Chapter 6: The Human Body

by Dr. Frank Waabu O'Brien, Aquidneck Indian Council

This short treatise stems from the research of the Massachusett-Narragansett Revival Program, a project for the reconstruction of the extinct American Indian languages of southeastern New England. Our intention is to make these works available to a wide audience. The present paper shows translations for about 110 names for parts of the human body taken from the extinct American Indian Algonquian languages of southeastern New England, Narragansett, Massachusett and related dialects. Not all terms for the large number of human body parts were recorded by the missionaries of Colonial New England. Occasionally vocabulary words are borrowed from the North Boston-shore Massachusett dialect when no extant terms were discovered. Reconstruction of such words in Massachusett-Narraganset may be modeled on these terms from similar Algonquian languages.

Grammar Note

Algonquian languages are highly inflectional.The manner in which simple possessive nouns for body parts are inflected[2] is illustrated by the following,taken from John Eliot’s 1666 grammar book for the Natick dialect of the Massachusett language:



We note that this example illustrates the forms for the human “heart”. The root word for heart in this dialect is tah (“thing of existence”). The possessive forms are inflected by changing the prefix and suffix elements in the manner illustrated. Thus, any inflected word is of the form PREFIX + ROOT + SUFFIX. The occurrence of a double consonant (“t” and “h” in this example) is common English spelling practice. Pronunciation probably blends the consonants so that Nuttah is perhaps “nuh tah” (accent omitted). Thus, both singular (sing.) and plural (pl.) of “I” has form n’ (where the apostrophe ’ means a reduced vowel is substituted); singular (sing.) and plural (pl.) of “you” has form k’; and singular (sing.) and plural (pl.) of “his” has form w’ (sometimes o’ or u’). The appropriate suffix must be added to obtain pl. forms. The generic form “The ___” is usually given as m’ as illustrated by Eliot: “The heart” is m’ + root = metah (omitting diacritical marks). This standard form is not always seen(e.g. “thumb”). An example for “foot”; the root is “seet”; thus “my foot” is “nusseet”.

The plural for body parts is based on the fact that these nouns are inanimate and follow the pluralization declension form[3]: NOUN + ash (sometimes w or y glides and other elements interspersed for pronunciation).

EXAMPLES:

· feet”       = musseetash = m’ + seet (root) + ash (w/ double consonant).

· “my feet” = nusseetash = n’ + seet (root) + ash (w/ double consonant).


The Vocabulary listing presents the m’ form unless otherwise noted as either non-extant or nonstandard. The general rules provided above should be sufficient for inflection or declension of most of the Massachusett-Narragansett body-part nouns whereas the Wood vocabulary is more problematical but presumably conforms generally to Massachusett-Narragansett syntax. Textual footnotes explain the concepts of “abstract nouns” and “reduplication” seen in these Algonquian languages.

Vocabulary: The Human Body

The vocabulary listing is presented alphabetically as a table of three columns. On the left is the English language term being translated, as translated in the middle column (with language/dialect identified), and any useful comments on the right side (including etymology). The main contributing language is Massachusett (Eliot, Cotton and Trumbull references). The abbreviation Narr. refers to the Narragansett language as recorded by Roger Williams (1643). Pequot is a reference to the glossary of Prince and Speck (1904). The abbreviation “Wm. Wood” refers to the 275-word vocabulary compiled by William Wood in 1634. William Wood wrote an expository work of his 17th century experiences in the New World, entitled New Englands Prospect, which summarized his observations among the Massachusêuck (Massachusett Indians, “People of the Great Hills”). The character &c means “etc.” Notes in the COMMENT column are itemized by “bullets” when multiple Algonquian translations are listed; the order of the “bullets” in each column correspond.

The Body
(Muuhog)

Algonquian

(∞ = oo as in food)

Comment

ankle

  • mussipsk (Mass.)
  • suppiske (Wm. Wood)
  • “where the bones touch behind”
  • appears to be root word for “ankle bones”

arm

  • méhpít (Mass.)
  • napet (Wm. Wood)
  • related to “round” ?
  • “ the (my ?) arm”

armpit

Menukque (Mass.)

“to armholes”

back

Muppuskq (Mass.)

“bare, uncovered”

backbone

dottaguck (Wm. Wood)

appears to be root word for “backbone

belly

  • misshat (Mass.)
  • wawpiske (Wm. Wood)
  • related to “it is great”?
  • “the belly” (root?)

blood

  • musquéheonk[4] (Mass.)
  • mishquè (Narr.)
  • néepuck (Pequot ?)
  • squehincke (Wm. Wood)
  • “red stuff”
  • “it is  red” (inanimate)
  • "my blood"?
  • “blood” (root?)

body

  • muhhog (Mass.)
  • hoc (Wm. Wood)
  • “the body”
  • appears to be root word for “body”

bone

  • muskon (Mass.)
  • muskanai (Wm. Wood)
  • from “horn” or “hide” ?
  • “a bone”

bosom

p∞chenau[5] (Mass.)

