Friday, February 8, 2013

The Words They Used

Particularly for an archaeologist, it can be a lot of fun to know a linguist. My friend Michael McCafferty studies, among other things, the language of the Miami and the Illinois, which was the native tongue of the region from about 1600 to about 1750. Population decline amongst the Illinois (and the increase in French settlers) favored French as the local language by the mid-1700s. This was exchanged for English after the arrival of significant numbers of American settlers after 1800.

Michael provides me occasional insights into the language of the Illinois, which help interpret what we find in the ground, or which simply breathe a little life into the physical remains of the past. Below are a few things he has shared with me. (The Illinois words have been reproduced here in the way the French missionaries wrote the language.)

In Illinois: cacar8gana
In French: os de Cerf pour faire des pierres a fl.
In English: deer bones for making arrow stones

In Illinois: irenakic8a
In French: pot de terre fait par les sauvages
In English: earthen pot made by the wild ones

In Illinois: nitchingasichima achiski8akic8a  
In French: je presente au feu la gueule du pot de terre pr le seicher
In English: I introduce the neck of the earthen pot to the fire to dry it

In Illinois: 8apakic8nessa ("little white pot")
In French: de fayance  
In English: (French) faience

In Illinois: atehiminanghigi areni tchipacamina8e nipinirakinchi
In French: avec des fraise on fait une eau qui est coe une Espece de vin
In English: with strawberries they make a water which is like a kind of wine

In Illinois: nanta8a8ia am8i (literally ‘timber rattlesnake shit’)
In French: charbon de terre  
In English: coal