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New words needed: A comparative database for Algonquian lexical innovation



A common need among Algonquian language revitalization programs, especially those with no or few first-language speakers, is novel vocabulary. This paper describes a web-based, open-access comparative database of Algonquian derivational morphemes, now in its pilot phase. We have two main goals: to provide tribes with a source for novel word creation, and to provide a basis for reconstruction of Proto-Algonquian derivational morphology. Derivational morphology in Algonquian languages is famously complex; words are composed of ‘components’, which are divided into categories traditionally called ‘initial’, ‘medial’, and ‘final’ because of their placement relative to one another. The web interface will allow users to view the components along with their reconstructed forms. For language activists, the immediate benefit will be the ability to create neologisms as needed. Additionally, with knowledge of the sound changes their language has undergone, it will be possible to figure out what an unattested component would look like.
New Words Needed:
A Comparative Database for
Algonquian Lexical Innovation
Hunter T. Lockwood, Monica Macaulay, Daniel W. Hieber
Historical-Comparative Linguistics for Language
June 29, 2019
We respectfully acknowledge that we are on the
traditional land of Patwin-speaking people. We
acknowledge the painful history of the California
gold rush in this territory, and we honor and respect
the indigenous peoples connected to this land.
its been a long day, so here’s a cup of
coffee to get you through the last talk…
Miami-Illinois Menominee
kociihsaapowi kahpēh
‘bean liquid’
makade-mashkikiwaaboo ‘black-medicine liquid’
Recent Headlines
New Words Needed
Need for novel vocabulary
especially in immersion settings
specifically, for Algonquian languages
Our project: historical-comparative database of
derivational morphemes that can be used in
creation of novel vocabulary
1. Introduction: Need for novel vocabulary
2. Background: Derivation in Algonquian languages
3. Our proposal: The database
4. Communities building new words
5. Use in linguistics
6. Conclusion
1. Need: Novel Vocabulary
Keep language relevant for young people
create words for new technology, etc.
Immersion schools: teaching all subjects in the
Methods Used
Jessie Little Doe Baird: “The Wampanoag pretty
much do what English speakers do… Communities
borrow words, and if somebody at some point
decides that something is important, they will give
it a name in that language.
Iceland: “The Language Planning Department, a
small government-funded office of linguists with a
rotating cast of subject experts is in charge of
integrating new and foreign concepts into the
millennia-old Icelandic language.
Methods: Committee of Elders
Waadookodaading Immersion School, Hayward, WI
Ojibwe Vocabulary Project
“Some aspects […] of instruction are not
indigenous to Ojibwe and are difficult to teach
such as algebraic formulas (nominator, arrays,
fractions, variables), scientific principles (cell
nomenclature, volcanic terms), abstract ideas
of government (filibuster, bill of rights),
grammar (tense, conjunct, adverb) and many
other subjects.(Aaniin Ekidong p. 5)
Ojibwe Vocabulary Project
3-day meeting
large group of elders
most words agreed on in
groups; a few generated
by individuals
128-page booklet
Example: Ojibwe Vocabulary Project
What if the community doesn’t have any elder first-
language speakers, or if those elders aren’t inclined
to create new words?
Our (very Algonquian-specific) solution: database
of Algonquian derivational morphemes
2. Background: Derivation in
Algonquian Languages
Words in Algonquian languages
Examples, cont.
Examples, cont.
3. The database
Works on any computer / device (including mobile)
Synchronizes across devices
Online collaboration / permissions
Online / offline (works like an app)
Choice of data storage location (offline or cloud)
3. The database, cont.
Open access
Not dependent on a single programmer
Anybody can contribute ideas, issue reports, or code
Transparency – decisions and their discussion can be
viewed online
Code is open access, the data is private (uses
Project benefits from distributed knowledge of
programming and linguistics
3. The database, cont.
Data Format for Digital Linguistics (DaFoDiL) (Hieber
Uses the same format used by most web apps (JSON)
Simple text-based format, more human-readable and
human-writable than XML
Specifies a set of properties and how they should be
formatted for various linguistic objects (Texts,
Morphemes, Phonemes, etc.)
Uses linguistic terminology and concepts rather than
programming terminology and concepts
Interoperable – anybody who follows the format
guidelines can use DaFoDiL data in their own program
Component Cognate Sets
4. Communities building new words
Todays young speakers need to accurately imitate
the past while creating the future.” (Noodin to
Older generations of Algonquian language speakers
used their knowledge of components to coin words
to describe novel objects they came into contact
Encoded their unique perspectives and experiences
Ojibwe examples
giboodiyegwaazon ‘(pair of) pants’
From an older word for ‘typewriter’
(Examples from Mike Sullivan, p.c.)
Miami-Illinois example
Community members reclaiming languages without
speakers create words in the same ways, but infuse
them with their own unique perspectives:
A Miami-Illinois word for ‘computer’ was never
documented [unsurprisingly]
Modern Miami-Illinois reclaimers coined
kiinteelintaakani computer
Miami-Illinois: discussion
Leonard (2007:5): “In the relatively infrequent case
where a given form is not attested, it is sometimes
reconstituted by means of comparative historical
linguistics and reference to forms in other
Algonquian languages.
