NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us
BACK

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


Chapter I. — Principles of the Structure of the Indian Language.

LANGUAGE is one of the most reliable aids to the student of the mental organization of the Indians. The tribes had not, until the advent of the very modern Cherokee Cadmus, in 1824, made the least progress towards the invention of signs by which to express sounds, but made use of the lowest form of the hieroglyphic art. In their attempts at mnemonic pictography, their invention was tasked to its fullest extent to produce ideographic representative figures — a crude method of recording inscriptions, by which some memorial of past transactions was figured on trees, bark scrolls, and rocks. No effort was made to produce a system of vocal notation. The pictographic artist made use of a series of figures, having the character of nouns in grammatical definition — action being inferible from the proximity of the devices. The ancient nations of the Euphrates employed the cuneiform character in the record of their actions; and the inhabitants of the Nile possessed a phonetic system; but the American tribes, it appears, came to this continent without either alphabet, phonetic sign, or digit. Still, their languages had fixed vocabularies, and there were mental laws, older than letters, prescribing the practical bearing of one idea upon another. These vocabularies were made up from primary sounds, or particles, indicating objects and acts, which denoted affiliation. There was a mental rule, which prescribed how the nominative should be distinguished from the objective. Inflections were employed to distinguish numbers and personal plurals. Even in the least advanced tribes, the necessity of expressing an adjective sense was experienced. Black and white, red and green, were required to be denoted; the light of the sun must needs be contradistinguished from the gloom

-- 672 --

of night; and the location of an object, whether high or low, above or beneath, within or without, called for the use of such an adjunct. Others followed. In most of the languages, the quick repetition of the same syllable implies a superlative signification; a peculiar inflection of the verb transforms it into a substantive; there are also tensal and multiplied forms of syllabification. These peculiarities of language are common among circles of tribes, and afford a clue to their history.

No column or shaft exists, to afford an evidence to posterity that the Indians of the United States were ever skilled in architectural art; no inscriptions, of a higher grade than those of primitive pictography, record the triumphs of one tribe over another. Their true monuments are comprised in their languages. The simple terms used by the child to express the names of its father and mother, of the sun and moon, of light and darkness, constitute elements in the primary material of the linguistic edifice, which must serve, for historical data, in lieu of imposing monuments of marble and brass. On this basis, one of the incontrovertible truths of ethnology reposes.

In prosecuting an inquiry into the affiliations and history of the Indian tribes of this continent, there is certainly nothing which presents so fruitful a field for research, or promises to yield so great a fund of information, as the study of their languages. Mere manners and customs must ever depend, in a great measure, on the agricultural productions, the natural history, and the geographical phenomena, of a country. The introduction of the horse, the sheep, and the hog, on this continent, but three centuries and a half since, has very greatly changed the habits and customs of many of the prairie tribes. Tribes of the Shoshonees, of the Rocky Mountains, by migrating into the plains of Texas, became possessed of the Spanish horse, and their customs have been changed by its use; they are now the bold and warlike Comanches; while the parent tribe, wandering on those bleak and elevated summits, still subsists on larvae and roots. The same effects have followed the introduction of this animal amongst the predatory bands roaming along the Upper Missouri, and over the vast steppes of Oregon; while the Chippewas, and other tribes of the Algonquin stock resident on the upper lakes, where the long and severe winters preclude the spontaneous growth of food adapted to the wants of the horse, still rely, for the means of locomotion, on their favorite canoe, and for subsistence on the products of the wide-spreading waters of the lakes and streams. These are the effects of climate, and of the fauna, on the development of a tribe.

The conquering Iroquois, whose war-cry was so long potent on this continent, adhered to their primitive mode of water conveyance, in their kaowas, and pursued their long overland marches, requiring more than Lacedaemonian endurance, during the entire epoch which witnessed the introduction of civilization on the continent. Nor did they adopt the use of the horse until a very recent period, when they discarded the tomahawk, and embarked in agricultural pursuits. A new era has been inaugurated in their history; and whoever visits their reservations in the western extreme of New York, will find the once proud and belligerent Iroquois driving oxen, following the

-- 673 --

plough, and speaking the English language, as a necessary auxiliary to the transaction of business. The process by which such results have been produced in this nation was not, in an ethnological sense, a very long one; but it was very severe, and has been remarkably effectual. The alternative presented was, simply, to WORK or DIE; and I doubt whether any of the numerous tribes resident within the area of the United States will be released by Providence on easier terms.

