Saved from Oblivion

By Charles Marius Barbeau

Written in 1963

When the Breton pilot, Jacques Cartier, (1) first set sail from St. Malo in 1534, his mission was to travel beyond the high seas, discover new lands, plant the “fleurs-de-lys” there in the name of the King of France, proceed to amass treasures and behold the marvels of the Arabian Nights.

For those were the days of an El Dorado. Charles V of Spain, with the help of Fernando Cortes and the Conquistadors, was busy draining the fabulous wealth of Mexico, Yucatan, and Peru. Francis I, his great rival to the north, also wanted a share in the bounty. And the target of his ambition was India, Cathay (China), and Cipangu (Japan).

As soon as his sea captain, Cartier, set foot on a sandy peninsula in the Bay of Gaspé on July 1534, he was surrounded – not by Orientals as he had expected – but by a “large number of savages.” In the narrative of his First Voyages, we read: “They are not at all of the same race or language as the first we have met.” (2) These had been Algonkians, presumably Micmacs in Chaleur Bay. “This [other] people,” he goes on to say, “number more than two hundred, with some forty canoes. They are the sorriest folk in the world, and may well be called savages. The whole lot of them have not anything above the value of five soua, their canoes and fishing nets excepted. Save for a small skin, they go quite naked…”

If these Gaspesians proved a disappointment to the Breton pilot, they were promptly dismissed for a further search through the islands supposedly obscuring the passage to the Orient. But before continuing his course to the west, he must now stake this landmark, barren though it seemed. So he erected a wooden cross thirty feet high. Under the cross-bar, he fixed a shield with the three royal “fleurs-de-lys”; above it, a board engraved in Gothic characters with the significant inscription: “Long live the King of France!”

While the natives on the shore marked this occurrence by harangues, songs, and dances, the sea captain observed that they “Were engaged in fishing mackerel with nets, and part of their food was Indian corn, “the same as in Brazil.” He knew that this was “Brazil corn,” for he had twice visited the coasts of that country far to the south, and escorted Verazzano in his 1524 exploration of the North American coast from Florida to Labrador. To complete his record, he jotted down a few native, words with their apparent meaning.

These we now recognize as Iroquoian. Should he fail, this season, to bring back anything else, his King might not believe his story: “a beau mentir qui vient de loin.” So he must secure more tangible evidence of his accomplishments, for he still believed that France was now standing on the threshold of momentous events, in a new golden age. After he had lured aboard his vessel the “King” and his henchmen, he dismissed- him with a few presents for “good cheer”, and detained as captives two young men, known thereafter under the names or nicknames of Taignoagny and Dom Agaya.

After Cartier had returned to port, these captives were conveyed as tokens from a new world to the King at his court in Paris. More than once before, other “savages” had been the objects of great curiosity at the hands of philosophers and linguists. About 1508 Robert Estienne may have studied the Indians whom the sailor Thomas Aubert had brought back from the river of Canada. And Erasmus seems to have availed himself of another opportunity for similar research. François Rabelais was a savant of vast knowledge and curiosity. With Robert and Henri Estienne, father and son, he was the best classical linguist of repute (or disrepute, because of the audacity of his first three books of Pantagruel). A protégé of the King and of the influential du Bellay brothers, Rabelais was shielded by them against the Inquisitors of La Sorbonne, who would have burned him on the pyre as a heretic. Why not select this noted iconoclast for the task of unraveling an unknown language, of teaching as much French as possible to the two captives during the winter or 1535, and of grooming them as guides for the forthcoming Second Voyage? As their nation might soon pass under the domination of France, these interpreters would usefully bring home a tale of grandeur from Paris and the court of France. Whether they were baptized is not know, but more than once they witnessed the ceremony of baptism. They were impressed with its import, for their homeland would be brought into the fold of the church, no less than of the state.

