Mohegan-Pequot language

Not to be confused with the Mahican language, a different Native American language.
Native to United States
Region southern New England
Ethnicity Mohegan, Montauk, Niantic, Pequot, and Shinnecock
Extinct 1908, with the death of Fidelia Fielding[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xpq
Glottolog pequ1242[2]

The location of the Mohegan, Pequot, Montaukett, Niantic, and Shinnecock, and their neighbors, c. 1600

Mohegan-Pequot (also known as Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk, Secatogue, Stockbridge, and Shinnecock-Poosepatuck; dialects include Mohegan, Pequot, Montauk, Niantic, and Shinnecock) is an extinct Algonquian language formerly spoken in parts of present-day New England and Long Island.[3]


Lester Skeesuk, a Narraganset-Mohegan, in traditional dress

The Mohegan Indian Tribe was historically based in central southern Connecticut. While originally part of the Pequot people, it gradually became independent and served as allies of English colonists in the Pequot War of 1637, which broke the power of that formerly dominant tribe in the region. In reward, the English gave Pequot captives to the Mohegan.

In 1933 John E. Hamilton,[4][5] also known as Chief Rolling Cloud, was appointed Grand Sachem for Life by his mother, Alice Storey, through the traditional selection process of chiefs based on heredity. She was a direct descendant of Uncas, the great 17th-century leader of the Mohegan Nation, and of Tamaquashad, Grand Sachem of the Pequot Nation. In Mohegan tradition, the position of tribal leadership called Grand Sachem had always been hereditary through the maternal line.

Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who died at the age of 106 in 2005, served for years as the Tribe's medicine woman and unofficial historian. She became an anthropologist and worked for a decade with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Returning to Connecticut, she operated her family's tribal Tantaquidgeon Museum for more than 50 years, beginning in 1947.[6] It was one of the first museums to be owned and operated by Native Americans.[7]

John Hamilton was a key figure among Native American leaders initiating late twentieth century land claims suits. Tribes in the Northeast had long interaction with European Americans, which had resulted in many of them becoming nearly landless. Settlement of land claims suits in the late 20th and 21st centuries was related to federal recognition for a number of Indian nations, particularly for the so-called "state tribes." These were tribes along the East Coast who had been recognized by the English Crown long before individual colonial or state governments had been established. But, as the Native people lost their traditional lands and were not assigned reservations, they did not maintain their sovereign legal status associated with federal recognition.

In the 1960s, during a period of rising activism among Native Americans, Hamilton filed a number of land claims authorized by the "Council of Descendants of Mohegan Indians." The group had some 300 members at the time.

In 1970 the Montville faction of the Mohegans expressed its dissatisfaction with Hamilton's land-claims litigation. They wanted a change in direction. When the Hamilton supporters left the meeting, the remainder elected Courtland Fowler as their new leader. Notes of that Council meeting referred to Hamilton as Sachem.[8]

The group led by John Hamilton worked with the attorney Jerome Griner in federal land claims through the 1970s. The Fowler faction opposed this. In addition, a Kent, Connecticut property owners' organization, with native and non-native members, opposed the Hamilton land claims and the petition for federal recognition, as the people were worried about effects on their properties.

Federal process for recognition

In response to the desire of more tribes to gain federal recognition, in 1978, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) established a formal administrative process and criteria to be satisfied to prove cultural continuity. That year, as authorized by the Council of Descendants, Hamilton submitted the Mohegan Tribe's first petition for federal recognition.

John Hamilton died in 1988. In his will, he named Eleanor Fortin as the Grand Sachem of the Mohegan people. She became the leader of the "Hamilton group," which continued to contend with the "Fowler faction" over tribal policy. Despite their disagreements, both groups continued to participate in tribal activities and to identify as members of the Mohegan people.

By 1989, the Fowler faction had revived Hamilton's 1978 petition for federal recognition, which had been dormant for some years. The BIA's preliminary finding was that the Mohegan had not satisfied the criteria of documenting continuity in social community, and political authority and influence as a tribe through the twentieth century.

In 1990, the Mohegan under Fowler submitted a detailed response to meet the BIA's concerns. They included compiled genealogies and other records, some of which had been collected and preserved by Hamilton and his followers. For instance, Eleanor Fortin had allowed the MTIC researchers access to records pertaining to the Mohegan Congregational Church in Montville. The researchers had assured Fortin that if federal recognition were achieved, it would cover the entire surviving Mohegan population. They also used records maintained by Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who had kept genealogy and vital statistics of tribal members for her anthropological research.[6][9]

In 1990, the MTIC ruled the tribe's membership be restricted to documented descendants from a single family, ca. 1860. This criteria excludes some of the Hamilton followers. By law, a federally recognized tribe has the authority to determine its own rules for membership. The MTIC tried to sue other Mohegan over their use of the tribal identity as well as their crafting, but they did so unsuccessfully.[10]

Final determination, 1994

In its 1994 "Final Determination," the BIA cited the vital statistics and genealogies as documents that were decisive in demonstrating "that the tribe did indeed have social and political continuity during the middle of the 20th century."[11] The former Fowler group gained federal recognition as the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut (MTIC). They have not acknowledged John Hamilton as Grand Sachem in their history, but say that Harold Tantaquidgeon was their chief prior to the era of federal recognition.

