Vermont Folklife Center

Malian’s Song – Abenaki Language Glossary

By Marge Bruchac

 

Table of Contents

The Name Wôbanakiak or Abenaki

Alnôbaôdwa – Speaking Western Abenaki

Glossary and pronunciation: Abenaki names and words used in Malian’s Song

Glossary and pronunciation: Samadagwis’ words in Malian’s Song

Glossary – Select Abenaki place names, personal names, and family names

Glossary – Abenaki months and seasons

Glossary – Select Abenaki terms for relatives

Glossary – Select Abenaki words and phrases

 

The Name Wôbanakiak  or Abenaki [top]

The tribal name Abenaki is adapted from the original Wôbanakiak, a noun that combines the morphemes for dawn or white light (wôban), and land (-aki) with an animate plural ending to indicate the people who dwell in that place (-ak). During the 1700s, English, French, and Dutch attempts to pronounce Wôbanakiak or Wôbanaki resulted in many different spellings - Abnaki, Abanaki, Abenaki, Banakee, Wabanaki, etc. - that appear in colonial records. The most common modern pronunciations of Abenaki are the following:

  1. Abenaki (stress the first syllable, and pronounce “a” as in “lab” and “e” as in “end”)
  2. Abénaquis (stress the second syllable, and pronounce “a” as in “ah” and “e” as in “end”)
  3. Abnaki (stress the first syllable, and pronounce “a” as in “lab”)
  4. Abanaki (stress the first and third syllables, and pronounce “a” as in “lah”)

 

Alnôbaôdwa – Speaking Western Abenaki [top]

During the 1700s, the Native population at Odanak (Saint Francis) was mixed, with Native people who originally came from Cowass, Missisquoi, Pennacook, Pequawket, Pocumtuck, Sokoki, Woronoco, and elsewhere. Many of the words and family names in the Western Abenaki language today are directly traceable to these older Abenaki communities and other dialects.

Native Abenaki speakers could easily understand each other when speaking face to face, since specific pronunciations, gestures, and context gave meaning to the words, and dialects identified where the speaker came from. A fluent speaker could form compound words and phrases that would clearly indicate the speaker’s intent, the relationship of the speaker to the audience, the time of the events being spoken of, and the importance of this information. There were, however, distinct differences between the “Western Abenaki” languages (spoken in New Hampshire, Vermont, parts of northern Massachusetts, southeastern Canada, and upstate northeastern New York) and the “Eastern Abenaki” languages of Malecite, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot (spoken in Maine and the Maritimes). These languages are all part of a larger language family called “Algonquian,” that includes all of the Native people of New England,
the Great Lakes, and most of Canada.

The following is a very simple introduction to a very sophisticated language. Here are just a few tips on pronouncing the Western Abenaki language for English speakers:

Vowels:

  • the letter “a” sounds like “ah” (as in pa)
  • the letter “e” sounds like “eh” (as in set)
  • the letter “i” sounds like “ih” (as in sit)
  • when the letter “i” is preceded by the letter “a” it sounds like “eye” (as in mine)
  • when the letter “i” is preceeded by a consonant it sounds like “ee” (as in see)
  • when the letter “i” is followed by the letter “a” or “o” it sounds like “ee” (as in see)
  • the letter “o” sounds like “oh” (as in no)
  • the letter “o” with an accent - “ô” (which can also be spelled “8”) - is a unique Abenaki sound, a nasalized “ohn” made by pursing one’s lips and forcing the sound through the nasal cavity
  • the letter combination “ou” sounds like “ow”
  • when the letter “u” begins a word, it sounds like “u” (as in you)
  • when the letter “u” is preceded by the letters i, g, or k, it sounds like “u” (as in you)
  • when the letter “u” is preceded by any other letter, it sounds like “eh” (as in net)

Consonants:
All consonants in a word must sounded; there are no silent letters.

  • as the first letter in a word, “b” is sounded like the letter b
  • as the final letter in a word, “b” is sounded like the letter p
  • as the first letter in a word, “c” is sounded like “ts”
  • as the first letter in a word, “d” is sounded like the letter d
  • as the final letter in a word, “d” is sounded like the letter t
  • the letter “g” is sounded like a hard letter g
  • the letter “j” is sounded as a hard “ch” (as in watch)
  • the letter “w” is sounded with a breath of air as “wh”
  • the letter combination “ch” is sounded as a soft “ch”
  • the letter combination “dz” (which can also be spelled “tsi”) is pronounced “tsee”
  • any double consonants are sounded slightly longer

Please note that it can sometimes be difficult to read the written Abenaki language today, since different linguists may choose to spell the same words in entirely different ways. For example, one writer may use the letter “b” where another uses “p” for the same sound, or “d” for “t”. There are several different ways to spell Abenaki words, based on the many different orthographies (spelling systems) that try to convey the sound of the spoken language.  There is not one spelling system that everyone agrees on – the sound is the most important thing. For proper pronunciation, it is best to listen to Native-born Western Abenaki speakers.

