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Rapid Advance of Spring

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Rapid advance of spring--Troops commence a stockade--Principles of the Chippewa tongue--Idea of a new language containing the native principles of syntax, with a monosyllabic method--Indian standard of value--Archaeological evidences in growing trees--Mount Vernon--Signs of spring in the appearance of birds--Expedition to St. Peter's--Lake Superior open--A peculiarity in the orthography of Jefferson--True sounds of the consonants--Philology--Advent of the arrival of a vessel.--Editors and editorials--Arrival from Fort William--A hope fled--Sudden completion of the spring, and ushering in of summer--Odjibwa language, and transmission of Inquiries.

1823. April 12th. Spring is gradually advancing. The deepened roar of the rapids indicates an increased volume of water. The state of the ice is so bad this day that no persons have ventured to cross the river. Yesterday, they still crossed. The bare ground begins to show itself in spots; but the body of snow is still deep in the woods.

14th. The T. migratorius or robin made its appearance. The Indians have a pretty tale of the origin of this bird and its fondness for domestic scenes.

16th. Gray duck appeared in the rapids.

17th. Large portions of the ground are now laid bare by the sun.

18th. A friend at New York, about to sail for Europe, writes me under this date: "I expect to sail for St. Petersburgh. I shall take with me some of our choicest specimens, in return for which I hope to procure something new and interesting. The truth is, we know very little of the mineralogy of Russia, and hence such specimens as can be procured will almost necessarily prove interesting."

"The Lyceum is about to publish its proceedings. The members are increasing in numbers and activity. It has been recently agreed that there shall be at least one paper read at every meeting; this will ensure attention, and much increase the interest of the meetings. I hope you may, before long, be able to add your personal attendance."

"I feel it my duty to inform you that the minerals intrusted to my care are situated in every respect as when left by you; they are, of course, entirely dependent upon any order you may give concerning them. I do not think it necessary that you should make any immediate provision for them, or that there is any cause for uneasiness on their account.1"

19th. The troops began to set up the pickets of a stockade or fort, to which the name of "Brady" is given, in allusion to Col. Hugh Brady, U.S.A. The first canoe crossed the river to-day, although the ice still lines each shore of the river for several hundred yards in width.

20th. S. My sister Maria writes to me: "I fancy, by the description you have given of your residence and society at the Sault, that you have enjoyed yourself, and seen as much of the refinements of civilized life as you would have done in many places less remote. Who have you at the Sault that writes such pretty poetry? The piece I refer to is signed Alexina2, and is a death-song of an Indian woman at the grave of her murdered husband."

22d. One of the principal objections to be urged against the Indian languages, considered as media of communication, is their cumbrousness. There is certainly a great deal of verbiage and tautology about them. The paucity of terms leads not only to the use of figures and metaphors, but is the cause of circumlocution. This day we had a snow storm.

The Chippewa is, in its structure, what is denominated by Mr. Du Ponceau "polysynthetic." It seems the farthest removed possible from the monosyllabic class of languages. I have thought that, if some of its grammatical principles could be applied to monosyllables, a new language of great brevity, terseness, regularity, and poetic expressiveness, might be formed. It would be necessary to restore to its alphabet the consonants f, l, and r, and v. Its primitive pronouns might be retained, with simple inflections, instead of compound, for plural. It would be necessary to invent a pronoun for she, as there is, apparently, nothing of this kind in the language. The pronouns might take the following form:--

Ni, I. Nid, We. Niwin, Myself. Niwind, Ourselves.

Ki, Thou. Kid, Ye or you. Kiwin, Thyself. Kiwind, Yourselves.

Wi, He. Wid, They. Masculine. Wiwin, Yourselves. (Mas.) Wiwind.

Si, She. Sid, They. Feminine. Siwin, Yourselves. (Fem.) Siwind.


Ni, Nin, Nee--I, Mine, Me. Nid, Nida, Nidim--We, Us, Ours.

Ki, Kin, Kee--Thou, Thine, Thee. Kid, Kida, Kidim--Ye, You, Yours.

