Monday, December 7, 2015

Muskogee Words

Q: Hello I'm learning to speak Muskogee. I'm trying to get back with my culture. I was wondering how you say "I love you" in Muskogee? Mvto!

AHesci! "I love you" is "Ecenokecvyēt os" (pronounced ih-chih-no-kih-chuh-yeet ose.)

Have a good day!

Further reading:
Muskogee language
Creek Indians

Monday, November 9, 2015

Gitche Gumee

Q: I would like to know whether Gitche Gumee is a true Ojibwa name and if the popularly accepted translation is accurate.

AThank you for writing. Yes, that is the Ojibwe name for Lake Superior. In the modern Ojibwe spelling system it is spelled Gichigami (pronounced gih-chih-guh-mih) and it literally means "big lake."

Hope that is what you were looking for. Have a good day!

Further reading:
Ojibwe language
Native American names in Longfellow's Hiawatha
Native American lakes   

Friday, October 16, 2015

Blackfoot word for wolf?

Q: Hi, on your Blackfoot vocabulary page you said the Blackfoot word for "wolf" is Omahkapi'si. But on another site I saw it is Makoyi. Which is correct?

AThey both are correct. Omahkapi'si is the usual word for a wolf. But Makoyi, or Makoyiwa, is another word for Wolf that is often used in legends and traditional stories, or as an element of Blackfoot names. That is why, for example, the Blackfoot name that was given to Chief Poundmaker, Makoyi-koh-kin, is translated as "Wolf Thin Legs."

Hope that is interesting, have a good day!

Further reading:
Blackfoot language
Blackfoot names
Blackfoot Indian tribe   

Sunday, September 27, 2015

O's with nasal hooks

Q: I found the Apache word "Ts'iłsǫǫsé" which I would like to know how to pronounce. Using your online guide, I can figure out the "ts" and the "ł" but I still am a little confused by the "ǫǫ." Am I correct in interpreting that as two accented "o's"?

AThe marks beneath those vowels are nasal hooks. It means they are pronounced nasally, like the "on" at the end of the French word "bon." The fact that it's a double vowel means that the vowel is held longer than the others.

The accent mark above other vowels, like the é in Ts'iłsǫǫsé, denote high tone.

Hope that is what you were looking for. Have a good day!

Further reading:
Apache language
Apache pronunciation
Apache tribe   

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Black Hawk

Q: An old Sauk woman told us that Black Hawk's name was mistranslated into English and should really be  He-Who-Walks-In-The-Shadow-Of-The-Hawk or Shadow Hawk. My  question is: how do I properly pronounce his correct name in his language. Names are important and should be spoken correctly. Any help you can give us to properly pronouncing Chief Black-Hawk's name in his own language will be much appreciated and gratefully received.

ABlack Hawk's name in Sauk was Mahkateewimešikeehkeehkwa. That is pronounced similar to mah-kah-tay-wih-meh-shih-kay-kay-kwuh. 

I'm not really sure what the lady was trying to say about walking in shadows. There's nothing in this name about walking or shadows, but perhaps something was implied by his name that was only known to people of the older generation. Traditional Algonquian names sometimes had clan implications beyond their literal translations. We can tell you that literally, what this name means is "great black sparrowhawk." Mahkateewi means black, meši means big or great, and keehkeehkwa is the word for a sparrowhawk.

Hope that helps, have a good day!

Further reading:
Sauk language
Sac and Fox people
Hawk mythology   

Friday, September 11, 2015

Hopi congratulations

Q: Can you please tell me how to say "Congratulations!" in the Hopi tongue?

AInterestingly, our Hopi speakers agree that there is no real translation for "congratulations" in Hopi. It just isn't the sort of thing that is traditionally said. Hopi culture tends to be very modest and community based, so perhaps making an announcement like "congratulations" just would not be done ordinarily. One of our Hopi volunteers suggested "Itam ung kyaptsiyungwa" which means "we have respect for you" or "we really think well of you."

Hope that is close enough for your purposes!

Further reading:
Hopi language
Hopi people   

Friday, August 14, 2015

Names that could be offensive?

QHello. I hate to bother you, but before reading your website, I never realized that some
Native American names could be offensive, so I was wondering if you could clarify what sort of names one shouldn't take for a child. I don't want to accidentally be that guy. Thank you.

AThanks for writing. The most important thing is to avoid the names of historical figures unless you're a direct descendant of theirs. The names of people who have died are considered very sacred cultural property by many tribes, so giving a baby a name like that could indeed be offensive. The names of tribes, like Dakota and Cheyenne, are not necessarily considered offensive as baby names, but they definitely seem to be on the odd side to many Native Americans, because they're the names of nations. It would be like naming babies "Netherlands" and "Mexico." Native American names of animals, plants, stars, and so on are common and are not ordinarily considered offensive and are commonly used as everyday first names, but you still should probably do a little bit of research first-- some animals have negative connotations in some tribes but not in others, for example. You would not want to give a child a name meaning "owl" in the language of a tribe where owls are ill omens of death.

Hope that is the information you were looking for. Have a good night!

