|Native to||United States, Canada|
|Region||Ontario, Quebec and northern New York|
current distribution of Mohawk speakers in the United States.
Mohawk (//; Kanienʼkéha, "[language] of the Flint Place") is an Iroquoian language currently spoken by around 3,500 people of the Mohawk nation, located primarily in Canada (southern Ontario and Quebec), the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and to a lesser extent in the United States (western and northern New York).
The word "Mohawk" is an exonym. In the Mohawk language, the people say that they are from Kanienʼkehá꞉ka or "Flint Stone Place" or "People of the Flint Nation". The Mohawks were extremely wealthy traders, as other nations in their confederacy needed their flint for tool-making. Their Algonquian-speaking neighbors (and competitors), the People of Muh-heck Heek Ing ("food-area place"), a people called by the Dutch "Mohicans" or "Mahicans", called the People of Ka-nee-en Ka "Maw Unk Lin" or Bear People. The Dutch heard and wrote that as "Mohawks" and so the People of Kan-ee-en Ka are often referred to as Mohawks. The Dutch also referred to the Mohawk as Egils or Maquas. The French adapted those terms as Aigniers or Maquis, or called them by the generic Iroquois.
The Mohawks comprised the largest and most powerful of the original Five Nations, controlling a vast area of land on the eastern frontier of the Iroquois Confederacy. The North Country and Adirondack region of present-day Upstate New York would have constituted the greater part of the Mohawk-speaking area lasting until the end of the 18th century.
The Scottish-Canadian-American scientist Alexander Graham Bell, one of the inventors of the telephone, was greatly interested in the human voice: when he came across the Six Nations Reserve across the river at Onondaga, he learned the Mohawk language and translated its then unwritten vocabulary into Visible Speech symbols for the first time. For his work, Bell was awarded the title of Honorary Chief and participated in a ceremony where he donned a Mohawk headdress and danced traditional dances.
The Mohawk language is currently classified as threatened, and the number of native speakers has continually declined over the past several years.
Mohawk has the largest number of speakers among the Northern Iroquoian languages, and today it is the only one with more than a thousand remaining speakers. At Akwesasne, residents have begun a language immersion school (pre-K to grade 8) in Kanienʼkéha to revive the language. With their children learning it, parents and other family members are taking language classes, too.
A Mohawk language immersion school was established. Mohawk parents, concerned with the lack of culture-based education in public and parochial schools, founded the Akwesasne Freedom School in 1979. Six years later, the school implemented a Mohawk language immersion curriculum based on a traditional cycle of fifteen seasonal ceremonies, and on the Mohawk Thanksgiving Address, or Ohén꞉ton Karihwatékwen, "The words before all else." Every morning, teachers and students gather in the hallway to recite the Thanksgiving Address in Mohawk.
An adult immersion program was also created in 1985 to address the issue of intergenerational fluency decline of the Mohawk language.
Kanatsiohareke (Gah-nah-jo-ha-lay-gay) is a small Mohawk/Kanienkahaka community on the north bank of the Mohawk River, west of Fonda, New York. The name means "Place of the clean pot." Kanatsiohareke was created to be a "Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Reverse", teaching Mohawk language and culture. Located at the ancient homeland of the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), it was re-established in September 1993 under the leadership of Thomas R. Porter (Sakokwenionkwas-"The One Who Wins"). The community must raise their own revenue and frequently hold cultural presentations, workshops, and academic events, including an annual Strawberry Festival. A craft shop on site features genuine handmade Native crafts from all over North America.
The primary mission of the community is to try to preserve traditional values, culture, language and lifestyles in the guidance of the Kaienerekowa (Great Law of Peace). Kanatsiohareke, Inc. is a non-profit organization under IRS code 501c3.
In 2006, over 600 people were reported to speak the language in Canada, many of them elderly.
Kahnawake is located at a metropolitan location, near central Montreal, Quebec, Canada. As Kahnawake is located near Montreal, many individuals speak both English and French, and this has contributed to a decline in the use of Mohawk language over the past century. The Mohawk Survival School, the first immersion program was established in 1979. The school's mission was to revitalize Mohawk language. To examine how successful the program had been, questionnaire was given to the Kahnawake residents following the first year. The results indicated that teaching towards younger generation have been successful and showed an increase in the ability to speak the language in private settings, as well as an increase in the mixing of Mohawk in English conversations were found.
