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Massachusett language

Native to United States of America
Region Coastal regions of Massachusetts and south-eastern portions of New Hampshire and Rhode Island.[1][2]
Ethnicity Several Algonquian peoples including the Massachusett, Wampanoag, Naumkeag, Nauset, Cowesit and others.[3]
Native speakers
Extinct late 19th century.[4]
Revived in 1993. As of 2011, 5 children are native speakers and 400 are adult second-language learners.[5]
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 wam
Glottolog wamp1249[6]
The location of the Massachusett/Wampanoag tribe and their neighbors, c. 1600

The Massachusett language is an Algonquian language of the Algic language family, formerly spoken by several tribes inhabiting coastal regions of Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the Islands. It was also commonly referred to as the Natic, Wômpanâak (Wampanoag), Pokanoket, or Indian language.[7] The language was used by John Eliot to print the first Bible in the Americas in 1663. The adoption of the orthography of the Bible led to widespread literacy amongst the indigenous peoples of southern New England.[8] The language went extinct in the late 19th century, but is currently being revived by Wampanoag tribal member Jessie Little Doe Baird, who started work on the Wômpanâak Language Reclamation Project in 1993. Classes for learners have been set up in four Wampanoag communities, and a handful of native speakers are now growing up in the language.[9] An immersion charter school is set to open in 2015, with Wampanoag as the language of instruction for core subjects. As the school is a charter school, it will be available to both tribal and non-tribal citizens of regional Massachusetts.[10][11] As of 2014, about fifteen people have speaking ability in the language.[11]

Originally, the Massachusett language was primarily spoken across eastern and south-eastern portions of Massachusetts, including the North Shore, coastal areas along Massachusetts Bay, and southeastern Massachusetts including what is now Bristol and Plymouth counties, Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands. Speakers also extended into the lower Merrimack Valley and coastal regions of New Hampshire, and southeastern Rhode Island. The language was understood from the central coast of Maine to eastern Long Island, across most of central and southern New England, and perhaps further as the pidgin variety was used for inter-tribal trade and communication.[4] The language was spread to the Nipmuc and the Pennacook due to the influence of the Natick Bible in the Christian mixed-band Indian communities.[12][13] Abenakian languages were spoken to the north, Delawaran languages to the west and southwest, but immediate neighbors were mutually intelligible southern New England Algonquian languages.[14]

Descendants continue to inhabit the Greater Boston area and [15]


  • Classification 1
    • Unique Features 1.1
    • Exonyms 1.2
    • Endonyms 1.3
  • Dialects 2
    • Massachusett Pidgin 2.1
    • Massachusett Pidgin English 2.2
  • History 3
    • Pre-colonial history 3.1
    • Early colonial period 3.2
    • Indian literacy 3.3
    • Translation and Literature 3.4
    • Extinction 3.5
  • Status 4
  • Phonology and spelling 5
    • Consonants 5.1
      • Reconstructed Massachusett consonant phonology 5.1.1
    • Vowels 5.2
      • Reconstructed Massachusett vowel phonology 5.2.1
      • Sound to spelling correspondence 5.2.2
  • Grammar 6
  • Orthography 7
    • Natick Bible orthography 7.1
    • Modern orthography 7.2
    • Writing samples 7.3
  • Vocabulary 8
    • English influences in the Massachusett language 8.1
    • Massachusett influences in the English language 8.2
    • Topographical legacy 8.3
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10
  • External links 11
    • Dictionaries and grammar 11.1
    • Grammar 11.2
    • Texts 11.3


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 (†)[16]

Quripi-Naugatuck language (†)

Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk language (†)

Massachusett is a member of the Algic language family, which includes the Wiyot and Yurok languages, the only remnant languages of the Pacific Northwest, with the Algonquian languages spoken from the Rocky Mountains eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. Proto-Eastern Algonquian (PEA) diverged and spread from the Canadian Maritimes to the Carolinas, forming a genetic grouping, the Eastern Algonquian languages. This is in contrast with Central and Plains Algonquian, which, although also descended from Proto-Algonquian (PA), are geographic groupings based on shared areal features. Within the eastern branch, Massachusett is most closely related to other Southern New England Algonquian (SNEA) languages which are found over most of southern New England and the eastern half of Long Island.[4] The relationship is particularly close with Narragansett and Nipmuc (Loup A?), but also Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk, Unquachoag (Metoac), Quiripi-Naugatuck (Wampano) and possibly Etchemin. All of these languages are mutually intelligible to some extent and form a dialect continuum, leaving Massachusett to be classified as a dialect of a common SNEA language or a separate language therein.[14]

Unique Features

Massachusett is almost indistinguishable in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation from Narragansett and Nipmuc. Together with Narragansett, the two are in an eastern subdivision of SNEA languages. Nipmuc occupies a middle position between these two languages and the rest which are considered western SNEA languages. There are a few features, when taken together, help to differentiate Massachusett from other SNEA languages.[17]

PEA *r becomes Massachusett n
The most defining characteristic of Massachusett with its neighbors is the treatment of reflexes of PEA *r, itself a merger of PA *θ and *r. This becomes n in Massachusett, l in Nipmuc and y /j/ (although sometimes n) in Narragansett, which leads to the language being classified as an 'N-dialect' of Southern New England Algonquian.[18]

  • PA *aθemwa, 'dog,' becomes annúm (anum) /a nəmˈ/ in Massachusett, alùm in Nipmuc and ayimp in Narragansett.
  • PA *aθankwa, 'star,' becomes anogqs (anôqs) /a nãksˈ/ in Massachusett, anóckqus in Narragansett and arráksak (plural) in Quripi.