Further reading:
Native American names
Native American nations
Native American mythology

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


QHello! I found your website. My fiance is in love with the word Nihzoni.  Is this a name suitable for a baby boy?

AThanks for writing. Yes-- you have the spelling slightly off, it is really spelled Nizhoni. But this name definitely means beauty and harmony in the Navajo language.

I can't say I've ever heard of it used as a boy's name before. I know one woman named Nizhoni, and have heard of several others. But the word itself is gender-neutral in Navajo, so there would be no reason why you COULDN'T use it as a boy's name, just that it isn't typically done.

Hope that answers your questions, have a good day!

Further reading:
Navajo language
Native American baby names
Navajo people   

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Quinault pronunciation

Q: I was looking for a Quinault pronunciation guide on your website but there doesn't seem to be one. Can you please tell me how an upside down e and a c with an apostrophe over it are supposed to be pronounced in Quinault?

AUnfortunately there are still several languages we have not been able to prepare pronunciation guides for. We do not have any native speakers of Quinault in our organization; however, normally, in Salishan languages, "ə" is pronounced like the short "uh" sound in "about," and "c" with an apostrophe above or right next to it is pronounced like the "ts" in "cats" only with a catch in your throat right after it.

Quinault appears to use this same system. Here is a website from the Quinault tribal school demonstrating the pronunciation of several Quinault words.

Hope that is what you were looking for. Have a good day!

Further reading:
Salishan languages

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Comanche Grandmother

Q: Can you please tell me how you say "grandmother" in Comanche?

AMaternal grandmother (your mother's mother) is Kaku in Comanche (pronounced kah-koo). Paternal grandmother (your father's mother) is Huutsi (pronounced hoot-see.)

Hope that is what you were looking for. Have a good day!

Further reading:
Comanche language
The Comanches
Native American grandmother names   

Monday, April 13, 2015

How could Chwewamink turn into Wyoming?

Q: I saw on your website that the name of Wyoming came from a Native American word Chwewamink. How is that even possible? Those two words don't look anything alike!

AHave you ever seen children play a game of "telephone," where each child in line whispers a sentence to the next and eventually a sentence that started out as "I like to eat bread" ends up as "My mice are all dead"? The same thing basically happened with a lot of Native American placenames (and people's proper names as well, to the frustration of many people trying to trace their genealogy only to find the same ancestor's name spelled 16 different ways.) As the names were passed from person to person, none of whom even spoke the original language, they became changed, corrupted, and ultimately barely even recognizable.

In this case, the Lenape word "chwewamink" is actually pronounced similar to chwayo-wa-mink. The ch sound in the beginning is similar to the raspy "ch" in German "ach"; most English speakers couldn't pronounce that at all, so undoubtedly that was quickly simplified to wayo-wa-mink. "K" and "g" are easily mistaken for each other; now you've got wayo-wa-ming. Somebody probably had an accent in which "way" sounded more like "why"; now you've got why-o-wa-ming. Then somebody else contracted it to why-o-ming and there you are.

So how do people know what the actual origins of these names really are if they become that corrupted from the original source? Historical texts, mostly. The people who lived there at the time recorded plenty of intermediate forms and alternate spellings of the names that make it easier to guess where they came from, and also wrote down the purported meanings, which makes it easier to find out what the original Native American name could have been.

Hope that's interesting to you, have a good day!

Further reading:
Wyoming Indian history
Lenape language
Native American names  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Connection between the Inuit and the Shoshone

Q: I was Just wondering if you have ever found a connection between the Inuit and the Shoshone. If so where could I find the information? I am in a college anthropology
class, and my instructor who is an anthropologist has linked the Shoshone and the Aztec. Any information you could help me with would be greatly appreciated.

AThank you for writing. I'm afraid I'm a little confused by your question, though. The title of your email talks about the Inuit, but the body talks about the Aztecs. Those are two completely different civilizations. The Aztecs are indigenous people of south-central Mexico. The Inuit, also known as the Eskimos, live in the Arctic.

Your professor is correct, the Shoshone are distant relatives of the Aztecs and speak a related language. Their shared language family is known as "Uto-Aztecan" and you can learn more about it here. A good book on Native American language families in general is The Languages of Native North America.

The Inuit languages are completely unrelated to the Uto-Aztecan languages.

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

Further reading:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How similar are Native American languages?

Q: Hello from Denmark.
I wonder: How similar are the different native languages? Could a Sioux understand a member of another band?

AThanks for writing. There are multiple different language families of Native American languages. People who speak languages within the same language family can understand each other to varying degrees. So, a Sioux person could probably understand an Assiniboine person. Those two languages are very closely related. Maybe it could be compared to Danish and Swedish-- some words and pronunciations are different, but speakers can mostly follow each other. For a more distantly related Siouan language, such as Osage, maybe it could be compared to Danish and English-- it's easy to see how a lot of words are related if you look, even though people can't automatically understand each other. But for other languages that don't belong to the Siouan language family at all, such as Navajo, there is no relation and Sioux people couldn't understand those languages at all unless they studied them and learned them-- more like Danish and Japanese.

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

Further reading:
Siouan language family
Amerindian language families