These, and similar changes of manners and customs, are essentially the resultant effects of climate, geography and natural history, and afford no clue whatever to the ancient history of the Indians. The languages of the tribes, however, similate a historical chart, upon which we can trace back the tribes to the period of their original dispersion over this continent, and mark their linguistic relations. By developing those frequently obscure connections, we are enabled to perceive that a single genus or family of tribes, speaking one common language, occupied the shores of the Atlantic, from North Carolina to the mouth of the St. Lawrence — thence extended westward through the great lake basins to the
sources of the Mississippi, and down the left bank of that stream to the mouth of the Ohio; that another genus were residents of the country surrounding the southern prolongation of the Alleghanies, or Appalachians proper; and that a third genus had burst, with its sonorous language, and as if with Vandalic impetuosity, into the central and western area of New York. These three stocks were the Algonquins, Iroquois, and Appalachians.

In calling attention to the peculiarities of one of three leading stocks, I would have been pleased to offer more extended illustrations, than would be consistent with the space at my command. The examples offered are therefore less full than could be wished, yet more extended, it is apprehended, than may be thought interesting by the general reader.

The Algonquin language has been more cultivated than any of the North American tongues. Containing no sounds of difficult utterance, capable of an easy and clear expression, and with a copious vocabulary, it has been the favorite medium of communication, on the frontiers, from the earliest times. The French at an early period made themselves masters of it; and, from its general use, it has been sometimes called the court language of the Indian. In its various ethnological forms, as spoken by the Delaware, Mohican, Shawnee, Miami, Illinois, Chippewa, Ottowa, Pottawattamie and Kickapoo, and by many other tribes, it has been familiar to the English colonists, from the respective eras of the settlement of Virginia, New York, and New England.

The plan of thought, revealed by an examination of the Algonquin language, differs the farthest possible from that which an Englishman, or an American, employs. Its object is, not to express elementary sounds, but to combine, it would seem, as many ideas as practicable in a single expression. There is a constant tendency to accretion in the syllabification. Words are ever the representatives of associated, not simple, thought. A word grows by clothing the original idea with auxiliary and explanatory

-- 674 --

meanings. Dr. Lieber has called these languages polyphrastic. The Indian is, at all times, a being of fears. Placed in the forest, surrounded by dangers, he fears, and is suspicious of everybody and everything. He notices with astonishing quickness every sound of the voice and of the elements. This trait is traceable even in his linguistic forms. He fears to be held to account, or to be misapprehended; and when he recites what he thinks a spirit might overhear and condemn, he omits particulars which would give offence, or invents dubitative forms. Neither does he subsequently compress or reorganize his forms of speech. As the language is not written, and he has no scholars, the redundancies of meaning, the defects and inelegancies, go on from century to century, running more into concrete forms, and, with the lapse of ages, diverging farther and farther from the primitive stock. Verbs and nouns form, as it were, but the chain of thought, into which pronouns, adjectives, and other adjuncts are interwoven, merely as the woof. But it is all of a piece — all are woven together on one plan. It has been said to be polysynthetic; yet the synthesis exhibits a remarkable unity. It is, sui generis, pollysyllabic indeed, but not properly polysynthetic. It is rather unasynthetic; the plan of thought is a unity. There is a oneness of thought, by which the whole train of Indian conceptions is made to conform to the same rules of grammar; and this peculiarity in their lexicography links most of our tribes together in one generic family, more closely than mere coincidences of sound. For, wherever the structure of their language is examined, they are found to think, if they do not speak, alike. No trait is more characteristic of our Indian languages than their word-building capacity, which is very prominent in the Algonquin. They revel in the power of combination. Taking the root of a noun, or verb, they add particle to particle, until, like an edifice which has received numerous additions, it is made to cover a great space, and often to rise to a height, which rather dazzles the eye than adds to its conveniences. But, by the power of analysis, these words are readily resolved into their elements, and evidence the existence of laws of combination which are regular and philosophic. To examine these rules need occupy but a few moments' attention here.