Lack of 'Abenaki Syncope'
Most of the SNEA languages feature syncope in the form of deletion of /a/ and /ə/ before consonant clusters and sometimes in word-final syllables. This feature seems to have spread into SNEA via the Abenakian languages where it is well-documented. It is common in the western SNEA languages, becoming rarer as one moves eastward. The feature is almost non-existent in Massachusett, save a few instances believed to be due to metrical factors that are possibly dialectal features.[19]

  • PA *keʔtahanwi, 'sea' or 'sea water,' becomes kehtahhan (kuhtahan) /kəh taˈ han/ in Massaachusett, kuthún in Naugatuck, kitthan in Narragansett.
  • Massachusett paskehheg (paskuheek) /pas kə hiːk/, 'gun,' appears as poskheege in Pequot, boshkeag in Montauk and Nipmuc paskig.

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. Although place names in areas outside Massachusett- and Narragansett-language speaking regions do occur, the frequency is much reduced in Nipmuck and its prevalence in other rare instances may be do to the influences of Massachusett-speaking interpreters and guides for the English that were exploring and settling westward.[20]

  • Massachusett-language region place names: Acushnet, Pawtucket, Nantucket, Shawmut, Swampscott, but also Pauketucke.[21]
  • Nipmuc-language region place names: Hassunek, Pascommuck, Quassuck, but also Quinnepoxet.[22]
  • Pocomtuc-language region place names: Norwotuck, Pachasock, Pocumtuck, but also Peskeompscut.[21]

Palatization of Proto-Algonquian *k to /tʲ/
PA *k became a palatal stop ty /tʲ/ before PEA *ē and some instances of PA *i in Massachusett (and sometimes Narragansett) but is simply *č /tʃ/ in the other SNEA languages; however, Massachusett sk became /htʃ/ in similar environments in line with other SNEA languages.[20]

  • PA *weri-kiwa, 'it is good,' becomes wunnetu (wuneetyuw) /wə niːˈ tʲəw/ in Massachusett but 8lig8 in Nipmuc and weyegoh in Pequot.
  • PA *sa-kimi-wa, 'chief,' becomes sontim (sôtyum) /sãˈ tʲəm/ in Massachusett but sancheman in Nipmuc, saúchem in Quiripi and súnjum in Pequot.


The English colonists made settlements in areas occupied by speakers of various dialects of the Massachusett language. Initially, they referred to it as the Indian language. Eventually, the settlers came to adopt the names of the people they encountered to refer to the particular dialects, such as Massachusett, Natick, Wampanoag and Pokanoket.[23]

In scholarly and linguistic domains, the language has assumed a host of names, most of which refer to the pluricentric nature of the language, i.e., the primary language of the Massachusett and Wampanoag tribal confederacies, or to stress the close relations with the Coweset, a transitional dialect that is also considered Narragansett, or Narragansett itself. It can be seen as Massachusett-Wampanoag, Massachusett-Coweset, Massachusett-Narragansett and even Massachusett-Wampanoag-Narragansett, but the last two designations are not universally accepted. Massachusett, Natick and Wampanoag remain the most common forms in English, although 'Wampanoag' in the modern orthography (Wôpanâak) is also seen because of its use by the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.[24][25] It is also commonly referred to as Southern New England Algonquian N-dialect when treated as a dialect of a common SNEA language.[23][26]


Because the languages existed in a dialect chain and because the distribution of the language crossed several political boundaries between tribes, the Indians made distinctions based on degrees of mutual intelligibility. Dialects that could be understood were known as Hett8onk[27] (Hutꝏôk),[28] the 'language (that they can speak to each other),' or as Unnont8waog[29] (Âôtꝏâôk), 'language of the people.'[30] This was in contrast to siogkontoowaonk[31] (sayakôtꝏâôk),[32] 'difficult language'–languages that could be understood only with difficulty—and penoowanoowaonk[33] (peenꝏôt8âôk),[34] 'foreign' or 'strange language'–languages that could not be understood at all. After the arrival of the colonists, the Indians came to refer to their language as Indianne unnontoowaonk (Indianâôtꝏâôk), the 'Indian language.'[35] Unnont8waonk (âôtꝏâôk) was also added after the name of a tribe, nation or region to indicate the 'language of.' The Wampanoag people prefer (Wôpanâôt8âôk), 'Wampanoag language,' which would probably appear as Wampanunnontoowaonk in the older orthography.[30]

Massachusett (Mâsachꝏsut) /maːˈ sa tʃuːˌ sət/ refers to the Great Blue Hill which stands on the border of the Towns of Canton and Milford, Massachusetts, and means 'Great Hill Place,' from missi[36] (mâs-),[37] 'great,' [w]adchu[38] ([w]ach8),[39] 'mountain,' [e]s (-[ee]s), diminutive suffix, and -ett (-ut), locative suffix. It may also derived from, merged with or a variant of Moswetuset (Môswachꝏsut) /mãsˈ wa tʃuːˌ sət/ which refers to Moswetuset Hummock, the former seat of power of the Massachusett people located in what is now the City of Quincy, Massachusetts. This name derives from the same components as 'Massachusetts,' but 'Massa-' is replaced by 'Moswe' which derives from musw-[40] (*môsw-), 'to pierce' (and by extension, arrow). Wampanoag (Wôpanâak) /wãpˈ a naːˌ ak/ signifies 'Easterners' or 'People of the Dawn' from wampan[41] (wôpan-),[42] 'dawn' (and by extension, 'east'). Natick is of unknown derivation, but Deacon Joseph Ephraim, a non-fluent speaker of Massachusett descent from Natick, Massachusetts who lived in the latter half of the 18th century, gave the meaning as 'place between the hills.'[43] This may come from nashik[44] (*nashuk) /*naʃˈ ək/, 'corner' or 'place between' (mountains?), or nachik (*nachuk) /*natʃˈ ək/, a contraction of *nashachuek (*nashach8uk), 'place between mountains.' It is also possibly name coined by John Eliot, from nutohk (nutahk) /*nət ahkˈ/, 'my land.'[43]


