his monumental achievement. Eliot continued to print translations, until his death in 1690.[120]

After his death, the Society commissioned other missionaries, most notably Experience Mayhew, who, as a child in long line of missionaries to the Wampanoag of Martha's Vineyard, was fluent in the language and his works were popular with the Indians for its consistent spelling and adherence to more natural spoken style of the Indians themselves.[121] Other missionaries commissioned include Samuel Danforth, an assistant to John Eliot; Grindal Rawson, minister to the Praying Indians of Wacentug (Uxbridge, Massachusetts); John Cotton, Jr., preacher to Wôpanâak of Plymouth, Mashpee and Martha's Vineyard and his nephew, Cotton Mather, influential Puritan theologian.[120] As the colonies came under direct rule, and interest in the Indian mission waned, the Society last commissioned a reprint of Mayhew's Indiane Primer asuh Negonneuyeuuk in 1747. The end of the missionary translations impacted, but did not finish off, Native literacy, which continued until the close of the eighteenth century.[7] The following is a list of the Society's publications and their year of printing:

Massachusett-language publications[120]
Year Massachusett title English title Translator Original author Reprints
1653 Catechism Catechism John Eliot John Eliot 16621
1654 Indiane Primer Indian Primer John Eliot John Eliot 1667, 1669, 1687
1655 Genesis Book of Genesis John Eliot Unknown, attributed to Moses.
1655 Wunnaunchemookaonk ne ansukhogup Matthew Gospel According to Matthew John Eliot Unknown, attributed to Matthew the Apostle
1658 VVame Ketꝏhomáe uk-Ketꝏhomaongash David Psalms in Meeter John Eliot Unknown, attributed to King David. 1663
1661 Wusku wuttestamentum nul-lordumun Jesus Christ nuppoquohwussuaeneumun New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ John Eliot Unknown, various authors. 16812
1663 Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God: Naneeswe nukkone testament kah wonk wusku testament quoshkinnumuk Wuttinneumoh Christ noh asꝏwesit John Eliot
The whole holy his-Bible God. Including Old Testament and also New Testament. This turned by the Servant of Christ who is called John Eliot John Eliot Unknown, various authors. 16852
1663 Psalter3 Psalter John Eliot John Eliot
*16644 Unknown The Sound Believer John Eliot Thomas Shephard (1645)
1665 Manitowompae pomantamoonk sainpwshanau Christianoh uttoh woh an pomautog wussikkitteahonat God
'Godly living directs a Christian how he may live to please God'
The Practice of Piety (abridged) John Eliot Lewis Bayly (1613) 1685, 1687
1666 N/A Indian Grammar Begun5 N/A John Eliot
166- (?) Christiane Ꝏnoowae Sampoowaonk A Christian Covenanting Confession John Eliot John Eliot 167- (?)
1671 Unknown Our Indians' A B C John Eliot John Eliot
1671 N/A6 Indian Dialogues N/A John Eliot
1672 Anomayag or Logick Primer Logick Primer N/A John Eliot
1685 Noowomꝏ Wuttinnoowaonk God, Gen. 4.22. En--- weeche- pomushau God nishwudte pasukꝏs ko-iumwaeu. Wonk- noowomꝏ, Prov. 23.17, qush Jehovah neteag-- newa- k-natꝏtomoush (?) [Title illegible] Leaf of Rules
1688 Wehkomaonganoo asquam Peantogig kah asquam Quinnuppegig tokonogque mahche woskeche Peantamwog ... Kah Yeuyeu qushkinnumun en Indiane Wuttinnontꝏwaonganit
'Call to the Unconverted translated into the Indian language'
Call to the Unconverted John Eliot Thomas Baxter
1689 Sampwutteaháe quinnuppckompauaenin mache wussukhúmun ut Englishmane unnontoowaonk nashpe Thomas Shephard quinnuppenúmun en Indiane unnontoowaonganit nashpe John Eliot. Kah nawhutcheut aiyeuongashoggussemese ontcheteauun nashpe Grindal Rawson
'The sincere convert written in English by Thomas Shepard translated into Indian by John Eliot And in some places a little amended by Grindal Rawson'
The Sincere Convert John Eliot7 Thomas Shephard (1641)
1691 Nashauanittue meninnunk wutch mukkiesog wussesèmumun wutch sogkodtunganash naneeswe testamentsash Negonáe wussukhùmun ut Englishmánne unnontmwaonganit nashpe John Cotton Kah yeuyeu qushkinnúmun en Indiane unnontoowaonganit nashpe Grindal Rawson
'Spiritual milk for babes drawn from the breasts of both testaments written in English ... by John Cotton and Indian ... by Grindal Rawson'
Spiritual Milk for [Boston] Babes Grindal Rawson John Cotton (1656) 1720, 174711
1698 Masukkenukéeg matcheseaenvog wequetoog kah wuttꝏanatoog uppeyaonont Christoh kah ne yeuyeu teanuk, etc.
'Greatest sinners called encouraged to come to Christ and that now quickly, etc.'
The Greatest Sinners Exhorted and Encouraged to Come to Christ Samuel Danforth Increase Mather
1699 Wunnamptamoe sampooaonk wussampoowontamun nashpe moeuwehkomunganash ut New England, etc. Boston A confession of faith owned and consented unto by the elders and messengers of the churches assembled at Boston Grindal Rawson Unknown
1700 Wussukwhonk en Christianeue asuh peantamwae, lndianog, etc.
'Epistle to the Christian, or Praying, Indians, etc.'
Epistle to the Christian Indians, etc. Cotton Mather Cotton Mather 1706
1705 Togkunkash tummethamunate Matcheseongane mehtug, ne meechumuoo Nuppooonk. Asuh, Wunnaumatuongash, nish nashpe Nananuacheeg kusnunt sasamtahamwog matcheseongash ut kenugke Indiansog netatuppe onk ut kenugke Englishmansog asuh chohkquog The Hatchets to hew down the Tree of Sin which bears the Fruit of Death. Or, The laws by which the Magistrates are to punish Offences among the Indians, as well as among the English Unknown Cotton Mather (?)
1707 Ne kesukod Jehovah kessehtunkup. Kekuttoohkaonk papaume kuhquttumooonk kali nanawehtoonk ukkesukodum Lord, etc. The day which the Lord hath made. A discourse concerning the institution and observation of the Lords day, etc. Experience Mayhew Cotton Mather (1703)
1709 Massachusee psalter asuh Ukkuttꝏhomaongash David weche wunnaunchemookaonk ne ansukhogup John ut Indiane kah Englishe nepatuhquonkash8 The Massachuset psalter or Psalms of David with the Gospel according to John in columns of Indian and English Experience Mayhew Experience Mayhew
1710 Oggusunash Kuttooonkash
'A few of his words'9
The Woful Effects of Drunkenness a sermon Preached at Bristol ... When Two Indians Josias and Joseph Were Executed for Occasioned By the Drunkenness both of the Murther & Murthering Parties By Samuel Danforth Samuel Danforth Samuel Danforth
ca. 168-?10 Unknown The foundation of Christian religion : gathered into sixe principles Experience Mayhew William Perkins (1591)
1714 Teashshinninneongane peantamooonk wogkouunuinun kah anunumwontamun Family religion excited and assisted Experience Mayhew Cotton Mather
1720 lndiane primer asuh negonneyeuuk, ne nashpe mukkiesog woh tauog wunnamuhkuttee ogketamunnate Indiane unnontoowaonk. Kah Meninnunk wutch mukkiesog The Indian primer; or The first book. By which children may know truely to read the Indian language Experience Mayhew John Eliot11 1747
1721 Wame wunetooog Wusketompaog pasukqunnineaout ut yuennag peantamweseongash
'The religion in which all Good Men are united in'12
Monitor for Communicants. An Essay to Excite and Assist Religious Approaches to the Table of the Lord Offered by an Assembly the New English Pastors unto their own Flocks and unto all the Churches in these American Colonies (ca. 1714) Cotton Mather Cotton Mather