The Indian, in any view, is no analyst. He estimates things in the gross, and hastens to unburthen his mind in the same way. If an animal or object is black, or white, or assumes any striking peculiarity, this idea must accompany, and be expressed by, the radix. Both the noun and the verb, in fact the entire vocabulary, is encumbered with these declarative and descriptive inflexions. To see, to love, to eat, are always said in an adjective sense of what is seen, loved, or eaten. The infinitive is entirely ignored. The Indian's thoughts crowd closely upon him. If he love or hate, the object, whether it be in the animate or inanimate class of creation, must at once be indicated by a transitive inflection. Inini, is man — homo; and the verb saug, is the amo of the language. But an Algonquin cannot say, "I love a woman," or, "I love a pipe, or gun," without letting this principle of classification appear by transitive inflections; showing that the one object belongs to the animate, and the others to the lifeless or inanimate

-- 675 --

class. In order to denote this principle, the entire vocabulary is divided into two classes, via: animates and inanimates. The animates terminate in the letter g, the inanimates in the letter n. If a word terminates in either of the vowels, a, e, i, o, u, the orthography of the animate class, to be precise, and conform to the Indian grammar, must be ag, eg, ig, og, or ug. But if it be of the inanimate class, the terminations become an, en, in, on, un. This is not still the sum of the inflections used to express class, for, if the vowels be long, or broad, the terminations are aig, eeg, oog, or oag, in the animate, and ain, een, oon, or oan, in the inanimate. This principle in the grammar takes the place of gender, which it at the same time destroys. There are no masculine or feminine genders; neither are there masculine or feminine pronouns. The language resembles, in this respect, what, we are told by Gesenius, the old Hebrew was in the days of the Pentateuch, viz: destitute of sexual distinctions — having no separate pronouns to express he and she.

Another important function is performed by these inflections for class, which is, that they denote the number of the noun and verb, and, in the conjugations, supply the place of objective pronouns. The following tabular view will impress these principles on the mind, while the exhibit serves materially to simplify rules which, at first, assume a character of complication. Of this nature is the rule for eighteen modes of forming the plural, when it is perceived that there are, in reality, but two, and these of the simplest kind; and, while this object is attained, the gender, or class, of words is at the same time designated. "Tell me," said my instructor, "how the plural is formed, and I will tell you the class of every word in the language."

1. Plural and class in A, as in DAY.
Ojibwa, A Chippewa. Ojibwá-g, Chippewas (Animate).
Shayta, A Pelican. Shayta-g, Pelicans (Animate).
Mayma, A Woodpecker. Mayma-g, Woodpeckers (Animate).
Sugema, A Mosquito. Sugema-g, Mosquitos (Animate).
2. Plural and class in E, as in FREEDOM; I, as in MACHINE.
Ojee, A Fly. Ojee-g, Flies (Animate).
Azandee, A Poplar Tree. Azandee-g, Poplars (Animate).
Opechee, A Robin. Opechee-g, Robins (Animate).
3. Plural and class in I, as in PIN.
Inini, A Man. Inini-g, Men (Animate).
4. Plural and class in O, as heard in MOAN.
Ahmo, A Bee. Ahmo-g, Bees (Animate).
Mittig, A Tree. Mittig-og, Trees (Animate).
Muz, A Moose. Moz-oq, Moose (Animate).

-- 676 --

5. Plural and class in U, as heard in DRUG.
Ais, A Shell. Ais-ug, Shells (Animate).
Shesheeb, A Duck. Sheslieeb-ug, Ducks (Animate).
Keegoi, 888 A Fish. Keegoi-ug, Fish (Animate).

The plural being ascertained, the class is determined. But the class terminations can never be affixed indiscriminately to any given word; the final letter, g, being interchangeably an animate, and the letter, n, an inanimate.

