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Mohegan-Pequot language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Native toUnited States
Regionsouthern New England
EthnicityMohegan, Montauk, Niantic, Pequot, and Shinnecock
Extinct1908, with the death of Fidelia Fielding[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3xpq
Tribal Territories Southern New England.png
The location of the Mohegan, Pequot, Montaukett, Niantic, and Shinnecock, and their neighbors, c. 1600

Mohegan-Pequot (also known as Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk, Secatogue, and Shinnecock-Poosepatuck; dialects in New England included Mohegan, Pequot, and Niantic; and on Long Island, Montauk and Shinnecock) is an Algonquian language formerly spoken by indigenous peoples in southern present-day New England and eastern Long Island.[2]


Lester Skeesuk, a Narraganset-Mohegan, in traditional dress
Lester Skeesuk, a Narraganset-Mohegan, in traditional dress

The Mohegan Indian Tribe was historically based in central southern Connecticut. While originally part of the Pequot people, it gradually became independent and allied with English colonists in the Pequot War of 1637. This broke the power in the region of the Pequot who were formerly the dominant tribe. In reward, the English gave Western Pequot taken as captives to the Mohegan.

20th century to present

In 1933 John E. Hamilton, also known as Chief Rolling Cloud, was appointed Grand Sachem for Life of the Mohegan by his mother, Alice Storey.[3][4] The Mohegan had a matrilineal kinship system, and male leaders were chosen by women elders from families with hereditary claims to the position. Storey was a direct descendant of Uncas, the great 17th-century leader of the Mohegan Nation, and of Tamaquashad, Grand Sachem of the Pequot Nation. In Mohegan tradition, the position of tribal leadership called Grand Sachem had always been hereditary through the maternal line.

Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who died at the age of 106 in 2005, served for years as the Tribe's medicine woman and unofficial historian. She became an anthropologist and worked for a decade with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Returning to Connecticut, she operated her family's tribal Tantaquidgeon Museum for more than 50 years, beginning in 1947.[5] It was one of the first museums to be owned and operated by Native Americans.[6]

John Hamilton was a key figure among Native American leaders initiating late twentieth century land claims suits. Tribes in the Northeast had long interaction with European Americans. There was continued encroachment of their lands, even when colonial-era reservations were established. By the early 20th century, many of the tribes in the Northeast were essentially landless.

In the period of mid- and late-20th century increased Native American activism, the Mohegan and other Northeast tribes filed federal land claims suits seeking to recover land or compensation for what they had lost. The courts ruled in their favor, in cases in which states had conducted illegal arrangements with tribal leaders, without gaining US Senate approval. Congress passed bills to ratify these settlements, which often involved compensation for lands lost, or land set aside for the tribes, and sometimes compensation, in addition to official federal recognition of the groups as tribes. The so-called "state tribes" were those along the East Coast who had been recognized by the English Crown through treaties and other documentation long before individual colonial or state governments had been established. But, as the Native people lost their traditional lands and were not assigned reservations, they did not maintain their sovereign legal status associated with federal recognition.

In the 1960s, during a period of rising activism among Native Americans, Hamilton filed a number of land claims authorized by the "Council of Descendants of Mohegan Indians." The group had some 300 members at the time.

In 1970 the Montville, Connecticut, faction of the Mohegan expressed its dissatisfaction with Hamilton's land-claims litigation. They wanted a change in direction. When the Hamilton supporters left a council meeting, the remainder elected Courtland Fowler as their new leader. Notes of that Council meeting referred to Hamilton as Sachem.[7]

The group led by John Hamilton worked with the attorney Jerome Griner in federal land claims through the 1970s. The Fowler faction opposed this. In addition, a Kent, Connecticut, property owners' organization, with native and non-native members, opposed the Hamilton land claims and the petition for federal recognition. These people were worried that their property values might be affected.

Federal process for recognition

In response to the petitions by additional tribes seeking federal recognition, in 1978 the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) established a formal administrative process and criteria to be satisfied to prove cultural continuity; they established these in consultation with federally recognized tribes. That year, as authorized by the Council of Descendants, Hamilton submitted the Mohegan Tribe's first petition for federal recognition.

John Hamilton died in 1988. In his will, he named Eleanor Fortin as the Grand Sachem of the Mohegan people. She became the leader of the "Hamilton group," which continued to contend with the "Fowler faction" over tribal policy. Despite their disagreements, both groups continued to participate in tribal activities and to identify as Mohegan people.

By 1989, the Fowler faction had revived Hamilton's 1978 petition for federal recognition, which had been dormant for some years. The BIA's preliminary finding was that the Mohegan had not satisfied the criteria of documenting continuity in social community, and demonstrating political authority and influence as a tribe, through the twentieth century.