The following are some select Western Abenaki names, words and phrases that refer specifically to the people, objects, places, and events recounted in Malian’s Song. These particular words and phrases come from Gordon Day’s fieldnotes about Elvine Obomsawin’s story and several other printed sources listed in the bibliography that follows.

 

Glossary and pronunciation: Abenaki names and words used in Malian’s Song [top]
Word Phonetic Pronunciation Definition
akwi ahk-wee stop; do not
Alsigontekw ahl-sih-gon-tek-wh river of many shells
anakwika ah-nahk-wee-kah trees are growing up
awanagiak ah-wah-nah-gee-ahk strangers
bemômahla beh-mohn-mah-lah run
Cowass coh-wahs pine-tree place
idam ee-dahm he said
madahôdo mah-dah-hohn-doh bad spirit
Malian mah-lee-ahn personal name (Marian in French)
Maliazonis mah-lee-ah-zoh-nees personal names (Marie Jeanne in French)
Msadoques mh-sah-doh-kees personal name
namassaak. nah-mahs-sahk fish
Nanibôsad nah-nee-boh-sahd the night walker
nda un-dah no
nemikwaldamnana neh-mik-wahl-dahm-nah-nah we remember
nôbamiskw nohn-bah-meesk-wh old beaver
ndodana un-doh-dah-nah in our town
Nokomis noh-koh-mees grandmother
nziwaldam un-zee-wahl-dahm I am lonesome
Obomsawin oh-bohm-sah-ween one who leads or guides
oziwaldam oh-zee-wahl-dahm very lonesome
pita pih-tah she is
Sibosek see-boh-sehk little river
Simôn see-mohn personal name (Simon in English)
skamôn skah-mohn corn
tômô tohn-mohn not any; none
widôba wee-dohn-bah her friends
wlioni wh-lee-oh-nee thank you
wôbi wohn-bee white
yokeag yoh-keg ground corn (New England dialect)

 

 

Glossary and pronunciation: Samadagwis’ words in Malian’s Song [top]

NOTE: In the story told in Malian’s Song, a young Abenaki girl named Maliazonis is warned by a Stockbridge Mohican man who is a scout for Robert Rogers.  According to Abenaki family traditions, this man did not speak Abenaki very well.  Even though the words that he speaks in Malian’s Song are not correct Abenaki, they would still have been understandable to an Abenaki speaker.  Samadagwis’ words are listed below, alongside the correct word in Abenaki:

 

Samadagwis’ word Pronunciation Abenaki word Pronunciation
akwi
[in English, this means “stop”, or “do not”]
ahk-wee akwi ahk-wee          
sagez
[in English, this means, “to be afraid”]
sah-gaze sagezo sah-geh-zo
ndapsizak
[in English, this means “my little friend”]
ni-dahp-see-zahk nidôbasizek nee-doh-bah-see-zek  
kwawimleba
[in English, this means “you are being warned”]
k-wah-weem-le-bah k’wawidokawa k-wah-wee-doh-kah-wah

 

 

Glossary – Select Abenaki place names, personal names, and family names [top]
Word Meaining
Alsigontekw river of many shells (St. Francis River)
Azon personal name (Jeanne in English)
Bitawbakw waters in-between (Lake Champlain)
Cowass pine-tree place (upper Connecticut River, eastern Vermont)
Iglismôn Englishman
Kebek obstructed current (now Quebec in French)
Kwinitekw long tidal river (Connecticut River)
Magwak man-eater (Abenaki term for Mohawk or Iroquois)
Mali personal name (Marie in French, Mary in English)
Malian personal name (Marian in French, Mary Ann in English)
Maliazonis personal name (Mary Jeanne in French, Mary Jean in English)
Malgelit personal name (Marguerite in French, Margaret in English)
Missisquoi or Mazipskoik place of the flint (northwestern Vermont around Swanton)
Msadoques big river person (family name)
Obomsawin fire-tender (family name)
Odanak the dwelling place (St. Francis)
Pastoni American man (based on the English word “Boston”)
Pennacook place of ground-nuts (central New Hampshire)
Pequawket broken, cleared land (eastern New Hampshire into Maine)
Plachmon Frenchman
Pocumtuck swift, sandy river (around Deerfield, Massachusetts)
Samadagwis personal name (one of Rogers’ Stockbridge Mohican scouts)
Sibosek little river in a ravine
Simôn personal name (Simon in English)
Sokoki southern place (northern Massachusetts, southern Vermont)
Winooski onion-river place (northwestern Vermont around Burlington)
Wôbanakiak dawn-land people, Abenaki Indians
Wôbi Madahôdo white bad spirit, “White Devil” (Abenaki name for Robert Rogers)
Woronoco winding river (Westfield, Massachusetts)

