Wampanoag Tribe on Marthas Vineyard and together they were able to bring

Wampanoag tribe on marthas vineyard and together they

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Wampanoag Tribe on Martha’s Vineyard, and together they were able to bring several of the tribal bands together around the goal of reawakening their language. Jessie then began looking at old documents from local archives and the tribal offices, which were written phonetically in Wampanoag. Beginning in the 17th century, the Wampanoags needed to communicate with the English about property rights and other legal matters, so a considerable record exists from the 17th and 18th centuries, written in the indigenous language — including the first King James Bible published in the Western Hemisphere, which Wampanoag people helped missionaries translate into their language. The Aquinnah and Mashpee Tribes formed a language committee, including members from other historic Wampanoag communities like Assonet and Herring Pond, and began holding monthly meet- ings. There came a point when some committee members decided to invite an expert, an individual trained in native languages, to help them. Ken Hale, a linguist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) whose specializations included Algonqian languages, had the expertise they were seeking, but community members wanted to work with a Native American linguist. During a presentation Ken made at one of the language committee meetings, Jessie questioned his ability to help them. Some time later, when she received a research fellowship to study Wampanoag in the MIT Linguistics Department, Ken Hale welcomed her and they began to work together immediately. Despite the fact that she did not have a BA, Jessie earned a master's degree in linguistics at MIT in 2000, the same year that Ken Hale passed away. Jessie spoke movingly, in English and Wampanoag, at his memorial service. Having no other Wampanoag speakers to work with, Jessie’s method of learning the language is to record herself reading a document aloud, and then create a conversation (talking to herself)—which she also records—based on that document and close comparisons with other closely related Native American languages. Wampanoag is one of more than 30 languages in the Algonquian language family, and Jessie sometimes has to find new words by examining other Algonquian languages that are still spoken, like Ojibwe and Passamaquoddy. Since Ken Hale’s death, Jessie has mentored another Mashpee Wampanoag tribal citizen, Nitana Hicks, to follow in her footsteps in the MIT Linguistics Program. Together they have continued to work with Norvin Richards—another MIT linguist—to create a Wampanoag dictionary, using the 17th-century Bible translated by missionary John Eliot, as well as other old documents. The dictionary now contains over thirteen thousand words. Interwoven with the story of Jessie’s work on reclaiming the Wampanoag language is the story of the Wampanoags' devastating history as a result of the arrival of Europeans in their homelands. Epidemics that spread quickly from European trade and fishing ships even before the Pilgrims arrived, confiscation of Native

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