These distinctions must be constantly observed by the speaker, and in this manner inflection is often piled on inflection, and affix and suffix added to radix, till the lexicography, graphic and descriptive as it generally is, assumes a formidable character to the eye, as well as to the ear. The accumulation of auxiliary ideas is not always, to European ears, productive of poetic sounds; but, in our geographical nomenclature, this object is so often attained, as to have ensured universal admiration. The names of Ontario and Niagara, Peoria and Missouri, Ticonderoga and Talladega, will long continue to impart a pleasing cadence of sounds in our geographical terminations, when the people who first bestowed them shall have passed away. An analysis of these names develops a singularly terse mode of combination, of which the term Ontario may be taken as an example. In this word, the syllable on is the radix for "hill" and "mountain," characteristic of some parts of its shores. Tar is from dar, the radix for "rocks standing in water;" and io, the felicitous termination of a compound term for "the beautiful in a water landscape," which is heard also in the word Ohio. These particles are Iroquois.

In tracing the principles of the Algonquin language, the oldest words are found to be substantives. Objects seen, or referred to, generally precede the ideas of motion, quality, or position. The radix, os, is the primitive for "father;" but it admits of little use in expressing personal distinctions, and is seldom or never heard, without at least the pronominal signs, n, le, w, or o — rendering the word nose, or nosa, "my father;" kos, or kosa, "thy father;" os, or osun, "his or her father." In these terms, pronominal signs represent full pronouns, which is a common rule. The letters, n, k, w, and o, in these cases, are fragments of the pronouns, neen, "I ;" keen, "thou;" ween, "he," or "she;" which, in other combinations, are also employed in their segregated or elementary forms. But this is not the case with the positively inseparable pronouns, which are, in their character, strictly suffixes. Thus, aindaud signifies "a home or place of living or abiding;" aindauyaung is "my place of living;" aindauyung, "thy place of living;" aindaud, "his, or her, place of living;" and so on, throughout all the persons and numbers. In these cases, yaung, yung, &c., are the inseparable pronouns, and can only be employed as inflections of the verb.

-- 677 --

When verbs are constructed from nouns, they have their nominative in a, as chima, "to propel," from chimaun, "a canoe;" paush-kiz-ziga, "to fire," from paush-kiz-zegun, "a gun, or firelock;" puketa, "to strike," from puketaigun, "an implement for inflicting blows." Gee, or geez, the radix for the sun, evidently preceded in origin, geez-is, the modern name for that planet, which conveys an adjunct meaning. Nod is the radix for "wind;" and the inflection in, in the modern word, nodin, merely transfers it to the inanimate class.

In conversational expressions, the substantive must generally precede the verb. "I see a man" — Inini waubuma, i. e., "Man I see." "Give me apples" — Mishemin meesizhin, "Apples give me." "Have you any fish? Keegoi-ke-di-a-unuh? "Fish have you any?" In converting verbs, with the infinitive or indicative present form, into substantives, the inflection win is simply subjoined.

Kegido To speak. 889 Kegido-win Speech.
Paupi To laugh. Paupi-win Laughte
Annoki To work. Annoki-win Labor.
Onwaybi To rest. Onwaybi-win Rest.
Nebau To sleep. Nebau-win Sleep.

Prepositional senses are conveyed by the inflections, aing, eeng, ing, oong, &c.

Throw it into the fire Puggidon-ishleod-ainq.
Go into the plain Mushkod-aing-izhan.
He is in the elm-tree Unnib-eeng-iau.
It is on the water Nib-eeng-attai.
Look in the book Inaubin-muzziniegun-ing.
What have you in the box? Wagonanattaig-mukuk-oong?

Diminutives are formed by inflections in ais, ees, os, aus. It has been said that the superlative is formed by a duplication of the first syllable, and this may be regarded also as an augmentative.

The Indian is one who, whatever may be thought by the auditor of what appears to be an undistinguishable rhapsody of words, has a quick and correct ear for his vernacular sounds, notes the ungrammatical use of the classes, and derides the imprecision of the jargon of trade. He is an adept in the use of accents, quantity, and stress of voice, which are the life of his language, and never misplaced by him, nor employed with a false utterance. The whole force of his language, its very vitality, depends on the proper use of these. The designation of the class of objects is the test

-- 678 --

of grammatical accuracy, and constitutes the true rule for estimating a good speaker, and, it may be remarked, there is no distinction in Indian society so much appreciated as the reputation of being a good orator. Sassacus and Miontonimo, Pontiac and Tecumseh, may occupy prominent positions as warriors in Indian reminiscence, but Garrangula and Cannassatigo, Logan, and
Red Jacket, were honored and admired by the Indians as orators and, indeed, by the entire world, for their simple and eloquent mode of expressing aboriginal thought.