That same year, Congress passed the Mohegan Nation (Connecticut) Land Claim Settlement Act, which authorized the United States to take land into trust to establish a reservation for the Mohegan and settle their land claim. The final 1994 agreement between MTIC and the State in the settlement of land claims extinguished all pending land claims.[11]

The Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut is the only federally recognized tribe of the Mohegan people.

Descendants of the followers of John Hamilton continue to function as a Mohegan band independently of the MTIC. They hold periodic gatherings and activities.

Language endangerment and revitalization efforts

As of 2014, there are between 1,400 and 1,700 recorded tribal members (these figures vary by source). The Mohegan language, however, has been dormant for approximately 100 years as the last native speaker, Fidelia Fielding, died in 1908. Fidelia, a descendant of Chief Uncas, is deemed the preserver of the language, as she left four diaries that are being used in the process of restoring the language. She not only preserved the language, but she took part in preserving the culture as well. She remained loyal to the traditional Mohegan way of life and was the last to live in the traditional log dwelling.

Another important tribal member was Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who was the tribe's medicine woman from 1916 until her death in 2005. She too assisted greatly in maintaining the Mohegan culture as she collected thousands of tribal documents and artifacts. These documents that she collected were of critical importance in the process of the tribe getting federal recognition as a sovereign nation in 1994.

As of 2010, the Shinnecock and Unkechaug nations of Long Island, New York, had begun work with the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Southampton Campus, to revive their languages, or dialects of the above.[12] As of 2012, the Mohegan Language Project had created lessons, a dictionary, and other online learning materials to revive their language.[13] The project also has a complete grammar in the works, which has been put together by Stephanie Fielding. The primary goal of the project is for the next generation of Mohegan people to be fluent.

Many of the dictionaries circulating are based on Prince and Speck's interpretation of testimony by the Mohegan woman, Dji's Butnaca (Flying Bird), also known as Fidelia A.H. Fielding.[14]

The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center collection includes a 1992 menu "which attempts to translate such words as hamburger and hot dog into Mohegan-Pequot."[15]

The language was documented as early as the 17th century.

"In 1690, a Pequot vocabulary list was compiled by Rev. James Noyes in Groton. In 1717, Experience Mayhew, a Congregational Minister translated the Lord's Prayer into Mohegan-Pequot. Ezra Stiles, president of Yale University collected Pequot linguistic data in Groton in 1762."[15]

Bahá'í Prayers in the Mohegan-Pequot Language are also available.[16]

"It is a sacred obligation," says the Golden Hill Paugussett Chief, Big Eagle. "Indian people must keep their languages alive. If the language is not spoken, it must be made to live again."[15]


Consonant Sounds[17]
Labial Alveolar Alveolo
Velar Glottal
plain lab.
Nasal m n
Stop p t k
Fricative voiceless s ʃ h
voiced z
Approximant j w

Vowel Sounds[17]

ɒ, ἁ, i:, ōō, ô, ʌ



Nouns in Mohegan have two forms: animate and inanimate. They are further distinguished by number. Animate nouns include people, animals, heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars, but not clouds), and spirits. There are other items that call fall into the category of animate such as certain cultural items and plants, but it is not known why these items are considered animate. It is something that is simply learned and memorized. One way to help identify if a noun is animate or inanimate is to look at its plural form. Plural animate nouns typically end in -k while plural inanimate nouns ends in -sh.

Animate nouns have for forms: singular, plural, obviative and locative. The obviative form is used when there are two or more animate third persons in a sentence. The obviative is used when a noun or pronoun is the object of the verb (the object is the obviate), or if the third person is possessed by another person. The locative is used to show where something is spatially. Note that there is no obviative form for inanimate nouns, and neither the obviative nor the locative have plural forms (plurality is known through context).

Animate Nouns (with regular stems)
Mohegan Form English Translation
Singular winay old woman
Plural winayak old women
Obviative winayah old woman/women (obviative)
Locative winayuk at the old woman
Inanimate Nouns (with regular stems)
Mohegan Form English Translation
Singular wacuw hill
Plural wacuwash hills
Locative wacuwuk at the hill/on the hill


Verbs in Mohegan come in several forms. Independent verbs exist in four forms: inanimate intransitive, animate intransitive, transitive inanimate and transitive animate. There is also the conjunct form which does not carry the affixes (used to clarify person) that the aforementioned hold.