Baldwin et al. (2016:398) There are two primary
methods by which phonological details can be filled
in for Miami-Illinois data. One is by comparing all
the varying original transcriptions for the words,
and the other is by comparing the Miami-Illinois
words with cognate data from its closely related
sister languages.
In addition to the database…
Outreach activities: word workshops
Would-be word coiners will need some training
principles of combination
basic comparative linguistics methods
Summer 2017 workshop
Designed for community language learners,
language teachers, language activists
5. Use in linguistics
1. Reconstruction!
Bloomfield (1946):
reconstructed PA based
on Meskwaki (Fox),
Menominee, Cree,
geographically central
has more or less stood
Reconstruction: “State of the art
Hewson (1993):
dictionary of PA
now on-line
flawed, but everybody
uses it because the
alternative is…
The alternative
Zillions of articles, chapters, books
Bloomfield, Hockett, Goddard, Pentland, Costa…
like searching for buried treasure
Use in linguistics, cont.
2. Comparison and subgrouping!
(Valentine 2001)
Lexical Lists (e.g. Swadesh list)
Recent experience: tried to do lexical list across
Algonquian languages
Methodological problem: doing comparative linguistics
demands rigorous form-meaning matches, but…
Lexical Lists
Had to omit vast numbers of words due to
differences in lexical category, animacy features,
Furthermore, structure of Algonquian words
severely limits where we can establish matches
Lexical Lists
carry’ in Menominee
How to do reconstruction with
words like this?
Not every ‘carry’ word attested in Menominee may
be attested in another Algonquian language (or
vice-versa), but they share components (‘shoulder,
‘mouth’, etc.)
Reconstruct components instead of words
Components (not words) are the relevant semantic
units, so comparing and reconstructing them and
the principles of their interaction can be more
enlightening than comparing full words
6. Conclusion
Goal: cross-family database of word components in
Algonquian languages
Starting second year of pilot project
two 1-year grants from UW Graduate School
still in planning stages but have made progress
Submitting NSF grant proposal soon
i gweyen
thank you!;;
Baldwin, Daryl, David J. Costa & Douglas Troy. 2016. Myaamiaataweenki
eekincikoonihkiinki eeyoonki aapisaataweenki: A Miami Language Digital Tool for Language
Reclamation. Language Documentation & Conservation 10:394-410.
Bloomfield, Leonard. 1946. Algonquian. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology 6:85-
Hewson, John. 1993. A Computer-Generated Dictionary of Proto-Algonquian. Hull,
Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Hieber, Daniel W. 2019. Data Format for Digital Linguistics. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1438589.
Leonard, Wesley. 2007. Miami Language Reclamation in the Home: A Case Study. PhD
dissertation, UC-Berkeley.
Noodin, Margaret. To appear. Ezhi-enendamang Anishinaabebiigeng: Theories of
Anishinaabe Rhetoric and Composition. Papers of the Algonquian Conference 49.
Treuer, Anton, and Keller Papp. 2009. Aaniin Ekidong: Ojibwe Vocabulary Project. St. Paul:
Minnesota Humanities Center.
Valentine, J. Randolph. 2001. Nishnaabemwin Reference Grammar. Toronto: University of
Toronto Press.
languages (Jessie Little Doe Baird)
future/ (Iceland quote) 39
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
In 1988, a young graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley began searching for materials on a little-known Algonquian language called Miami, which had ceased to be spoken sometime in the mid-twentieth century. Prompted by curiosity to describe this little-known language, the search uncovered two and a half centuries of documentation. This archival record would serve as the basis for the grammatical reconstruction of what is known today as the MiamiIllinois language, a central Algonquian language of the southern Great Lakes region. These materials are crucial not only to the reconstruction of Miami-Illinois, but also for the growing interests of Myaamia (Miami) people to reclaim their language and cultural heritage. The next twenty years proved to be a struggle in locating, duplicating, organizing and building a physical corpus of data for linguistic analysis and use in community revitalization. Language reconstruction from documentation requires tools for archival interaction and access that linguistically-based software and database applications lacked at the time. This prompted Myaamia researchers and language educators to seek out support for the construction of a digital archival database that met the needs of both tribal linguists and community culture and language revitalizationists. The first version of the Miami-Illinois Digital Archive (MIDA) became a reality in 2016 after support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was provided to Miami University's Myaamia Center to develop this unique research tool. This paper describes the challenges of working with digitized archival materials and how MIDA has filled the software tool gap between archives, linguists and revitalizationists. The Miami-Illinois Digital Archive can be found at
  • Leonard Bloomfield
• Bloomfield, Leonard. 1946. Algonquian. Viking Fund Publications in Anthropology 6:85-129.
  • J Valentine
  • Randolph
• Valentine, J. Randolph. 2001. Nishnaabemwin Reference Grammar. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.