What progress was achieved in the study of the new language can be surmised only in the light of Cartier’s narrative and its appendix. While on shore, at Peninsula in Gaspé, the discoverer may have jotted down a few words in a hurry presumably in his log-book: Hungedo (their name for Gaspé), honnesta (apples, plums,squashes), sahe (beans), caheya (fruit) … ; all of them Iroquoian. We find them in the text of his First Voyage.

The short vocabulary – less than sixty words – appended with translations at the end of the First Voyage could have been compiled only after the two captives had learned a little French, or sign language alone at first could bridge the gap. This list obviously was made by a scholar rather than by a sea-wolf like Cartier whose knowledge was limited to his own calling on the sea. The caption is: “Langaige de la Terre Nouvellement découverte nommée la Nouvelle France” (Language of the recently-discovered land called New France). No other source for this information could have been available but Taignoagny and Dom Agaya, the young henchmen of Donnacona, “King” of the Stadacona tribe, then camping at Gaspé. (3)

More extensive and accurate is the next linguistic effort. It contains about 160 words and expressions which figure at the end of the Second Voyage (1535-1536), and its entitled “Ensuit le Langaige… Here follows the language of the Countries and Kingdoms of Hochelaga and Canada, otherwise called New France.” Numerals head this repertory, which goes on to mention the various parts, of the body, the costume, food, animals and natural phenomena; also some nouns and verbs, adjectives, and kinship terms. The list concludes with the names of twelve distinct tribes of Iroquoians.

From whom were secured these 230 items contained in the two vocabularies of 1535 and 1536? It the first went back to the two young captives, the second may be ascribed to Donnacona, the “King” of the Stadaconas, who was captured with seven others at the end of the second voyage and brought to France; there he learned the language, told tall tales about his homeland, was baptized and a few years later died in exile.

None or the Iroquoian terms in the two lists could belong to Hochelaga, now Montreal, up the river, for Cartier had stopped there only from Saturday to Monday, October 2 to 4. All he could do during his one short visit was to visit the palisaded town and climb Mount Royal, hastily observe the people and their habitations, and walk through corn fields. Welcomed by the “King” or head chief, a hunchback, he accepted gifts of corn, bread, and distributed trivial presents. Once more he jotted down a few native words – also Iroquoian: aguyase (a term for joy or salutation), carracony (corn bread), esnoguy (grains of wampum), agouhanna (chief or king), agojuda (enemies or bad people to the west), caignetdazé (copper). In the absence of interpreters, Taignoagny and Dom Agaya having refused to escort him up the river, his only resort was to sign language; or as he stalled, “they explained by signs.”

The long lists of words and translations appended to the First and the Second Voyages were the fruit of prolonged and expert home work with representatives of the Stadacona tribe only, since no captive was taken at Hochelaga. Several expressions may be singled out as the touch mark of the, Stadaconas, as they reveal a knowledge or the sea: – this knowledge did not exist among an inland folk like the Hochelagas. These saltwater terms are ajunehonné (whale), agougasy (sea), coda (sea waves); “Note that their chief is named Donnacona. When they wish to call him chief, they say Agouhanna.” In the first list we find: aganie (sail), gadogourseré (codfish), amet (sea – a word different from the above), casaomy (ship), agedoneta (mackerel).

Jacques Cartier; like the sailors or his day, could not have been a chronicler or a linguist. But his schaiing enabled him to keep a log book, sign his name at the bottom of baptismal certificates on the church records, as he often did in later years. He could not have penned the unique Voyages in the lucid and literary language embodying them, which is unlike the Breton French of a sailor from St. Malo. Indeed, they read much like the Loire River French immortalized by Francis Rabelais in the five books of his famous Pantagruel.