It is doubtful whether any man, born beyond the precincts of the wigwam, or not reared under the influence of the Indian council-fire, has ever attained to perfection in speaking the Indian language, in giving it the proper accentuation and stress of utterance, or in comprehending the minute laws of its syntax, and revelling, so to say, in the exfoliation of its exuberant transpository expressions. I have witnessed the effects of its stirring appeals in the brightening eyes of an excited auditory, as the speaker directed their thoughts to themes of thrilling interest. He seemed to move their hearts with such a talismanic power, that they were ready to seize the lance and rush forth to a perilous encounter, without allowing a controlling thought to restrain them. And, what is far more remarkable, I have observed the transporting effects produced by the voice of an Indian convert to Christianity — a Mongazid, or a John Sunday — who, with an entirely new group of thoughts and reasoning, depicted the Great Spirit, whom they had ignorantly adored in the clouds, under the true name by which he is revealed in his Word. Such men, knowing the emptiness of their former beliefs from their own experience, subdued their hearers by a bold appeal to the power of truth, which they could not resist, and before which they bowed contritely and submissively.

Under the influence of such feelings the Indian no longer regards the Great Spirit as the mere ruler of the elements, but realizes the adaptability of his incarnation to the needs of a frail and erring humanity. Having arrived at this conviction, he raises his voice in the spirit of prayer, uttering that comprehensive petition: "Nosinaun gezhigony abiyun; Takinjinaunjigad eu kedishinikazowin. My Father in heaven abiding; hallowed be thy name." The language itself, though so long devoted to the expression of mere objects of sense, is, however, adapted to convey the leading thoughts of Christianity. It either already contains, or admits of, the formation of words, which are equivalents for sin, repentance, faith, a Saviour, and man's destitution of innate righteousness. The knowledge of this fact enables us to comprehend why Eliot and the Mayhews, in 1640, and Brainerd, in 1744, produced such amazing effects on the Indian mind, converting it completely to the principles of the gospel, and winnowing from it, as it were, the chaff of its long-cherished monetoästic and demoniac reliances. But this subject requires caution, time, and study: the work of a translator is one of vast labor.

In examining the principles of the Algonquin language, its curious pliancy of

-- 679 --

forms, and the applicability of its syllabic power to express new ideas, there is danger of imprecision, and of committing errors in its interpretation, precisely in proportion as the subjects are of an abstract character, or have a novel or critical import. I have seen a version of the gospel in this language, in which the whole mystery of the Incarnation is nullified by the substitution of the expression "young woman," for "virgin," and by giving to some of the figurative teachings of the record a meaning utterly at variance with their import. This perversion of meaning results from the employment of interpreters, well versed, it is true, in the native tongue, so far as is required by the necessities of trade and ordinary conversation, but who, with a Bartiniean indistinctness, see gospel truths only as "trees walking."

An analysis of the forms of the language would seem to indicate that it was founded on a limited number of monosyllabic stock particles, substantive, verbal, adjective, and pronominal — such as the radices for "fire, air, earth, water, father, mother, child; God, sun, moon, sky, star; cloud, rain, sound." Analogous syllabic nuclei form the verbs "to move, to grow, to see, to strike, to eat, to run, to live, to die." This rule holds good also regarding the radii of all suffixed, prefixed, or inserted syllables, expressing adjunct ideas. These still constitute, at the present day, the stock particles of the language, each having a well recognised, but generic, meaning. Thus, "motion" and "to move," are the nuclei of the verbs "to walk, to run, to strike, to wave the hand, to grow," &c. These stock particles constitute the frame-work of the word-building power, the adjuncts of the grammar surround them as a garb, and they adhere by the simplest rules of syntax. If two consonants or two vowels come in contact in these accretions, one must be dispensed with; for there is no orthographical law more generally observed in syllabification than the one which directs that, for the sake of euphony, a vowel must either precede or follow a consonant. Where two vowels coalesce, as the ultimate and penultimate, they are pronounced as open vowels, and independent members of the sentence. Hence the rhythm of the language. Such words as Ontario, Oswego, Chicago, Potomac, Alabama, and Monongahela, are examples of this peculiarity.

