LINGUIST List 6.761

Fri 02 Jun 1995

Sum: Algonquian homeland

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  • Malcolm Ross, Summary: Algonquian homeland

    Message 1: Summary: Algonquian homeland

    Date: Thu, 1 Jun 1995 10:40:37 +Summary: Algonquian homeland
    From: Malcolm Ross <>
    Subject: Summary: Algonquian homeland

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    In April I made an enquiry about the Algonquian homeland of which a slightly abbreviated form is repeated below:

    ********************* I have just been reading Merritt Ruhlen's _The Origin of Language_. I would like to ask a question or two about the content of the section 'Locating the Algonquian homeland'.

    First, Ruhlen says that 'Frank Siebert has proposed the area of the eastern upper Great Lakes as the origin of the Algonquian dispersal'. Ruhlen does not source his reference. Can anyone give me the source?

    Secondly, and more importantly, Ruhlen appeals to Sapir's Age-Area hypothesis to the effect that the area of greatest diversity in a family is likely to point to the original homeland of the family. Since the greatest divergence is evidently between Blackfoot and the rest of the family, in the southwest of the family's extent, Ruhlen suggests, _contra_ Siebert, that the homeland is there, and that the family's closest external relatives are also in that direction.

    As an initial attempt to locate a homeland, Ruhlen's arguments seem sound enough to an outsider. However, the kind of support for them that I would want to look for would be an argument that the first branching in the genealogical tree divides Blackfoot from the rest of the family. This would be based on a claim that the rest of the family shares a set of innovations relative to Proto Algonquian (a Proto Algonquian whose reconstruction also takes full account of Blackfoot data). I went to the library here to see what I could find, and came up with Ives Goddard's account of 'Comparative Algonquian' in Campbell & Mithun's _The languages of native America_ (1979). Goddard says, if I read him correctly, (i) that the only obvious subgroup within Algonquian is Eastern Algonquian (and he gives innovations defining this), (ii) that Blackfoot is highly divergent and that its history is not yet understood. Goddard's account understandably does not contain the kind of data that would allow a non-Algonquianist to assess Ruhlen's hypothesis.

    I would be grateful to anyone who could point me towards any work that would cast light on the question of Algonquian subgrouping and the homeland or who could comment knowledgably on Ruhlen's homeland hypothesis. *********************

    I would like to thank those who responded, some of them several times, and those who were generous enough to send me copies of materials I could not obtain here. They were:

    Dan Alford, Peter Bakker, David Costa, Pat Crowe, Marybeth Culley, Anthony Fox, Ives Goddard, John Koontz, Phil LeSourd, Rob Malouf, John O'Meara, Marc Picard, Karl Teeter.

    I haven't had time yet to read the recommended references or to think carefully about the views expressed, which were varied. So varied, it seems to me, that when I set out to write a summary, I couldn't, so I have resorted to extracting crucial passages from people's messages. I hope this will not result in any misrepresentations.

    The Siebert article is:

    Siebert, Frank. 1967. The Original Home of the Proto-Algonquian People. A.D. DeBlois, Contributions to Anthropology: Linguistics I (Algonquian), pp. 13-47. National Museum of Canada, Bulletin No. 214, Anthropological Series No. 78, Ottawa

    Several respondents drew my attention to the fact that the question of 'homeland' is related to the question of time depth, i.e, how far back do we want to go in our search for the homeland? One pointed out, however, that if Algonquian is a subgroup of Algic, then we can define the Algonquian homeland as the area where Proto Algonquian (a member of the Algic subgroup) was spoken, treating the Algic homeland separately.

    'Best guess based on location (of the Algic homeland) would be some sort of a Northwest Coast origin, but there is no real evidence for this.'

    'Denny places the PA speakers around the upper Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. He bases his conclusions on archaelogical evidence, the connections between PA and the larger Algic language family, and on the existence of a handful of Algonquian languages spoken along the northern coast of California. He proposes that the PA speakers radiated south to California and west to the Great Lakes (giving us the precursors of Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and Arapaho along the way). At least, I think that's how it goes - you should really check the article.'