Who, then, is responsible for the Voyages in their present form, and for the appended glossaries of Iroquoian terms? The original manuscripts of Iroquoian terms? The original manuscripts were lost, and the Bigger version is edited from two or three manuscripts, one of them in Italian by Ramusio, from as many hands. The Third Voyage is known only in the abbreviated English version of Richard Haklyut in the 1580’s. “Cartier’s Relations,” according to H.P. Biggar, his historian, “must originally have taken the form of an ordinary day by day ship’s log. On his return to St. Malo, these journaux de bord would be worked up into the present Relations. Traces of this process can still be discovered…”

Cartier may never have seen his Voyages in anything near their pressnt form, still less the “Langaige de la Terre Nouvellement. Découverte,” which may not at first have formed part of the Voyages. Every chance there is that a “ghost writer” (as such is named today) served the King of France in preparing a formal report on his pilot’s discoveries.

François Rabelais journeyed to St. Malo in Brittany, after the first of the second voyage, and stayed with Jacques Cartier long enough to familiarize himself with the knowledge and terminology of the sea. This much we have learned from Abbé Doremet, a Breton chronicler writing about fifty years, after ‘the event’, in a forgotten document recently discovered by Jouon des Longrais and quoted by Abel Lefranc in his book on the wonderful navigations of Pantagruel. (4)

After Rabelais had become acquainted with the adventures of the Breton sailor, he drastically changed the orientation of his own work. In his next books the Fourth and the Fifth – he sent his Pantagruel sailing westward from St. Malo just like Cartier, and he planted the St. Malo captain in this humorous story under the nickname of Kamet (a folk equivalent of Jacques). The seaport, from which, Jamet sailed is here called Thalasse (the Greek name for port, which had belonged for a millennium or more to the old village opposite St. Malo). The progress of Pantagruel on the Western seas is much the same as Cartier’s own. Rabelais’ narrative is truly a brilliant satire of the Voyages, or rather of the hair-raising stories which the sea captain must have told him during his visit. The official report in the Voyages rather brief and discreet, was a record for the King and his advisers. The yarns were meant for whoever would listen to them, by the fireside in the winter. And Rabelais must have been a keen listener, for we detect some of Cartier’s experiences expressed in Pantagruel only.

In Book Four of Pantagruel – Chapter of “Ouidire” – we read a paraphrase of the Pilot’s encounter with the hunchback chief. And the very name of Jacques Cartier figures almost as a signature in the long list of famous liars who from remote antiquity and from behind a tapestry have entertained their readers with incredible tales. Elsewhere Rabelais, tongue in cheek, described the Percé Rock of Gaspé under the caption of “Manoir de Gaster.” This famous rock was well known to Cartier, since he had anchored behind it in a storm but it is not mentioned in his Voyages.” The number or close parallels between the Voyages and Pantagruel reaches a score but it does not enter into the picture here.

Whatever may be the sources of the vocabularies now loosely attached to Cartier’s Voyages, it is obvious that they are most valuable for both linguist and historian. Over four hundred years old now, they still call for an analysis and a final identification within the family of lroquoian dialects.

Such questions still remain as to whether the Stadaconas and the Hochelagas belong to the same Iroquoian nation: whether they voluntarily abandoned their territories on the lower St. Lawrence where Cartier encountered them in the sixteenth century, or whether they were pushed back by the Algonkians, a nomadic and timid forest folk whether they became the Mohawks whom Champlain; seventy five years later, fought on Lake Champlain, or the Hurons whom he befriended in their habitat south of Georgian Bay in Ontario.

Pioneer archaeologists in Canada have presumed that those Iroquoians had been pushed back by the Adirondaks, an Algonkian tribe formerly occupying the lower St. Lawrence, in particular the region of Mount Royal. But there is not the least chance of this having ever happened. The northeastern hunters were unwarlike, without a semblance of military organization. Terrified and victimized by the Iroquois for a hundred years already, they would take to flight at their very name. But the Iroquoian invaders, in the course of their constant shifting, eventually realized that they could not for very long live off the country down the St. Lawrence it was not suited to the culture of maize or Indian corn, and this had always been the mainstay of their subsistence. Unlike the Algonkians who were a woodland folk depending upon the hunt for their welfare, the Iroquoians were poor hunters, unfamiliar with the cultural concept of: trap-lines and hunting grounds: Starvation must have been their worst enemy, the farther they journeyed towards Labrador and Hudson Bay. Cartier was right when he described the Stadaconas whom he found fishing at Gaspé as “the sorriest folk there can be in the world…” He was much better impressed by the Hochelagas whom he observed in their home setting.

