Introduction

 

Hulunìixsuwáakan (also called Lunaapeew, Delaware, Munsee Delaware, Munsee, Munsiiw) was spoken in the southeastern part of the state of New York, parts of northern New Jersey, and northeastern Pennsylvania by the Minsi or Munsee Indians, a subtribe of the Delaware tribe. The dialect was closely related to other Eastern Algonquian dialects such as Mohican, and the Delaware Unami dialect. The Rampough Indians spoke a very closely related dialect as well.

The author is an enrolled member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. As such I might be tempted to simply call the language ‘Munsee’ however no consensus has been reached amongst the speakers about what to call this dialect.

Therefore I will refer to the language using all of its names on a rotating basis and hope my readers find this solution non-offensive.

Another disclaimer:
There are is no ‘one right way’ to pronounce or conjugate various words. Linguists who worked with speakers from the 1960s onward encountered many variations affecting words and grammar such that establishing a perfect unquestionable grammar is simply not possible. Furthermore historical records of speech teach us that this language, like all languages, evolved over time. Perhaps at some point those of us who are interested in language revitalization can work together to fine tune the information presented here.

This website was designed to be used as a teaching tool, and most sections contain one or more practicums which are pages that contain quizzes, exercises and drills about each topic.
The quizzes are anonymous and because they are interactional, they should help the learning process.

The site may also be used as a reference tool. I have tried to be redundant in presenting key points of grammar such that one should not have go hunting for some obscure abbreviation or grammar rule in previous chapters.

I would suggest working sequentially chapter by chapter and doing the practicums as they are encountered.

Now on to the introduction …

Compared to English, Delaware has many ‘quirks’

 

QUIRK #1

Nouns have quirky gender : animate and inanimate.
Verbs also have gender and the gender of the verb must match the gender of the nouns in the sentence. Other parts of speech have gender specific forms also. English does have some gender specific words, and English matches the gender for such words also.
‘See the waitress. She dropped her name tag.’
‘She’ and ‘her’ match the word ‘waitress’ in gender.

 

Most living things are animate in gender in Munsee Delaware but there are some notable exceptions such as fruit. There are non-living animate nouns like the words for spirits and miscellaneous words like ball, fingernail and snow.


koon             
snow

níhkash        
fingernail

néenaxkw    
ball

pámbiil         
book

Most non-living things are inanimate, however some berries, nuts, vegetables are inanimate such as words for strawberry, corn and pumpkin.


wtéehiim          
strawberry

xwáskwiim       
corn

máhkahkw       
pumpkin

paxkshíikan     
knife

níhkaat             
leg

mbuy               
water

Huluniixsuwáakan speakers think of nouns in terms of ‘he/she’ for animates and in terms of ‘it’ for inanimates.

Plurals (more than one of a noun) form differently for each gender. The plural animate ‘they’ could be thought of as:
‘more than one he or she’

The plural inanimate ‘they’ could be thought of as:
‘more than one it’

There is no way to say ‘’she’‘ distinctly from ’‘he’‘ in Lunaapeew. Historically, when native speakers began to learn English they would refer to both male and female subjects as ’‘he’‘.
(Reference: Jonathan Edwards; Observations on the Mahican Language)

 

QUIRK #2 ACCENTS

Munsee, like English places accents in the form of stress or emphasis in words. The accents do shift around at times when the word changes from adding prefixes, plurals, possessive suffixes etc. English sometimes does this also:
Japan (jaPAN) vs Japanese (JAPanESE)

 

Munsiiw words use changes in their initial consonants and vowels for some forms. Sometimes sounds at the ends of words change as endings are added. These changes will be explained as they occur in subsequent chapters.
One must get accustomed to these changes and attune the ear to the various patterns of accents, and realize that words may end up looking and sounding very different depending on use.

QUIRK #3 THE WAY DELAWARE USES VERBS

There is one verb for talking about a person eating in general, but a different verb is used to talk about a person eating something ‘inanimate’ and yet another verb is used to talk about a person eating something ‘animate’.

In other words there are distinct verbs, grouped into verb types for different kinds of subjects and different kinds of objects, with regards to animate or inanimate gender. It is not simply a matter of changing endings.

