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Language Samples from North America

Welcome to this collection of North American indigenous languages!

I've spent quite a bit of time tracking down some of the best web resources and summarizing them in one place. The goal of these posts is to give a brief introduction to each language in both spoken and written form. See my original post for more background and why I want to do this.

Each article follows a common format; first, a brief language description, followed by a short text or story in the native language, then an English translation. Audio clips of the text are available for most languages, so you can read along.

To keep this series to a reasonable size, I've chosen to arbitrarily pick one representative from each generally accepted language family. Furthermore, each article contains only a small fraction of the work available on the original web site - links are provided in each post.

A World of Variety: Oneida (Iroquoian)


Extent of the Iroquoian language family

Oneida is a member of the once important and extensive Iroquoian language family, originally concentrated in the Northeast U.S. and southeast Canada around the St. Lawrence River. It's related to Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca, of the famous Five Nations Confederacy, and is only spoken by a couple hundred people, mostly on the modern reservations in New York, lower Ontario, and eastern Wisconsin.

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A World of Variety: Ktunaxa

Ktunaxa, better known as Kootenai, is currently spoken by less than a dozen people in the world. Its original range was the far northwestern corner of Montana and the panhandle of Idaho, extending north into interior British Columbia. It is not known to be related to any other languages in the region or anywhere else in the world. Like many languages in west central North America, it's heavy on consonants and consonant clusters.

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A World of Variety: Iñupiaq (Eskimo-Aleut)


Extent of the Eskimo-Aleut language family

Iñupiaq (pr: In-yoo-pee-ock) is a language spoken in the far north of Alaska and the Yukon. It is one of the widely distributed Eskimo-Aleut languages, and lies near the western end of a dialect continuum that sweeps from Alaska east to Greenland.

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A World of Variety: Southwestern Ojibwe (Algonquian)


Extent of the Algonquian language family

Southwestern Ojibwe, or "Anishinaabemowin", is a relatively vibrant language originally spoken in my home state of Minnesota, primarily in the north and east and extending both directions, into Ontario, Manitoba, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It's a member of the widely spread Algonquian (Algic) language family which has representatives all the way out to the East Coast. The very first language encountered by the occupants of the Mayflower was undoubtedly an Algonquian language.

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A World of Variety: Klallam (Salishan)


Extent of the Salishan language family

Klallam is a nearly extinct language that was spoken along the north side of the Olympic Peninsula and in coastal areas of Vancouver Island on the other side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It's a member of the Coast Salish language family. Like many Salishan languages, it has a healthy dose of glottal stops together with numerous unusual consonants, many of which are difficult for English speakers to discern or pronounce.

It's only appropriate that I picked this language to represent the Salishan family, since I just visited the Olympic Peninsula in January. Although, I would like to find more information on the wonderfully named Lushootseed language (indigenous to the Seattle metro area.)

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A World of Variety: Arikara (Caddoan)


Extent of the Caddoan language family

Arikara is a severely endangered language spoken only on the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota. It's one of the last remaining representatives of the Caddoan languages, which were, in pre-contact times, widespread in the south central U.S., primarily in what is now Oklahoma.

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A World of Variety: Tlingit (Na-Dené)


Extent of the Na-Dené language family

Tlingit is a language spoken along the coast of southeastern Alaska and northern British Columbia. It's related to other languages in the interior, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Alaska, but surprisingly, also to the Navajo language of the American Southwest through its membership in the Na-Dené superfamily.

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A World of Variety: Creek (Muskogean)


Extent of the Muskogean language family

Creek (not to be confused with Cree) is a Muskogean language that was spoken in what is now the states of Alabama and Georgia. This language and its relatives such as Miccosukee, Koasati, and even (you guessed it...) Alabama, once dominated the southeastern United States.

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A World of Variety: Lakota (Siouxan)


Extent of the Siouxan language family

Lakota is probably the most iconic Native American culture. The painted warriors on galloping horses, feathered headdresses, long braids, and itinerant tepees of TV and movies all owe their origin to the indigenous cultures of the northern Great Plains.

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