The language spoken on Long Island and in southern New England are all part of the Eastern Algonquian language family.1 The Unkechaug language, for example, shares a vowel pattern with northern New England languages such as Abenaki and Micmac.2
Native women and men have carried on their lives and their expression through the use of the newer languages, particularly Spanish, French, and English, and they have used these languages on their own terms. This is the crucial item that has to be understood, that it is entirely possible for a people to retain and maintain their lives through the use of any language. There is not a question of authenticity here; rather it is the way that Indian people have creatively responded to forced colonization. And this response has been one of resistance; there is no clearer word for it than resistance.3
Early Recorded Algonquian Names
The Algonquian names for individuals and places were recorded by colonial scribes as they heard them pronounced by Native speakers. The spellings were phonetic. The scribe listened to the Native speaker and spelled the word out as he heard it. Thus the spelling was idiosyncratic, varying from scribe to scribe, and often even from one part of a given document to another. The scribes were little concerned with precise spellings for Algonquian names. Contemporary scholars, including Gaynell Stone and John Strong, have been guided by the spellings in William Wallace Tooker‘s classic, Indian Place Names on Long Island, for the sake of consistency.4
In 2017, Unkechaug Chief Harry Wallace, with Stephanie Fielding of Mohegan and Tina Tarrant of Shinnecock, launched a language immersion class hosted by Stony Brook University.
The grammatical rules and dictionaries used in the class can be found here, http://moheganlanguage.com/, though the database and rules are being updated constantly.
Below are historical, cultural, spiritual, and archaeological sites that have Algonquian names. William Wallace Tooker was instrumental for associating a location with the traditional site names based on deeds between colonists and Indians, but his given translations have been described as unreliable.
Based on the James Hammond Trumbell’s 1903 Natick Dictionary, which largely corresponds to the Shinnecock dialect of Algonquian, along with the contemporary scholarship of Tina Tarrant (Shinnecock), Harry Wallace (Unkechaug), and Stephanie Fielding (Mohegan), new translations for ancestral sites without names have been given.
Appaquogue / Apoquogue was derived from Dr. J. Hammond Trumbull's study of Indian Names in Connecticut. The name signifies "a place where flags grow."
The root means "to cover"; as in the Massachusetts, appuhquau, "he covers it," and abuhquosik, "a covering"; Narragansett abockquos, "a mat for covering the wigwam"; Chippewa apawei, "lodge mat."
Chippewa and Ottowa pukwi, "cat-tail flag," gives its name to Puckaway Lake, on the route from Green Bay to Wisconsin River.
The word appaquogue represents appaqui-auke and means "lodge-covering place," the components being appaqui, "lodge-covering" and "-auke, "place." [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names on Long Island, 1911, pp. 15]
Ashawagh may translate to "a place between." (the branches of the creek)
William Wallace Tooker compared Massachusett nashaue (John Eliot) and "in the middle"; n'ashaw-auk, "land in the middle to approximate the translation. Tooker found that the same name occured in various forms throughout New England and on Long Island; Ashawog, Assawog, Nashaway, etc. [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names 1911, pp. 107]
The Natives of that area named the creek "Copeces", which translates from Algonquin to "little place of shelter." [1. Soak Hides Nature PReserve: Management Plan, 2001 pp. 3]
Ayeuonganit Wampum Ayimꝏup translates to 'in this place wampum was made.' [1. Translation: Tina Tarrant, Shinnecock]
Canarsie may translate to "the fenced place."
Many scholars believe that the Indians living around New York Harbor spoke Munsee, a dialect of an Algonquian language known as Delaware. The ancestral homeland of the Delaware people stretched along the Middle Atlantic seaboard from New York Harbor south to Delaware Bay.
Munsee speakers lived in the northern part of the Delaware homeland from Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau westward across northern New Jersey and downstate New York to the upper Delaware River valley. [1. New World Encounters Jasper Danckaerts' View of Indian Life in 17th Century Brooklyn - Canarsie history pp. 1]
Corchaug translates to "the greatest or principal place."