In 1990, the Mohegan under Fowler submitted a detailed response to address the BIA's concerns. They included compiled genealogies and other records, some of which had been collected and preserved by Hamilton and his followers. For instance, Eleanor Fortin had allowed the MTIC (Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut) researchers access to records pertaining to the Mohegan Congregational Church in Montville. The researchers had assured Fortin that if federal recognition were achieved, it would cover the entire surviving Mohegan population.[citation needed] They also used records maintained by Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who had kept genealogy and vital statistics of tribal members for her anthropological research.[5][8]

In 1990, the MTIC ruled the tribe's membership be restricted to documented descendants from a single family, ca. 1860. This criteria excludes some of the Hamilton followers. By law, a federally recognized tribe has the authority to determine its own rules for membership. The MTIC tried to sue other Mohegan over their use of the tribal identity as well as their crafting, but they were unsuccessful.[9]

Final determination, 1994

In its 1994 "Final Determination," the BIA cited the vital statistics and genealogies as documents that were decisive in demonstrating "that the tribe did indeed have social and political continuity during the middle of the 20th century."[10] The former Fowler group gained federal recognition as the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut (MTIC). They do not acknowledge John Hamilton as Grand Sachem in their history, but say that Harold Tantaquidgeon was their chief prior to the era of federal recognition.

That same year, Congress passed the Mohegan Nation (Connecticut) Land Claim Settlement Act, which authorized the United States to take land into trust to establish a reservation for the Mohegan and settle their land claim. The final 1994 agreement between MTIC and the State in the settlement of land claims extinguished all pending land claims.[10]

The Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut is the only federally recognized tribe of the Mohegan people.

Descendants of the followers of John Hamilton continue to function as a Mohegan band independently of the MTIC. They hold periodic gatherings and activities.

Language endangerment and revitalization efforts

As of 2014, there are between 1,400 and 1,700 recorded tribal members (these figures vary by source). The Mohegan language has been dormant for approximately 100 years; the last native speaker, Fidelia A.H. Fielding, died in 1908. Fielding, a descendant of Chief Uncas, is deemed the preserver of the language. She left four diaries that are being used in the 21st-century process of restoring the language. She also took part in preserving the traditional culture. She practiced a traditional Mohegan way of life and was the last person to live in the traditional log dwelling.

Another important tribal member was Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who was the tribe's medicine woman from 1916 until her death in 2005. She too assisted greatly in maintaining the Mohegan culture, as she collected thousands of tribal documents and artifacts. These documents were of critical importance to supporting the tribe's documentation for its case for federal recognition, which was approved in 1994.

As of 2010, the Shinnecock and Unkechaug nations of Long Island, New York, had begun work with the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Southampton Campus, to revive their languages, or dialects of the above.[11]

As of 2012, the Mohegan Language Project had created lessons, a dictionary, and other online learning materials to revive their language.[12] The project also has a complete grammar in the works, which has been put together by Stephanie Fielding. The primary goal of the project is for the next generation of Mohegan people to be fluent.

Many of the dictionaries circulating are based on Prince and Speck's interpretation of testimony by the Mohegan woman, Dji's Butnaca (Flying Bird), also known as Fidelia A.H. Fielding.[13]

The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center collection includes a 1992 menu "which attempts to translate such words as hamburger and hot dog into Mohegan-Pequot."[14]

The language was documented as early as the 17th century.

"In 1690, a Pequot vocabulary list was compiled by Rev. James Noyes in Groton. In 1717, Experience Mayhew, a Congregational Minister translated the Lord's Prayer into Mohegan-Pequot. Ezra Stiles, president of Yale University collected Pequot linguistic data in Groton in 1762."[14]

Prayers from the Baháʼí Faith have been translated into the Mohegan-Pequot language.[15]

"It is a sacred obligation," says the Golden Hill Paugussett Chief, Big Eagle. "Indian people must keep their languages alive. If the language is not spoken, it must be made to live again."[14]


Consonant Sounds[16][17]
Labial Alveolar Alveolo
Velar Glottal
plain lab.
Nasal m (m) n (n)
Stop p (p) t (t) k (k) (q)
Affricate (c)
Fricative s (s) ʃ (sh) h (h)
Approximant j (y) w (w)

/n/ is realized as [ŋ] only before [k].

Vowel Sounds

Simple vowels

Front Central Back
Close (i) uː~oː (o)
Mid ə (u) ɔ̃ː~ɔː (ô)
Open a (a)

The nasal /ɔ̃/ sound can range to being an oral /ɔ/ sound. "a" written with an acute accent (á) represents a long sound.