^1 The 1662 edition was a revised and longer version.
^2 These revised editions were completed with the assistance of John Cotton, Jr. and include the 'Leaf of Rules,' a series of rules to be followed by Indians in accordance to English law and custom and Christian tradition.
^3 Consists of a reworked edition of the metrical Wame Ketꝏhomáe uk-Ketꝏhomaongash David with a short catechism. Printed both with Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God and separately.
^4 Half-completed, but was never finished or published.
^5 Although in English, it includes a wealth of information about the language, especially its grammatical structure. Some copies were bound with later versions of Psalter or Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God and likely distributed to other missionaries working amongst the Indians.
^6 Although in English, these works were distributed to Indian missionaries to help improve their ministry.
^7 Started in Eliot in 1664, but was completed by Grindal Rawson.
^8 Mayhew's Massachusee Psalter consisted of a retranslated Uk-kuttoohomaongash David, 'Songs of David' (Book of Psalms) and a retranslated Wunnaunchemookaonk ne Anukhogup John (Gospel According to John).
^9 The address to the Indians was appended to a copy of Danforth's sermon, The Woeful Effects of Drunkenness.
^10 This was likely never published and no copies survive, but it was said to be popular in use as a catechism by the Indians who took to the English version when no Indian copies could be found. ^11 Mayhew's Indiane Primer was a retranslation of Eliot's original primer, also bound to copies of Grindal Rawson's translation of Nashauanittue Meninnunk wutch Mukkiesog.
^12 Published in Mather's India Christiana.

Indian translators, missionaries and the spread of literacy[edit]

Painting of John Eliot preaching to the Indians in the Massachusetts State Capitol. Eliot's converts often became literate missionaries, who in turn brought Christianity and literacy to others so that within twenty years after Eliot's first printed translations, literacy went from none to one in three Natives of the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies.

A team of Native translators and interpreters assisted Eliot and the other missionaries with their translations, even though most of their work was uncredited. Eliot himself relied on Cockenoe, his servant from Long Island who spoke a related SNEA language and was able to interpret for Eliot; Job Nesutan, who was very proficient in writing and reading; John Sassamon, an orphan raised in English households and later became an important interpreter between the English and Indians, and James Wawâus Printer, who learned the printing presses and was said by Eliot to have been the most prolific.[122] When Mayhew was commissioned to provide missionary translations, he was assisted by Printer, Neesnumin and Hiacoomes, the first convert to Christianity on Martha's Vineyard.

At least a handful of Indians attended classes to prepare them for assuming the Indian mission at Harvard University prior to the construction of the Indian College, such as James Printer and John Sassamon that would later assist Eliot with his translations, and Jethro, a Nashaway (northern Nipmuc) who later was preacher at Wamesit.[123] Students would later include Caleb_Cheeshahteaumuck and Joel Hiacoomes, son of Hiacoomes, two Wampanoag from Martha's Vineyard; Eleazar, a Wampanoag; and John Wampas, a Nipmuc who was later appointed by his people to protect their rights and land with his bilingual talent, but who betrayed his people to curry favor from the English. The last student, attending after the building was razed, was Brian Larnell, a Nipmuc. Except for the pre-Indian College students and John Wampas, the others contracted illnesses and perished, possibly from close proximity to the English in an urban setting exposing them to the infections against which they lacked immunity.[119]

Natick served as a seminary, with a school where Eliot, and later his Indian disciples, would instruct literacy in Massachusett, Christian religion and English culture before serving as official interpreters, administrators of the Praying towns or elders of the Indian churches, often recruited from the tribal ėlite. Armed with literacy and copies of the missionary translations, these Indians began instructing others.[123] At Natick, Eliot passed on his role as teacher to Monesquassin, who in turn taught it to others. Records from the seventeenth and eighteenth century indicate that quite a few Indians were involved, mainly those from or with kinship connections to Natick, which combined with that dialect's use in Eliot's translations, leveled dialectal differences.[124] Many of these Indians are named in the records, such as the Ahatons of Ponkapoag and the Speens of Natick, Joseph Tuckawillipin of Hassanamessit, Simon Beckom of Wamesit, Samuel Church at Watuppa and Isaac Jeffrey at Manomet and Herring Pond.[123]

By 1674, a request for literacy rates of the Indians in the Plymouth Colony by Daniel Gookin indicated that 29% of the converted Indians could read and 17% could write the Massachusett language. With its own church, the highest rates for literacy were found in the villages of Codtanmut, Ashmuit and Weesquobs—all within Mashpee—where 59% of the population could read and 31% could write. The general rate was likely the same or higher in the Praying towns of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These Indians, due to their important status as members of prominent tribal families and proficiency, not only took over the mission and served as deacons, elders, ministers and preachers but also as teachers, councilmen, jurors, constables and other administrative functions in the Praying towns. Literacy continued to be an important part of the Indian communities until the 1770s, however, its role diminished as younger generations of Indians switched to using English and fewer and fewer Indian churches remained under Indian control with Indian congregants and preachers, in part because of the upheavals of war, loss of land and lack of economic incentives to stay in the Praying town.[125]


The use of the written language declined over the course of the eighteenth century. In Natick, where Indian literacy began, the last town records in the language were written by Thomas Waban (Weegramomenit), son of Waban, in 1720. The last document to survive in the language are the records of the Congregational Church of Gay Head, recording the marriage of John Joel and Mary Tallmon by the minister Zachary Hossueit, in 1771. The last known epigraphic evidence of the written language is its use on the now damaged tombstone of Silas Paul, another Indian minister of Gay Head, in 1787.[126] Anecdotal evidence suggests that some Indians were literate up until the middle of the nineteenth century, although no documents from this period survive.[127]

The spoken language remained in vibrant use in the 1750s on the mainland and as late as the 1770s in the larger, more isolated Wampanoag communities of the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. By 1798, only one speaker of advanced age was found in Natick.[54] The language survived on Nantucket until the death of the widow Dorcas Honorable in 1855. On Martha's Vineyard, the language survived the longest. In 1808, a church official named Elisha Clap writing about the small congregation of the Baptist minister Zachariah Howwaswee (Hossueit) remarked, 'Only a few aged Indians, who do not understand English, attend his meeting, as he preaches in the native language ....' Howwaswee continued preaching until his death sometime in the 1830s.[128] It is not known when the last speakers perished, but Tamsen Weekes, who died in 1890 at the age of 90, was likely one of the last fluent speakers. Studies of the Wampanoag tribe in the 1920s did not find any native speakers, but only those who remembered small bits of the language.[6]

Metacomet, or 'King Philip,' united the Indians against the English, but his defeat by the English ended Indian autonomy and support for Indian culture and causes.