With the dormancy of the language, very little is known about the pronunciation differences that existed between dialects or even the nature of the dialects themselves. Dialect leveling occurred with the rapid adoption of literacy, using a writing system based on the speech of Natick, as well as the formation of Praying Towns which were served by Indian teachers and ministers, many of whom were literate and were either from or trained in Natick. In 1722, 59 years after the release of Eliot's complete translation of the Christian Bible in the Natick dialect, Experience Mayhew remarked, '... most of the little differences betwixt them have been happily Lost, and our Indians Speak, but especially write much as the Natick do.[45]

The existence of dialects can be inferred from small lexical differences that persisted in Indian documents from geographic regions.[46] Dialects may have also differed by influences from neighboring speech varieties. Syncope, an aerial feature that spread from the Abenakian languages, was rare in Massachusett, but appears occasionally, e.g., kuts, 'cormorant,' and wusqueheonk, 'his blood,' are rare, syncopated variants of non-syncopated kuttis and ꝏsqheonk, respectively, that appeared in the Bible.[19] Based on geographic, ethnic and political boundaries that existed at the time of English settlement, Goddard proposes Natick, Nauset, North Shore, Wampanoag and Coweset as dialect groupings. Narragansett, although it is often considered a dialect of Massachusett, is a Y-dialect and is usually listed separately.[47]

Dialect Comparison
English Natick[48] Wôpanâak (Revived)[49][50] Wôpanâak (Plymouth) North Shore (Pawtucket)[51] Narragansett (Coweset?)[52][53]
'fox' wonkqussis whauksis wonkqussis wonkis
'my mother' nꝏkas nꝏkas /ˈnuː kas/ nitka nookas, nutchēhwaw nókace, nitchwhaw
'one' nequt nuqut /nə ˈkwət/ nequt aquit nquít
'duck' quasseps sesep, qunŭsseps seaseap quequécum
'boy' nonkomp nonkomp nonkompees núckquachucks
'deer' ahtuck ahtuhq /ˈah təhk/ attŭk ottucke attuck
'to kill' nush nuhsh /nəhʃ/ nish cram niss
'shoe' mokis mahkus /ˈmah kəs/ mohkis mawcus mockuss
'head' muhpuhkuk mupuhkuk /məp ˈəh kək/ muppuhkuk boquoquo uppaquóntap
'bear' mosq masq /mask/ mashq mosq, paukúnawaw
'canoe' mishꝏn mushꝏn /mə ˈʃuːn/ muhshoon mishòon

Massachusett Pidgin

Massachusett Pidgin was the local version of the Eastern Algonquian trade jargon used up and down the Atlantic Coast of North America. Within New England, Indians used the language to communicate with other tribes, and the English colonists adopted it to communicate with the Indians. The vocabulary was mainly Massachusett, although some words, such as sagamore or sachem, 'chief', were adopted from other related languages instead of Massachusett sontim.[54] Expressions were simplified, such as the use of squaw-sachem, literally 'woman chief', instead of the standard sonkusq or sunksquaw. The complex verb system was simplified, using the inanimate forms as used in Pidgin Delaware. This can be seen in Massasoit's last words to his friend Edward Winslow: Matta neen wonckanet namen Winsnow, 'Not I again see Winslow', where namen, 'to see', is in the inanimate form where the animate would be expected.[55][56]

Massachusett Pidgin English

Some of the Indians, including Samoset and Tisquantum, picked up English from their experiences with the European slave raiders, and were able to communicate with the Pilgrim settlers. The use of Massachusett Pidgin English co-existed with the use of the language and its Massachusett Pidgin variety, and became more prevalent as more English settlers arrived and the Indians became more familiar with English in order to trade. It was mostly English in vocabulary, with loanwords, grammar features, and calques from Massachusett Pidgin. Massachusett Pidgin vocabulary adopted into the Massachusett Pidgin English vocabulary included meechin (from meechum, 'food'), sannap (from sanomp, 'young man'), and wunnegin, 'good.' Other features included generalized pronouns (using me for 'I' and 'me'), reduplication (by by to mean 'soon'), lack of definite and indefinite articles, and simplified negatives (using no for 'no' and 'not'), interference of /n/ for /l/ (the example from Massachusett Pidgin, Winsnow was used by Massasoit instead of 'Winslow'), and expressions like all one this, which is a calque of Massachusett Pidgin tatapa you. A peculiar feature was the addition of the animate plural ending -ak to plural loan words for animals, such as pigsack for 'pigs.'[57]

Examples of Massachusett Pidgin English[58][59]

  • 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.)
  • Little way, fetch pigsack. '[He went] not too far [to] fetch the pigs.')


Pre-colonial history

Although human occupation in New England dates as far back as 10,000 B.C., when Paleo-Indians entered the region after the retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier at the end of the Pleistocene, glottochronology and some corroborating archaeological evidence traces the history of the Massachusett language to the Pacific Northwest where the ancestral Algic language family emerged around 2000 B.C. with an Urheimat believed to correspond to the upper reaches of the Columbia River.[60] Migrations of Na-Dene speakers and competition with several other language families that developed in the region pushed some speakers southward, including the predecessors of the distantly related Wiyot and Yurok languages of northern California.[61]

One branch of the Algic languages eventually moved eastward over the Rocky Mountains, emerging as Proto-Algonquian, the ancestor of all Algonquian languages, sometime around 1000 B.C. The exact location where Proto-Algonquian was spoken has not been determined, but the Plateau region shared between Oregon and Idaho, the transition region of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains in Montana or an area just west of the Great Lakes have all been suggested.[62] 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 B.C.) and Hopewell (200-500 A.D.) cultural periods.[63]

