The Chowanoke appear to have spoken a dialect Eastern Algonquian, closely related to all other Algonquian languages on the northeast Atlantic coast. Very limited information is available from recorded sources of early explorers and later colonists, but in piecemeal, there is enough know to know that the algonquians living below the great dismal swamp spoke a language extremely close to the Powhatan peoples of Virginia above them. This is likely particularly true with the Chowanoke as they were the closest neighbors to the Powhatan. (See Helen Rountree, The Powhatan indians of Virginia, Their Traditional Culture, who suggests that the Chowanoke spoke a language most similar to the Nansemond.) One of our site members, Jacob Adombwa, has been fervently studying langauage studies by modern linguists available on Algonquian Language and hopefully can shed more light for us in the future.
The following lesson is based on research done originally by Blair Rudes and given to the Coastal Carolina Indian Center. We in no way claim original authorship of the following vocabulary other than rearranging some of it into a lesson format.
Learn to Speak Chowan!!
by Jacob Adombwa
I was born speaking English and raised speaking Spanglish. The Spanglish language is just as complex and meaningful as both Spanish and English. The beautiful thing about speaking Spanglish is the blend of two cultures, by mixing two languages together. In a sense, Spanglish can be considered the new “Patois” or “Creole” of the States.
In the same way, I would like to introduce the Chowan/Coastal Algonquian language. Any linguist can explain that the Coastal Algonquian language (especially the Chowan dialect) can never be fully re-introduced. By no means am I a linguist, but I am good at speaking languages. By mixing what Chowan dialect we know with the English we all fluently speak, we will make our own unique “Spanglish” of the Chowan language...let's call it Changlish!!
By no means is this a formal way of learning a language. However, a language can only be learned if it is spoken regularly. So as for us of the Chowanoke Community, lets substitute what English words we know for a Chowan word. In time, our vocabulary will only increase, and eventually our grammar can be utilized. Changlish is the best way to start, but in time we will be able to speak a more robust Chowan language.
Don't worry so much about the grammar yet, because we will simply be plugging Chowan words into the English system. Remember: The Chowan language is a dead language, so learning fluent Chowan may be an impossibility. But just like Spanglish is becoming more and more a recognized language, we can at least make Changlish a reality. Good Luck, I hope you all get A's in Chowan school!!
**I didn't do the research, I am simply re-arranging information in an easy-to-learn format. ALL credit goes to the Coastal Carolina Indians, Dr. Blair A. Rudes, and the Massachusett Language Revival Project. If you are a researcher of the Chowan language and I accidentally cite your works without recognition, please don't sue! I make no profit from this what so ever. Also, if you have information on Chowan language and you would like to share with me, please feel free to share!**
Pronunciation of Vowels and Consonants
I= sounds like Spanish 'y' in Y tu? Or like English 'I' in pizza
E=sounds like Spanish 'e' in Cafe or English 'ay' as in hay
A=sounds like English 'a' in father
Á=sounds like English 'aw' in law or saw. Has more of a deep throat sound.
U=sounds like English 'u' in but. Used very commonly in the Chowan tongue.
O=sounds like English/Spanish 'o' in no.
8= sounds like English 'oo' in food. (A different symbol is used in many language texts, but for copy/paste reasons, the 8 is what I will use for the long 'o' sound.
P= 'p' as in spill
T= 't' as in still
K= 'k' as in skill
C= 'ch' as in chill
S= 's' as in sill
H= 'h' as in hill
M= 'm' as in mill
N= 'n' as in nil
W= 'w' as in will
Y= 'y' as in yell (or 'll' in Spanish llamar)
R= 'r' as in Spanish rosa. This is difficult for some English speakers.
Six Starter Family/Kinship Words
my daughter= nunutánuhs
my son= nukwisus
my grandfather= numoshomus
my grandmother= nunohum
Cumay= same thing as “nitáp”
Winkapo= literally 'my friend' used for somebody within your tribe, but not ones kin.
In the Chowan/Coastal Algonquian language, you address your family as their relation to you indicates. for example, I would call my brother “brother” and my father “father”. So instead of saying “ Hello Dad, how are you?” I would say “Nohsh, sá kir kinkan?”
How are you? = Sá kir winkan? (are you well?)
To answer this question, English speakers are accustomed to saying 'good' or 'bad'. In Chowan, you either say 'yes' or 'no'.
My name is...= nuturuwins (I am called________)
I am from...= __place here nunowám.
The People (Chowan People)= runapewak (the real, true people)
That's it for now! Want some more practice? Fill in these blanks so you can start speaking Changlish!!
_________(hello my friend)!!___ ____ _______(Are you well?)? I was walking in the woods today and I saw ___________ (my grandfather) planting the corn. Oh I'm sorry, you don't know my name? __________( I am called) your name here'. ___________ (I am from Chicago). I come from the Chowan people, the _______________. It was nice to meet you, say hi to _________ (my mother) for me. Bye!