The reasons behind the decline of the language are varied. The population of speakers plummeted due to the effects of virgin soil epidemics of smallpox, measles, diphteria and scarlet fever that continued to claim indigenous lives well into the nineteenth century, but began with a particularly severe outbreak of leptospirosis in 1619 that claimed the lives of up to 90% of coastal populations where Massachusett-language speakers resided. This reduced their ability to resist neighboring tribes, such as the Mohawk and Tarratine, and the influx of English settlers.[129]

War also greatly reduced the population. The ravages of King Philip's War (1675–76) is believed to have reduced the population by 40%, due to executions, retaliatory attacks and displacement. Many of the Praying Indians that remained neutral were rounded up and left on islands in Boston Harbor where many perished from disease, starvation and exposure to the elements. Others were sold into slavery in the West Indies. Many of the indigenous people decided to leave, seeking safety with the Abenaki to the north or the Mahican to the west, where they would eventually assimilate into the host tribe.[130] Many men were called to fight alongside the English colonists against the French and their Indian allies during the French and Indian Wars, a series of conflicts between 1688 and 1763 as well as the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). The gender imbalance led to increased intermarriage between Indian women and Black or White men outside the speech community.[131]

Loss of land forced language shift in other ways. Only Mashpee and Aquinnah remained in Indian hands by the end of the nineteenth century. The Indians were no longer able to support themselves on agriculture and subsistence as their lands were lost due to encroachment and land sales. This forced men to seek employment as laborers, mariners or whalers in coastal cities whereas women and children found employment as domestics in White households or as peddlers of baskets. The shrinking communities were no longer able to support separate church congregations that traditionally used the language. The population also became a smaller and smaller minority with the growth in the population of descendants of English settlers and large-scale arrival of newcomers from Europe in the nineteenth century, exacerbating already existing assimilation pressures.[131]


The language remained in use the longest in speech and writing in the isolated, insular Wôpanâak communities, but as the language slowly faded, many believed that the language would return with the help of descendants of those who destroyed it. Massachusett-language documents in the form of land sales, leases and deeds are found in the oldest layer of city and town archives in Massachusetts. The petitions and complaints to the General Court of Massachusetts were often sent in English and in Massachusett. The records of the former Praying Town and now just town of Natick, Massachusetts are in Massachusett from 1651 until 1720. The Indians also maintained their libraries of religious manuscripts and personal records even as the language ceased to be spoken, many of which were later sold to private collectors and ultimately are now in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society. In addition, all the Indian translations and original works by the English missionaries have been preserved.[126]

The Natick Dictionary, published in 1903 and based on the work of Dr. James H. Trumbull, includes descriptions of vocabulary, mainly from Eliot's Bible but also that of the other missionaries and Roger William's A Key .... The documents of the Indians were extensively analyzed by Ives Goddard and Kathleen Bragdon, with the 1988 release of Native Writings in Massachusett. Reconstructions of gaps in grammar, syntax, vocabulary and pronunciation could be filled by comparison with other related Algonquian languages or by reconstructions based on likely sound changes, such as George F. Aubin's Proto-Algonquian Dictionary of 1975.[132]

As acceptance and appreciation of Native American culture grew in the early twentieth century, and the local peoples of southern New England began to reconnect through Pan-Indian movements and gatherings, adopting aspects of Plains Indian culture and sharing aspects of traditional culture and language that remained. Many Indians attended the Aquidneck Indian Council meetings in Providence, Rhode Island or took part in the Indian Council of New England in 1923.[133]

The anthropologist and Eastern Woodlands Culture expert Frank Speck visited the Wampanoag of Mashpee and tried to document the language, but was only able to list of twenty words with great difficulty from five of the oldest members in the community.[134] Similarly, Gladys Tantaquidgeon visited the Wampanoag of Aquinnah and was able to extract one hundred words from those of most advanced age, her success likely from her attempts to preserve her own language which became extinct in 1908 with the death of her aunt, Dji'ts Bud dnaca.[135] Gordon Day recorded a reading of the Lord's Prayer from Chief Wild Horse, Clinton Mye Haynes (1894-1966) of Mashpee, in 1961. Wild Horse was likely one of the last language rememberers.[136]

In 1993, Jessie Little Doe Baird, of the Mashpee Wampanoag, began the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project as a co-founder. She began her studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), working with Dr. Kenneth Hale and later Norvin Richards, Baird was able to reconstruct the pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary of the Indian documents and English missionary translations. Baird later published her thesis, Introduction to Wampanoag Grammar in 2000, the year she completed her Master's in Algonquian Linguistics. The WLRP later spread to include participants in the Ahquinnah, Herring Pond and Assonet tribes of the Wôpanâak. Since Kenneth Hale was a direct descendant of the missionary Roger Williams and Baird a direct descendant of Nathan Pocknett, who resisted conversion attempts, fulfilled the Wôpanâak prophecy regarding the language's revival.[137]

Current status[edit]

The "Old Indian Meeting House", built in 1684 at Mashpee, is the oldest Native American church in the United States. Christianity and the translation of the Bible have helped the Wampanoag language survive, even though it destroyed traditional religion and spiritual practices.

In 2010, Baird was presented the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award in recognition of her language revival efforts.[138] The following year, PBS aired portions of Anne Makepeace's documentary Âs Nutayanyean-We Still Live Here as a segment on the program Independent Lens. The film highlighted Baird's work, as well as interviews with members of the WLRP-participating tribes discussing the project's history, reception, goals and the experiences as the language came back to the community.[139]

In 2014, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project was able to boast of a handful of children who were growing up as native speakers for the first time in over a century, 15 proficient speakers, two trained Algonquian linguists, a dictionary with approximately 12,000 entries at the time, pedagogical materials and a complete, non-English educational curriculum and hundreds of students at various stages. In addition, it has allowed the return of the language in cultural, spiritual and sacred expressions of Indian identity. The WLRP continues to host educational programs, language immersion summer camps and after-school sessions and special language days with the four communities that participate.[8][9]

Original plans for the (Weetumuw Wôpanâak) Charter School with plans to open in August 2015 were shelved citing inability to meet the statutory requirement to serve students in the lowest tenth percentile of MCAS scores. According to Jennifer Weston, who serves as the Immersion School Developer and as the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Language Department Director, stated, 'Since we didn't meet that statutory requirement, our application's fate rested on two other groups being approved first.' The decision was also influenced by the conflicting political climate, with Republican Governor Charlie Baker's proposal to lift the cap on charter schools and a bill popular with teacher's unions and public opinion hoping for a moratorium.[140]

