Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
I am a member of the Cheraw Indian Nation. Our language has been lost over
the years with no record at all of any part of it.
In our very area lived the Lumbee Indians (who were a mixture of Cheraw,
PeeDee, Tuscarora, as well as other nations), the Catawba (who many Cheraw
joined in the mid 1700's), The Cherokee, the Tuscarora. Most of their
languages was Algonkian in base and there are other languages with that same
Considering the nomadic nature of our people, and considering the necessity of
trade among the different nations, to me it would be reasonable for their
languages to mix to some extent if not to a great extent.
Would it be possible to take a base of a certain amount of words from these
various languages, who are derived from the same base and build a
rudimentary language which could be learned and spoken? If so how many
words would be needed?
Cheraw is not found in the Ethnologue.com list of languages, but there is an entry in Wikipedia with a good set of references.
Comparative reconstruction is a demanding and lengthy task that can produce no more than the language records and living languages make available. At best, for most language families, you'll be able to reconstruct a few hundred words, rarely 1000 to 1500. Reconstruction morphology is trickier than reconstructing vocabulary, and reconstructing grammar is the most frustrating and least productive of comparative tasks. What you would be able to reconstruct are those words for which the extant languages happen to have cognates, a set of words that will be arbitrary, depending as it does, on what words have been replaced in each language. To go from the results of careful reconstruction to a spoken language, with all that a spoken language entails in cultural connections, folktales, customs, rites, what is taught to children, etc., you would have to create the majority of the language out of whole cloth, perhaps extrapolating heavily from the results of comparative work.
For a language that went extinct over a century and a half ago, attempting to recreate the language as it was spoken by the community 50 years before extinction, when children were still learning the language, is a more creative than scientific task. That said, it would still be a lot of fun to do, not to mention very challenging.
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