W.J. Wintemberg, the most experienced archaeologist in the eastern Canadian field, shared with the author of this paper the belief that the Iroquoians, in the days of their discovery by the Breton sea captain, had overreached themselves in their migrations northeastwards. They had stepped beyond the true corn belt, which was their ancestral habitat, and could not long subsist at the expense of their, enemies the Algonkians. But the point remains: where did they settle down after they voluntarily relinquished their newly acquired, territories down the great river?

Mythologists and folklorists who study their traditions, and technologists who scan their material culture, might be consulted at this stage. So far they have remained strangely silent, and archaeologists should help more than they have. Let the linguists now try their hand, for they hold the best cards for a solution.

With the help or Cartier’s (or Rabelais’) vocabularies, and the comparison of the Iroquoian dialects as now preserved, it should be possible to reach a fair degree of certainty. Archaeology and linguistics have of late gained a fresh impetus. The Iroquois Conferences at Alleghany State Park every year have brought together a new generation of scholars. Results are already apparent.

The resources at hand in Iroquoian linguistics are more extensive than is generally believed, and they have not been fully utilized. Much of the most, abundant materials bearing on the problems are still waiting to be studied and produced in print.

Sir. Daniel Wilson was already pointing the way in his paper “The Huron-Iroquois of Canada,” in 1884. (5) There he asks the question:

“Who were the people found by Cartier in 1535, seemingly long settled and prosperous, occupying the fortified towns of Stadacona and Hochelaga, and lower points on the St. Lawrence? … According to the native Wyandot historian, they, were or Hurons-Iroquois, Wyandots or Hurons and Senecas. That they were not Algonkins, is readily determined… [But] to which of the divisions it belonged is not so obvious. Sometimes they agree with Huron, and sometimes the Iroquois equivalents. The name of Hochelaga, “at the beaver dam,” is Huron, and the agreement as a whole predominates in favor of a Huron rather than an Iroquois dialect. But there was probably less difference then, than at the more recent dates of their comparison. In dealing with this important branch of philogical evident, I [Daniel Wilson] owe to… my friend, Mr. Horatio Hale, a comparative analysis of the vocabulary supplied by Cartier… He has familiarized himself with the Huron language by personal intercourse with members of the little band of civilized Wyandots, settled on their reserve at Anderdon, in Western Ontario [near Detroit]. The language thus preserved by them, after long separation from other members of the widely scattered race, probably presents the nearest approximation to the original forms of the native tongue as spoken on the island of Montreal and the lower St. Lawrence.

The same Canadian author then quotes a two page ”comparative vocabulary of words in the Languages of Hochelaga and Canada, as given by Cartier, and the corresponding words in the language of the Wyandot Indians [in] Ontario: By Mr. Horatio Hale.”

Sedaga, secata (Cartier; skat (Wyandot), for One; Tigneny, tignem (Cartier; tendi (Wyandot), for Two; asche, hasche (Cartier); shenk (Wyandot), for Three; ouison (Cartier); wish (Wyandot), for Five;

Assem (Cartier); ahsen or asan Wyandot), for Ten….

Horatio Hale and Sir Daniel Wilson were moving in the right direction. But nowadays we are better equipped for the home stretch in the comparison of Iroquoian dialects. Ample materials are at our disposal, both in manuscript form and in archives. We possess fresh records of the Huron-Wyandot and the Iroquois dialects. Let me describe them very briefly! They may serve in an appraisal of resources, in planning further work, and last-minute tests in the field.

