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Mahican language

Native toUnited States
RegionNew York, Vermont
Extinctca. 1940
Language codes
ISO 639-3mjy

Mahican (also known as Mohican, not to be confused with Mohegan) is an extinct language of the Eastern Algonquian subgroup of the Algonquian language family, itself a member of the Algic language family.[2] It was spoken in the territory of present-day eastern New York state and Vermont, by the Mahican people.


Aboriginally, speakers of Mahican lived along the upper Hudson River in New York State, extending as far north as Lake Champlain, east to the Green Mountains in Vermont, and west near Schoharie Creek in New York State.[3] Conflict with the Mohawk of the Iroquois Confederacy in competition for the fur trade, and European encroachment, triggered displacement of the Mahican, some moving to west-central New York, where they shared land with the Oneida. After a series of dislocations, some Mahican were forced to relocate to Wisconsin in the 1820s and 1830s, while others moved to several communities in Canada, where they lost their Mahican identity.

The Mahican language became extinct in the early twentieth century, with the last recorded documentation of Mahican made in the 1930s.[4]


Two distinct Mahican dialects have been identified, Moravian and Stockbridge. [5] These two dialects emerged after 1740 as aggregations arising from the dislocation of Mahican and other groups. The extent of Mahican dialect variation prior to this period is uncertain.

The Stockbridge dialect emerged at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and included groups of New York Mahican, and members of other linguistic groups such as Wappinger (a local Munsee Lenape band), Housatonic, Wyachtonok, and others. After a complex migration history, the Stockbridge group moved to Wisconsin, where they combined with Munsee Lenape migrants from southwestern Ontario. They are now known as the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe.[6]

The Moravian dialect arose from population aggregations centred at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Some Mahican groups that had been affiliated from about 1740 with the Moravian Church, in New York and Connecticut, moved in 1746 to Bethlehem. Another group affiliated with the Moravians moved to Wyoming, Pennsylvania. Subsequent to several members being massacred by white settlers, some members of these groups fled to Canada with Munsee Moravian converts, ultimately settling at what is now Moraviantown, where they have completely merged with the dominant Lenape population. Another group moved to Ohsweken at Six Nations, Ontario, where they merged with other groups at that location.[7]

Phonology and documentation

Mahican linguistic materials consist of a variety of materials collected by missionaries, linguists, and others, including an eighteenth-century manuscript dictionary compiled by Johann Schmick, a Moravian missionary.[8] In the twentieth century, linguists Truman Michelson and Morris Swadesh collected some Mahican materials from surviving speakers in Wisconsin.[9]

Mahican historical phonology has been studied based upon the Schmick dictionary manuscript, tracing the historical changes affecting the pronunciation of words between Proto-Algonquian and the Moravian dialect of Mahican, as reflected in Schmick’s dictionary.[10] The similarities between Mahican and the Delaware languages Munsee and Unami have been acknowledged in studies of Mahican linguistic history. In one classification Mahican and the Delaware languages are assigned to a Delawaran subgroup of Eastern Algonquian.[11]

Consonant Sounds[12]
Labial Alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Labio-
Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop p t k
Affricate ts
Fricative s ʃ x χ h
Approximant j w

Vowel Sounds

/a, ã, aː, ʌ, aɪ, aʊ, ɛ, ə, e, ɪ, i, ɔ, o, u/

Examples of Mahican words

The table below presents a sample of Mahican words, written first in a linguistically oriented transcription, followed by the same words written in a practical system that has been used in the linguistically related dialect of Munsee.[13] The linguistic system uses a raised dot (·) to indicate vowel length. Although stress is mostly predictable, the linguistic system uses the acute accent to indicate predictable main stress. As well, predictable voiceless or murmured /ă/ is indicated with the breve accent (˘). Similarly, the breve accent is used to indicate an ultra-short [ə] that typically occurs before a single voiced consonant followed by a vowel.[14] The practical system indicates vowel length by doubling the vowel letter, and maintains the linɡuistic system's practices for marking stress and voiceless/ultra-short vowels. The practical system uses orthographic ⟨sh⟩ for the phonetic symbol /š/, and ⟨ch⟩ for the phonetic symbol /č/.[15]