Tooker determines Kitchaminchok to mean "the beginning island" based on the Massachusetts kutche, it "begins," with Montaukett munchoage, "an island." [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names on Long Island, 1911, pp. 84]
Konkhunganik is the name of the southern part of Fort Pond, Montauk, East Hampton town, generally applied by historians to the whole part. First noted in the Indian deed of 1661, viz.: "All the piece or neck of land belonging to Montauk land western to a fresh pond in a beach, the name of the pond being Quanuntowunk on the north and Konkhunganik on the south," (Hedge's Address, 1849). [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names of Long Island, 1911 pp 84]
The meaning of Mamanock is unknown. Tooker translated the name to "land united or joined (to some other tract)," but his translation is based on the Chippewa Algonquian dialect (mamawissin, it joins together). [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names on Long Island, 1911, pp. 90]
Other variations are Maritches and Mamannuck, 1697.
The specific traditional and Algonquian language name for this site has been lost, thus it has been given the name Witche Cochimincoake; above Cochimincoake.
The locative/preposition Witche, means among or above, which comes from Cotton's Indian Vocabulary [1. Josiah Cotton, Vocabulary of the Massachusetts (or Natick), 1829 pp. 91]. Cotton also provides the words kenugke and waabe along with witche, but witche corresponds closer to other Algonquian dialects for above.
Cochimincoake describes what is now known as Moriches Island. Tooker mentioned that the name was first recorded in a law suit between John Cooper, plaintiff, and John Ogden, defendant, held at New York on October 30-31st, Nov. 1-2-4 during the early contact period of 1667, suggesting an accuracy in the name of the area. The direct translation was not recorded. Tooker describes the court case that regards whales casting upon the beach. [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names on Long Island, 1911, pp. 43]
Kitchaminchok is local to this site, known as the sacred coastal area where the whales beached.
Manhansack-aqua-quash-awamock translates to "island sheltered by islands," which was the Algonquian name used by the resident Manhanset Indians in the seventeenth century. [1. Duvall, 1952, pp. 9, John Charles Witek, Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, Nm 53, 1990, pp. 39]
Missi Kesukut translates to 'at great sky,' referring to 'great sky' as an individual rather than the sky above us. Oral story describes great sky as spirit who guards this protected region of land.
Missi, mishe, misheu, missiyeu, (it is) great. [1. James Hammond, Natick Dictionary 1903, pp. 59]
From Ezek. 17, 3; 1. Chr. 16, 25; pl. Missiyeauash kut-onkquatunkanash - your rewards are great.
From Matt. 5, 12; nano missi, it is more and more great, 'it increaseth'
Ps. 74, 23; Job 10, 16; suppos. mohsag, when it is great, a great thing
Ex. 15, 7; Deut. 4, 32; Matt. 23, 17, 19; aneu mohsag, (that which is) more great, the greatest
Mat. 22, 36. [Narragansett mishe, missi. Abanaki: mese; nemeseghik8i't8n, je le fais plus grand. Cree: missow, it is large. Chippewa: mitcha, it is big, large. Deleware: m'cheu, big, large (it is), Zeisb.]
Kesuk, sky - the visible heavens, the sky. [1. James Hammond, Natick Dictionary 1903, pp. 323]
In the local Algonquian dialect, '-ut' is attached to words to create the locative at, on, or in.
Montauk translates to "the fort country."
The Dutch called the Montauk Mirrachtauhacky [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names of Long Island, 1911, pp. 135];
Mirrachtauhacky: Dutch Notation for Montauk. This form of spelling is found on record in the treaty of May 29, 1645; when Wittaneymen Sachem appeared before the Council of New Netherland, declaring to be impowered by his bretheren[sic], naming among other Weyrinteynich [Wiandance], Sachem of Mirrachtauhacky [1. col. Hist. N. Y., vol. xiv., p. 60]. De Kay cites: "Merautahacky an unknown locality on Long Island" [1. Tooker, Indian Names of L.I.]
The Montaukett had their own local dialect of Algonquian, but were understood by the Shinnecock, Unkechaug, and New England tribes.
On March 25, 1798, John Lyon Gardiner recorded Montaukett vocabulary from Sachem George Pharoah in a personal manuscript;
"March 25, 1798. A vocabulary of the Indian language spoken by the Montauk tribe. George Pharoah, aged 66, oldest man of that tribe and their chief gave me this specimen of their language. There are only about seven persons that can now speak this language and a few years more and it will be gone forever. It was spoken with little difference by all the Indians upon the East end of Long Island and perhaps the whole Island and the adjoining Islands. George says the Moheags of Connecticut speak the same language. George repeated these words several times and I write them as near as he pronounced as I can with the English alphabet."
