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  • A Meskwaki-English and English-Meskwaki Dictionary: Based on Early Twentieth-Century Writings by Native Speakers
  • Philip S. LeSourd
A Meskwaki-English and English-Meskwaki Dictionary: Based on Early Twentieth-Century Writings by Native Speakers. Ives Goddard and Lucy Thomason. Petoskey, Mich.: Mundart Press, 2014. Pp. vi + 423. $25.95 (paper).

This volume provides an extensive compilation of words drawn from written works by native speakers of the Meskwaki language of Tama County, Iowa (also known as Fox), that date from the first decades of the twentieth century. Meskwaki is member of the Algonquian family of languages, closely related to Sauk and Kickapoo, and is known for its phonological conservatism. Meskwaki material played a central role in Bloomfield’s (1946) celebrated reconstruction of the morphological system of Proto-Algonquian.

The earliest texts on which Goddard and Thomason draw were collected by William Jones in 1901—1902 and subsequently published (Jones 1907). Jones was one-quarter Meskwaki and had been raised by his father, a second-language Meskwaki speaker, and his Indian grandmother. He graduated from Harvard in 1900, then completed a doctorate under Franz Boas at Columbia in 1904 (Goddard 1988:193). But the bulk of the material in the dictionary is taken from a collection of more than twenty-seven thousand pages of manuscript material written out by Meskwaki speakers that was collected by Truman Michelson in the years between 1911 and his death in 1938 (p. v). The manuscripts were written in the Meskwaki “syllabary,” actually an alphabetic notation derived from European sources in the nineteenth century (Goddard 1988:193). With the help of Meskwaki assistants who read the material aloud for him, Michelson prepared phonetic transcriptions of a substantial number of the manuscripts he had collected, which were published in this form (e.g., Michelson 1921, 1925). Other material remained unedited. Goddard has prepared new editions of some of Michelson’s published works (Goddard 2006; Goddard and Kiyana 2007), and he and Thomason have worked together to establish the texts of all the published works of Jones and Michelson, as well as a large number of Michelson’s unpublished manuscripts. Some words are also taken from analytical discussions of Meskwaki terms in Michelson (1925). Most of the words in the dictionary were checked with native speakers of Meskwaki in the years 1990—2005 (p. 1).

The dictionary extensively documents the vocabulary of early twentieth-century Meskwaki, including ritual and ceremonial terms, words found only in songs, and words reflecting ancient traditions of storytelling, as well as words taken from accounts of daily life. Naturally, it fails to include many words that are used in the contemporary language, notably the numerous borrowings from English that have become established in recent decades (p. 1). Moreover, it contains only a selection of the words to be found in the sources from which it draws: “in fact, a compilation of all the words in these writings would more than double the size of the book” (p. 1). Unfortunately, no discussion is provided of the criteria on which the selection of words was based.

Contemporary Meskwaki differs from the earlier language not only in vocabulary but also in pronunciation. Voorhis (1971:74) describes a situation in the 1960s in which two styles or registers of the language coexisted: a “deliberate style” in which words are given their full pronunciation and a “casual style,” characterized by reduced pronunciations, from the point of view of the deliberate style. In the casual style, intervocalic w and y are typically deleted (with shortening of a long vowel before a vowel in resulting vowel sequences), word-final vowels are deleted after h or a nasal, and a variety of other changes are made. Thus, for example, deliberate mi·hkeče·wi·weni ‘work’ is matched by [End Page 99] casual mi·hkečeien (Goddard 1988:196). When Voorhis was conducting his fieldwork, he found that older Meskwakis generally knew the deliberate forms of each morpheme he encountered, but that younger speakers only knew the casual forms in many cases. Today, it is only the oldest speakers who control the deliberate style (Goddard 1991:159). Moreover, Goddard has demonstrated that neither style is derivationally prior to...


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