For years; our ancestors’ language had been lost and forgotten by our people. It has not been habitually spoken since the late 1800s and its last known fluent speaker died in the mid- 1930s. Since then; only a few words were remembered by some families.
Unknowingly to the tribe was a vast amount of the Mohican language lying in old dictionaries; field notes, letters, and books written about the language. It wasn’t until the late 70s when some of these things written in the "Muhheconuk" language began to surface.
On this dawn of a new day for our people; the words of our ancestors are beginning to find the lips of our people once again. Our culture and our language is our identity among Native Americans.
I began studying the language for about two years now. I have learned much and have much more to learn as well. Hopefully this year we will begin having study groups working with the language to get more of our people involved with our own spelling and pronunciation systems. The language and culture board is open to all who wish to attend to participate, or learn.
In this article I will give the reader a very basic idea on how the Mohican Language structures words, in this case verbs (action words). If you are one wanting to learn more about the language, it would be wise to save this article for your studies.
To begin we will start with a word that is most familiar with our people." Mohican" (Muh-he-can). Below is an excerpt from Carl Masthays’ "MAHICAN: the word as a dictionary entry".
Mahican Words Compiled by Carl Masthay, 1998" with modifications:
Abbreviations: E, Jonathan Edwards, 1788; Ho, Frederick Webb Hodge, 1907; R, Edward M. Ruttenber, 1872; R1, Ruttenber, 1906; V, C.F. and F.M. Voegelin, 1977.
The primary form: Muhheakanneuw [R1], Mukkekaneew [E]; plural Muhhekaneok [E], Muhheakunnuk [R1], Muhheakunneyuk [R], meaning ‘the great tidal river of the Muhheakan′neuw nation’ [R1] or ‘those dwelling on the great tidewater’, from Mah. machche ‘great’ + hekan, akin to Del. hikan ‘ebb-tide’ + -eew ‘he/she is’, or -ok ‘(plural)’. Further translations are ‘the people of the waters that are never still’ (Davidson 1893, p. 45) and ‘seaside people’. There is only one original, constant pronunciation for "Mahican/Mohican" and that is like the first syllable in "mother" /muh-/, not /mo-/.
Chief Hendrick Aupaumut in [R1] wrote: Muhheakun′nuk, "The great waters or sea, which are constantly in motion, either ebbing or flowing." [R1] added: "Muhheakun was the national name . . . and -nuk, the equivalent of Massachusetts -tuk, Lenape -ittuck, ‘tidal river, or estuary’." This is not true; instead -[n]uk is really a form of the plural [C.M.].
Carl Masthay, 838 Larkin Ave., Saint Louis, Missouri 63141, 16 May 2005
There is what is called 1st, 2nd, and 3rd persons in language. This must be remembered for future learning. 1st person is the person speaking. 1st person, words begin, or end with I, me, we, us etc. 2nd person(s) are the person or persons that the first person is talking to. 2nd person words begin or end with the words "you" or 2nd person plural such as "yous". (Ye) 3rd person is the one or ones that the first person is telling the second person about. Such as "he", "she"," him," "her"," it" "that" or plural "they", "those" etc.
Here are the basic 1st – 3rd person(s) in Mohican.
1st person singular
- I, me, my= "Nia". Or "Ne" when used with another word ("e" sounds like in "be")
2nd person singular
- You = "Kia", or "Ke" when used with another word.
3rdt person singular
- He/she/it/that person or thing = "Uwa". "Nahkma" is used usually when referring to a person.
1st person plural (Exclusive)
When this form of "we" is used it does not include the listener(s).
2nd person plural
- Ye, yous (you plural) =" kiawa"
1st person plural (inclusive)
When this form of "we" is used it includes the listener(s)
3rd person plural
- They/ them/those people = "Nahkmawa"
Note how 2nd person plural "Kiawa" and 1st person plural (Excl) "Niana" mesh together to form the 1st person plural (Incl) "Kiana".
In the bold print within these words is what are called "root-words" the "root-word" in these selected items is "walk". What I am trying to do is to get you to see how words are put together in 1st, 2nd, 3rd person.
Prefixes are the letters that come before the root word, and suffixes are the letters that follow the root word.
- N’pumseh= I walk 1st person singular
- K’pumseh-=you walk 2nd person singular
- Pumisoo= he/she walks 3rd person singular
There is no gender difference in third person speech. Instead of "he" or" she", it could be looked at as "that person". The "oo" on this word relates to the 3rd person "uwa" but suffixed. (Put on the end)
- N’pumsehnuh= We walk. (Exclusive) 1st person plural
- K’pumsehmuh= you walk 2nd person plural
- K’pumsehnuh= we walk (Inclusive) 1st person plural
- Pumissoouk =they walk 3rd person plural
Observe the 3rd person "oo" on this word with the "k" being the pluralized suffix.
Note the differences in 1st person plural (exclusive) "Npumsehnuh", and 2nd person plural "Kpumsehmuh". Then see how they are combined to make 1st person (inclusive) "kpumsehnuh"
Below are some more conjugations of another verb. Sometimes a "t" is placed right after the prefix to separate the vowels. Like the "n" in "an". We wouldn’t say in English "a apple" we place the "n" in between to separate the vowel such as in "an apple"; the same in Mohican but with a "t".
- Animse = "go off" (leave, head back, take off)
- N’tanimse =" I go off"
- K’tanimse = "you go off"
- N’tanimsehnuh = "we (excl) go off"
- K’tanimsehmuh = "yous go off"
- K’tanimsehnuh = "we (incl) go off"
- Animsoo = he/she go back. Or can be conjugated as otanimse.
The 3rd person singular "o" can sometimes be prefixed or suffixed.
There are many more ways to conjugate verbs by using a pair of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd persons; but I just want to start with the very basics.
Now that I’ve showed you how to basically conjugate prefixes and suffixes; here’s a test for you. I'll give you a verb and you try to conjugate it using what Ive shown you above. I will post the answers in a future issue of Mohican news.
The word is "Meze" (meet-see) = "Eat."
I'll give you the first one.
"N’meze" = "I eat."