Central Back
Close au
Mid ɔ̃i
Open ai



Nouns in Mohegan have two forms: animate and inanimate. They are further distinguished by number. Animate nouns include people, animals, heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars, but not clouds), and spirits. There are other items that call fall into the category of animate such as certain cultural items and plants, but it is not known why these items are considered animate. It is something that is simply learned and memorized. One way to help identify if a noun is animate or inanimate is to look at its plural form. Plural animate nouns typically end in -k while plural inanimate nouns ends in -sh.

Animate nouns have four forms: singular, plural, obviative and locative. The obviate form is used when there are two or more animate third person nouns in a sentence, to mark the noun which is less salient (less relevant to the discourse). The unmarked noun is called the proximate, which is more salient/relevant to the discourse. The obviate is also used to mark a third person possessed noun, with the possessor considered as the proximate, even if the possessed noun is more salient than its possessor. The locative is used to show where something is spatially. Note that there is no obviative form for inanimate nouns, and neither the obviative nor the locative have plural forms (plurality is known through context).

Animate Nouns (with regular stems)
Mohegan Form English Translation
Singular winay old woman
Plural winayak old women
Obviative winayah old woman/women (obviative)
Locative winayuk at the old woman
Inanimate Nouns (with regular stems)
Mohegan Form English Translation
Singular wacuw hill
Plural wacuwash hills
Locative wacuwuk at the hill/on the hill


Verbs in Mohegan come in several forms. Independent verbs exist in four forms: inanimate intransitive, animate intransitive, transitive inanimate and transitive animate. There is also the conjunct form which does not carry the affixes (used to clarify person) that the aforementioned hold.

Person, number and gender


Mohegan animate intransitive verbs show who the subject is by utilizing affixes. Singular forms have prefixes, but third person (singular and plural) only have suffixes. In the plural forms there are inclusive and exclusive suffixes; the inclusive we includes the person who is speaking as well as the person he/she is talking to whereas the exclusive we does not include the person the speaker is talking to. When an animate intransitive verb stem ends in a long vowel (á, i, o or ô) the 3rd person singular does not take a final -w, and in the 3rd person plural these same verbs take -k as an ending in lieu of - wak.

Independent Verbs (animate intransitive)
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nukumotu I steal
2nd person singular kukumotu you steal
3rd person singular kumotuw he/she steals
3rd person obviative kumotuh he/she (obviative) steals
1st person plural exclusive nukumotumun we (I and he/she) steal
1st person plural inclusive kukumotumun we (I and you) steal
2nd person plural kukumotu you (more than one) steal
3rd person plural kumoyuwak they steal

*affixes indicated in bold type

Independent Verbs (animate intransitive w/long vowel ending)
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nuyáhshá I breathe
2nd person singular kuyáhshá you breathe
3rd person singular yáhshá he/she breathes
3rd person obviative yásháh he/she (obviative) breathes
1st person plural exclusive nuyáhshámun we (I and he/she) breathe
1st person plural inclusive kuyáhshámun we (I and you) breathe
2nd person plural kuyáhshá you (more than one) breathe
3rd person plural yáhshák they breathe

*affixes indicated in bold type


Cardinal Ordinal
nuqut one nikôni first
nis two nahahtôwi second
shwi three shwut third
yáw four yáwut fourth
nupáw five nupáwut fifth
qutôsk six qutôskut sixth
nisôsk seven nisôskut seventh
shwôsk eight shwôskut eighth
pásukokun nine pásukokunut ninth
páyaq ten páyaqut tenth


Locative case

The locative case is used to show where something is. Mohegan utilizes the suffix -uk to indicate spatial relationships, which can be compared to the English prepositions "on," "at," and "in." In Mohegan there is no plural form to go with the obviative and the locative: the same form is used for singular and plural with the difference being distinguished by context.

Example of the Locative Case

Mohegan English Translation
cáhqin house
cáhqinash houses
cáhqinuk in the house/houses

Absentative case

The absentative case is used to when referencing a person who has died (this includes any property that they left behind). This is accomplished by adding a suffix to either his/her name, title or the property.

Mohegan English Translation
singular nokunsi my late grandfather
plural nokunsuk my late grandfathers
obviative singluar wokunsah his late grandfather
obviative plural wokunsukah his late grandfathers
departed's possession singular mushoyi my late father's boat
departed's possessions plural mushoyuk my late father's boats

*suffix indicated by bold type

The following example shows the absentative case in use:

Niswi nusihsuk wikôtamak áposuhutut.