In 1000 A.D., Proto-Eastern Algonquian emerged in what is now southern Ontario, and spread towards the coast, with Eastern Algonquian languages known from Atlantic Canada south to the Carolinas. During this time, small migrations into New England occurred, likely introducing the beginnings of maize-based agriculture and Iroquoian influences in pottery. Since there is little evidence of large population replacements or migrations since the Archaic Period (8000-2000 B.C.), it is likely that these new migrants triggered a language shift to their Algonquian tongue due to the great influence of their culture. [64]

A few centuries later, the Southern New England Algonquian (SNEA) languages diverged. This development might coincide with the final success of new strains of the tropical maize crop suitable to the northern climes and increased use of coastal resources around 1300 A.D. during the Late Woodland Period. The spread of the 'Three Sisters' method of agriculture supported larger populations centered around arable lands near the coast, estuaries and river valleys, with populations spreading northward and SNEA languages displacing other languages in Connecticut. Competition over these resources, and small migrations from the north and west, fueled territoriality. This might be seen, e.g., in the growth of local pottery styles with restricted production areas. Shortly after this time, the ethnic divisions, cultures and possibly even languages that had developed at that point would probably be recognizable to the European settlers arriving in the seventeenth century.[65]

Early colonial period

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.[66] The colonists depended on the Indians for survival, and some learned how to communicate with the Indians for trade.[67] 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.[68] 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.[69][70] Eliot printed a Bible in 1663, and the Indians at the praying towns began to adopt the orthography of the Natick dialect Bible.

Indian literacy

The Indian Bible in the Natick dialect helped to preserve the language and promoted literacy.
Education of the Indians was implemented to train Indians in Eliot's orthography and to return to preach in their local communities. The Indian College was active at Harvard University from 1655–1698.[71] Eliot trained many of the Indians, who often in turn trained others, including the teacher at Natick, Monesquassum. Thomas Mayhew began schools for the Wampanoag in 1651, and this was continued by his descendants, including Experience Mayhew.[72] Most of the students were being trained as Indian preachers for the Gospel, and had to be literate, but literacy also spread to the administrators of the praying towns and the descendants of the chiefly families. Many Indians became interpreters, clerks, and writers of deeds and sales for the Indian courts in the praying towns and the colonial government. Many of the Indians that assisted the missionaries also became literate. Eliot was greatly assisted in learning and translating the language by his Pequot servant Cockenoe, John Sassamon, his former student John Nesutan, and James Wawaus, a Nipmuc who also worked the printing machines. Experience Mayhew was assisted by Joel Hiacoomes, a graduate of Harvard University's Indian College, James Wowaus, and John Neesnummin.[73][74][75] 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. Conversely, only 2% could read English, and none could write it. The highest concentrations of those literate in the Massachusett language were found in the villages of Codtanmut, Ashimuit, and Weesquobs (all in modern-day Mashpee, Massachusetts), where the figures are 59% could read and 31% could write.[76]

Translation and Literature

Beginning with John Eliot's publication of a printed catechism in 1653 and ending with a reprint of Experience Mayhew's Indiane Primer asuh Negonneuyeuuk in 1747, English missionaries produced numerous translations of Christian works or composed original tracts and pedagogical materials intended to teach the Indians how to read and write and to become better Christians.[77] John Eliot began the idea of translating works into the Massachusett language as early as 1649. After Eliot had learned the language from Indian guides and translators, he created an orthography and taught it to some of the Indians. His first work in the language was a short catechism that was hand-copied and distributed to the Praying Indians of Natick in 1651, which introduced and spread literacy. This was followed by a translation of the Book of Psalms in 1652 that was never published but used in church services.[78]

Printing became available through funds established to support the New England colonies' Puritan missionary efforts. In 1649, the English Parliament allowed for the creation of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England which supported Calvinist and Congregationalist theologians, missionaries and literature that were banned in England and Wales, where the donations were collected, but flourishing in New England.[79] The Society's funds were used to support the missionaries amongst the Indians, but with the growth of literacy and Eliot's success, funds became available to publish these works. The Indian College of Harvard University was constructed and later housed a printing press, reams of paper, type and other supplies used to print and publish the works in the language.

Eliot produced works until his death in 1690, his most notable contribution being his translation of the complete Christian Bible, Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God in 1663. Other missionaries that produced works include Samuel Danforth, Eliot's former assistant; Grindal Rawson, minister to the Praying Indians of Wacentug (Mendon-Uxbridge, Massachusetts); John Cotton, Jr., minister to the Wôpanâak of Plymouth, Mashpee and Martha's Vineyard; Cotton Mather, influential Puritan theologian and grandson of John Cotton, Sr.; and Experience Mayhew.[77] Mayhew, in a direct line of missionaries amongst the Wôpanâak of Martha's Vineyard descended from Thomas Mayhew, grew up speaking the Wôpanâak dialect of the island fluently and was commissioned by the Society to produce primers, catechisms and retranslations of scripture. Mayhew's contributions are more consistent in spelling and uses a more natural grammar, resultant from his native speaking ability, but his monumental work is Massachusee Psalter, an independent translation of the Book of Psalms and the Gospel According to John.[80][81]

Although generally uncredited, several native speakers assisted the missionaries with their translations. Eliot was greatly assisted in learning and translating the language by his servant Cockenoe, a Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk speaker from Long Island; John Sassamon; his former student, John Nesutan; and James Wawâus, a Nipmuc who also assisted with the printing press. Experience Mayhew was assisted by Joel Hiacoomes, John Neesnummin and the same James Wawâus that assisted Eliot.[73][74][75]

The Indians, who traditionally had an orally transmitted culture, were not encouraged or given access to print literature for themselves but were able to pen their own letters, document land sales and agreements and petition the courts with documents in the language, but they did have access to the works created below:[82]