Person, number and gender


Mohegan animate intransitive verbs show who the subject is by utilizing affixes. Singular forms have prefixes, but third person (singular and plural) only have suffixes. In the plural forms there are inclusive and exclusive suffixes; the inclusive we includes the person who is speaking as well as the person he/she is talking to whereas the exclusive we does not include the person the speaker is talking to. When an animate intransitive verb stem ends in a long vowel (á, i, o or ô) the 3rd person singular does not take a final -w, and in the 3rd person plural these same verbs take -k as an ending in lieu of - wak.

Independent Verbs (animate intransitive)
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nukumotu I steal
2nd person singular kukumotu you steal
3rd person singular kumotuw he/she steals
3rd person obviative kumotuh he/she (obviative) steals
1st person plural exclusive nukumotumun we (I and he/she) steal
1st person plural inclusive kukumotumun we (I and you) steal
2nd person plural kukumotu you (more than one) steal
3rd person plural kumoyuwak they steal

*affixes indicated in bold type

Independent Verbs (animate intransitive w/long vowel ending)
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nuyáhshá I breathe
2nd person singular kuyáhshá you breathe
3rd person singular yáhshá he/she breathes
3rd person obviative yásháh he/she (obviative) breathes
1st person plural exclusive nuyáhshámun we (I and he/she) breathe
1st person plural inclusive kuyáhshámun we (I and you) breathe
2nd person plural kuyáhshá you (more than one) breathe
3rd person plural yáhshák they steal

*affixes indicated in bold type


Cardinal Ordinal
nuqut one nikôni first
nis two nahahtôwi second
shwi three shwut third
yáw four yáwut fourth
nupáw five nupáwut fifth
qutôsk six qutôskut sixth
nisôsk seven nisôskut seventh
shwôsk eight shwôskut eighth
pásukokun nine pásukokunut ninth
páyaq ten páyaqut tenth


Locative case

The locative case is used to show where something is. Mohegan utilizes the suffix -uk to indicate spatial relationships, which can be compared to the English prepositions "on," "at," and "in." In Mohegan there is no plural form to go with the obviative and the locative: the same form is used for singular and plural with the difference being distinguished by context.

Example of the Locative Case

Mohegan English Translation
cáhqin house
cáhqinash houses
cáhqinuk in the house/houses

Absentative case

The absentative case is used to when referencing a person who has died (this includes any property that they left behind). This is accomplished by adding a suffix to either his/her name, title or the property.

Mohegan English Translation
singular nokunsi my late grandfather
plural nokunsuk my late grandfathers
obviative singluar wokunsah his late grandfather
obviative plural wokunsukah his late grandfathers
departed's possession singular mushoyi my late father's boat
departed's possessions plural mushoyuk my late father's boats

*suffix indicated by bold type

The following example shows the absentative case in use:

Niswi nusihsuk wikôtamak áposuhutut.

Both of my late uncles enjoyed cooking.



In Mohegan any noun can be possessed, however, there is a distinction in possessive relationships and that is the alienability distinction. Some nouns are able to stand alone without showing possession (alienable), while others must show a possessor (inalienable).

Nouns pertaining to kinship and body parts are always classified as inalienable, but there are some terms that don't fall under either of these umbrellas that must be classified as inalienable such as the noun "home." Various affixes are used to denote inalienability and different affixes are used to differentiate animate/inanimate and singular/plural. Additionally, when a term requires possession but the possessor is unclear or unknown it is marked with prefix that indicates an indefinite possessor.

Inalienable Possession - Animate Singular
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nutônihs my daughter
2nd person singular kutônihs your daughter
3rd person singular wutônihsah his/her daughter
1st person plural exclusive nutônihsun our (exclusive) daughter
1st person plural inclusive kutônihsun our (inclusive) daughter
2nd person plural kutônihsuw your (plural) daughter
3rd person plural wutônihsuwôwah their daughter
indefinite possessor mutônihs an unknown person's daughter
Inalienable Possession - Animate Singular
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nusit my foot
2nd person singular kusit your foot
3rd person singular wusit his/her foot
1st person plural exclusive nusitun our (exclusive) foot
1st person plural inclusive kusitun our (inclusive) foot
2nd person plural kusituw your (plural) foot
3rd person plural wusituw their foot
indefinite possessor musit an unknown person's foot

The locative (-uk) and obviate (-ah) suffixes are added to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person singular forms. Whether the word is singular or plural should be suggested in the content of the sentence. The obviate affixes only go on animate nouns.

When a possessed noun is plural it must be shown. With an animate noun then suffix -ak is combined with the possessive ending (with the exception of third person singular and third person plural, where the plural is the same as the singular).