An early contribution to Iroquoian as spoken in Huronia, is the Dictionnaire de la Langue Huronne, du Frére Gabriel Sagard Théodat, in 1623 or thereabouts. (6) This early effort by a Recollet missionary, meritorious as it is remains crude. Yet it contains valuable words and expressions, names of neighboring nations, terms of kinship, references to souls and spirits.

Father Jacques Bruyas’ Mohawk “Radices Verborum,” about 1700, (7) show considerable progress, mostly at the Jesuit missions. His two printed “Radical Words, of the Mohawk language, with their derivatives (8) constitute a closely written manuscript of 146 pages, presumably still preserved at the Caughnawaga Mission. Bruyas was said to have spoken Mohawk as well as he did French; and he was regarded as the Master of the language, in which he composed several works Rather little seems to have been accomplished as yet in the analysis of grammatical elements. Classification at that time had gone no further than outlining four groups of radicals or conjugations. Pronominal elements and suffixes still had to be detached from their supporting verb and noun stems, and the phonetic laws applying to Mohawk, Oneida, and Wyandot, were unfathomed. The missionaries had not by any means mastered the secrets of Iroquoian.

Father Carheil’s study of the Cayuga dialect seems to have been lost. And nothing is left from the hand of Mére Marie de l’Incarnation, cofounder of the Ursulines, who is known to have studied at first hand the languages of the many Indian children left at her seminary for training (1639-1671). Her manuscripts are said to have been given to later missionaries.

The Jesuits themselves were engaged in the same field; so they remained for more than a hundred years until after 1760. The earliest evidence of their research goes back to Father Brébeuf’s prayers in Huron and their interlinear translations, in French: “Io fakhrihote de sondechichiai: Sus écoutez…”; (9) and to Father Lallemant’s similar: “Quelques-uns ont souhaité de voir un echantillon de la langue huronne…: Achie8endio Di8Le seigneur Dieu…” (10)

The manuscripts of the ancient Jesuits at their former Canadian missions of Caughnawaga, St. Regis, and Lorette attest their profound interest in Iroquoian languages. In spite of imperfect recording and transcription, they may prove quite useful to modern linguists. Among these manuscripts, the most valuable seems to be Father Chaumonot’s Dictionnaire, formerly kept at Lorette, now preserved in the Archives du Séminaire de Quebec.

A list of the Huron glossaries or dictionaries in the same Archives are the following, all seven of them belonging to the French period, before 1760:

Radices Linguae huronacie, a small MS., old, without date, bound in parchment. It begins with: 1…conjugao A         …aage;

Dictionnaire huron, another small, old book in MS. bound, beginning at page 1 with the same word aage 258 pages;

Radicae Linguae huronicae, an old MS. bound in parchment; 208 pages. On the frontispiece: “Ce livre aspartien a Etienne/hurron de lorrette le 18 Dumois 1815.”

Dictionnaire Huron. MS. of about 150 pages. Within the cover, the written inscription of a later date: “Ce document m’a été légué par mon pére Paul Tahourhenché, grand chef de la tribu huronne…, Lorette. Ce document passe, dans ma famille pour avoir ée écrit par le R.P. Chaumonot. Paul (Picard) Tsawenhohi…” This presumably is Chaumonot’s Huron dictionnary, going, back to the second part of the seventeenth century;

(Lexique huron), 1-8, MS. of about 400 double pages, bound in 1eather; old, and very fne writing. The words are listed alphabetically.

Radices Linguae Huronicae, by Father R.P. Potier (1743, date of his arrival, 1731), preserved in the Archives of College Sainte-Marie, Montreal. MS. Of 296 pages, dated 1751, 7” X 45”, accompanied by “Elementa Grammaticae Huronicae,” etc. (11)

Vol. II. Radices Linguae Huronicae. also by Father Potier, containing the verbs of the second conjugation. It was copied from a MS. by Pére Etienne Carheil, S.J., with “Addita” borrowed from a MS. by Brother Pierre Daniel Richer, also an ancient Jesuit; at the Archives of Collége Sainte-Marie, Montreal;

Elementa Grammaticae Huronicae. by Pierre Potér, also at the same Archives (in Pilling’s loc. cit., 136).