Massachusett-language Publications[77]
Year Massachusett Title English Title Translator Original Author Reprints
1653 Catechism Catechism John Eliot John Eliot 1662
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 Wame Ketꝏhomáe uk-Ketꝏhomaongash David Psalms in Meeter John Eliot Unknown, attributed to King David. 1663
1661 Wusku Wuttestamentum nul-Lordumun Jesus Christ Nuppoquohwnssuaeneumun New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ John Eliot Unknown, various authors. 1681
16--? Christiane Ꝏnoowae Sampoowaonk A Christian Covenanting Confession John Eliot John Eliot
1663 Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God The-whole Holy his-Bible God John Eliot Unknown, various authors. 1685
1663 Psalter Psalter John Eliot John Eliot
*1664 Unknown The Sound Believer John Eliot Thomas Shephard (1645)
1665 Manitowompae Pomantawaonk The Practice of Piety (abridged) John Eliot Lewis Bayly (1613) 1685, 1687
1666 N/A Indian Grammar Begun N/A John Eliot
1667 Indiane Primer Indian Primer John Eliot John Eliot 1669, 1687
1671 Unknown Our Indians' A B C John Eliot John Eliot
1671 N/A Indian Dialogues N/A John Eliot
1672 N/A Logick Primer N/A John Eliot
1689 Sampwutteahae Quinnuppekompauenin The Sincere Convert John Eliot Thomas Shephard (1641)
1691 Nashauanittue Meninnunk wutch Mukkiesog Spiritual Milk for [Boston] Babes Grindal Rawson John Cotton (1656)
1698 Masukkenukéeg Matcheseaenuog Greatest Sinners Samuel Danforth Increase Mather
1699 Wunnamptamoe Sampooaonk A Confession of Faith Unknown Unknown
1700 Wussukwhonk En Christaneue asuh peantamwae Indianog Epistle to the Christian Indians Cotton Mather Cotton Mather 1706
1705 Togkunkash, tummethamunate Matchesongane mehtug The Hatchets, to hew down the Tree of Sin Unknown Unknown
1707 Ne Kesukod Jehovah kessuhtunkup The Day the Lord hath made Experience Mayhew Cotton Mather (1703)
1709 Massachusee Psalter Massachusett Psalter Experience Mayhew Experience Mayhew
1710 Oggusunash Kuttooonkash A few words to the condemned murderers Josiah and Joseph, in their own language Samuel Danforth Samuel Danforth
17--? Unknown The foundation of Christian religion : gathered into sixe principles Experience Mayhew William Perkins (1591)
1714 Teashshinninneongane Peantamooonk Wogkouunumun kah Anunumwontamun Family Religion Excited, and Assisted Experience Mayhew Cotton Mather
1714 Unknown A Monitor for Communicants Cotton Mather Cotton Mather
1720 Indiane Primer asuh Negonneuyeuuk The Indian Primer or First Book Experience Mayhew John Eliot 1747
1721 Wame wunetooog Wusketompaog pasukqunnineaout ut yuennag peantamweseongash The Religion, which all Good Men are united in 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.
^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 Drunkeness.
^10 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.
^11 Published in Mather's India Christiana.


Metacomet, or 'King Philip,' united the Indians against the English, but his defeat by the English signaled an end of support for Indian causes and devastating loss of population.
Just prior to the settlement of the English colonies of New England, several outbreaks of smallpox, measles, diphtheria, and scarlet fever produced population losses of up to 90%.[83] The ravages of King Phillip's War (1675-1676) would see the population of speakers reduced by 40%, as the Indians died from internment on Deer Island, execution, or starvation, and some were sold into slavery in the West Indies.[84] Many of the Indians fled the region to join the Abenaki to the north or the Mahican to the west, where the speakers adopted the language of the tribes they had joined. Only four of the original praying towns and the larger Wampanoag communities survived into the 19th century, but continued to suffer from land encroachment and questionable land sales.[85] Indian men were recruited as scouts for various wars of the later colonial period, for most of the 18th century and including the Revolutionary War (1776–1783).[84][85] Intermarriage of Indian women with Black and White men outside the Indian speech community became increasingly common from the 18th century onwards due to the great gender imbalance.[86] Employment opportunities for the Indians were limited to the whaling industry, hard labor, basket sellers, indentured servants, and other dangerous or menial occupations which brought the Indians into greater contact with the English, Blacks, and the influx of other European immigrants throughout the 19th century. By 1798, only one speaker could be found amongst the Natick. The language lingered on till the late 19th century in the larger Wampanoag communities, but a few 'rememberers' of the language persisted into the early 20th century.[87]


The "Old Indian Meeting House", built in 1684 at Mashpee, is the oldest Native American church in the United States. Christianity and renderings of the Bible have helped the Wampanoag language survive, though they simultaneously decimated traditional Indian religion.

The language remained dormant for over 150 years until 1993, when [15] The project is still working on completing a dictionary, now at over 10,000 entries, providing more pedagogical materials, introducing immersion programs and camps, continuing to offer the classes, and to continue researching the archives of language documents.[89] Baird is assisted by teachers she has trained, such as Algonquian linguist Nitana Hicks of the Wampanoag people, but the students are expected to teach the language to other members of the tribe. In 2015, it is hoped that a charter school will open.[90] The revival has been depicted in the news and in the documentary, We Still Live Here - Âs Nutayuneân, by the filmmaker Anne Makepeace, which was featured on the PBS series Independent Lens.[91] The project also fulfills the prophecies of the Wampanoag people that descendants of those who wiped out the language would help revive it. Baird is a descendant of Nathan Pocknett, who resisted Christian conversion attempts, and Professor Hale was a direct descendant of the missionary Roger Williams.[92] In June 2013, Mashpee High School’s graduation opened with a traditional Wampanoag travel blessing.[93]

Phonology and spelling


Reconstructed Massachusett consonant phonology[94][95]

