Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Grandmother in Cherokee

Q: I am going to be a grandmother for the first time. I am part Cherokee and would like my granddaughter-to-be to call me by the Cherokee word for Grandmother, but I don't know what it is. Could you help me?

A: Congratulations! The Cherokee language has different words for paternal and maternal grandparents. So traditionally, if this was your daughter's baby she would call you Elisi (pronounced similar to ay-lee-see), and if it was your son's baby she would call you Enisi (ay-nee-see.)

Today though, many Cherokee people have given up this distinction and use Elisi to address any grandmother.

Hope that helps, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Native American translations
Cherokee names
Cherokee kids page

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


We're pleased to announce that work has been completed on the Ioway tribal documentary by filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle that we have been helping to sponsor, Lost Nation: The Ioway. I know the title may seem a little apocalyptic-sounding, but it's referring to the forced migrations of the Ioway people and the loss of their homelands, not suggesting anyone's extinction or disappearance.  :-)  Both Ioway tribes were involved in this project, and-- the reason we got involved-- there is an extensive alternate soundtrack in the Báxoje (Ioway) dialect of the Chiwere language, narrated by one of the few remaining elders to speak the language well. This should be a valuable resource for the Ioway, Otoe, and Missouri people as they work to reinvigorate their language.

As of this month, all three DVD's of this documentary are now available for sale from the website above. Go on and check it out!

Further reading:
Lost Nation: The Ioway
Ioway-Chiwere language
Ioway-Otoe-Missouria online dictionary

Monday, July 29, 2013

Iroquois and Rattlesnakes

Q: I heard that the word "Iroquois" means "rattlesnake" or "real snake" in an Algonquian language. Is this true? If so, was it an insult?

A: No one is really sure where this name first came from or what it signified. It's definitely true that the name for the Iroquois Confederacy in some Algonquian languages comes from the word for snake. In the Algonquin language, for example, the name for an Iroquois person is Nàdawe, which comes from the name of a species of rattlesnake. The word "Iroquois" is said to have been a French corruption of another Algonquian name with a similar meaning, sometimes rendered as "Irinakhoiw" or "Irinakwa." It's hard to guess at the original form of a name that's been passed around so many foreign mouths, but perhaps it had a Delaware source... in Munsee Delaware, lunii means real or typical, and axkook means snake. (You may have to be used to seeing mangled place names a lot before it occurs to you that "luniiaxkook" might turn into "irinakhoiw," but trust us, we've seen stranger ones!)

So was it supposed to be insulting? That's hard to say. Snakes have both positive and negative connotations in Algonquian cultures. There are monstrous and villainous snakes in the folklore of many Algonquian tribes, but on the other hand, snakes are also associated with awe and power (the general word for "snake" is the same as the word for "spirit" in Potawatomi.) So maybe names like these were identifying the Iroquois as enemies, or maybe they were just referring to their military might. It's also possible that like many tribal nicknames, these originally just came from a place name and had nothing to do with the people at all. An example of this is the name "Winnebago," which means "stinking water"; it wasn't meant to imply that the Ho-Chunk people were smelly, but was the name of a local river.

Native speakers being unsure of the meaning and intention of proper names is actually very common worldwide, by the way. Once a name gets strongly identified with a place or a group of people, previous meanings of the word start disappearing from memory. No one really knows where the word "German" originally came from, either.

Hope that is interesting, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Tribal names
Algonquian languages
Iroquois Confederacy

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Something New

Welcome to our new blog! We're in the process of migrating Pinny's Q&A section of our website to this new blog format to make it easier for multiple volunteers to participate. While we're in transition, some of the older queries may not be accessible. Please feel free to keep submitting newer ones. We'll get to them as soon as we get used to this new system. Thanks!