 Wi, Win, Wee--Him, His, His. Wid, Wida, Widim--They, Their, Theirs. (Mas.)

Si, Sin, See--Her, Hers, Hers. Sid, Sida, Sidim--They, Their, Theirs. (Fem.)

The full meaning of the present class of verbs and substantives of the language could be advantageously transferred to the first, or second, or third syllable of the words, converting them into monosyllables. The plural might be uniformly made in d, following a vowel, and if a word terminate in a consonant, then in ad. So the class of plural terminations would be ad, ed, id, od, ud. Many generic nouns would require to be invented, and could easily be drawn from existing roots. In the orthography of these, the initial consonant of the corresponding English word might serve as an index, Thus, from the word aindum, mind, might be derived,

Ain, Mind. Sain, Sorrow.

Tain, Thought. Jain, Joy, &c.

Main, Meditation.

So from taibwawin, truth, might be drawn taib, truth--faib, faith--raib, religion--vaib, virtue. A principle of euphony, or affinity of syllabication, might be applied in the abbreviation of a few of this class of generic words: as Eo, God, from monedo.


In, Man. Ind, Men.

Ee, Woman. Eed, Women.

Ab, Child. Abad, Children.

Kwi, Boy. Kwid, Boys.

Kwa, Girl. Kwad, Girls.

Os, Father. Osad, Fathers.

Gai, Mother. Gaid, Mothers.

All the existing monosyllables of the language would be retained, but subjected to new laws of construction and concordance. Thus the plural of Koan, snow, would be koanad; of ais, shell, aisad; moaz, moas, moazad, &c. Variety in the production of sounds, and of proper cadences in composition, might dictate retention of a certain class of the dissyllables--as ossin a stone, opin a potato, akki earth, mejim food, assub a net, aubo a liquid, mittig a tree, &c., the plurals of which would be assinad, opinad, akkid, mejimad, assubad, aubad, mittigad. Every substantive would have a diminutive form in is, and an augmentative in chi, the vowel of the latter to be dropped where a vowel begins the word. Thus, chab, a grandchild; chigai, a grandmother. Inis, a little man; osis, a little father, &c.

Adjectives would come under the same rules of abbreviation as nouns and verbs. They would be deprived of their present accidents of number and gender.

Min, Good. Koona, Ugly.

Mon, Bad. Soan, Strong.

Bish, Handsome.

The colors, seasons, cardinal points, &c., would consist of the first syllable of the present words.

The demonstrative pronouns, this, that, there, those, would take the following forms: Mau, this; aho, that. By adding the common plural, the terms for these and those would be produced: Maud, these; ahod, those.

The prepositions would fall naturally under the rule of abbreviation applied to nouns, &c. Chi, by; peen, in; kish, if, &c.; li, of; ra, to; vi, is; af, at.

Ieau is the verb to be. The auxiliary verbs, have, shall, will, &c., taken from the tensal particles, are ge, gu, gei, go, ga.

Pa may stand for the definite article, being the first syllable of pazhik; and a comma for the indefinite article.

Ie is matter. Ishi, heaven.


Ni sa Eo--I love God. Eo vi min--The Lord is good. Nin os ge pa min in--My father was a good man. Ishiod (Isheod)--The heavens.

Thus a new language might be formed.

24th. The standard of value with the Indians is various. At this place, a beaver skin is the standard of computation in accounts. When an Indian has made a purchase, he inquires, not how many dollars, but how many beaver skins he owes. Farther south, where racoon skins are plenty, they become the standard. Some years ago, desertion became so frequent at Chicago and other posts, that the commanding officer offered the customary reward to the Indians of the post, if they would secure the deserters. Five persons went in pursuit, and brought in the men, for which they received a certificate for the amount. They then divided the sum into five equal shares, and subdivided each share into its value in racoon skins. It was not until this division was completed, and the number of skins ascertained, that they could, by any fixed standard of comparison, determine the reward which each had received.


1: Notwithstanding, the collection of specimens referred to was afterwards most sadly dealt with, and pillaged of its choicest specimens.

2: Mrs. Thompson.

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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

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