These precious manuscripts disclose, particularly in Potier’s grammar and glossary, a long step forward. Analytical work by that time, from 1635 to 1751, had reached far enough to unfold the two fundamental lroquoian, paradigms and the five classes of, radicals.

Although prepared in the same period, the Rev. David Zeisberger’s Essay of an Ondoga Grammar (12) is far more elementary; it is an improvement only as compared with Bruyas’ sketch, which seems to have been known to this Moravian missionary in Ohio.

Although Potier has been given the credit for the work so beautifully reproduced in his manuscripts, it is obvious that he has mostly copying what had been gathered by the earlier Jesuit missionaries, whose grammars and dictionaries were then in his keeping at Lorette. The sum total of the early phase of Huron-Iroquois research for mission purposes is impressive. It stands as a monument to apostolic zeal and industry. Yet it is incomplete as a scientific record.

Word groups, in Iroquoian, consist of a verb radical or of verb and noun radicals combined, and of a few closely attached prefixes and suffixes. These units can be sundered into component elements through the knowledge of the elements involved and of phonetic processes operating when vowels and consonants meet. In Potier’s’ time this knowledge had stopped short. What appears as single stems, in Potier’s “Radices Huronicae” (pp. 161 – 444), really comprises a prefix, one or two radicals, and a suffix or two. In the list, a radical may be repeated several times, according to the suffixes which casually modify it. Thus the list is burdened with extraneous and confusing features. Most of the “radicals” so-called in the first conjugation are actually prefixed by –at, “self” (Potier’s “Reciprocal Verbs,” p. 59), which brought them into the first conjugation where the stems begin with –a. In fact, they belong to anyone of the five conjugations.

Few of the phonetic and grammatical rules or habits or the Hurons in forming word clusters were grasped by the early grammarians. The syntax governing the relations of the clusters to one another was only vaguely outlined.

Potier for one usually dealt with concrete, undigested cases, rather than with generalizations. His grammar for this reason becomes lengthy and involved; it consists largely of unessential features, and fails to grasp the fundamentals. Instead of adhering to the genius of the language, he clung to concepts and methods suited only to European languages. Huron verbs are introduced through the modes of French conjugations, whereas in most cases prefixes –e– for the future, for instance would have sufficed one for all. Quite uselessly three pages in one place are filled with “reduplications” in the sense of iteration (“De Reduplicatione,” pp. 24-27). In “De Verbis Anomalis” (pp. 32-47) many verbs are given singly for the lack of proper classification. An understanding of phonetic changes would have done away with this confusion.

Important grammatical features escaped Potier’s (and his forerunners) attention. His “Relationes” or combined pronouns (pp. 17-23) fail to include the actual existing prefixes for from two to five persons in the dual. The terms for “Relation activa” and “Relatio passiva” are misnomers. The equivalent of “ego-abillo,” etc. in Huron, is called “Relatio activa,” and that of “ego-abillo,” etc., as “Relatio passiva.” In fact, the second should be translated merely as “he-me,” “he-him.” No distinction really exists between “passive” and “active.”

In all the missionary transcriptions, the linguistic features remain incompletely recorded on paper, and this is a serious shortcoming. For instance, no attention is paid to accents, stresses, lengths, the breathing after a vowel or before a consonant, glottal stops, and the mute repetitions of vowel sound after a glottal stop. Usually these features are functional; they characterize certain syllables, and determine whether a word means one thing or another.