In 2011, there were approximately 3,500 speakers of Mohawk, primarily in Quebec, Ontario and western New York. Immersion (monolingual) classes for young children at Akwesasne and other reserves are helping to train new first-language speakers. The importance of immersion classes among parents grew after the passage of Bill 101, and in 1979 the Mohawk Survival School was established to facilitate language training at the high school level.  Kahnawake and Kanatsiohareke offer immersion classes for adults. In the 2016 Canadian census, 875 people said Mohawk was their only mother tongue.
Mohawk dialogue features prominently in Ubisoft Montreal's 2012 action-adventure open world video game Assassin's Creed III, through the game's main character, the half-Mohawk, half-English Ratonhnhaké꞉ton, also called Connor, and members of his native Kanièn꞉ke village around the times of the American revolution. Ratonhnhaké꞉ton was voiced and modelled by Crow actor Noah Bulaagawish Watts. Hiawatha, the leader of the Iroquoian civilization in Sid Meier's Civilization V, voiced by Kanentokon Hemlock, speaks modern Mohawk.
The stories of Mohawk language learners are also chronicled in 'Raising The Words', a short documentary film that explores personal experiences with Mohawk language revitalization in Tyendinaga, a Mohawk community roughly 200 kilometres east of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The film is set to be shown at the 4th annual Ethnografilm festival in Paris, France.
Mohawk has three major dialects: Western (Ohswé:ken and Kenhté:ke), Central (Ahkwesáhsne), and Eastern (Kahnawà꞉ke and Kanehsatà꞉ke); the differences between them are largely phonological. These are related to the major Mohawk territories since the eighteenth century. The pronunciation of /r/ and several consonant clusters may differ in the dialects.
The phoneme inventory of Mohawk is as follows (using the International Phonetic Alphabet). Phonological representation (underlying forms) are in /slashes/, and the standard Mohawk orthography is in bold.
An interesting feature of Mohawk (and Iroquoian) phonology is that there are no labials (m, p, b, f, v), except in a few adoptions from French and English, where [m] and [p] appear (e.g., mátsis matches and aplám Abraham); these sounds are late additions to Mohawk phonology and were introduced after widespread European contact.
The Central (Ahkwesáhsne) dialect has the following consonant clusters:
|1st↓ · 2nd→||t||k||s||h||l||n||d͡ʒ||j||w|
All clusters can occur word-medially; those on a red background can also occur word-initially.
The consonants /k/, /t/ and the clusters /ts kw/ are pronounced voiced before any voiced sound (i.e. a vowel or /j/). They are voiceless at the end of a word or before a voiceless sound. /s/ is voiced word initially and between vowels.
Note that th and sh are pronounced as consonant clusters, not single sounds like in English thing and she.
Mohawk words tend to be longer on average than words in English, primarily because they consist of a large amount of morphemes, or 'meaningful parts'.
Mohawk expresses a number of distinctions on its pronominal elements: person (1st, 2nd, 3rd), number (singular, dual, plural), gender (masculine, feminine/indefinite, feminine/neuter) and inclusivity/exclusivity on the first person dual and plural. Pronominal information is encoded in prefixes on the verbs; separate pronoun words are used for emphasis. There are three main paradigms of pronominal prefixes: subjective (with dynamic verbs), objective (with stative verbs), and transitive.
There are three core components to the Mohawk proposition: the noun, the predicate, and the particle.
Mohawk words can be composed of many morphemes. What is expressed in English in many words can often be expressed by just one Mohawk word, a phenomenon known as polysynthesis.
|Nominal Prefix||Noun Stem||Nominal Suffix|
Noun prefixes give information relating to gender, animacy, number and person, and identify the word as a noun.
1) oʼnenste "corn"
2) oienʼkwa "tobacco"
Here, the prefix o- is generally found on nouns found in natural environments. Another prefix exists which marks objects that are made by humans.
3) kanhoha "door"
4) kaʼkhare "slip, skirt"
Here, the prefix ka- is generally found on manmade things. Phonological variation amongst the Mohawk dialects also gives rise to the prefix ga- to generally denote human made objects.
Noun roots are similar to nouns in English in that the noun root in Mohawk and the noun in English have similar meanings.
5) –eri- "heart"
6) –hi- "river"
7) –itshat- "cloud"
These noun roots are bare. There is no information other than the noun root itself. Morphemes cannot occur individually. That is, to be well-formed and grammatical, -eri- needs pronominal prefixes, or the root can be incorporated into a predicate phrase.
Nominal suffixes aren't necessary for a well-formed noun phrase. The suffixes give information relating to location and attributes. For example:
8) i. onuʼtaʼ "hill"
ii. onutaʼke "on the hill"
9) i. onekwvhsaʼ "blood"
ii. onekwvhsaʼke "in the blood"
Here the suffix < -ke > denotes location.
