Two New Proto‑Algic Etymologies

In working to produce a new reconstruction of Proto-Algic, I’ve so far relied almost entirely on cognate sets identified by previous researchers, even when drawing different conclusions from them about how to reconstruct a protoform. Having largely exhausted these, it’s time to move on to looking for new cognates. These will naturally, but unfortunately, mostly consist of more precarious sets, as most of the low-hanging fruit has already been identified.

Recently I’ve found two cognate sets—one convincing, the other attractive but not entirely secure—that have not, to my knowledge, been fully endorsed in print before. (One was mentioned as a possibility in an aside when discussing a different comparison.) In a sense, they illustrate the sort of sets that are probably left to find: rather doubtful at first glance, but increasingly plausible the more one digs; one also, in the process, happily solves a question of the proper reconstruction of a Proto-Algonquian term.

[Fair warning: the post reconstructs and discusses the semantics of a few “taboo” body parts and bodily functions, though academically] Continue reading “Two New Proto‑Algic Etymologies”


Proto-Algonquian Verbs

Last updated: November 15, 2022

I was working on entirely revamping the section on verbs in my post on Proto-Algonquian (PA)—it put forth various poor analyses and was rather impenetrable—but it eventually became clear that that section would end up unmanageably long, and moving bulk of the material to this new post made more sense. So here I will outline the inflection of PA verbs, with particular focus being on the very complex argument-marking system. (Be aware that a number of things will, unavoidably, need to be oversimplified or passed over.)

Importantly, I hope in the process to help clear up some persistent and common misconceptions about how this system actually works. Ideally this section, at least, will be of interest to some people who otherwise don’t want to wade through another of my interminable posts! Continue reading “Proto-Algonquian Verbs”

Wikipedia Sucks

Last updated: November 22, 2022

I am concerned by how ubiquitous is the practice of practically everyone, including plenty of otherwise reasonable, intelligent people, quoting or citing or linking to Wikipedia for this or that fact or claim or subject. Wikipedia is certainly not useless, and for just quickly telling someone what a concept is, a link to the relevant Wikipedia article is often fine. But the problem with overdoing this, the problem with relying on Wikipedia in general—and especially for any details—is that Wikipedia sucks.

I realize this is not some novel claim. Problems with Wikipedia have been pointed out for its entire existence, but my impression is that far, far too many people may in theory say that it has some issues, but still continue to treat it as a basically reliable resource. Yet if I look at any article concerning a subject where I have some expertise or even some familiarity, in literally almost every single case (genuinely the only exception I can think of is the article on wolves) I find the article riddled with inaccuracies, ignorance, confusion, biases, and sourcing/citation failures of various sorts. And these are not minor issues, but pervasive, devastating problems that frequently render the article worthless. It’s also possible to spot some of these problems in articles where I don’t know anything about the subject, but not always. I have to assume, though, that the vast majority of articles are like this, though certain subject areas, such as most of the hard sciences, seem to be better than others.

To help drive the point home, in this post, I’d like to illustrate Wikipedia’s (as well as Wiktionary’s) suckiness with a few key examples. These are just examples I happened to stumble upon, or which friends have shared with me, and are arranged vaguely (though not totally consistently) in increasing order of detail and seriousness. They could easily be multiplied ad infinitum. Feel free to add your own favorite example(s) in the comments! Continue reading “Wikipedia Sucks”

Proto-Algonquian “*we” Was *o

Last updated: September 3, 2022

For those who’ve followed my earlier discussions on Proto-Algonquian, it may be of interest that I’ve now come around to agreeing with Ives Goddard’s conclusion that PA should be reconstructed with *o in place of traditional *we. The thinking and evidence is outlined in this document (PDF), which serves as one of the appendices to my now-revamped post on PA and Proto-Algic vowels. On the other hand, I’m not sure I agree with Goddard that PA distinguished *o from some rare *we sequences, but I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the relevant facts here . . .

Anyway, comments or questions are welcome.