Instead, the WLRP opened (Mukayuhsak Weekuw), 'Children's House,' a language immersion school at the Montessori Academy of North Falmouth, Massachusetts with a dozen students. Later in November 2016, the school was moved onto Mashpee Wampanoag tribal property, to be closer to Mashpee from where most of the WLRP staff, instructors and students come.[141][140][142] In 2013, it was estimated that 6% of the students of the Mashpee Public School district were estimated to be from the Mashpee Wôpanâak tribe.[142][143] The project also received a three-year grant which will allow the school to expand to 35 students and train four Montessori-style teachers, but it is likely that the slots may have to be awarded by lottery since given the interest in the project and its closer proximity to a tribal region.[144]

The WLRP also noticeably created a backlash against National Geographic's Saints & Strangers two-part Thanksgiving mini-series, providing the story of the Thanksgiving story and the history of the English settlers and Indians. Most importantly, the use of Western Abenaki, a closely related but moribund language, is inappropriate given that it was the Wampanoag who made first contact, and indeed quite a few Wampanoag still live in Plymouth today. Baird stated, 'To say that Abenaki is Wampanog is like saying Portuguese is Spanish ... Using the same language family like this is saying one Indian isn’t any different than another Indian. One language isn’t any different than another. It marginalizes an entire people.' In addition, her and Linda Coombs, who had initially helped National Geographic as language consultants were rebuffed when they called for the Native dialogue to be rewritten, claiming the dialogue and cultural misconceptions were prejudiced, 'stereotypical' and misguided.[145]



Massachusett consonants[146][147]
Labial Alveolar Palatal/
Velar Glottal
Stop [p] [t] [tʲ] [k]
Affricate [tʃ]
Fricative [s] [ʃ] [h]
Nasal [m] [n]
Approximant [w] [j]

Massachusett consonants lack voicing and aspiration. Aspiration, or the puff of air released after a consonant, is common in English in initial consonants or for clarity and emphasis, but not the second element of consonant clusters or syllable-final positions. Thus, Massachusett /p/ is more akin to the 'p' in 'spin' /spɪn/ than the /pʰ/ in in /pʰin/, which may sound voiced and confused with English /b/. Massachusett does not seem to have made any distinctions between voiced and unvoiced consonants as they exist in English, thus the colonial alphabet used voiced-unvoiced pairings such as B/P, G/C-K, J/Ch, Z/S, D/T and G(w)/Q(u) interchangeably, although it is possible that some consonants were voiced as allophonic variations or 'sounded' voiced to the English missionaries such as Eliot. As voicing is not a phonemic part of the language, the modern alphabet has purged the voiced letters save proper and personal names and loan words that have not yet been assimilated or replaced. The sound /tʲ/ is found in UK English 'tune' and in Slavic languages, it was often confused by missionary writers as /tʃ/ and written with T or J. It can be approximated by pronouncing the 'ti' in 'tiara' rapidly. It can be confused with TE, which was used in the colonial and currently in the modern script to represent T followed by an 'infected vowel' which together create the same sound with a slight schwa or /tʲᵊ/.


Massachusett vowel inventory[148][149]
Front Central Back
Close [iː] [uː]
Mid [ə],[ʲᵊ]
Open [aː] [ã]

The symmetric vowel inventory of Proto-Algonquian was reduced through mergers along the course of its development. Massachusett vowels can be divided into the long vowels /aː/, /iː/ and /uː/; the short vowels /a/ and /ə/ and the nasal vowel /ã/, which may also be considered a long vowel as it is stressed and lengthened in speech as the other long vowels.

The language is rich in various vowel combinations and diphthongs created with final /j/ and /w/, which are often productive verbal elements. Two vowels together usually indicate hiatus of two distinct sounds and not a true diphthong, e.g., English 'coagulate' and 'cloud.' Thus, waapinum (wââpunum), 'to lift up,' is pronounced /waːaːpənəm/ and not */waːːpənəm/. Nevertheless, combinations of vowels and vowel-glide consonant (semivowel) are particularly numerous, not limited to /a a/, /aː a/, /aː ã/ /ã ə/, /aː iː/, /ãwa/, /əj/, /əw/, /əwa/, /əwaː/, /əwã/, /əwə/, /awa/, /aːw/, /aw/, /ja/, /jã/, /iːw/, /uːaːã/, etc.

Due to the wide variance of spelling, the vowels have been hardest to reconstruct for the language. The exact value is unknown, and the vowels /a/, /ã/, and /aː/ could have had values of /ɑ/, /ɑ̃/, /ɑː/, or /ɔ/, /ɔ̃/, /ɔː/. Some dialects may have differed in pronunciation, perhaps using the sounds /ɔ̃/ and /ɑ/ to represent the letters, /ô/ and /â/.[33][147][148][149][150]


The Massachusett language shared several features in common with other Algonquian languages. Nouns have gender based on animacy, based on the world-view of the Indians on what has spirit versus what does not. A body would be animate, but the parts of the body are inanimate. Nouns are also marked for obviation, with nouns subject to the topic marked apart from nouns less relevant to the discourse. Personal pronouns distinguish three persons, two numbers (singular and plural), inclusive and exclusive first-person plural, and proximate/obviative third-persons. Nouns are also marked as absentative, especially when referring to lost items or deceased persons. Sentence structures are typically SVO or SOV, but deviation from strict word order does not alter the meaning due to the synthetic structure.[151] Verbs are quite complex, and can be broken into four classes of verbs: animate-intransitive (AI), inanimate-intransitive (II), animate-transitive (AT), and inanimate-transitive (IT). Verbs are also prefixed and suffixed with various inflections, particles, and conjugations, so complex things can easily be described just by a verb.[152][153]


Comparison of Colonial Massachusett and Modern Wôpanâak alphabets
Colonial Modern Colonial Modern
Letter Values Name Letter Values Name Letter Values Name Letter Values Name
A a /a/, /aː/, /ã/, /ə/ a A a /a/ a N n /n/, /~∅/ en N n /n/ na
 â /aː/ â O /a/, /aː/, /ã/, /ə/ o
B b /b/, /p/ bee Ô ô /ã/ ô
C c /k/, /s/, /ʃ/ ſee (see) /uː/, /wə/, /əw/, /ə/ 8 8 /uː/ 8
Ch ch /tʃ/, /tʲ/, /tʲᵊ/ chee Ch ch /tʃ/ cha P p /p/ pee P p /p/ pa
D d /d/, /t/ dee Q q /kʷ/, /k/ kéuh Q q /kʷ/, /k/ qa
E e /iː/, /ə/, /∅/ e E e /ʲᵊ/ e R r /r/, /n/ ar
Ee ee /iː/ ee S s ſ /s/, /ʃ/ eſ (es) S s /s/ sa
F f /f/, /p/ ef Sh sh /ʃ/ sha
G g /g/, /k/, /dʒ/, /ʒ/ gee T t /t/ tee T t /t/ ta
H h /h/, /∅/ H h /h/ ha Ty ty /tʲ/ tya
I i /ə/, /iː/, /aːj/, /aj/ i U u /uː/, /a/, /ə/ u U u /ə/ u
J j /dʒ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/, /tʲ/, /tʲᵊ/ ji V v /v/, /p/ vf (uf), úph
K k /k/ ka K k /k/ ka W w /w/ wee W w /w/ wa
L l /l/, /n/ el X /ks/, /z/ eks
M m /m/, /~∅[/p/]/ em M m /m/ ma Y y /j/, /aj/, /aːj/, /iː/ wy Y y /j/ ya
Z z /z/, /s/ zad
Y (Þ) y (þ) /θ~ð/, /t/

