The Massachuset language is an Algonquin languauge of the Algic language family formerly spoken by several peoples of eastern coastal and south-eastern Massachusetts The language is also known as Natick and historically as Pokanoket. but spoken by several massachuset tribes.
The language is most notable for creating a community of literate Indians and for the number of translations of religious texts into the language. John Elliots translation of the Christian Bible in 1663 using the Natick dialect, known as Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God, was the first printed in the Americas, the first Bible translated by a non-native speaker and one of the earliest example of a Bible translation into a previously unwritten language. Literacy spread quickly as Indian ministers and teachers, who were literate, spread literacy to the elites and other members of their communities. This is attested in the numerous court petitions, church records, Praying town administrative records, notes on book margins, personal letters and widespread distribution of other translations of religious tracts throughout the colonial period.
The dialects of the language were formerly spoken by several peoples of southern New England, including all the coastal and insular areas of eastern Massachusetts as well as south-eastern New Hampshire the southernmost tip of Maine and eastern Rhode Island but was also a common second or third language across most of New England and portions of Long island. The use of the language in the mixed-band communities of Christian converts—Praying towns— also spread the language to some groups of Nipmuc and Pennacook.
Massachusett is a member of the Algic language family, which connects the Algonquian languages that span from the Rocky Mountains eastward to the Atlantic Ocean with Yurok (Puliklah) and Wiyot (Wishosk)—two relict languages only distantly related to Algonquian or each other of the Pacific Northwest. Proto-Algonquian (PA) diverged and spread eastward as the Algonquian languages. Proto-Eastern Algonquian (PEA) emerged from PA and later developed into the Eastern Algonquian languages (EA) from the Canadian Maritimes southward to the Carolinas. The Eastern Algonquian languages were the only true genetic grouping, to emerge from PA, as Central and Plains Algonquian branches are groupings based more on a real linguistic features than common descent.
PEA split into the three sub-divisions of EA with the Abenakian languages of Québec and The Maritimes of Canada and northern New England, the Southern New England Algonquian (SNEA) languages—which include Masssachusett—of southern New England and most of Long Island and the Delawaran languages of extreme western New England, the Hudson River valley, hugging the coast as far south as the northern tip of South Carolina. Massachusett was most closely related to the other SNEA languages in a dialect continuum, showing closest relations to Narragansett and Nipmuc and to a lesser extent, Nehântick (Niantic), Mohegan-Pequot-Montauk and Quiripi-Naugatuck-Unquachog. Due to the great extinction of indigenous American languages since European contact, the closest extant languages with native speakers are the Abenakian Mi'kmaq, Wolastoqiyik-Peskotomuhkati (Malecite-Passamoquoddy) and Odanak(Western Abenaki, Abénaqui d'Odanak) languages and the Delawaran Wíixcheew (Munsee) language, although the latter two are nearing extinction with fewer than ten speakers in old age and the rest are in vulnerable situations as few young people are learning their respective languages.
Massachusett has evolved certain features that differentiate it from most other SNEA languages, although many of these traits are also shared with Nipmuc and Narragansett.
PEA *r becomes Massachusett /n/
This is the most defining feature of Massachusett in relation to other SNEA languages. PEA *r, itself a merger of PA *r and *θ appears as /n/ in Massachusett and sometimes in Narragansett (Coweset?), /l/ in Nipmuc, /j/ in Narragansett and /r/ in westernmost and northernmost SNEA dialects.
PA *aθemwa, 'dog,' becomes annùm' (anum) /anəm/ in Massachusett, alùm in Nipmuc and ayimp in Narragansett.
PA *aθankwa, 'star,' becomes anogqs' (anôq[ee]s') /anãkwees/ in Massachusett, anóckqus in Narragansett (Coweset?) and arráksak (plural form) in Quripi.
PEA *ra-nk, 'young,' as in a 'young boy,' with the latter as Massachusett nunkomp (nôkôp) /nãkãp/, Nipmuc langbasis and Unquachog rúngcump.
PEA *rōtēw, 'fire' or 'it burns,' becomes nꝏhtau (*n8htâw) /nuːhtaːw/, lȣte in Nimpuc, and ruht in Unquachog.
Lack of 'Abenaki-influenced syncope
The deletion of /a/ and /ə/ in word-final syllables and before certain consonant clusters is rare in Massachusett and Narragansett, but was more common east-to-west, showing up as a fairly common feature in Nipmuc (Loup?) and almost obligatory in the western SNEA languages of Connecticut and the Long Island Sound. When it does appear in rare instances in Massachusett, it seems to be due to dialectal interference or metrical reasons, such as in the sung versions of the Psalms of David in the Massachusee Psalter. It seems to have been a feature that originated in the Abenakian languages before spreading to Mahican and the SNEA languages.
PA *keʔtahanwi, 'sea' or 'sea water,' becomes kehtahhan (kuhtahan) /kəhtahan/ in Massaachusett, kuthún in Naugatuck, kitthan in Narragansett.
Massachusett paskehheg (paskuheek) /paskəhiːk/, 'gun,' appears as posk_heege in Pequot, boshk_eag in Montauk and pask_ig in Nipmuc.