 

QUIRK #4: NO DEFINITE ARTICLE

Use of specific verb tenses (or modes) is how one refers to things in a specific definite way versus a vague or indefinite way. English does this using the definite article ‘the’ or the indefinite articles ‘a’ and ‘some’. (I saw the book vs I saw a book)

 

 

QUIRK #5 OBVIATIVES

One must learn to use special noun and verb forms called obviative forms.
Obviative forms are used when more than one 3rd animate person exists in a sentence:
He saw him.
These forms add a ‘marker’ (the (al) suffix) to animate nouns and verbs which refer to that ‘other or obviative third person’. This ensures that everyone knows how all the 3rd person participants relate to each other and /or to the verb.
He saw-al him-al.

 

 

QUIRK #6 BUILT IN SUBJECTS AND OBJECTS

Huluniixsuwáakan verbs, unlike English, can stand alone since they contain information about the verb subject and about the verb object (for those verbs which encode for one). Subjects (such as it, I, you, he, us, ye, they etc) are built into the verb structure.
Verbs, because of this property, do not rely on pronouns to say things like ‘’I saw him, he saw me’‘ A pronoun simply adds emphasis and redundancy to the information that is already encoded by way of the prefixes and suffixes on the verb stem.

 

 

QUIRK #7 QUIRKY WORD ORDER

Sentences show much variation of word order, without confusion because of the specificity of the word forms. Some word order variations provide subtle shifts in focus and emphasis.

 

 

QUIRK #8 NO PAST TENSE

Past events and present events use the same verb structures, so context mostly is what makes it clear whether the action is here and now or in the past.

 

 

QUIRK #9 QUESTIONS

Questions are formed in a variety of ways, and often involve using extra words (like ta, ha) instead of relying on word order l
as English does. Pitch (variations of the sound of the voice) like in English, also plays a role in asking questions

 

 

QUIRK #10 NEGATIVES

Negative statements are made by adding suffixes to verbs (conjugation) and using extra words such as not, no and don’t.
(mah, mahta, chiile, chii)

 

 

QUIRK #11 PRONOUN WEIRDNESS

Munsee Delaware has two versions of ‘we’

 

'We exlusive' (niilóona) means 'we' excluding the listener  

'We inclusive' (kiilóona) means 'we' including the listener

 

QUIRK #12 POSSESSIVES-LOCATIVE-DIMINUTIVES

Munsiiw modifies words with prefixes and sometimes a possessive suffix (-um-) to express possessive forms (your, mine, ours). A locative ending (-ung) modifies nouns to make it understood that the noun is a location. Adjectives or prepositions like ‘to’ or ‘at’ are not used. The ending (-ush) adds the meaning of ‘cute, little’ to a noun. (diminutives)
Words using several of these suffixes together may get quite long, but are very cute.

 

ashíikan               sock  
wtashíikan           his sock  
wtashíikanal        his socks  
wtashiikanúshal  his little socks  
(adds prefix (wt-) and suffixes (-ush) and the plural (al))

 

QUIRK #13 PREVERBS AND PRENOUNS

Instead of using adjectives, Delaware speakers create new compound words on the fly using parts of speech called preverbs and prenouns that are added to nouns or verbs. The compound words thus formed takes on prefixes and endings as if it was one big word.

 

Lúnuw                  a man  
Pshíhkii-lúnuw    a nice man

Other parts of speech are stand alone words which do not combine to nouns or verbs and do not take endings or prefixes. Examples:


chii =  don’t
nal =   then

 

QUIRK #14 OPTIONS AND VARIATIONS

Huluniixsuwáakan is a language full of options!
Some speakers say things one way, others a different way.
Some say ‘wahw’ egg and some say ‘wahwal’.
(Reference Linguistic Variation in a Small Speech Community: The Personal Dialects of Moraviantown Delaware by Ives Goddard )

Some endings may be used fully or may be truncated.
(-e or –eem verb endings -) This is similar to English variations between going, goin’ or gonna.

There are Preverb (PV) Prenoun (PN) variants.
One may use a PV or use a pre-existing verb to express the same idea

Some use modern shorter endings vs older, longer variants (sort of like thee’s and thou’s)

Negative forms may vary: –han or –wu instead of –wi

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