The original alphabet devised by Eliot and used by the Indians of the mid-seventeenth till nineteenth centuries consisted of all 26 letters of the Latin alphabet as used in English, with the addition of the digraph Ch as a separate letter, similar to its role in Spanish prior to the 1994 Spanish orthographical reforms. The digraph 'Sh' does not receive similar treatment. Vowels could be marked with the acute accent ( ´ ) to denote stress or long vowels or the circumflex ( ˆ ) used to indicate the nasal vowel /ã/, but despite this prescriptive use, most literate native speakers, and even Eliot, used them interchangeably. The double O ligature 'Ꝏ' was used by Eliot primarily to indicate /uː/ as opposed to the short vowel /ə/, analogous to writing 'fꝏd' and 'mꝏd' but 'cook' and 'rook,' however, was not considered a separate letter and often replaced with 'OO'. F, L, R and V only occur in loan words. Y as the representation of the runic letter thorn (Þ) was used in Eliot's time as a shorthand for Th, often written superscript or subscript in print to differentiate from Y. Although not included in the colonial alphabet, its use would likely have occurred in some English loan words especially from the oldest Indian documents. J and V, although not yet considered distinct letters in English of the seventeenth century, were treated as separate letters in Massachusett.

The alphabet in use by the Wôpanâak communities that participate in the language revival, the alphabet is much reduced and simplified. B, D, C, F, G, I, J, L, O, R, V, X and Z are not part of the alphabet, but remain in use for proper names and place names. Ch remains a separate letter, to which the digraphs Sh /ʃ/ and Ty /tʲ/ have been included. Â and Ô are considered letters, but restricted to represent /aː/ and /ã/, respectively and thus eliminating the need for the acute or circumflex. 8 replaces in the modern alphabet for ease of input and rendering on English typesets and is also considered a distinct letter. E is retained but restricted to represent /ʲᵊ/ whilst the digraph Ee is used as a separate letter for /iː/. The only letter with two sounds is Q, which represents /k/ in word-final positions and /kʷ/ elsewhere before a vowel for etymological purposes.

Writing samples[edit]

Many of the translations in the Massachusett language were of a religious nature, as the missionaries were hoping to win over converts by using the 'Indian language.' The following is an example of the Lord's Prayer as found in Eliot's 1661 publishing of the New Testament in Matthew 6:9:[154]

Nꝏshum keskqut quttianatamanack hꝏwesaouk.
'Our Father, who art in Heaven,'
Peyaumꝏutch kukkenau-toomoouk ne a nack okkeet neam keskqut.
'Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Nem-meet-sougash asekesuhokesu assnauean yedyee kesu-kod.
'Give us this day our daily bread,'
Kah ahquotaneas inneaen nummateheouqasu, neem machenekukequig nutahquoretawmomouag.
'and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,'
Ahque sag hompagunaianeem enqutchuasouqauit webe pohquohwaossueau wutch matchitut.
'and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.'
Nuwatche huhahteem ketassootamouk hah nuumkessouk, kah sosamꝏuk michene. Amen
'For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.'

An excerpt from Josiah Cotton's Vocabulary of the Massachusetts (or Natick) Indian Language, where the English is his own writings, and the Massachusett that of his father, John Cotton, a prominent preacher to the Wampanoag:[155]

Q: Uttuh woh nittinne nehtuhtauan Indianne unnontꝏwaonk?
'How shall I learn Indian?'
A: Nashpe keketookauaonk Indianeog kah kuhkinasineat ukittooonkannꝏ kah wuttinnohquatumꝏonkanꝏ.
'By talking with the Indians, and minding their words, and manner of pronouncing.'

Q: Kah uttuh unnupponꝏnat wutinnontꝏwaonk ne munohonk neit kohtohkomukcouk?
'And what is the difference between the language of the Island [Martha's Vineyard], and the main?'
A: Mat woh nummissohhamꝏunasuh matta aꝏwahiteo webe yeu nꝏwahteauum yeug Indiansog mat wahtanooog usg Indiansog ut nishnow kuttooonganit.
'I can't tell or don't know, only this I know, that these Indians don't understand every word of them Indians.'

An example of records from the Praying Town of Natick, written in 1700 by Thomas Waban, a descendant of Waban:[156]

Eight noh July wehquttum Thomas . Waban seniar wutch neh
'July 8. Thomas Waban Senior requested on behalf of his'
wunneechonnoh ' nneh Thomas waban Junior ' onk noh
'son, Thomas Waban Junior, and he'
wachonnum ' 2 ' arcers medow -
'has two acres of meadow.'
Ne nan kesukokot wehquttum Jon wamsquon - wutch
'The same day John Wamsquon requested on behalf of'
Tomas wamsquon onk woh wachonum meddow kah
'Thomas Wamsquon, and he may have a meadow, and'
owachannumun ' n4e nan ut - noh wehquttum - Isaak
'he has it. On the same Isaak'
wuttasukꝏpauin ne keesukot onk noh woh wachonnum
'Wuttasukoopauin requested, that day, and he may have'
two arcours ut wohquomppagok.
'two acres at Wohquomppagok.'

Conveyance of land from Soosooahquo to Noshcampaet, from Nantucket, in 1686[157]

Neen Soosahquo mache noonammattammen noshcampaet
'I Soosoahquo have bargained well with Noshcampaet,'
ta matahketa ahto ahkuh nukquepaskooe akerssoe wana
'At Mattahketa he has land, one hundred and'
nees akannu ta weessoonkiahkuh kattahtam meth wana
'two acres. At land by name Kattahtammeth and'
kabeaqut kashkututkquaonk neahmute kushinemahchak
'kabeaqut kashkuhtukqusonk neahmute that swamp is wide'
ne sechak wuttah naskompeat wessoonck ahkuh mussnata-
'the length of Naskompeat's land, (and) land by name Mussantaessuit,'
-essuit ne anneh kishkoh wessoonk ahkuh massooskaassak
'(and) the width of land by name Massooskaassak,'
wana wessooonk sakahchah nuppessunahqunmeth na-
'and by name Sakashchah nuppessunnahquemmeth as far as'
pache kuttahkanneth ahquampi 1686 month 10th day 3d.
'Kuttahkemmeth. The time was 1686, 10th month, 3d day.'