Labial Alveolar Palatal/
Velar Glottal
Stop [p] [t], [tʲ] [tʃ] [k]
Fricative [s] [ʃ] [h]
Nasal [m] [n]
Approximant [w] [j]
Sound Orthography Native example English example Notes
[b] B Bithnia /ˈbiθˌnia/, 'Bithynia' boy Only used as /b/ in loan words. Used to represent [p] in native words where it is usually replaced by P.
[tʃ] CH, J
medial/final: DJ, DCH, DTCH, HCH, JT, TCH
cheeku /ˈtʃiːˈkuː/, 'after a long time' chalk
[d] D Ed'en /ˈiːˌdən/ dog Only used as /d/ in loan words. Used to represent /t/ in native words, where it is often replaced with T.
[f] F figse /ˈfiːkˌsə/, 'figs' father Very rare as it is only occurs in loan words.
[ɡ] G God /ɡad/, 'God' gate Only used as /ɡ/ in loan words. Used to represent /k/ in native words, where it is often replaced with K.
[h] H
medial/final: HH
howan /ˈhaˌwan/, 'who?' hat H was used to lengthen the preceding vowel or to indicate a breathy pause.
[d͡ʒ] J, G Jabal /ˈdʒeɪˌbəl/, 'Jabal' juice Only used as /d͡ʒ/ in loan words. Used with other consonants or alone to represent /tʲ/ or /tʃ/ in native words. G before E or I was sometimes also /d͡ʒ/, cf. Gentilsog, 'Gentiles'. Soft G as /ʒ/ may occur in rare loan words.
[k] C, K, Q
medial/final: CC, CK, G, GG, GH, GK, HK, KH, KK, CQ
kussokhoi /ˈkuˌsaˈkoj/, 'crag' or 'mountain summit' skin
[kw] KW, Q, QU
medial: CKQ, GW, GQU, KQU
medial/final: GHK, KQ
final: G, GK, GQ, K
quonꝏasq /ˈkwaˌnəˈwaːsˌkəw/, 'gourd' quality In many instances, words ending with /kw/ (or /kəw/) are only represented by consonants that represent /k/.
[l] L Lord /lɔrd/, 'Lord' lime Very rare as it only occurs in loan words.
[m] M
medial/final: MM
micheme /ˌməˈchiːˌmə/, 'forever' mother M after a vowel and before a consonant can indicate that the preceding vowel is /ã/.
[n] N
medial/final: NN
nippe /ˈnəpˌpə/, 'water' night N after a vowel and before /t/, /tʲ/, /tʃ/, or /k/ can indicate that the preceding vowel is /ã/. When doubled at the beginning of the word, the first N represents /nə/. This is also represented by N.
[p] B, P
medial/final: BB, BP, PB, PP
pohnque /ˈpãˌkəw/ spin
[r] R cherubimsog /ˈtʃɛˌrəˈbɪmˌsak/, 'cherubim' run Very rare as it only occurs in loan words.
[s] S, SH
medial/final: SS, SH
seep /siːp/, 'river' silk SH only represents /s/ in consonant clusters, such as SHK (/sk/).
[ʃ] SH, HSH anshap /ˈãˈʃãp/, 'fish net' shoe SH before a consonant represents /s/.
[sk] SC, SK, SKC, SHK, SHQ oskosk /ˌaˈskask/, 'hay' skill
[skw] SKW, SQ, SQU, SKW
medial/final: SGHK, SKQ
final: SG, SGK, SGQ, SK
squont /skwãt/, 'door' squid In many instances, words ending with /skw/ (or /skəw/) are only represented by consonants that represent /sk/.
[t] initial: D, DT, T
medial/final: D, DD, DT, T, TD, TT
tummunk /ˌtaˈmãk/, 'beaver' still
[tʲ] initial: D, DT, T
medial/final: D, DT, T, TT; possibly also JT or DJ. These forms are generally followed by the vowels E or I and sometimes U.
wetu /ˈwiːˈtʲuː/, 'dwelling' tune (Received Pronunciation)
[v] V silver /ˈsilvər/, 'silver' vice Very rare as it only occurs in loan words. Elsewhere, also appears as vowel form of V (in variation with U).
[w] W
initial/medial: OO, Ꝏ
wompi /ˈwãˌpaj/, 'it is white' wit W and U (as a vowel after consonants) are also /w/. The double o digraph and ligature are only /w/ in vowel combinations or after certain consonants. Word-medial and word-final, it is often an unwritten consonant.
[ks] X ox'suog /ˈaksˌwak/, 'oxen' fix Very rare as it only occurs in loan words, although /ks/ can appear in syncopated forms of Massachusett.
[j] Y
medial: E
yehquog /ˈjaˌkwak/, 'lice' yes E represents /j/ before the short vowels that occur after /iː/ and a consonant. Y is also used to sometimes represent the diphthong /aj/.
[z] Z zamzummin /ˈzamˌzəmˈmiːn/, 'Zamzummites' zebra Only used as /z/ in loan words. Used to represent /s/ in native words, where it is often replaced with S.