In the pronouns for the dual (Paradigm A) the “first person inclusive” differs from the “third -person masculine” only in the length of the vowel a–; it is brief in the first, and long in the second. Often the meaning of certain syllables hinges solely on the presence or absence of a glottal stop, of breathing, of a stress, or a long vowel. For instance, –ara means to count, and –ara’, to run; –a ton’ means to be possible, and –a’ ton, to say; –gya, to bark; –‘gya to hold. Without these marks, the reader is left with an incomplete record, unintelligible to the natives.

Because of this insufficiency; Potier’s as well as other missionary manuscripts cannot serve as the last word in the study or lroquoian languages, Huron in particular. Their utility lies in their contents as a whole, which may be utilized as a supplement to more accurate recordings. Potier’s and the other Huron documents have the rare merit of being the only extant records of a language which became extinct over seventy-five years ago; I say “extinct”, because Wyandot was spoken in Oklahoma until about 1925 and recorded by myself, is not the complete equivalent of the Huron as described in the written records. Differences can be observed in the paradigms, and phonetic variations also exist for instance m in Wyandot, becomes w in Huron, as in Tsawenhuhi, eagle in Huron; and Tsamenhuhi in Wyandot.

A later stage in the study of Iroquoian studies is evidenced in Father J.A. Cuoq’s Etudes philologioues sur quelques langues sauvages de l’ Amérique (by N.O., 1866), and in Cuoq’s subsequent Jugement erroné de M. Renan sur les langues sauvages. (13) also in his Lexique de la langue iroquoise. (14) In this Lexique, the noun and verb radicals are stripped of their pronominal prefixes; and a number of prefixes and suffixes are listed independently of, their radicals. The author or authors of these lexicons and grammars drew most of their materials from the manuscripts at the missions; these had been improved by their forerunners. At Caughnawaga, it was said that Cuoq’s information was derived from the Rev. Joseph Marcoux’s manuscript studies of Mohawk (1819-1855). To this day these are still utilized at the Caughnawaga and St. Regis Indian reserves; just as Potier’s model, for his Huron grammar and vocabulary (15) was Father Chaumonot’s manuscripts on the Lorette dialect.

Two valuable manuscripts from the smooth pen or Abbé Joseph Marcoux, a secular priest and missionary at Caughnawaga for many years (1819-1855), are still preserved at the same mission. He, like his Jesuit predecessors, benefited by the experience already acquired through generations of missionaries in the same field. These manuscripts are:

Grammaire Iroquoise

Dictionnaire Iroquois – Francais

Dictionnaire Francais – Iroquois

And a small book, in Iroquois, beginning with the words I8atatsongwanni/D (Question /R (Answer).

At the St. Regis Iroquois mission is preserved an Iroquois lexicon and grammar written or copied there in 1881, by Father Moise Mainville, presumably from older manuscripts by Marcoux.

The time seems to have come now for the publication of essential materials, both ancient and recent, and also for a thorough comparative study of the Iroquoian dialects and their possible connections with other linguistic stocks.

Not until this is achieved can we solve, the problem of Cartier’s or Rabelais’ vocabularies of the Stadacona Iroquoians; and the migration of the Hurons and the Mohawks will have to wait for a solution. My bulky records of Huron-Wyandot, garnered a decade or so before the language became extinct, first on the Detroit River, then in Oklahoma, still await final preparation for their publication. Who will publish them or subsidize their publication is a question of the moment.

Was Rabelais or another French writer commissioned by Francis I, King of France, to write the vocabularies attributed to, Jacques Cartier?

Who were the Stadaconés, the Hochelagas, and the other tribes momentarily settled along the St. Lawrence from the present Quebec and Montreal?

Hurons, Wyandots, Mohawks, Onondagas, or Senecas?

Who can tell for sure – as yet?