Massachusett shares most of its vocabulary with other Algonquian languages. The following table, mostly taken from D. J. Costa's description of the SNEA languages, demonstrates the relationship of Massachusett with other languages, such as closely related Eastern Algonquian languages such as the Loup and Narragansett—both also SNEA languages—Penobscot, a representative of the Eastern branch of Abenakian languages, Munsee, a Lenape language, and more distant relatives, such as Arapaho, a Plains Algonquian language and Ojibwe, a Central Algonquian language.[158]

English Massachusett[159] Loup (Nipmuc?) Narragansett Penobscot[158][160] Munsee[161][162] Arapaho[163] Ojibwe[164]
'deer' ahtuhq attekeȣe nóonatch nòlke atóh hé3owoonéihii adik1
'my father' noohsh nȣs nòsh n'mitangwes noxwe neisónoo noose
'canoe' muhshoon amisȣl mishoon ámasol amaxol 3iiw jiimaan
'hawk' owóshaog ('hawks') awéhle ('broadwinged hawk') 'awéhleew cecnóhuu gekek
'three' nushwe chȣi nìsh nahs nxáh nehi niswi
'thirty' swinnichak chȣinchak swínchek nsinska nxináxke nisimidama
'broken' poohkshau pȣkȣ'sau pokésha poskwenômuk ('to break') paxkhílew ('it breaks') tówo'oni ('to break') bookoshkaa
'dog' annum alum ayim adia mwáakaneew he3 anim(osh)2
'flint' môshipsq mansibsqȣe masipskw mahləs wóosóó3 biiwaanag(oonh)

1 As "deer", "caribou", or "cattle" in Algonquin language but "caribou" in Ojibwe language proper.
2 As anim for "dog" in Algonquin language and in Oji-Cree language, but animosh (anim with a pejorative suffix) in Ojibwe language proper.

English influences in the Massachusett language[edit]

Gloucester Old Spot sow and piglets, an ancient English pig breed and similar to the ones brought by the colonists. The Massachusett-speaking Indians adopted English terms for the animals as well as reliance on it for meat, since hunting lands were lost to English settlement.

With the arrival of the English colonists, the Indians quickly began to adopt English in order to communicate and participate in wider society by necessity as the English settlers came to surround and outnumber the Indians. The Indians adopted the new crops—oates, barley, wheatash, rye; animal husbandry and domesticated animals—oxin, gôates, maresog, hogs; tools and farming methods and material culture—chember ('chamber'), puneetur ('pewter'), patakoot ('petticoat'), coneeko ('calico' garments), etc. As the Indians began to lose their autonomy and were settled into the Praying towns, the Indians were forced to adopt Christianity—deacon, Bibl, Testament, commandment; colonial laws and courts—seal, mark, entered by, king, justice; naming customs—Junior, Senior; and eventually adopted English system of measurements—miles, arcours (acres); calendar systems—January, month, Tuesday, year; and self-government—jureeman ('juryman'), tithingman('tithe collector'), selectmons ('selectman'), consteppe ('constable') and economics—shillings, pence, monêash ('money'), deed, etc. In addition, many words were introduced by the missionaries unable to find or unaware of a suitable Massachusett translation, thus introducing the proper people and place names of the Bible and various concepts, many of which were later adopted by the Indians—horsumoh Pharoah ('Pharoah's horsmen'), shepsoh ('shepherd'), cherubimsog, ark, Moab, Canaane, Jerusalem, lattice, etc.[165][166][167]

The reverse of a shilling from the reign of King Charles I (regnant 1625-1649), counterfeit. The adoption of the English currency system led to the adoption of moneash ('money'), pence, shillings and pay- as a verbal root for 'pay.'

A number of words were borrowed in their English plural form, used in their singular, and pluralized to however the Indians assumed whether the term in question was animate or inanimate. For example, oxsin (oxen), peegs (pigs) and cows (cows) represented the singular 'ox,' 'pig' and 'cow' and but were rendered in the plural as oxinog (oxenak), pigsack (pigsack) and cowsog (cowsak) for 'oxen,' 'pigs' and 'cows.'[148][167] Mass nouns were also often adopted this way and appear in the plural, for example barleyash (barleyash), monêash (moneyash) and shottash (shotash) for 'barley,' 'money' and 'shot' (fired). Most nouns encountered in their plural were realized this way. Other loans, most of which would probably been more commonly heard in the singular were also thus adopted, giving saut (salt), Indian (Indian) and plantation (plantation) for 'salt,' 'Indian' and 'plantation.'[168]

Due to the complex consonant and vowel inventory of English in comparison to Massachusett, English loan words were pronounced in one of two ways. Those who were more proficient and bilingual in English likely pronounced them closer to English pronunciation with most speakers adapting it to local Massachusett phonology. This can be seen in US English, with more educated speakers or those with some French-language familiarity pronouncing the loan word guillotine as either anglicized /ˈɡɪləˌtiːn/ or /gē'əˌtiːn/ in approximation of French /ɡijɔtin/). This may explain the Massachusett doublet Frenchmensog and Panachmonsog for 'Frenchmen.' This can be seen in writing, where many loans were spelled in Massachusett, either roughly the same as in English or indicating adaptation. As /l/ and /r/ do not occur in the language, they were replaced with /n/, for example in pinaquet and shaan for 'blanket' and 'share' or omitted altogether in citi, 'cider,' and consteppe for 'constable.'[168][167]

The Old Courthouse of 1749, built on the site of the original Plymouth Colony courthouse of 1620. The Indians were forced to accept English laws and thus often pleaded their grievances to the courts to protect their lands.

English loan words were modified with the complex Algonquian noun declension and verb conjugation system, for example, ꝏmak (umark), 'her/his mark,' baansu (boundsuw), 'it is the bounds,' nukohtꝏmun (nucourtumun), 'we (exclusive) [held] court,' and nugquitglamwaan (nuquitclaim[w]un), 'I quitclaim it.' Some were used as adjectives or modifiers, such as stakkisohtug (stakesuhtuq) 'wooden stake,' applesank (applesôhq)[169] 'appletree,' Indian moewehkomonk 'Indian assembly.'[168]

Despite the relative influence of English, especially in the latter stages when the number of native speakers was quite few, written documents often showed little English vocabulary. This was in part because of the agglutinative native of the language, as new words could be easily formed to express new concepts, as well as possibly a linguistic statement. Many loans were in opposition with native vocabulary, although sometimes one or the other seems to have specialized uses. For example, although Friday and day were used in Massachusett, when not referring to formal dates, in deeds and legal documents, speakers could also use nequttatashikquinishonk (nuqutahshuquneehshôk) and kesuk (keesuk) in general usage. Similar specialization occurred with manitt (manut) /manət/ which meant 'god' or 'spirit' and was later replaced by God or Jehovah manitt.[168] The importance of the English language to seek employment, communicate with English neighbors and participate in the affairs outside dwindling Indian communities and growing rates of intermarriage in the nineteenth century led speakers to switch to Massachusett Pidgin English, but through a process similar to decreolization, speakers eventually assimilated into the locally prominent speech of Eastern New England English dialects.[170][171]

Massachusett influences in the English language[edit]

Ondatra zibethicus or 'muskrat' comes from Massachusett musquash or 'reddish animal.' This rodent is native to most waterways of North America north of Mexico and was introduced to Europe for its fur where it is now an invasive pest.