 

 

Glossary – Select Abenaki terms for relatives [top]
Word Definition
alôgomômek a relative
awissisak children
awissisimek your children
môdzakwnegwak she that raised us
mziwi everybody, all our relatives
nadôgwsis my female cousin, daughter of mother’s brother or father’s sister
nadôgwseskua my male cousin, son of mother’s brother or father’s sister
ndaawôsizemòwò their children
nigawes my mother
nigawesega my late mother
nigawesenogak our late mothers
nidokan my older brother
nijia my brother
nijia my male cousin, son of mother’s sister or father’s brother
niswiak my spouse (married partner, wife, husband)
niswiidiji his or her spouse
nitsakaso my sister
nitsakaso my female cousin, daughter of mother’s sister or father’s brother
n’mahom my grandfather
nmessis my older sister
nmitôgwes my father
nmitôgwesega my late father
nmitôgwsenogak our late fathers
nokemesis my mother’s sister (aunt)
nokomes my grandmother
noses my grandchild (granddaughter or grandson)
odawôsozmôwô their children
okemessa his or her grandmother

 

 

Glossary – Select Abenaki words and phrases [top]
Word/Phrase Definition
aiamihawigamigw house of prayer, church
abazenoda basket
abaziak trees
abonek on the bed
adalgadimek dancing place
adebôlagw a rifle
adio goodbye
agema ahlômek he told
agema he or she
agômek on the other side
ahaiagwa when we lived
akwi sagezo do not be afraid
alakwssak stars
alemos dog
alôdokaogowak she that tells us
alosada let us go
alnôbak Abenaki people
alnôbaôdwa to speak Abenaki
amkuôn spoon
anakwika trees are growing up
askwa still
asolkwônsis a small hat or cap
awanagia who are you
awanagiak strangers
awanii someone
awanocewiwigwôm French-style wooden house
awasiwi beyond
awazonal firewood
awighigan a book
awôsis child
awôsizwit she was young
bakwasataizatal dried blueberries
bamegizegak today
bemômahla run
gawi to sleep
gedakinna our homeland
gejokôn doll
iglismôniwi to speak in the English style
jimeli brick or stone fireplace (based on the English word “chimney”)
kagwesa what
kagwi lla what is the matter
kalozimuk to speak
kawakeniga to harvest or gather by pulling or picking
kikawôgan to cultivate and harvest a field by digging and cutting
kina look
kiptôômek he was shot down
kita listen
kizos the sun
koaikok at the pines
kôkanilinto calmly singing
kôtlizidiidep they were hiding
kôtlôôdit they hide
kowawtamenô you understand
kpiwsi in the little woods
ktsi psakaigan big ravine
ktsi wigwôm big house
kwai kwai greetings
kwalaskonigan cornhusk
kwatiz small container or pot
kwidôbawô nia I am your friend
kwilawatôzik to search
kwutguabizon a belt
labizowan petticoat, skirt
leguasowôgan a dream
linto to sing
lintowôgan song
lômpskahigan any decorated leather or cloth, fancy clothing
madahôdo a bad spirit
mahlakws ash tree
maji bad
makezenal my shoes (moccasins)
malisjômuk to weep
maksa a blanket
manazaawimuk to save
maskwa birch bark
maskwamozi birch tree
menahan island
migakamuk to fight
miji or mitzi to eat
mijowôgan provisions
mizôwimôniinôkwkil jewelry
mkezenal shoes, moccasins
môdzoldimek leaving
môjimuk to go away
môni silver (based on the English word “money” and French “monnaie”)
msali nthlôk many were killed
nadawaha a scout or spy
nadialin to be hunting
namaskan to be fishing
namassak fish
namiogwzo he is seen
nanibôsad night-walker (moon)
naodzi some
nda no or none
ndakinna my homeland
ndodonna in our town
negôni gamigw an old house
nemikwaldamnana we remember
ni aodimek at the time of the fight
nidoba my friend
nidobaskwa my female friend
nikskwasisak young girls
nita at once
n’namihôb I saw
n’wajônônnôb we had
nodahlôt she is left behind
nodamagwôgan fish spear
nônegôni very old
nônegwetsi alone
ntodziwi at that time
nziwaldam I am lonesome
ôbamiskw old beaver
odagimônô they counted them
odasolkwôn his hat
odebestawônô they listen to
ododanak in their village
odoka to be speaking
odzanego he stopped her
odzeksemenô they burned it
odzizawôbin she was looking out
o’gemak snow shoes
olinamiôn well-seen
olitonô they made a song
olômawalmoônôp they did not believe her
onamiôwi she could not see him
onkawôdokaogowak she who passed the story on to us
onôdzi they went
ôtalinto she was singing
o’wdesis a path
oziwaldam she is lonesome
paakuinôgwzian greetings, you appear new to me
pamgisgak today
paskhigan an exploding implement (gun)
patlihôz priest
pezgelôgwihla it is dark
pezgiwi in the dark
pilewakak strangers
pita very
pitigat go in
pkagôt sibo he crossed the river
podawazwigamigok council house
pmekhadimek people dancing
psakwlata shining
saagad how sad
sagezo to be afraid
saksahon earring
sanôba the man
senomozi maple tree
sibos a brook or stream
sibosis a little brook
siziwan a dance rattle
skamôn corn
skamônal corn (plural)
sogal sugar (based on the English word “sugar”)
sôkhipozit kisos at sunrise
spozidoki wake up early in the morning
tabat be quiet
tagwôgwiwi during the autumn
tawipodi table
tawzôganek the window
tawszôganek on the window sill
tebinawônô to see about
tmakwaawa beaver pelt
tokima to awaken
tokop awake
todziwi at that time
tômô not any; none
wagin wagon (based on the English word “wagon”)
wagitôzik to break or damage
waniadôzik to lose
wanialôbenop we lost her
wawaldamôwen she or he does not know
wawôdokawa to be warned
wawôdokawômek she had been warned
wawôdokawôn she warned
wdupkuanal hair of the head
wednôn he took her away
widôba his or her friend
wigwam or wigwôm a dwelling place, house
wijokadimuk to help each other
wiwizô suddenly
wiwzômôdzin quickly he left
wli good; gentle (also spelled oli)
wlibomkanni travel well
wligo it is good
wli nanawalmezi go in good health
wlioni thank you
wlôgwiwi during the evening
wôhôbaks shirt
w’paskhigan his gun
wskidakuam tree sap
wskinôkskwa their young girl
wzômi because
yokeag ground corn for corn porridge (in southern Algonkian dialect)