Comparison of linguistic and practical orthographies for Mahican
Linguistic Practical English Linguistic Practical English Linguistic Practical English Linguistic Practical English
xí·kan xíikan knife təmahí·kan tmahíikan ax ntah ndah my heart sí·pəw síipuw river
kə̆tahəwá·nun ktahwáanun I love you wəmí·san wmíisan His older sister ni·táhkan niitáhkan My older brother nəyáh nkí·spih nuyáh ngíispih I am full
stá·w stáaw fire tá·páwá·š táapáwáash seven mpəy mbuy water nətahəwá·tamun ndahwáatamun I love it
wəná·yəw wunáayuw he is good ahtá·w ahtáaw It is there kíhkayi·t kíhkayiit chief máxkw máxkw bear
wtayá·tamun wtayáatamun He requires or wants it nəmá·sak nmáasak fish (plural) na·ní·wi· naaniiwih nine só·kəná·n sóoknaan It is raining
ngwútah one
níisah two
naxáh three
náawah four
náanan five
ngwútaash six
taapáwaash seven
xáasoh eight
naaníiwih nine
mdáanut ten


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Mahican". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Raymond G. Gordon Jr., ed. 2005.
  3. ^ Brasser, Ted, 1978
  4. ^ Goddard, Ives, 1978, p. 71.
  5. ^ Pentland, David, 1992, p. 15
  6. ^ Brasser, Ted, 1978, pp. 207-210
  7. ^ Brasser, Ted, 1978, p. 208
  8. ^ Masthay, Carl, 1992
  9. ^ Michelson, Truman, 1914.
  10. ^ Pentland, David, 1992
  11. ^ Pentland, David, 1992, p. 15; Goddard, Ives, 1996, p. 5
  12. ^ Masthay, Carl, 1991, p. 15-26
  13. ^ Goddard, Ives, 1982; O'Meara, John, 1996
  14. ^ See Goddard, Ives, 1982, p. 19 for further detail
  15. ^ O'Meara, John, 1996

See also

Mahican People
Stockbridge-Munsee Community


  • Joh. Jac. Schmick, Miscellanea linguae nationis Indicae Mahikan, American Philosophical Society Archives.
  • Brasser, Ted. 1978. "Mahican." Bruce Trigger, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15, Northeast, pp. 198–212. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. OCLC 26140074
  • Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Campbell, Lyle; & Mithun, Marianne, eds. 1979. The languages of native America: Historical and comparative assessment. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-74624-5.
  • Campbell, Lyle; & Mithun, Marianne. (979. "Introduction: North American Indian historical linguistics in current perspective." In L. Campbell & M. Mithun, eds., The languages of native America: Historical and comparative assessment, pp. 3–69. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292746244
  • Goddard, Ives. 1978. "Eastern Algonquian Languages." Bruce Trigger, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15, Northeast, pp. 70–77. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Goddard, Ives. 1996. "Introduction." Ives Goddard, ed., The Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 17. Languages, pp. 1–16. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution. OCLC 26140074
  • Goddard, Ives. 1999. Native languages and language families of North America (rev. and enlarged ed. with additions and corrections). [Map]. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press (Smithsonian Institution). (Updated version of the map in Goddard 1996). ISBN 0-8032-9271-6.
  • Masthay, Carl, ed. Schmick's Mahican Dictionary. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISBN 9780871691972
  • Michelson, Truman. 1914. ["Notes on the Stockbridge Language."] Manuscript No. 2734, National Anthropological Archives. Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X (pbk).
  • Pentland, David. 1992. "Mahican historical phonology." Carl Masthay, ed. Schmick's Mahican Dictionary, pp. 15–27. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISBN 9780871691972

External links