After the failed settlement of Roanoke (1585) and the first permanent settlement at Jamestown (1607)—near speakers of Powhatan languages—shifted to New England with failed attempts at Cuttyhunk (1602) and Cape Ann (1624) and successful settlement of Plymouth (1621), Salem (1628), Massachusetts Bay (1629)—all in what is now Massachusetts and in the midst of Massachusett-speaking peoples—and a few other sites in New England. The earliest settlers struggled in the colder climate of New England, with their lives dependent on the Native American peoples for education on local agriculture, food aid, protection from less welcoming tribes and a market for trade. Through these close interactions, the English settlers adopted hundreds of words, probably hundreds more when compounds and calques of Massachusett phrases are included. The Algonquian loan words were known as 'wigwam words' with 'wigwam' coming from Massachusett Pidgin for 'house' or 'home.'[172]

Man carrying a baby in a modern 'papoose.' The term originally referred to Native American children.

Many of the common words such as 'papoose,' 'squash' and 'moccasin' were popularized in 1643, even back in England, with the publication of Roger Williams' A Key into the Language of America and as a result, are often given a Narragansett etymology. Most words were likely borrowed independently until a common form won out, or re-enforced each other through similarity.[173] For example, New Englanders used 'wauregan' to mean 'handsome' and 'showy' until the end of the nineteenth century from an SNEA R-dialect, most likely from Quiripi wauregan, but the first settlers in Massachusets were already familiar with the older cognate form 'wunnegin' from Massachusett wunnégan[174] (wuneekan)[175][176] from N-dialect Massachusett. Furthermore, the English settlers of the failed Popham Colony, and later settlements in what is now Maine and New Hampshire encountered mos from Eastern Abenakian, whilst settlers in the rest of New England encountered mꝏs from the SNEA languages, ultimately coalescing into English, 'moose.'[177][178] Other forms were shorted beyond recognition, with 'squash' a shortened slang form of original borrowings 'isquontersquash' or 'squantersquash' from Massachusett askꝏtasquash[179] (ashk8tasqash) or Narragansett askútasquash. Many of these 'Narragansett' terms were already known to the English settlers of Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth, with William Wood recording pappousse and mawcus sinnus from Pawtucket speakers of Massachusett and published in his 1634 New Englands Prospect nine years before Williams' papoòs and mocússinass.

Women in South Africa selling 'samp,' the word crossing the Atlantic from Massachusett nasaump. Samp consists of kernels that are pounded or chopped roughly and dried, then boiled into a thick gruel or soaked as a side dish, similar to how it was prepared by Native Americans.

With westward expansion, many of the 'wigwam words' from New England and even the 'backward' grammar and syntax of Massachusett Pidgin English were carried westward by the descendants of the early colonists in communication with Native peoples, with the innocent meaning of these words changing to pejoratives or stereotypical language by the late eighteenth century as westward expansion and the pursuit of Manifest Destiny ultimately became a protracted genocide of mass killings and biological warfare. As the newly subjugated peoples of the frontier were often not Algonquian speakers and unfamiliar with these terms, they nevertheless resented the specific vocabulary used against them. Most notable is 'squaw,' borrowed from Massachusett squa (sqâ) and simply meant 'female' in general. However, as it was used only as an insult, with connotations of the submissive, obedient Indian wife, the outspoken old Indian woman or the exotic temptress of the wilderness, and folk etymologies have been assigned that many contemporary people believe, such as the origin of the word from an old Iroquoian phrase for female genitals.[180]

Tribal groups, Native advocacy groups and social pressure has led to name changes of several species and place names, but 'squaw' remains a common element in these domains. Similarly, many of the Algonquian loan words can be used to construct offensively, stereotypical sentences such as 'firewater,' 'bury the hatchet,' 'wampum,' 'papoose,' 'powwow' and 'brave,' especially when used in Native-specific contexts, were long used in the condescending, paternalistic writings of explorers, government anthropologists and agency reports and nineteenth century literature referencing the 'last' of the 'noble savages,' such as James Fenmoore Cooper's 1826 Last of the Mohegans which re-introduced many of the fading terms of the colonial period. Use of the wigwam words in these disparaging contexts were cited as one of the primary reasons for high drop-out rates of Native American high school students, often served by European-American teachers.[181]

Tautogolabrus adspersus, known in New England as 'chogset' from Massachusett chohkesit[182] (chahkusut)[183], 'it is blemished' or 'it is spotted.'

The coastal dialects of Eastern New England English absorbed many more of these words due to longer interaction and the fact that they are spoken over the territory of Massachusett and related languages. The majority of Algonquian loan words fell into obscurity by the end of the nineteenth century, coinciding locally with the death of the last speakers of Massachusett as well as nationally with the complete subjugation of all of North America's indigenous peoples and policies, largely successful, implemented to eradicate Indian political units, languages and culture. Most of the local dialectal words suffered the same fate, but a legacy of it survives in the use of 'quahog' and 'chogset' to refer to the 'hard-shelled clam' or 'round clam' Mercinaria mercinaria and an edible wrasse fish, Tautoga onitis known elsewhere as 'black porgy,' 'chub,' 'blackfish' or 'oyster-fish.'[184] The dwindled vocabulary, only fifty or so terms from New England are still current and most only locally are nevertheless important for two reasons. Firstly, they represent the second oldest and largest corpus of Algonquian loan words after Powhatan, and are among the first true 'Americanisms' that began to differentiate American English.[178] Secondly, the Massachusett loan words resisted replacement to lexical borrowings from other indigenous languages. Although American English has since adopted 'tipi,' 'hogan' and 'quiggly hole' to refer to quite different housing structures, in the early part of the nineteenth century, referring to them all as 'wigwams' was commonplace as it was already adopted as the general word for an Indian dwelling. Similarly, 'moose' was not replaced by Lakȟótiyapi héblaska, Diné bizaad deetéél nor X̱aadas Kíl chask'w, but in fact replaced Tsinúk hyas mowitch with the corresponding Chinook Jargon word moose from Massachusett, via English, having replaced the original term.[178]

Most of the 'wigwam words,' including 'wigwam,' were not borrowed directly from Massachusett but instead were drawn from Massachusett Pidgin. Simpler in grammar, it also incorporated archaic word forms and forms from neighboring languages understood over a broader region. For instance, the English settlers used 'sachem' and 'sagamore' somewhat interchangeably to refer to tribal leaders or 'chiefs.' 'Sachem' is likely from Massachusett sontim or sachem (sôtyum) whereas 'sagamore,' from Massachusett Pidgin sagamore (*sôkumô), either an archaic construction or from Eastern Abenakian sàkama, but all descend from Proto-Algonquian *sa·kima·wa. Similarly, the English settlers adopted 'meechum' for 'food' and 'wigwam' for 'house' from Pidgin meechum (*meechum) and wigwam (*weekuwôm), with the proper Massachusett terms being meetsuwonk (meechuwôk) and wek (week), 'her/his house,' or wetu (weety8), 'house' (in general), respectively, with all forms descendants of Proto-Algonquian *wi·kiwa·ʔmi.[91][100]