PEA *manət, 'god,' becomes mannit (manut) /manət/ in Massachusett, manìt in Narragansett, mon_dtu in Pequot and man_do in Unquachog.
Preference of the locative suffix /-ət/ over /-ək/
Massachusett, as well as Narragansett, favor the locative suffix -et/-ut/-it (-ut) /-ət/ 3:1 over -uck/-uk'/-ock (-uk) /-ək/ found in most other SNEA languages and the other EA languages. This feature, is rare in Nantucket and the Nauset areas and not universal in Nipmuc, indicating it was a novel feature of the Massachusett that was spreading.
Massachusett/Wampanoag-language place names: Acushnet, Pawtucket, Nantucket, Shawmut, Neponset, Swampscott but also Pauketuck.
Nipmuc-language place names: Hassunet (also Hassunek), Pascommuck, Quassuck and Quinnepoxet.
Pocomtuc-language place names: Podatuck, Pocumtuck, Sunsicke, Norwotuck, Pachasock but also Pesceompscut.
Mahican-language place names: Hoosic, Housatonic, Mahkeenak, Quassuck, Mananosick.
Palatization of Proto-Algonquian *k to /tʲ/
PEA *k became the palatal stop *ty in PSNEA, especially when *k occurred before PEA *ē and some instances vowels that developed from PA *i and is a defining feature that separates the SNEA languages from the other sub-divisions of EA. Although this is universal, in some verbs, *k reverted to its original non-palatized form.
PA *weri-kiwa, 'it is good,' becomes wunnet (wuneetyuw) /wəniːtʲəw/ in Massachusett, but ȣligȣ in Nipmuc, woreeco in Unquachog and weyegoh in Pequot.
Differing word roots
Within SNEA, Massachusett, Narragansett and Nipmuc share words with the same linguistic roots not shared with the western SNEA languages.
Massachusett namohs (namâhs) /namaːhs/, 'fish,' appears as namens in Nipmuc, namohs in Narragansett but peremock in Montauk and pî'âmâ'g.
Massachusett kah (kah) /kah/, 'and,' appears as kà in Narragansett but quah in Pequot and Quiripi.
Massachusett peshai (puhshay) /pəʃaj/, 'it is blue' appears as peshaûi in Narragansett but seewamp-wayo in Unquachog and zî'wŏmbâ'ĭŏ in Mohegan.
As the Massachusett-speaking peoples spoke varieties existing along a dialect continuum, distinctions of language were based traditionally upon levels of mutual intelligibility. Dialects that were readily understood were simply hettonk(hut8ôk) /hətuːãk/, 'that which they [can] speak to each other.'This constrasted with siogontoowaonk (sayakôt8âôk)/sajakãtuːaːãk/,'difficult language,' for speech further away on the chain or related Algonquian languages that were understood only with difficulty, and penwantaog(peen8wâôt8âôk) /piːnuːwaːãtuːaːãk/ When it was necessary to specify the language of a people, tribe, village or region, any of these were suffixed with unnontoowaog (unôt8âôk) /ənãtuːaːãk/ to indicate 'its people's language' or 'its common language.'
The Massachusett people, as well as most other peoples of New England who spoke its pidgin variety as a regional lingua franca, referred to the language as Massachusett/Massachusee unnontꝏwaonk (Mâsach8sut/Mâsach8see unôt8âôk) /mɑːsatʃuːsət/mmɑːsatʃuːsiː ənãtuːaːãk/ Especially in reference to either the Praying Indians of Natick or the written language,Natick unnontooaog may have possibly been used. The name derives from local name for the sacred Great Blue Hill near Ponkapoag (Canton, Massachusetts), from missi- (muhs-), 'great,' [w]adchu ([w]ach8), 'mountain,' [e]s (-[ee]s), [diminutive suffix], and and -ett (-ut), [locative suffix]. The name may also partially derive from, or was influenced by, Moswetuset Hummock, a small hill at the end of a barrier island near Squantum (Quincy, Massachusetts), that was the ceremonial meeting ground of Massachusett sachems. It derives from moswe- (*môsw-), 'to pierce' or 'arrow' and [w]achuset ([w]ach8sut), 'hill,' and signifies 'place of the arrow-shaped Hill' or 'arrow hill place.'
The English colonists of the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies initially settled among various peoples that were all speakers of a common language. The first settlers referred to the language as the Indian language because of its general use across the region. They also adopted the local names of peoples and places to refer to the language, including the still common Massachusett, Natick and Wampanoag as well as historical names such as Nonantum, Pokanoket and Aberginian.
In linguistic and scholarly domains, Massachusett or Natick are generally more common, although the use of Wampanoag as well as the WLRP revived form '(Wôpanâak),' are appearing more frequently in print and other media due to the publicity that surrounds Baird's reclamation project. Other names refer to the various groups that linguists of various camps believe spoke a common language, such as Massachuset-Wampanoag, Wampanoag-Massachusett, Massachusett-Coweset, Massachusett-Wampanoag-Narragansett or Massachusett-Narragansett, although Narragansett is considered by most a separate albeit closely related language. When grouped with other mutually intelligible languages into a supraregional language, it is called Southern New England Algonquian, specifically an SNEA N-dialect.