Both of my late uncles enjoyed cooking.



In Mohegan, there are two types of possession, alienable possession and inalienable possession. Nouns receive different marking depending on the relationship between the possessor and the possessed noun. If the possessed noun is connected (physically or sometimes metaphorically) to the possessed noun it is considered inalienable possession. For example in the phrase, the man's hand, the hand is possessed inalienably, because it is inseparable from the man. Inalienable possession can also be metaphorical, for example in the phrase, the man's mother, the mother is possessed inalienably, because of a cultural perception of kinship as a "strong" connection. Inalienable nouns must always receive marking. If the possessor owns the possessed noun, but is not physically attached to it, it is considered alienable possession. In the phrase, the man's house, the house is possessed alienably, because the house is not attached to the man.

Nouns pertaining to kinship and body parts are always classified as inalienable, but there are some terms that don't fall under either of these umbrellas that must be classified as inalienable such as the noun "home." Various affixes are used to denote inalienability and different affixes are used to differentiate animate/inanimate and singular/plural. Additionally, when a term requires possession but the possessor is unclear or unknown it is marked with prefix that indicates an indefinite possessor.

Inalienable Possession - Animate Singular
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nutônihs my daughter
2nd person singular kutônihs your daughter
3rd person singular wutônihsah his/her daughter
1st person plural exclusive nutônihsun our (exclusive) daughter
1st person plural inclusive kutônihsun our (inclusive) daughter
2nd person plural kutônihsuw your (plural) daughter
3rd person plural wutônihsuwôwah their daughter
indefinite possessor mutônihs an unknown person's daughter
Inalienable Possession - Inanimate Singular
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nusit my foot
2nd person singular kusit your foot
3rd person singular wusit his/her foot
1st person plural exclusive nusitun our (exclusive) foot
1st person plural inclusive kusitun our (inclusive) foot
2nd person plural kusituw your (plural) foot
3rd person plural wusituw their foot
indefinite possessor musit an unknown person's foot

The locative (-uk) and obviate (-ah) suffixes are added to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person singular forms. Whether the word is singular or plural should be suggested in the content of the sentence. The obviate affixes only go on animate nouns.

When a possessed noun is plural it must be shown. With an animate noun then suffix -ak is combined with the possessive ending (with the exception of third person singular and third person plural, where the plural is the same as the singular).

Inalienable Possession - Animate Plural
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nutônihsak my daughters
2nd person singular kutônihsak your daughters
3rd person singular wutônihsah his/her daughters
1st person plural exclusive nutônihsunônak our (exclusive) daughters
1st person plural inclusive kutônihsunônak our (inclusive) daughters
2nd person plural kutônihsuwôwak your (plural) daughters
3rd person plural wetônihsuwôwah their daughters
Inalienable Possession - Inanimate Plural
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nusitash my feet
2nd person singular kusitash your feet
3rd person singular wusitash his/her feet
1st person plural exclusive nusitunônash our (exclusive) feet
1st person plural inclusive kusitunônash our (inclusive) feet
2nd person plural kusituwôwash your (plural) feet
3rd person plural wusituwôwash their feet
indefinite possessor musitash an unknown person's feet

*affixes on all charts are marked by bold type

Clause Combining

In Mohegan grammar verbs that are in a dependent clause are said to be in the conjunct order. Conjunct verbs have the same numbers of persons for each verb, but they do not have prefixes, only suffixes. In turn, all of the person information is at the end of the word.

Conjunct Verbs: Animate Intransitives
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular yáhsháyôn that I breathe
2nd person singular yáhsháyan that you breathe
3rd person singluar yáhshát that he/she breathes
1st person plural (incl & excl) yáhsháyak that we breathe
2nd person plural yáhsháyáq that you (more than one) breathe
3rd person plural yáhsháhutut that they breathe
3rd person plural participle yáhshácik those who breathe
indefinite subject yáhshámuk that someone breathes

*suffixes on chart marked by bold type

Example: Mô yáyuw maci ákacuyǒn.

Translation: It was so bad that I am ashamed.

When in the conjunct form if the first vowel of the word is a short vowel, that is /a/ or /u/, it changes to a long /á/.

Transitive verbs with inanimate objects take only a suffix as well. The suffix vary based on the ending of the stem.

