LINGUIST List 7.119

Thu Jan 25 1996

Sum: Summary on Melungeon

Editor for this issue: Annemarie Valdez <>


  1., Summary on Melungeon

Message 1: Summary on Melungeon

Date: Thu, 25 Jan 1996 14:11:42 EST
From: <>
Subject: Summary on Melungeon
I would like to thank the following people for their contributions:
Joan Hall, Ken Beesley, Unsal Ozunlu, Raphael Salkie, Gregg J Kinkley,
Kiel Christianson, and David Bergdahl.
Joan Hall:
The third volume of DARE, I-O, is scheduled to come out in the fall of
'96. Our definition says "A member of a racially mixed group of
people centered in the Great Smoky Mountains." The term itself seems
to be known only (or largely) in the southern Appalachians, especially
east Tennessee. We are not positive about the etymology of the term,
and are saying "Perhaps based on French _melange_ mixture, crossing of
races." We have quotations ranging from 1840 through 1968. Joan Hall
Ken Beesley:
Your request for Melungeons sparked some long-dim neurons. I have
seen a couple of newspaper articles on these people. If memory serves
(and it cannot be trusted in this case) the Melungeons are/were a
subculture of European-type people who some suspect were already in
North America before the Europeans (or at least before the
Anglo-Saxons) arrived. I believe some early census lists them as
something like "white, non-european" as opposed to the various other
Amerindian, African, and identifiable European populations. In short,
I think that they remain something of a sociological mystery. I
recall nothing about them speaking Portuguese. I may have once read
about someone trying to do an analysis by bloodtyping.
Raphael Salkie:
Bill Bryson's book The Lost Continent has a section about the Melungeon.
I recommend the book in any case: it is the funniest book I have read in
Unsal Ozunlu:
About a couple of months ago in Milliyet, one of daily Turkish papers, I
read that Melungeons were the grand grand grand children of the 16th.
Century levends some of whom were enslaved by some Portuguese navies on
the Meditterean Sea,taken first to Portugal, then to some parts of
America to be used as slaves on the newly captured lands in America.(In
Turkish levend means a young lad who is devoted to sailing and who practises
in navigating.)
	As centuries went on and on, these people continued living together
with the natives and the Americans never to forget their origins. Today they
still live in some parts of America and continue with their old
tradition in every aspect. On summer holidays some of Melungeons visit
Turkey, their original country, and feel that they are at home.
	This is all whatI have already read and know about the Melungeons. 
What is spelt as Melungeon in English is spelt in Turkish as Meluncan and
pronounced as melundzan (sorry, but I have no phonetic facility on my
keyboard here).
	Their use of American English may deserve a good deal of
sociolinguistic and cultural field work analysis I believe, because these
people still continue some old traditions in the use of their native language
with the American English influences a great deal.
	In Turkish language melun is a borrowed word from Arabic and it means
one that carries bad luck and ill omen. And can means soul. So meluncan means a
person whose soul is bornloser. As these people had been captured and enslaved
and carried out to different countries centuries ago, they
still consider themselves ill-omened people ant this is why they call
themselves meluncanlar in Turkish (called the Melungeons in English).
	This is all I have on this part of the world. But as those people still
live on that part of the world, they must be a good subject for the
researchers I suppose. Similarly, the Melungeons could be the people of
some other origins, and the Melungeon may be an unknown language as well.
Gregg J Kinkley 
 ... At any rate, my lawyering "skills" brought me to Chicago for 5
years before I got the good sense to move back to Hawaii, and I
encountered there a local phenomenon which may not be irrelevant to your
quesry. Being suffused with ethnic Italian substrata there, the locals
have a slang, perhaps somewhat derogatory, nickname for 
African-Americans: melangean (no idea as to spelling, but
pronounced something like "mell un 'jahn"; sorry, no IPA ASCII font!).
It means, or is a rough approxomation of, the word for "eggplant" in
Italian, and was evidently a reference to the skin color, one supposes.
Perhaps this may have something to do with an Appalachian dialect
attributed to blacks in the area? Who knows.
David Bergdahl:

	I don't know if this helps, but the ethnic group you described
on the Va-Ky-Tenn border was subject of an article two summers ago in
the 3rd wk of August. I can date it precisely because we were at
Chautauqua and my daughter had to be taken to the nearby ER for an ear
infection and, triage being what it is, we had a long wait in a
country hospital. I read an article in the Buffalo NY paper which
revealed the answer to the problem of this mysterious population,
although I do not remember the name "Melungeon" being used: the
article stated which revealed the answer to the problem of this
mysterious population, although I do not remember the name "Melungeon"
being used: the article stated that they were a remnant of the Basque
fishing/whaling stations set up on the coast, some of which were
abandoned in the 16th-century. The population went inland and
subsequently intermarried with black & AmerIndian individuals but
retained an ethnic identity nonetheless. A search through the AP or
UPI dispatches for mid-August '94 keying the words <basque> or some
other keywords that might be useful. It's worth a try.
Kiel T. Christianson
Check out the _Best American Short Stories, 1994_ (edited by Tobias
Wolff. In it is a story by Chris Offutt titled "Melungeons" (my first
encounter with the word and people).

Again, thanks to everyone;it is certainly an interesting collection of

Elizabeth Winkler

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