The vocabulary list has been published in Gaynell Stone's Languages and Lore of the Long Island Indians, Vol IV
The Algonquian word for this locality is "Niamuck," and its meaning is "the place between the fishing places," or "midway the fishing place."
This Algonquian word is first found in records of Southampton, vol ii, p. 27 viz: "Part of the Shinnecock Indians have made over all their land from Niamuck over to the old gutt westward unto Capt. Topping. "
Again, "Lying from a place called Niamuck or ye Canoe Place," (Indian deed, 1666). [1. H.D. Sleight, The Eighth Volume of Records of the Town of Southampton 1893 - 1927 Part Two, 1930 pp. 233]
Nissaquogue translates to "the clay or mud country." [1. William Wallace Tooker, The Indian Place Names on Long Island, 1991, pp. 161]
Tooker found variations of the name; Tesequagg 1655; Nessaquock, 1665; NEsaquake, 1666; Nasaquack, 1666; Neesoquauk, 1663; Nesquauk, 1665; Nesoquack, 1671; Nassaquake, 1675; and modernly Nissequogue.
According to Tooker, the name Noyac may be translated to "a point or corner of land" from Massachusett Naiag. [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names on Long Island, 1911, pp. 166]
Variants are Noyack, 1686; Noiack, 1712. Modernly the word is spelt Noyac or Noyack.
Noyack corresponds to the Massachusetts Naiag, "point" or "corner." Trumbull [1. Notes to the Narr. Club ed. of R. William's Key] remarks:
"I may be permitted to suggest that nai, 'having corners,' and naiag or naiyag (as Eliot writes the word), 'a corner' or 'angle,' gave the name to many points of land on the sea-coast and rivers of New England, e.g., Nayatt Point in Barrington, Mass., Nayack in Southampton, L.I..."
The site, known as the Wading River site in research, has been given the name Pahquahkossit based on Tooker's research [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names on Long Island, 1911, p175]
Pahquahokossit: Wading River, Riverhead town. So recorded in 1687 (S. R., vol. i., p. 344).
James Hammond Trumbull, who studied Native American dialects and published The Composition of Indian Geographical Names (1870), The Best Methods of Studying the Indian Languages (1871), Indian Names of Places in Connecticut (1881) and other similar works, had mentioned a similar name in Connecticut [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names on Long Island, 1911 pp. 181];
"It might be from petuquis, 'round'; -as or -es, diminutive; petuqu-as 'a small round place,' 'hill,' 'wigwam, 'or sweat house.'
The indigenous name for the village and pond were not recorded, however the name Patuckquapaug has been appropriated from another text that describes a Round Lane in Connecticut:
Patuckquapaen and Tuscumcatick are noted in French's Gazetteer as names of record in what is now the town of Greenbush, Rensselaer County, without particular location. The first is in part Algonquian and in part Dutch. The original was, no doubt, Patuckquapaug, as in Greenwich, Ct., meaning "Round pond." The Dutch changed paug to paen descriptive of the land - low land - so we have, as it stands, "Round Land," "elevated hassocks of earth, roots," etc. [1. New York State Historical Association, 1906, pp. 62]
Quonne-tukq-ut signifies [1. William Wallace Tooker, Indian Place Names of Long Island, 1911, pp. 208] "at the long river,"
From quonne, "long";
-tukq, "tidal river";
In 1690, it is also spelled Quoneticut. [1. The Fifth Volume of Records of the Town of Southampton, 1910, pp. 266]
Raconkamuck may have been the original name of the large pond of water situated in the three towns of Islip, Smithtown, and Brookhaven. It is still retained in the modern and more softened form of Ronkonkoma as applied to the lake and to a village in its vicinity. [1. Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac, 1895, pp. 56]
Historians have attempted to translate Raconkamuck from New England languages as a derivation wonkonk or wakonk-amuck, "the fence or boundary fishing place," because the fences were the "live hedges" running through the first, lopped by the Indians and whites on the boundary line of the towns of Brookhaven and Smithtown, all terminating at the pond - the fishing place.
Shinnecock is a neck of land, and the name may translate to 'at the big neck.'