A more critical research into the grammatical structure of the language will develop the fact, that the mental exuvia of constructiveness, as also the pertinacious adherence of the Indians to normal forms (the scaffolding which is left after the edifice is complete), and not the results of the ratiocination of synthesis, have given rise to duplications of meaning, redundancies, and other defects, as well as to the almost innumerable accumulation of forms and inflections, which have originated what have been called agglutinations. The ear of the Indian is not only critically accurate in the appreciation of sounds, but his mind also is fascinated by them; and it is evident that, at no period in their history, has the syntax been revised, and the cumbrousness of its forms reduced to a compact system. According to the natural classification, nouns and verbs have, strictly speaking, but three personal pronouns. "I, thou," and the epicene, "he, or she."

-- 680 --

These are changed into the plural, not by the use of such words as "we, they, them," but by the numerical inflection of the verb; for it is a rule that pronouns in the objective case are distinguished from those in the nominative by the number of the verb, which is always an inflection. So that the sense is, by comparison with the English, as if we should say, not "I love," but "I loves," or "love does;" "I runs," for "I run," &c. The pronoun is also retained in the phrase as well as the noun; as, "John, he runs," instead of "John runs," &c.; denoting that the language could not have had a refined origin.

Number is formed by adding the letter g to the final vowel of all words of the animate or vital class, and the letter n to those of the inert or inanimate class. To the learner this simple arrangement at first presents an appearance of intricacy, but, the system is soon found to be both regular and musical; for, if the singular end in a, e, i, o, u, the plural is changed to ag, eeg, ig, og, ug; and, if the word ends in the broad sound of a or e, we have two more forms, ending in aig, and oag, making seven kinds of plurals in the animate class. There are also seven kinds of plurals in the non-vital, or inanimate class, ending in an, een, in, on, un, or, for the broad vowels, in ain and oan. Thus, it will be perceived, there are fourteen modes of denoting the number which governs, as well as produces, a rythmical flow of language. This requires a thorough knowledge both of the grammar and the vocabulary.

Much of the apparent obscurity surrounding the noun is thus removed; but a much greater difficulty is encountered in the use of the verb and pronoun; for the very same vowelic rule of number pervades both parts of speech. When an Algonquin has pronounced the amo of his language, "saug" his next object is to add the person to it. This is done, at first, by prefixing the pronoun neen, "I," or its pronominal sign, n; but the verb must also denote the person beloved. He cannot speak in an infinitive sense. To do this, the particle ea is subjoined to the radix, making saug-ea — a particle derived from one of the great primary roots of the language; i-e-au signifying being or existence. In this connection it is the succedaneum for you, and, of course, him or her. There remains but one step more to render the expression plural, which is effected by suffixing the common animate letter g, rendering it saugiaug.

It was a mistake of the older inquirers into the construction of our Indian languages, to suppose that these tongues possessed no word for the expression of the substantive verb. The conclusion was, doubtless, drawn from the fact, that the Indians did not employ it in their ordinary colloquial terms; never saying, "I am sick," "I am well," &c.; but, merely, "I sick," "I well," &c. Neither is it otherwise used, at this day, in the Algonquin dialect; the reason for which is, that the verb "to be" is appropriated to the deity, and it is regarded as presumptive, or disrespectful, to apply it to human passions. Iau, the generic word for existence, is the radix for the Supreme Being, in which sense it may be supposed to convey the meaning of ah and jah, in words of the same import in the Hebrew.