“divided in two”

bowels

menógkus (Mass.)

“on the inside of the body”

brain

metùp (Mass.)

related to “top”

breast

  • mohpânneg (Mass.)
  • mapànnog (Narr.)

“that divided in two”

breast,  the breastbone

nobpaw nocke(Wm. Wood)

“the (my?)  breastbone”

cheek

man∞nau (Mass.)

from “he sucks” ?

chin

  • mishoon (or) mish∞n (Mass.)
  • ottannapeake (Wm.Wood)
  • related to “canoe”(canoe is “chin-shaped”)?
  • appears to be root word for “the chin”

ear

  • méhtâuog[6] (Mass.)
  • tonagus  (Wm. Wood)
  • related to “knows, understands”
  • appears to be root word for “the ears” (plural?)

elbow

  • meesk (Mass.)
  • nisquan (Wm.Wood)
  •  
  • “the (my ?) elbow”

eye

  • muskēsuk (Mass.)
  • skesicos (Wm.Wood)
  • related to “sky, sun, heavens”
  • appears to be root word for “the eyes” (plural?)

eyebrow

  • momounog[7] (Mass.)
  • mamanock (Wm. Wood)
  • they move up and down”?
  •  

finger orfingertip

Muppuhkukquanitch (Mass.)

“it divides the hand” or “head of the finger”

finger, fingernail

  • múhkos (Mass.)
  • mokássuck [8](Narr.)
  • from “sharp, hooked”
  •  

finger, fingernail,

“ the black of the [finger] nail”

mocossa (Wm.Wood)

“ the black of the nail”

finger, forefinger

genehuncke  (Wm.Wood)

 

finger, little

  • muttasonitch (Mass.)
  • metosaunige (Wm.Wood)
  • “the last of the hand” (subordinate mood?); “head of the hand”
  • “the little finger”

finger, the middle

naw naunidge (Wm.Wood)

“ the (my ?) middle finger”

foot

  • musseet (Mass.)
  • seat (Wm.Wood)
  • from “he does, acts”; foot is “the doer”
  • appears to be root word for “the foot”

foot, the instep

tasseche quonuck (Wm.Wood)

“ the instep”

foot, the sole of the foot

tahaseat (Wm.Wood)

“the sole of the foot”

genitals

menisowhock  (Wm.Wood)

“the genitals”

genital, male

ukkosue pompuchaí (Mass.)

“his hot organ”

genitals, testes (plural?)

wunnussuog[9] (Mass.)

“a pair”?(“his testes”)

hair

  • meesunk (Mass.)
  • meseig (Wm.Wood)
  • from “he cuts off”
  •  

hams

siccaw quant (Wm. Wood)

“the hams” (root?)

hand

Menutcheg (Mass.)

from “takes hold of”

hand, back of the hand

keisseanchacke (Wm. Wood)

 

hand, left hand

 

menātche menutcheg (Mass.)

related to something about “hunting hand”

 

hand, right hand

unninuhkōe  menutcheg (Mass.)

related to “handwhich carries”

head

  • muppuhkuk (Mass.)
  • mapaquóntup[10] (Narr)
  • bequoquo (Wm. Wood)
  • related to “top”
  • perhaps “top of head”
  • “the head”

head, forehead

· muskodtuk (Mass.)

· mscáttuck (Narr.)

related to “which is high up”?

heart

  • metăh (Mass.)
  • nogcus (Wm. Wood)
  • “the ticker” “thing of existence”
  • “the (my?)  heart”

heel

  • mogquón (Mass.)
  • oquan (Wm. Wood)
  • related to “large” and “round”
  • appears to be root word for “the heel”

hip

  • mobpee (Mass.)
  • mobpu (Mass.)

 

jaw

Muttompeuk (Mass.)

“mouth  bone”

kidney

mutt∞unnussog (Mass.)

cf. “testes” inflected into m’ form

knee

  • mukkūttuk (Mass.)
  • gettoquacke (Wm. Wood)
  • “what we dig on (when we bend down)”
  • “the knees”

knuckles

gettoquun (Wm. Wood)

cf. “thumb”

leg

Muhkont (Mass.)

“that which carries, bears body”

leg, calf of the leg

thaw (Wm. Wood)

“the calf of the leg”

limb

pompuhchaí (Mass.)

root?

lip

  • mussissitt∞n (Mass.)
  • mattone (Wm. Wood)
  • “it is close to the mouth”
  • “the lips”

liver

mushquun (Mass.)

from “red, long”

loins

Mussegan (Mass.)

from “heat”

mouth

mutt∞n (Mass.)

related to word for “wife”, “she talks”

nail

Múhkos (Mass.)

from “sharp, hooked”

nail, the nails

cos (Wm. Wood)

root?

navel

  • menwee (Mass.)
  • cocam (Wm. Wood)

“the middle” ?

neck

  • missitteĭppeg (Mass.)
  • sitchipuck (Narr.)
  • “joining the shoulder”
  • root word

nose

  • mutchôn (Mass.)
  • matchanne (Wm. Wood)
  • related to “smell”?
  • “the nose”

rib

muhpeteog (or) muhpeteag (Mass.)