    'Blackfoot and Arapaho are the most divergent (Algonquian) languages, and ... thus the family probably started in the northern Rockies and spread east from there. Most Algonquianists who think about such things these days recognize a lot of problems with Siebert locating Proto-Algonquian in southern Ontario. Ives' article (Goddard 1994) makes a lot of sense--essentially the scenario is that the family came from Idaho or thereabouts out onto the prairies in Montana, and first dropped Blackfoot. Then, it continued east, dropping Arapaho, Cree, Menominee-Cheyenne, 'Core Central', and Eastern Algonquian. I'm not too familiar with what archaeological support there is for this idea, but I do know there is no archaeological support for Siebert's idea (southern Ontario looks to be historically Iroquoian).'

    'Having read a number of studies by Witold Manczak that seem to show pretty convincingly that the more conservative languages in a family are in and around the original homeland, and the more divergent ones on the periphery, I find Siebert's hypothesis much more convincing, though I know there are legitimate Algonkianists who would side with Ruhlen on this .... I've been working on Algonkian for well over twenty years and I consider Siebert to be one of the best Algonkianists we've ever had.'

    'For my own part, it seems to me probably relevant to the prehistory of Algonquian that Blackfoot, Arapaho-Atsina, and Mandan (Siouan) and Hidatsa (Siouan) are all associated with cultures that practiced rather similar age grouping systems (similar society names, system otherwise not found in North America), and are located close together in the Middle Missouri archaeological area and points north. This region was fairly uniform culturally c. 2000 BP, and I wonder if the culture then most widespead in the area - Besant - may not be the source of age grouping practice. It might also be associated with Algonquian language(s), though that would be impossible to prove. I think the Siouan groups must have arrived somewhat later, during the development of the subsequent Middle Missouri Tradition, but the Cheyenne seem to have a Middle Missouri connection, and perhaps the Algonquian affiliation with the Middle Missouri region is older. . . Anyway, if Besant was largely Algonquian, then the existing Plains Algonquian groups (not a linguistic subgroup), may reflect a formerly stronger Algonquian presence on the northern Plains.'

    'As for the position of Blackfoot, I am myself of the opinion that its grammatical system is Algonquian, but its lexicon is not. I know Cree (Central Algonquian) reasonably well, but Blackfoot remains completely unintelligible to me, although the language looks very Algonquian (unlike, for instance, Gros Ventre, Arapaho and Cheyenne - these Algonquian languages are just as unintelligible, but this can be attributed to some recent (few hundred years ago) radical sound changes. ... But few of these studies deal with the place of Blackfoot in a comparative light. I think, simply because it is possible only to compare Blackfoot and Algonquian lexically. Actually there are few Blackfoot words (stems) which the Algonquianists are able to link with Algonquian. In my opinion ... it is a mixed language, with a few Algonquian stems, but the bulk from an unknown and otherwise extinct language families. The Blackfoot stems sometimes look like Algonquian backslang (such as the word for 'dog'; Blackfoot imita(ua), Plains Cree atim). Otherwise it is just impossible that the grammatical system is so close to Cree whereas the lexicon is so different. But probably few hardcore Algonquianists would agree.'

    References I was given were:

    Denny, J. Peter, 1991. The Algonquian Migration from Plateau to Midwest: Linguistics and Archeology, in the Papers of the Twenty-Second Algonquian Conference, ed. William Cowan. [Mentioned by several respondents]

    Dryer, Matthew S. 1992. A Comparison of the Obviation Systems of Kutenai and Algonquian, in William Cowan, ed., Papers of the Twenty-Third Algonquian Conference, pp. 119-163. Ottawa: Carleton University.

    Goddard, Ives, 1994. The East-West Cline in Algonquian Dialectology, in Actes du Vingt-cinqui'eme Congr'es des Algonquinistes, ed. William Cowan, pp. 187-211. Ottawa: Carleton University. [Evidently the most crucial recent work on the homeland question]

    Proulx, Paul. A sketch of Blackfoot historical phonology IJAL 55:1.

    Proulx, Paul. 1982. "The linguistic evidence for the Algonquian-Iroquoian encounter." In: Approaches to Algonquian Archaeology. Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual Conference of the Archaeological Association of the University of Calgary, 1980, pp. 189-211. Calgary: University of Calgary.

    Salzmann, Zdenek, 1993. Language, Culture and Society, Boulder, Col.: Westview Press. [Contains a summary of Siebert]

    Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics Newsletter published quarterly through he Department of Linguistics, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada.

    Malcolm Ross Linguistics RSPAS Australian National University Canberra ACT Australia 0200.