Playing His Own Game: A Thanksgiving Post

Last updated: November 13, 2022

Squanto sought his owne ends, and plaid his owne game

—Bradford, Of Plim̃oth Plantation (OPP), pg. 71, spelling slightly modernized


If you’re a white American and you’re like me, the sum total of your childhood knowledge of the First Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims, and the Indian named Squanto was probably something like this:

Like the settlers at Jamestown, the Pilgrims at Plymouth endured a “starving time.” Half the group died during the first winter. However, they were saved by Native Americans who had learned to speak English. Squanto, a Native American, taught the Pilgrims how to plant native crops.

Sometime in the fall of 1621 the Plymouth settlement celebrated a good harvest by holding a three-day feast. It was the first Thanksgiving in New England. This Thanksgiving came to represent the peace that existed at that time between the Native Americans and Pilgrims.

This is from Dallek et al. (2008:68), a textbook for grades 6-8. For the most part this passage isn’t strictly incorrect. It is, however, both incredibly boring and inexcusably incomplete. It doesn’t just leave out things like the fact that there’s no such thing as “the Native Americans” as some monolithic block (“the peace that existed at the time between the Native Americans and Pilgrims” certainly didn’t exist between the Pilgrims and all regional Indian groups!), or how it came to be that some Indians had learned to speak English (in Squanto’s case, enslavement!), but it leaves out characters, which is the main thing that makes it boring. We have a passage with dozens of people dying horrible deaths, but there’s no pathos and no names or stories to actually bring home the fact that human lives have been lost. We also have a passage in which only one person, Squanto (whom I’ll now be calling “Tisquantum,” for reasons to be explained), is named, but in which he is certainly not a “character.” Other historically important characters, from Massasoit and Hobbamock to William Bradford and Edward Winslow, are not mentioned at all. Tisquantum pops into existence briefly in order to move the English people’s story along by teaching them how to plant crops (YAWN!), then vanishes again. His personality is never described, nor any of his other actions, nor are his motivations examined. (Nor for that matter are those of any of the other Indians—why did the Pokanoket chief Massasoit choose to help the English colony survive, for instance?)

But Tisquantum was very much a full-fledged character, a three-dimensional human being. The greatest sin in the traditional accounts of Indian history and Indian-white relations is the denial of agency to Indians—they are nothing but people to whom events happen, and they enter the narrative when interacting with whites, but their own responses to the situations in which they find themselves are almost never considered. This is true of the well-meaning but flawed “noble savage” and “poor oppressed Indians” narratives as well as the even less savory ones. Indians were obviously terribly treated and oppressed in multitudinous ways by European colonizing forces, but the overall series of processes by which this happened was complex, and Indian people did not just sit around passively allowing this to happen—they made reasonable and deliberate personal, economic, social, and political choices at every stage, even if they often had limited options and even if these choices often proved, with hindsight, not to lead to the desired consequences.

It has really only been relatively recently that non-Indian historians have begun to examine historical events in which Indians took part with an eye toward the Indians’ own experiences and choices. And sadly such an outlook still remains essentially absent from popular culture and school curricula. The story of Tisquantum and other southern New England Native peoples is a prime example in which Indians were clearly making calculated decisions and choices. For all their faults and their chauvinistic attitudes towards Indians, Bradford and other Pilgrims who knew Tisquantum were at times able to recognize this—and to be able to conclude that Tisquantum “sought his own ends and played his own game.” Continue reading “Playing His Own Game: A Thanksgiving Post”

Cat Eye Lake Clocks and Ojibwe Metaphors

Last updated: May 12, 2022

Single Algonki[a]n words are like tiny imagist poems.

—Sapir, Language, pg. 244

[Note: I don’t have great confidence that everything here will turn out to be correct. I’m not an expert on metaphors, nor am I a fluent speaker of Ojibwe, just a learner. Also, while I seem to pick on one researcher here a lot, it’s only because his paper is the main thing I know of that makes a certain claim and which I have access to. It’s not my purpose to attack him in particular.]

Text #27, “Cats’ Eyes,” is one of the shortest texts in Leonard Bloomfield’s grammar of Odawa (which he labeled “Eastern Ojibwa”). Like all of the texts it was narrated in 1938 by Andrew Medler, who was born in Saginaw, MI but lived most of his life on Walpole Island, ON, and in it Medler offers an explanation for an unusual Odawa expression. Continue reading “Cat Eye Lake Clocks and Ojibwe Metaphors”