Consonant clusters include /tʃw/, /ks/, /kw/, /ps/, /sk/, /skw/, /st/, and /ts/ can occur, especially after a short vowel or contraction of the diminutive suffix -ees, but syncopation, the deletion of short vowels between consonants, is a rare feature of the language and is only sparsely attested as a dialectal feature. For instance, ahtuk, 'deer,' in diminutive form is ahtukees, 'little deer,' but in syncopated varieties becomes ahtuks, such as the surname of [25][95][96]


Reconstructed Massachusett vowel phonology[25][95][96]

Front Central Back
Close [iː] [uː]
Mid [ə]
Open [aː] [ã]

Sound to spelling correspondence[25][95][96]

Sound Representation in orthography Native example English example Notes
[a] A, AU, O, OU, OH, U ouwassu /ˌaˈwaˌsuː/, 'he warms himself' father Values for /a/ could have also included /ɑ/ and /ɔ/
[aː] A, Á, AA, AÁ, AH, AI, AIH, O, OH, OO, Ó, OH nagum /ˈnaːkˌem/, 'himself' aardvark Values for /a/ could have also included /ɑː/ and /ɔː/
[ã] Ã, AM, AN, ÁU, AÚ, Õ, OM, ON, Û nâmâg, /ˈnãˌmãk/, 'fish' French blanc A followed by N is /ã/ if the following sound is /t/, /tʲ/, /tʃ/, /k/. A followed by M if the following sound is /p/. OH can be nasal if it occurs after N.
[ə] A, À, E, I, O, OO, Ꝏ, OH, U, UH
final: AH
onkhup /ˈãˌkəp/, 'strong drink' about The double o digraph and the double o ligature at the beginning of words represents /ə/ or /əw/ in some vowel combinations. It can also appear unwritten between consonants and a corresponding W or U or vowel combination starting with /w/.
[uː] OO, Ꝏ, U, Ú msi /ˈmuːˌsaj/, 'bald' food OO, Ꝏ, and U can represent /w/ in vowel combinations and other situations. U can also represent /juː/.

The language was also rich in various vowel and vowel-semivowel combinations, some of which are /a/ a/, /aː a/, /aː ã ã/ /ã ə/, /aː iː/, /ãwa/, /əj/, /əw/, /əwa/, /əwaː/, /əwã/, /əwə/, /awa/, /aːw/, /aw/, /ja/, /jã/, /iːw/, and /iːə/. 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/. The digraph AU could represent /a/, /a/, /aw/ or variants of /a/ previously listed.[25][95][96]


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 adherence to strict word order does not alter the meaning due to the synthetic structure.[97] 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.[98][99]


Natick Bible orthography

John Eliot developed the first writing system of the Massachusett language, beginning with the 1651 translation of the New Testament. Since it was the Early Modern English of the 17th century, numerous archaisms from that period are present. Spelling was not standardized at the time, and numerous variations exist to spell the same word. Two diacritics are used, the circumflex (ˆ) and the acute accent (´). The circumflex over any vowel indicated the nasal vowel /ɑ̃/ whilst the acute accent indicated primary stress or a long vowel. Eliot's alphabet consists of 25 letters and one ligature followed by their names with modern orthography in parentheses:[100]

Aa a, Bb bee, Cc see, Chch chee, Dd dee, Ee e (ee), ef (af), Gg gee, Hh aitch (aych), Ii i, Jj ji (jay), Kk ka, Ll el (ul), Mm em (um), Nn en (un), Oo o, Ꝏꝏ , Pp pee, Qq keúh (keuh), Rr ar, Sſ/s es (us), Tt tee, Uu u, Vv vf or úph (uv), Ww wee, Xx ex (ux), Yy wy (way), Zz zad

  • Vowels with Á, Â, É, Ê, Í, Î, Ó, Ô, Ú, and Û.

Ch was considered by Eliot a separate letter, based on its prevalence, similar to its status in the Spanish language. It is also used for /tj/ in place of modern Ty.

  • Consonants are doubled in word-medial and word-final positions before E. Final /k/ often written as CK as in English.
  • Voicing distinctions are not made, so allographic pairs such as C or K/G, P/B, S/Z and T/D exist, although G, B, Z and D were also used with their phonetic English values in English loan words.
  • C and G 'soften' before E or I.
  • F, L, R, V, and X are rare as they exist only in loanwords. Voicing distinctions are not made, so allographic pairs such as C or K/G, P/B, S/Z and T/D exist, although G, B, Z and D were also used with their phonetic English values in English loan words but not in native lexical terms.
  • Nasal vowels could also be indicated by N after a vowel or M after a vowel but before P, but also as Â, Ô, Û.
  • Acute accent vowels include Á, É, Í, Ó, and Ú.

Eliot's alphabet and spelling contain many orthographical archaisms used in the Early Modern English period:

  • E is often a silent letter at the end of words, and consonants are generally doubled before them. Cf. Archaic 'shoppe' and Modern 'shop.'
  • J was not yet distinguished from I, but was considered the consonantal variant of vocalic I. Cf. Archaic 'Ivlius' or 'Jvlius' and Modern 'Julius.'
  • O could indicate the short vowel [ʊ]. Cf. 'son' and 'sun.'
  • S had a lower-case long form ſ used in the middle of words, although when doubled, ſſ and ſs were both acceptable, but only s could appear at the end of a word. It was easily confused with the lower-case F (ƒ) as it was printed at the time. Cf. Archaic 'vnsaƒe' and 'Maſſachvsetts' or 'Maſsachuſetts' with Modern 'unsafe' and 'Massachusetts.'
  • U was still considered a variant of V. Eliot used V as a consonant, but note he still spelled the letter as vf /əf/. Other writers used V at the beginning and U in the middle of words. Archaic 'vp' and 'houer' with Modern 'up' and 'hover.'
  • Y was also used to represent /θ/ and /ð/ as a variant of the letter thorn, but these sounds do not exist in Massachusett.

Modern orthography

In 2000, Baird introduced a new orthography based on her reconstructions of its phonology. It is a more phonetic, consistent spelling system compared to colonial writing. It includes the digraphs Ch, Ee, Sh and TY, as well as the ligature . For collation, the digraphs and the double o ligature are treated as paired letters. The only diacritic is the circumflex, which is used over A to indicate the long vowel /ɑː/, and over O to indicate the nasal vowel /ɔ̃/. The alphabet consists of the following 26 letters, five digraphs, one ligature and two accented vowels followed by their names:[101]

Letters: A a, B bee, C see, D dee, E ee, F af, G gee, H haych, I ay, J jay, K ka, L ul, M um, N un, O o, P pee, Q keuh, R ar, S us, T tee, U u, V uv, W wee, X ux, Y way. Digraphs: Ay ay, Ch chee, Ee ee ee, Sh shee, Ty tyee. Ligature: . Accented vowels: Â â, Ô ô.