The Native informants and interpreters, whose materials were phonetically recorded at first hand, in 1911-1912, at Wyandotte, Oklahoma, were the following in order of importance. All of them had died a decade later, and their language had virtually ceased to exist except ,as taken down by the author under dictation:

Catherine Johnson (maiden name, Coon), of Wyandot Reservation, Oklahoma, half-breed Wyandot of the Deer clan. She spoke Wyandot almost exclusively and was slightly over 60 years of age in 1911. Her personal name was “She-is-Sailing-in-the-Sky.” In the course or my two seasons or field work during which her narratives were dictated, she visited several of her old acquaintances on the reservation to refresh her memory, as she could scarcely recall the details.

Smith Nichols, also of the Deer clan, was the oldest member of the so-called “breech-clout” band of the Wyandottes in Oklahoma. His knowledge of the past was extensive. He spoke Wyandot almost to the exclusion of English, yet at one time he had been nominally a preacher of the denomination or “Friends.” His mother, who was also or the Deer clan, had died in Ohio in 1842, and his father was a Cayuga, of the Bear clan. His grandmother, Nendusha, from whom he learned most of the old traditions, is said to have died a centenarian.

Star (Hiram)Young,  called “His-Sky-in-the-Water,” of the Seneca Reservation, Oklahoma, belonged to the Wolf clan; his nickname was “Tishon,” Star. He was about 65 years of age. Part of his information was recorded in English and part in text.

Mary McKee (Miss), whose native name was “Carrying-a-Pond,” belonged to the Bear clan; her nickname was “Turtle.” A refined half-breed Wyandot, aged 73 in 1911, she belonged to Anderdon township, Essex country, Ontario, and was one of the very last to speak the language of her nation on the Detroit River. Her mother, Kyuhkwe, a Wyandot of the Bear clan, had spoken only Wyandot, and her father, Thomas McKee, was a halt-breed whose own father was a Scotsman of repute in the Revolutionary War – Colonel McKee.

John Kayrahoo, “His-arrow-kills,” of the Porcupine clan, was about 72 in 1912. His information was recorded in text, as he spoke only Wyandot. He died in 1913.

Allen Johnson, “He-Cannot-Find-Game,” of the Deer clan, was the son of the above mentioned Catherine Johnson. His services were valuable, chiefly as an interpreter and informant on the language


(1) Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 93, No.3, 1949, pp. 226-232.

(2) Biggar, H.P., The Voyages of Jacques Cartier, Publ. Public Archives of Canada 11:61, 1924.

(3) Langaige (for langage) was a spelling adopted by Rabelais in his own work.

(4) See my Kingdom of Saguenay, Macmillan Company of Canada, 1937. First chapter: “A Tarande for the King. “

(5) Proc. and Trans. Royal Soc. of Canada for the Year 1842 (ii): 55-104, 1885.

(6) In his Histoire du Canada et Voyages III, IV, Paris, 1636.

(7) Shea’s Library of American Linguistics X: 123, 1863.

(8) New York, Cramoisy Press, 1862 pp. 123.

(9) Thwaites, Reuben Gold (ed.), The Jesuit Relations X (1636): 68-72, l897

(10) ibid. XXI (1641-l642): 250-265, l640-1641.

(11) This MS. was described in J .C. Pilling’s Bibliography of the Iroquoian languages (Smithsonian Institution, 135, 136, 1888), and published in the Firth Report of the Bureau of Archives for the Province of Ontario, 1908, by Alexander Fraser, 32, 1909. In the introduction, it is stated that this MS. was written by Potier at Lorette in 1743, l744.

(12) Reprinted from the Penn. Mag. of Hist. and Biog. 12: 1-45, 1888.

(13) Montreal, Dawson Bros., 1869.

(14) Montreal, 1882.

(15) According to Shea: above Fifteenth Report. Pé. 707-708, footnote.

How the Huron-Wyandot Language Was Saved from Oblivion
By Marius Barbeau
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 93, No. 3 (Jun. 10, 1949), pp. 226-232 
(article consists of 7 pages)
Published by: American Philosophical Society

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