This name supports the idea that the element -uniikw- means 'neck of land.' Tooker noted the Dutch spelling of the name [Mochgonnekonck [1. Tooker, Indian Place Names of Long Island, 1911, pp. XXV, 136-8]] (in the Munsee language, spoken on Manhattan), which is a key to the interpretation.
Munsee */mxwuníikwunk/ ‘at the big -uniikw-’ would be in SNEA (Southern New England Algonquian) */mhshuniikwuk/ (with /m(u)hsh-/ ‘big’, which is what Shinnecock is, with loss (in the language) or omission (by English hearers) of the whispered “m-”. (written here schwa [technically /O/] with “u” for convenience, following the Munsee practical orthography.) [1. Ives Goddard, A Note on Shinnecock in Munsee, Email Corrispondance 2017]
Unkechaug translates to people from beyond the hill.
The language spoken on Long Island and in southern New England are all part of the Eastern Algonquian language family. [1. Goddard 1978] The Unkechaug language, for example, shares a vowel pattern with such northern New England languages asAbenaki and Micmac. [1. Costa 2007, pp. 96]
Thomas Jefferson collected the most extensive surviving vocabulary taken directly from Unkechaug speakers during a visit in 1791. [1. Boyd 1982, 467-70] Three other fragments of the language were recorded from native Unkechaug informants.
Of Jefferson's 202 words, there were only eleven verbs, the rest being nouns and numbers. The nouns included names of animals, plants, parts of the human body, gender, natural phenomena, religion and geographic features.
In 1874, Henry Clinton visited the Unkechaug Reservation and spoke to an unidentified Unkechaug of fifty years old. He recorded;
oak fungus - punksole
snake - skuk
land turtle - metchik
thank you, sir - to bi ni
In 1903, Mesh (moses) Bradley, an Unkechaug elder, repeated the words for snake and turtle to archaeologist Mark Harrington as he was excavating a village site near the Shinnecock Reservation. [1. Levine and Bonvillain 1980, 22]
In 1932, a year before passing, Martha Maynes, an elderly Unkechaug woman, gave several words to Frank Siebert Jr, however Siebert published only one of these words; [1. Rudes 1997, pp. 5]
torep - sea turtle
In 2017, Unkechaug Chief Harry Wallace, with Stephanie Fielding of Mohegan and Tina Tarrant of Shinnecock, launched a language immersion class hosted by Stony Brook University.
Variations of Weeckatuck are Weeckatuck [better spelling as earlier spellings likely more accurate], used in 1706; Weckatuck, 1797 and Wickatuck, 1964.
This name is susceptible of two interpretations: either, weque-tugk, "end of the woods or trees"; or weque-tuk, "end of the cove or creek." There is no difference between "gk" and "k," but the first spelling wouldn't be correct grammatically. End of the cove or creek is likely to be the correct translation.
Reaching far afield in the Algonquian family, we could reasonable compare Ojibwe wiikwedong, locative of wiikwed 'bay,' which would have an expectd SNEA (Southern New England Algonquian) cognate wîhkwâtuk. Thus the meaning here would be 'in or at the cove,' assuming, on this evidence along that this word existed. We are also assuming that the 'ck' in the name should have been 'qu,' on the basis of a word we know elsewhere, but it could also mean something different. [1. Ives Goddard, email correspondence, 2017]
Both significations will apply to the locality, Weeckatuck spring being at the "end of the woods," from any direction of approach, from Noyack, Sag Harbor, or Bridgehampton. It is also the "head of the cove" from the same directions.
The first component, in either case, will be weque (in Massachusetts, uhquae), "end"; the -tugk of Wequetugk will correspond to Massachusetts m'h'tug (root, h'tug), "tree"; the -tuk of Wequetuk is -tuck, "tidal stream," "creek." [1. Tooker, W. W. (1962). The Indian place-names on Long Island and islands adjacent with their probable significations. Port Washington, NY: I.J. Friedman. pp 277]
The word [1. James Hammond, Natick Dictionary, 1903, pp. 132] for whale in the local Algonquian dialect is pótab (variations pottab, pottap).
The fin of a fish is [1. James Hammond, Natick Dictionary, 1903, pp. 182] wapwékan.
- Goddard 1978
- Costa 2007, pp. 96
- Simon Ortiz wrote in his 1981 MELUS essay
- John Strong, The Unkechaug Indians of Eastern Long Island – A History, 2011, pp. XV
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