For stems that end in -m- or -n- the suffixes are as follows:

1st person singular: -ôn

2nd person singular: -an

3rd person singular: -k

1st person plural: -ak

2nd person plural: -áq

3rd person plural: -hutut

3rd person plural participle: -kik

Indefinite subject (passive): -uk

For stems that end in -o- the suffixes are as follows:

1st person singular: -yôn

2nd person singular: -yan

3rd person singular: -ôk

1st person plural: -yak

2nd person plural: -yáq

3rd person plural: -w'hutut

3rd person plural participle: -ôkik

Indefinite subject (passive): -muk

For stems that end in -u- the suffixes are as follows:

1st person singular: -wôn

2nd person singular: -wan

3rd person singular: -k

1st person plural: -wak

2nd person plural: -wáq

3rd person plural: -'hutut

3rd person plural participle: -kik

Indefinite subject (passive): -muk

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 16th edition. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics
  3. ^ "Passings: John E. Hamilton; Indian Activist". Los Angeles Times. 12 May 1988. Retrieved 28 February 2013. John E. Hamilton; Indian Activist
  4. ^ Oberg, Michael Leroy (2003). Uncas: first of the Mohegans. Ithaca (N.Y.): Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801438772.
  5. ^ a b "Running Against Time - Medicine Woman Preserves Mohegan Culture". School of Anthropology; Alumni Newsletter. University of Pennsylvania. Summer 2001.
  6. ^ "The Mohegan Tribe Celebrates Re-Opening of Tantaquidgeon Museum". Press Room. The Mohegan Tribe. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  7. ^ "Contemporary History of Mohegan, 1933-2002", Native American Mohegans
  8. ^ Associated Press, "Gladys Tantaquidgeon, Mohegans' Medicine Woman, Is Dead at 106", New York Times, 2 November 2005
  9. ^ MTIC v. MTN, Judiciary of Connecticut
  10. ^ a b "Final Determination that the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut Does Exist as an Indian Tribe", Federal Register, Vol. 59, No. 50, 15 March 1994, accessed 18 March 2013
  11. ^ Patricia Cohen, "Indian Tribes Go in Search of Their Lost Languages", New York Times, 6 Apr 2010, C1, C5
  12. ^ "Mohegan Language Project". Archived from the original on 2010-04-24. Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  13. ^ J. Dyneley Prince and Frank G. Speck (March 1904). "Glossary of the Mohegan-Pequot Language" (PDF). American Anthropologist. New Series. 6 (1): 18–45. doi:10.1525/aa.1904.6.1.02a00030.
  14. ^ a b c Libby, Sam (18 October 1998). "Tribes to Revive Language". The New York Times. p. 6.
  15. ^ "Ôkosuwôkak wuci Mohiks-Piqut Uyôtowáwôk - Bahá'í Prayers in the Mohegan-Pequot Language". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  16. ^ Granberry, Julian (2003). A Lexicon of Modern Mohegan. Lincom Europa.
  17. ^ Fielding, Stephanie (2006). A Modern Mohegan Dictionary.
  18. ^ a b c d Fielding, Stephanie (2006), A Modern Mohegan Dictionary 2006 Ed.



  • Cowan, William. Pequot from Stiles to Speck. International Journal of American Linguistics. The University of Chicago Press. Vol. 39, No. 3 (Jul., 1973), pp. 164–172
  • De Forest, John W. "The Lord's Prayer in the Pequot Tongue." In History of the Indians of Connecticut. 1852. Reprint, Brighton, MI: Native American Book Publishers, 1994.
  • Michelson, Truman. "The Linguistic Classification of Pequot-Mohegan." American Anthropologist 26 (1924): 295. doi:10.1525/aa.1924.26.2.02a00240
  • Pickering, John, ed. "Doctor Edwards' Observations on the Mohegan Languages." Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Series 2 Volume 10 (1823): 81-160.
  • Prince, J. Dyneley and Frank G. Speck. "Glossary of the Mohegan-Pequot Language." American Anthropologist 6 (1904): 18-45. doi:10.1525/aa.1904.6.1.02a00030
  • Prince, J. Dyneley and Frank G. Speck. "The Modern Pequots and Their Language." American Anthropologist 5 (1903): 193-212. doi:10.1525/aa.1903.5.2.02a00010
  • Speck, Frank. "A Modern Mohegan-Pequot Text." American Anthropologist 6 (1904): 469-76. doi:10.1525/aa.1904.6.4.02a00070
  • Speck, Frank and Fidelia Fielding. "A Pequot Mohegan Witchcraft Tale." Journal of American Folklore 16 (1903): 104-6.
  • Speck, Frank. "Native Tribes and Dialects of Connecticut: A Mohegan-Pequot Diary." Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Report 43 (1903): 199-287.
  • Speck, Frank. Speck Papers and Photograph Collection. (17 microfilm reels)
  • Speck, Frank. "Text of the Pequot Sermon." American Anthropologist 5 (1903): 199-212.

External links

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