Inalienable Possession - Animate Plural
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nutônihsak my daughters
2nd person singular kutônihsak your daughters
3rd person singular wutônihsah his/her daughters
1st person plural exclusive nutônihsunônak our (exclusive) daughters
1st person plural inclusive kutônihsunônak our (inclusive) daughters
2nd person plural kutônihsuwôwak your (plural) daughters
3rd person plural wetônihsuwôwah their daughters
Inalienable Possession - Inanimate Plural
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular nusitash my feet
2nd person singular kusitash your feet
3rd person singular wusitash his/her feet
1st person plural exclusive nusitunônash our (exclusive) feet
1st person plural inclusive kusitunônash our (inclusive) feet
2nd person plural kusituwôwash your (plural) feet
3rd person plural wusituwôwash their feet
indefinite possessor musitash an unknown person's feet

*affixes on all charts are marked by bold type

Clause Combining

In Mohegan grammar verbs that are in a dependent clause are said to be in the conjunct order. Conjunct verbs have the same numbers of persons for each verb, but they do not have prefixes, only suffixes. In turn, all of the person information is at the end of the word.

Conjunct Verbs: Animate Intransitives
Person Mohegan English Translation
1st person singular yáhsháyôn that I breathe
2nd person singular yáhsháyan that you breathe
3rd person singluar yáhshát that he/she breathes
1st person plural (incl & excl) yáhsháyak that we breathe
2nd person plural yáhsháyáq that you (more than one) breathe
3rd person plural yáhsháhutut that they breathe
3rd person plural participle yáhshácik those who breathe
indefinite subject yáhshámuk that someone breathes

*suffixes on chart marked by bold type

Example: Mô yáyuw maci ákacuyǒn.

Translation: It was so bad that I am ashamed.

When in the conjunct form if the first vowel of the word is a short vowel, that is /a/ or /u/, it changes to a long /á/.

Transitive verbs with inanimate objects take only a suffix as well. The suffix vary based on the ending of the stem.

For stems that end in -m- or -n- the suffixes are as follows:

1st person singular: -ôn

2nd person singular: -an

3rd person singular: -k

1st person plural: -ak

2nd person plural: -áq

3rd person plural: -hutut

3rd person plural participle: -kik

Indefinite subject (passive): -uk

For stems that end in -o- the suffixes are as follows:

1st person singular: -yôn

2nd person singular: -yan

3rd person singular: -ôk

1st person plural: -yak

2nd person plural: -yáq

3rd person plural: -w'hutut

3rd person plural participle: -ôkik

Indefinite subject (passive): -muk

For stems that end in -u- the suffixes are as follows:

1st person singular: -wôn

2nd person singular: -wan

3rd person singular: -k

1st person plural: -wak

2nd person plural: -wáq

3rd person plural: -'hutut

3rd person plural participle: -kik

Indefinite subject (passive): -muk

See also


  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Pequot-Mohegan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 16th edition. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics
  4. "Passings: John E. Hamilton; Indian Activist". Los Angeles Times. 12 May 1988. Retrieved 28 February 2013. John E. Hamilton; Indian Activist
  5. Oberg, Michael Leroy (2003). Uncas : first of the Mohegans. Ithaca (N.Y.): Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801438772.
  6. 1 2 "Running Against Time - Medicine Woman Preserves Mohegan Culture". School of Anthropology; Alumni Newsletter. University of Pennsylvania. Summer 2001.
  7. "The Mohegan Tribe Celebrates Re-Opening of Tantaquidgeon Museum". Press Room. The Mohegan Tribe. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  8. "Contemporary History of Mohegan, 1933-2002", Native American Mohegans
  9. Associated Press, "Gladys Tantaquidgeon, Mohegans' Medicine Woman, Is Dead at 106", New York Times, 2 November 2005
  10. 1 2 "Final Determination that the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut Does Exist as an Indian Tribe", Federal Register, Vol. 59, No. 50, 15 March 1994, accessed 18 March 2013
  11. Patricia Cohen, "Indian Tribes Go in Search of Their Lost Languages", New York Times, 6 Apr 2010, C1, C5
  12. "Mohegan Language Project". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  13. J. Dyneley Prince and Frank G. Speck (March 1904). "Glossary of the Mohegan-Pequot Language". American Anthropologist. New Series. 6 (1): 18–45. doi:10.1525/aa.1904.6.1.02a00030.
  14. 1 2 3 Libby, Sam (18 October 1998). "Tribes to Revive Language". The New York Times. p. 6.
  15. "Ôkosuwôkak wuci Mohiks-Piqut Uyôtowáwôk - Bahá'í Prayers in the Mohegan-Pequot Language". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Fielding, Stephanie (2006), A Modern Mohegan Dictionary 2006 Ed.



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