Plants, Animals and Foods[185][186]

  • moose, 'Eurasian Elk/American Moose' (Alces alces), mꝏs[187]/(m8s).[33]
  • skunk, 'skunk' (Mephitis mephitis), squnck[188]/(sukôk).[33]
  • muskrat, 'muskrat' (Ondatra zibithecus), musquash, 'reddish animal.'[189]
  • tautog, 'blackfish' (Tautoga onitis), from Narragansett tautauog (pl.).
  • menhaden, 'fishes used for fertilizer' (Brevoortia or Ethmidium species), a blend of pauhagan, used in northern New England, and Narragansett munnawhatteaûg from a base that means 'he fertilizes.'
  • scup, 'a bream fish' (Stenotomus chrysops). Narragansett mishcup. Also appears as 'scuppaug.'[190]
  • porgy, name for fishes of the Sparidae family, including scup, sheepshead and breams. Because of local Eastern New England English dialectal pronunciation, it also appears as 'paugee'.[190]
  • neshaw, 'silver stage' of American eel (Anguilla americana), used by locals of Martha's Vineyard.[191] From (neesw-), 'double' or 'pair',[192] cf. neeshauog, 'they go in pairs.'[193]
  • pishaug, 'young female Surf scoter,' (Melanitta perspicillata).[191]
  • samp, 'porridge of ground maize kernels,' from Natick nausampe or Narragansett nasaump.
  • nocake, 'Johnnycake,' from nꝏhkik[194]/(n8hkuk)[195]
  • squash, originally a short form of 'askoquash,' askutasqash,' or 'squantersqash.' Refers to domesticated varieties of Cucurbita commonly known as pumpkins, squash and gourds in North America, and as marrows in other parts of the English-speaking world.
  • pumpkin, refers to the large, orange cultivars of Cucurbita pepo var. pepo and similar looking winter squashes. Originally referred to as 'pompions.' From pôhpukun, 'grows forth round.'[33]
  • quahog, 'hard clam' (Mercenaria mercenaria). Cf. Narragansett poquauhok. From the Wampanoag dialect, the fishermen of Nantucket used the term 'pooquaw'.
  • succotash, a 'dish of beans and corn.' Cf. Narrangansett 'msickquatash', 'shelled boiled corn kernels,' and Massachusett sohquttaham, 'he or she shells (the corn).'[196]

Indian Tools, Technology, Society and Culture[185][186]

  • matchit, 'bad.' From matchit[197] and verb base (mat-), 'bad'.[198]
  • papoose, from 'child.' Cf. Natick papaseit and Naragansett papoos.[199]
  • moccasin, 'shoe.' From mokus[200]/(mahkus).[33]
  • netop, 'my friend.' From netomp/(neetôp).
  • peag, 'money,' short for wampumpeag, referring to the shell beads confused for money by the English settlers. Also 'wampum'.
  • sachem, 'chief.' From sontim or sachem[201]/(sôtyum).[33]
  • pogamoggan, 'club' or 'rod.' From pogkomunk.[202]
  • manitou, 'spirit' or 'deity.' Cognate with manitt[203]/(manut)[204]
  • pow wow, 'Indian gathering' or 'gatherings' in general. Originally referred to a 'shaman.' From powwow/(pawâw),[33] 'he heals.'
  • kinnikinnick, 'herbal smoking mixture.' Delawaran, but cognate with kenugkiyeuonk from (keenuk-), 'to mix.'[205]
  • nunkom, 'young man.' From nunkomp.[191][194]
  • totem, 'spiritual, symbolic or sacred emblem of a tribe.' Cognate with wutohkit, 'belonging to this place.'[206]
  • caucus, 'meeting for political supporters'. Possibly derives from a form similar to kogkateamau,[207] 'he/she advises,' and (kakâhkutyum-), 'to advise others.'[208]
  • hominy, 'nixtamlized corn' often eaten as grits. Cognate with (taqaham-), 'to grind.'.[209]
  • mugwump, formerly used to mean 'kingpin' or 'kingmaker'; later to describe Republican bolters during that supported Grover Cleveland and now to politically neutral, independent people or bolters. Originally referred to a 'war leader.' From magunquomp.[210]
  • toshence, 'last of anything' although once used in south-eastern Massachusetts to mean 'last child.' From mattasons, 'youngest child.'[191][211]
  • muskeg, 'swamp.' From Cree, but cognate with Narragansett metchaug, 'thick woods.'[212]
  • wickakee, 'hawkweed' also known in New England as 'Indian paintbrush.' Refers to several species of Hieracium.[191]
  • pung, shortened form of tom pung, 'one-horse sleigh.'[191]
  • tomahawk, 'ax' ('axe') or 'hatchet.' From Powhatan, but cognate with tongkong.[213]

Topographical legacy[edit]

Numerous streets, ponds, lakes, hills, and villages across eastern Massachusetts have Massachusett-language origins. The name of the state itself may mean 'near the big hill' or 'hill shaped like an arrowhead'. Very few cities and towns have Indian names, most ultimately linked to towns and villages in England, but the ones that probably have a Massachusett origin include Acushnet ('calm water resting place'), Aquinnah ('under the hills'). Cohasset (quonnihasset, 'long fishing point'), Mashpee (massanippe, 'great water'), Nantucket, 'in the midst of the waters', Natick, 'place of hills', Saugus ('the outlet, the extension'), Scituate, 'cold brook', Seekonk, and Swampscott, 'at the red rock' or 'broken waters'.[214] Other notable Indian placenames include 'Shawmut' (mashauwomuk, former name for Boston, 'canoe landing place'), 'Neponset' (a river that flows through the Dorchester section of Boston and a village of Dorchester, meaning unknown), Cuttyhunk Island (poocuohhunkkunnah, 'a point of departure'), Nantasket (a beach in Hull, 'a low-ebb tide place'), and Mystic River ('great river').[215]

Cities and towns[edit]

Cities known by previous names[edit]



Lakes and ponds[edit]



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  • Little Doe Fermino, Jessie. (2000). An Introduction to Wampanoag Grammar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), MS thesis.
  • Goddard, Ives. (1978). "Eastern Algonquian Languages" in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15 (Trigger, Bruce G., ed.). Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution.
  • Goddard, Ives and Bragdon, Kathleen J. (eds.) (1989) Native Writings in Massachusett, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISBN 0-87169-185-X
  • Moondancer and Strong Woman. (2007). A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England: Voices from Past and Present, Boulder, CO: Bauu Press. ISBN 0-9721349-3-X
  • Walker, Willard B. (1997). "Native Writing Systems" in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 17 (Ives Goddard, ed.). Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution.

External links[edit]

Dictionaries and grammar[edit]