  • The letters B, C, D, F, G, I, J, L, O (without circumflex), R, V, X and Z are not used in the revived language as they represent sounds that exist in English but are not found in Massachusett except for loan words. They have the same value as the loan word source language.
  • E alone is used to represent /j/ during cases of vowel affection.
  • Q is not followed by U in indigenous lexical terms. It represents /kʷ/ at the beginning of a syllable and /k/ at the end.
  • The double o digraph is sometimes rendered with an infinity symbol () or the numeral eight (8).

Writing samples

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:[102]

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:[35]

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:[103]

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[104]

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.[105]

English Massachusett[106] Loup (Nipmuc?) Narragansett Penobscot[105][107] Munsee[108][109] Arapaho[110] Ojibwe[111]
'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

Eliot introduced many Biblical persons, toponyms, and religious terms foreign to the Indians, even inflecting them with the numerous affixes or compounding them with native words to produce new concepts. Examples from translations of the Bible include up-Biblum ('his [God's] Bible'), Testament, cherubimsog ('cherubim'), God, Jehovah manitt ('Jehovah spirit' (possibly 'God' or 'Holy Ghost' or 'the God Jehovah')), Paradise, Adam, Canaane ('Canaan'), ark, golde, horseumoh Pharaoh ('Pharaoh's horsemen'), and shepsoh ('shepherd').[112] Plural English nouns were suffixed with /-ek/, the animate plural, such as cowsuck ('cattle'), pigsack ('pig'), sheepsog, and horseog ('horses').[113] Other English loan words found in the Indian texts include acre, day, month, judge, wheat, and barley.[114] As many of the Indians were also conversant in Massachusett Pidgin English, it is likely that the pidgin became closer to standard English in a process similar to decreolisation.[115]

Massachusett influences in the English language

The English colonists adopted numerous terms for the local flora, fauna, foods, and Indian-specific culture. Many of these words were used when communicating with or about the Indians, and were known as 'wigwam words'. Many of these expressions, often interjected into the Massachusett Pidgin English, fell out of use at the beginning of the 18th century, as the wars with the Indians ended support for Indian culture, but some continue to be used. This includes terms such as 'peag' (short for Massachusett wampumpeag, 'money'), 'matchit' ('bad'), 'nocake' ('johnnycake'), 'samp' (Massachusett nasampe/Narragansett nausamp), 'skunk' (squnck), 'muskrat' (musquash), 'mugwump' (muggumquomp, 'war leader'), and 'squash' (askosquash, 'marrows').[116] Since the Eastern Algonquian languages are so closely related, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of many of the loanwords, but the following have recognisable Massachusett cognates: 'moose' (mꝏs), 'papoose' (papaseit, 'young child'/Narragansett papoos), 'moccasin' (makussin, 'shoe'), 'kinnikinnick' (kenugkiyeuonk, 'mixture'), 'terrapin' (tꝏsnuppasog, 'tortoise'), 'hominy' (toggahhum, 'he grinds it'), 'quahog' (pooquaw), 'tuckahoe' (toggahhum), 'caucus' (kogkateamau, 'he advises'), 'pipsissewa' (peshau, 'flower'), 'tomahawk (tongkong), 'totem' (wutokhit, 'belonging to this place'), 'manitou' (manitt, 'spirit'), 'pogamoggan' (pogkomunk, 'club, rod'), and 'pone' (uppónnat, 'to roast').[106][117][118] Some unique and most likely obsolete words in the eastern varieties of New England English include 'toshence' (from mattasons, 'last child of the family' but used historically in the region to mean 'the last of anything'), 'nunkom' (from nunkomp, 'young man' in both languages), 'neshaw' (neshaw, to refer to the 'silver' stage of the American eel), 'tuckernuck' (after Tuckernuck Island, where it refers to the 'shape of a loaf of bread' and used in the sense of 'picnic'), 'wickakee' ('Hieracium' or 'Indian paintbrush'), 'tom pung' ('a one-horse sleigh', probably cognate with 'toboggan'), pauhagan ('menhaden', native name means 'fertilizer' as in the traditional use of the fish), and pishaug ('a young or female Surf Scoter').[119]

Topographical legacy

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'.[120] 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').[121]


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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

  • The Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) Language Reclamation Project
  • Wampanoag Language and the Wampanoag Indian Tribe (general information and links)
  • Katherine Perry (Director) (2012-11-23). "*Special Feature* Wômpanâak: Resurrection of a Language.". 95.9 WATD-FM. Retrieved 2013-01-20. 11 min.
  • "We Still Live Here" Documentary - "We Still Live Here" Documentary about Wampanoag language

Dictionaries and grammar

  • Natick Dictionary
  • Vocabulary of the Massachusetts (or Natick) Indian language (1829)
  • Natick DictionaryTrumbull, James Hammond (1903). , Washington, DC: Government Printing Office (Washington) (also at the Internet Archive)


  • An Introduction to Wampanoag GrammarFermino, Jessie Little Doe (2000): , MIT
  • . Cambridge: Marmaduke Johnson.The Indian Grammar BegunEliot, John (1666):


  • "Algonquian Texts" (features many Wampanoag texts, including the bulk of the Eliot bible and subsequent missionary writings), University of Massachusetts
  • Eliot, "Translation of the Book of Genesis, 1655, Kings Collection
  • . Boston, N.E: Company for Propagation of the Gospel in New England.The Massachuset Psalter or, Psalms of David with the Gospel according to JohnEliot, John (1709):
  • OLAC resources in and about the Wampanoag language
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