-- 681 --

The Indians appear to attach a peculiar importance to the expression, in its elementary forms; but their compound words abound with particles derived from it. Inquiry also renders it clear, that their medais, wabenas, and hieratic doctors use the verb "to be," in its elementary forms, in their declarative and boasting societarian and
mystical songs. The performer, in these secret associations, when he has uttered the phrase, Nin-dow-iau-iaun, 890 or Ni-mon-i-dowh, 891 assumes very much the air of one who has uttered a sacred, if not sacrilegious, sentence, or as if, in so doing, he usurped the power or attributes of a God.

The radix for Great Spirit, in the numerous Algonquin tribes, is mon; in those of the Iroquois stock, nio — varying to nioh and niuh. The continent is denominated Great Island, or Island of the Great Spirit.

The radix for an island, in the Natic vocabulary of the Massachusetts Indians, was menoh; in the Delaware, munah; in the Shawnee, mena; in the Chippewa, minis; and the term varied in the numerous other known Algonquin dialects. In the Iroquois group, the radix was weno; in the Mohawk dialect, kaweno; in Oneida, kahwano; in the Onondaga, kahwana; and in the Cayuga, kaweighno. Generally there is a root-form, or radical particle, on, or around which, as a nucleus, all the adjuncts or contingencies of a word are concentrated. Thus gee is the radix for an orb, or heavenly phenomenon, while gee-zis is the sun, and gee-zhig, the sky. By putting the prefix dibik, meaning dark, or night, before this term, the moon is denoted. Thus, also, the radix anu is restricted to the higher atmospheric phenomena; by adding the formative inflection, ng, the word star is expressed; and by the use of the formative ogud, we have the word cloud. It is a favorite mode with the Indian speaker, in an accumulative language, rather to use prefixes or inflexions, or fragments of disintegrated terms, in connection with a radix, than to employ another and different radix, or to attempt to form a new one. This system denotes its antiquity.

Tense is expressed as simply and regularly as number. The verbs are conjugated, not by auxiliary verbs, but by adding tensal inflections to the terms for moods, and at the same time declining the prefixed pronouns by a similar method. Thus, by prefixing the first pronominal form, ne or nen, "I," to the tensal particle ge, the sense is, "I did, or was;" by prefixing gah, "I shall or will;" and by gahgee, "I shall or will have." The addition of the inflection guh forms the imperative, and dah the potential mood. Meantime the verb has its ordinary inflections for number. It has a perfect past tense ending in bun; there is a supplicatory form of the imperative, in binuh; and an interrogative in null. There is also a declarative form in iwh, or owh, the use of which is almost entirely confined to the hieratic circle of their priesthood. Thus a

-- 682 --

man can, by an inflection, change his personality, exclaiming, Ni-mon-i-dowh, "I am a Maneto, or deity."

After all that has been written on the subject, the root-form of the verb remains the same, in all its numerous conjugations, and additions of prefix, suffix, and inflection, except in those minor alphabetic disorganizations, required by the cohesion of letters, and the law of euphony. In four thousand and fifty changes for tense and person in the verb waub, "to see," 892 the integrity of this form is, throughout, maintained. Thus the multiplication of forms arises, not from the use of distinct tenses and persons, but from adjective or adverbial significations appended to the radix; as, "I see perfectly, imperfectly, partly, doubtfully, good, bad," &c.; or from negations, or dubitative senses. These voices of the Indian verb throw a false garb of refinement, in distinctions of person and tense, about it; but these are really crudities, and prove that the grammar has never been reformed by erudition, or systematized by logical thought.

The Algonquin language has no words for the expression of oaths; an Algonquin can neither swear nor blaspheme. The deity can be addressed, on solemn occasions, but it must be done with reverence or respect. On first beginning the study of the language, I endeavored to subject it to the test of that mystic text contained in the 14th chapter of Exodus, "I am that I am," and received this affirmed equivalent: NEEN DOW IAU WIAUN". Of this expression, the anti-penult and the penult, the syllables iau and iaun, are derivatives from the Algonquin verb "to be;" iau signifying the present and past tenses of the first person.