 

 

Bibliography – Souces for the Western Abenaki Language [top]

The Western Abenaki language was first recorded in print during the early 1700s by Jesuit missionaries. Abenaki tribal members have been publishing their own dictionaries and grammars for generations; Peter Paul Wzokhilain published the first written Abenaki grammar in 1832. Some linguists believe that the Abenaki language is dying or extinct, but there more Abenaki speakers today than there were a generation ago, thanks to the efforts of elders like Cecile Wawanolet, her son Eli Joubert, and others who have conducted language classes for Abenaki people at Odanak and Missisquoi. A few print sources are listed below.

Joseph Aubery and Stephen Laurent. 1995 [1700s]. Father Aubery’s French Abenaki Dictionary. Portland, ME: Chisholm Brothers.

Jeanne Brink and Gordon M. Day. 1990. Alnobaodwa: A Western Abenaki Language Guide (book and audio tape). Swanton, VT: Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union and Title V Indian Education Office.

Gordon M. Day. 1967. “An Agawam Fragment,” International Journal of American Linguistics 33 (3):244-247.

Gordon M. Day. 1975. The Mots Loups of Father Mathevet. Publications in Ethnology No. 8. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: National Museum of Man.

Gordon M. Day. 1980. “Abenaki Place Names in the Champlain Valley,” International Journal of American Linguistics, 47 (2):143-171, 1981.

Gordon M. Day. 1994. Western Abenaki Dictionary. Canadian Ethnology Service Paper No. 128. Hull, Quebec, Canada: Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Joseph Laurent. 1884. New Familiar Abenakis & English Dialogues. Quebec, Canada: Leger Brousseau. An electronic version is available through Early Canadiana Online at: <http://www.canadiana.org/ECO/mtq?id=a6450175ac&doc=08895>

Stephen Laurent. 1956. “The Abenakis: Aborigines of Vermont - Part 1,” Vermont History, new series XXIII (4):286 – 295.

Stephen Laurent. 1956. “The Abenakis: Aborigines of Vermont - Part 2,” Vermont History, new series XXIV (1):3 – 11.

Henry Lorne Masta. 1932. Abenaki Indian Legends, Grammar and Place Names. Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada: La Voix des Bois-Francs.

Father Sebastan Rasles. 1833 [1691]. “A Dictionary of the Abnaki Language in North America,” with notes by John Pickering. Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, new series I:370-571.

 

 

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