“side”

shin bone

Mississĭkoshk (Mass.)

“big bone”?

shoulder

· mittik(or)  muttugk (Mass.)

· mohpegk (or) muhpeg (upper part of back) (Mass.)

· mattickeis  (Wm. Wood)

· “upper part of the back”

·  

· “the shoulders”

shoulder blade

tipimon ? (Mass.)

“from my shoulder”?

shoulder bones

bisquant (Wm. Wood)

“the shoulderbones”

sides, the sides

yaus (Wm. Wood)

“the sides”

skin

  • muttúhquab (Mass.)
  • notoquap  (Wm. Wood)
  • “that on the outside”
  • “the (my?)  skin”

skull

muskonotip (or) mishkonóntup (Mass.)

 “bone head”

stomach

mupp∞chĭnau (Mass.)

“thing divided in two”

stool

quenobpuuncke (Wm. Wood)

Appears to be abstract noun withroots “long” , “sit”& “round”

temple

Wuttahtukq (Mass.)

“on each side”

thigh

  • mehquau (Mass.)
  • apòme (Narr.)
  • nequaw   (Wm. Wood)

·  

·  

· “the (my?)thighs”

throat

  • mukquttunk (Mass.)
  • munnāonk? (Mass.)
  • nashâonk ? (Mass.)
  • quttuck (Narr.)

· “goingdown (swallowing or motion of Adam’s apple?)”

· “sticks out”?

· from “breath”?

· appears to be root word for “the throat”

thumb

  • keht∞quanitch (Mass.)
  • gettoquan (Wm. Wood)
  • “great finger” (subordinate mood?)
  • “the thumb” (cf. “knuckle”)

toe

  • muppuhkukquaset (Mass.)
  • mettosowset  (Wm. Wood)
  • “head of the foot”
  • “the little toe”

toe,  third toe

noenaset  (Wm. Wood)

“the (my?)third toe

toe, great

  • kehtequaset (Mass.)
  • gettoquaset (Wm. Wood)

“big thing on the foot”

tongue

  • meenan (Mass.)
  • whenan (Wm. Wood)
  • related to “he speaks”?
  • “the (his?) tongue”

tooth

  • meepit (Mass.)
  • mepeiteis (Wm. Wood)
  • from “he eats”
  • the teeth” (plural?)

veins

  • mishquínash (Narr.)
  • misquish (Wm. Wood)
  • from “red”
  • “ the veins”

 

waist

mohoc (Wm. Wood)

Cf. “body”

womb

Ôontômuk (Mass.)

from “egg”, “birth” ?

wrist

Missippuskunnicheg (Mass.)

“the bone next to the hand”

wristbones

supskinge (Wm. Wood)

“the wrist bones”

 



[1] John Eliot translated the entire Bible into Natick dialect of the Massachusett (or Wampanoag) language.

[2] Inflection means a change inxe "in" thexe "the" form of a wordxe "word" toxe "to"xe "in, at, to" change meaning of word; e.g., an inflection of thexe "the" wordxe "word" mĕtah (“the heartxe "the heart (human)"xe "heart"”) is nuttah (“my heartxe "my heart"xe "heart"”) by rule given above.Roger Williams (1643, chap. VII, pp. 48-52) provides many example of inflected nouns for human body parts.

[3]Declension means inflected form for a noun or pronoun by animate/inanimate referenceor singular/plural reference; e.g., an inanimate form (declension) for plural nouns is given by thexe "the" suffix -ash such as: hussan (“stonexe "stone"”, singular) andxe "and" hussanash (“stones”, plural).

[4] Nouns ending in -onk, -onck, -uncke, -incke &c are abstract nouns (indicating a collection or classification, state of being or action or abstract ideas <justice, love, truth, strength, red stuff &c.).

[5] Words from Massachusett-Narragansett without the m’ form are presumed to be the roor word or nonstandard. As mentioned,the Wood vocabulary is more problematical but presumably conforms generally to Massachusett-Narragansett syntax.

[6] Ending –og does not mean this is the plural animate form as plural form for body parts is –ash (inanimate noun plural form).

[7] The repetition of the first syllable mo is a common feature in the Algonquian Indian languages, referred to as frequentative or reduplication (coinciding in this case with onomatopoetic).  It is a way of describing or emphasizing something that is going on repeatedly or habitually.  For example, momonchu (“he is always on the move”; “he is always moving”). Popowuttáhig (“drum”) is another example—emphasizing the repetition of the popow sound of a drum.Look for other examples offrequentative nouns in Vocabulary.

[8] Ending –suck does not mean this is the plural, as plural form for inanimate nouns is –ash.  Is this an error in Williams?

[9] Could this be plural animate?

[10] Derived form from Roger Williams (p. 43).

Go on to Chapter 7: Corn, Fruit, Berries and Trees
Go back to the Algonquian Language Revival Table of Contents



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