There is an anomalous dual in the language, used to express the word we, the object of which is to include, or exclude, the person or persons addressed. If an Algonquin should say, "We agree in what you have said," or "We dissent from it," the form of the word we, and, of course, you, they, and them, must denote whether the objective person and the speaker be of the same, or of another family, lodge, clan, or tribe. Weenawau is the inclusive, keenawau the exclusive, form of the pronoun. As neither of these terms appear to be, theoretically, applicable to the Deity, I was solicitous to ascertain, when I began to study the language, how prayer could be addressed to God, who could not be said to be of the family, clan, &c., and who would seem to lose all near personality by a rigid exclusion. Converts cut the grammatical knot by calling the Supreme Being, Nosa, "my father;" the precise term familiarly used in speaking to, or of, the father of a family.

There is a delicate mode of alluding to the dead, without mentioning the word death. It is done simply by suffixing the particle of the perfect past tense, bun, to the deceased person's name. Thus, "Pontiac;" the nominative, Pontiac-ebun, "the late Pontiac." Or, to make the rule more clear to the comprehension of an English scholar, suppose allusion is made to an honored name, fresh in our recollection, and meriting our

-- 683 --

respect: as, "Clinton," nominative; Glinton-ebun, objective; meaning "the late Mr. Clinton." Thus, by putting a man's name in the perfect past tense, the Indian denotes his death.

We are of the number of those who think that our Indian languages possess characteristics which have been greatly overrated on the one hand, and as greatly decried on the other. They form a medium of communication admirably adapted to all the purposes of Indian life, and capable of almost unlimited application and extension. To a vocabulary not multiform in its roots, they apply a system of elimination which enables the speaker, by the formation of derivatives and compounds, to multiply and re-multiply words and expressions in a manner, of which the English language gives not the slightest conception. Not only the subject noun, but its qualities, and its position; the persons, nominative and objective; and the action of which it is the active, passive, or reflective object, are all indicated in a single expression. This concrete character of the language gives to some of its words a copiousness of expression, which a rigid, monosyllabic language, like our own, does not possess; and the meaning conveyed by some single Indian words, would, in the English language, require an entire sentence for their explanation. The great art requisite is, to seize upon the principle of combination. The objection to this process of word-making is, that the expressions are inconveniently long; which defect is not, however, apparent in an oral language, but is very strikingly developed when it comes to be written — and written, as it usually is, without the aid of accents, to guide the pronunciation. Many of its concords, too, appear superfluous; such as its double indications of tense and number, and double possessives, &c., creating a rythmical flow of language, which, however, has a tendency rather to the verbose than to the poetic. One of its most objectionable features appears to us to be the extension of the principle of gender, so far as to neutralize the distinction between masculine and feminine, in its verbal forms, requiring only a concordance in animate and inanimate objects. This does not abolish the use of masculine, feminine, and even sexual nouns, i. e., words restricted in their use to males and females; but it leaves all the pronouns in the condition of mere animates. There is no distinction between he and she. The languages seem to be replete with resources when applied to the phenomena of nature. The heavens and the earth appear to constitute, in the imagination of the Indian, a symbolic volume, which even a child may read. All that relates to light and shade, to color and quality, to purity or impurity, to spirit or matter, to air or earth, are blended with the subject noun, and are indicated at one exhalation, or prolongation of the breath. In the sky, on the sky, or under the sky; in or on the water; by or on the shore; in or on the tree; black or blue clouds; clear or muddy water; deep or shallow streams; up the river, or down the river; in heaven or on earth, are but single words of a simple derivative character. But we have not space to pursue this subject, and will merely add that, unlike the modern cultivated languages, the Indian dialects are all homogeneous in their material, and

-- 684 --

strictly philosophic, or systematic, in their principles. The general tone of conversation is more elevated in point of thought, than among any analogous class of people in civilized life. The diction is simple and pure; and hence, the most common sentences of their speakers, when literally translated, are remarkably attractive. Exalted and disinterested sentiments are frequently expressed by their sententious polysyllables with a happy effect. In attempts to unravel the intricacies of its syntax, the mind is often led to wonder where a people so literally "peeled and scattered," should have derived, not the language itself, but the principles which govern its enunciation.

NOTE. — The limitation of the present volume prevents the insertion of the remaining papers on Language embracing the vocabularies, &c.

-- 685 --


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
Powered by PhiloLogic