10) kvjyʼ "fish"
11) kvjaʼkoʼwa "sturgeon" or "big fish"
Here, the suffix -koʼwa denotes an augmentative suffix, which increases the attribute of the noun in question.
Mohawk verbs are one of the more complex parts of the language, composed of many morphemes that describe grammatical relations. The verb takes the following structure:
|Pre-Pronominal Prefix||Pronominal Prefix||Reflexive And Reciprocal Particle||Incorporated Noun Root||Verb Root||Suffixes|
Mohawk grammar allows for whole propositions to be expressed by one word, which we classify as a verb. The other core elements (subjects, objects, etc.) can be incorporated into the verb. Well-formed verb phrases contain at the bare minimum a verb root and a pronominal prefix. The rest of the elements are not necessary.
Tense, aspect and modality are expressed via suffixes on the verb phrase as well.
12) katorats "I hunt"
This is composed of three parts; the pronominal prefix, the verb root and a suffix which marks aspect. Mohawk seems to prefer aspect markers to tense to express grammaticalisation in time.
13) nyaʼtsvshayayaʼkeʼ "…where he will cross over again from here to there…"
"Where over here to there will again he cross."
This example shows multiple prefixes that can be affixed to the verb root, but certain affixes are forbidden from coexisting together. For example, the aorist and the future tense affix will not be found on the same well-formed sentence.
14) vsenataraʼ "You will make a visit"
future tense+ nominative pronoun + verb root + momentary ASP suffix
15) asenataraʼ "You should make a visit"
conditional mood prefix + nominative pronoun + verb root + momentary suffix
16) sanatahruneʼ "You were visiting"
Accusative Pronoun + verb root + stative suffix + momentary suffix
Here, different prefixes and suffixes are used that mark tense, aspect and modality.
Most grammatical relations in Mohawk are expressed through various different affixes onto a verb. Subjects, objects, and relationships between subjects and objects are given their own affixes. In Mohawk, each transitive relationship between subjects and objects are given their own prefix. For example:
17) a: ku-noruhkwa
I-you + love
"I love you"
I-him + love
"I love him"
I-it/her + love
"I love it/her"
Each of these affixes are denoting a transitive relationship between two things. There are more affixes for denoting transitive relationships like "we-they", they-us (inclusive/exclusive), etc.
One of the features of Mohawk called noun incorporation allows a verb to absorb a noun into it. When incorporation happens, an epenthetic a can appear between the noun root and the verb root. For example:
18) Owiraʼa wahrakeʼ ne oʼwahru
Baby ate the meat
With noun incorporation:
19) Owiraʼa wahaʼwahrakeʼ
20) Waʼeksohareʼ "She dish-washed" ks = dish, ohare=wash
21) Waʼkenaktahninuʼ "I bed-bought" nakt = bed + a (increment) + hninu=buy
22) Wahanaʼtarakwetareʼ "He bread-cut" naʼtar = bread + a (increment) + kwetar=cut
Most of these examples take the epenthetic vowel a; it can be omitted if the incorporated noun doesn't give rise a complex consonant cluster in the middle of the word.
The Mohawk alphabet consists of these letters: a e h i k n o r s t w y along with ʼ and ꞉ (see modifier letter apostrophe and modifier letter colon). The orthography was standardized in 1993. The standard allows for some variation of how the language is represented, and the clusters /ts(i)/, /tj/, and /ky/ are written as pronounced in each community. The orthography matches the phonological analysis as above except:
The low-macron accent is not a part of standard orthography and isn't used by the Central or Eastern dialects. In standard orthography, /h/ is written before /n/ to create the [en] or [on]: kehnhó꞉tons 'I am closing it'.
Stress, vowel length and tone are linked together in Mohawk. There are three kinds of stressed vowels: short-high tone, long-high tone, and long-falling tone. Stress is always written and occurs only once per word.
Starting in September 2017, the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario will offer a credit course in Mohawk; the classes are to be given at Renison University College in collaboration with the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre, St. Paul's University College.
Resources are available for self-study of Mohawk by a person with no or limited access to native speakers of Mohawk. Here is a collection of some resources currently available:
There are software packages available for both the Microsoft Windows and Mac operating systems to enable typing of the Mohawk language electronically. Both packages are available through FirstVoices, a web-based project to support Aboriginal peoples' teaching and archiving of language and culture.
|Mohawk language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
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