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New York, 29th January, 1836. SIR,
I have the honor to enclose the residue of the Synopsis of the Indian Tribes of North America, classed in families according to their respective languages.
My first attempt was made in the year 1823, at the request of a distinguished friend, Baron Alexander Humboldt. It was that essay, communicated it seems to Mr. Balbi, and quoted by him with more praise than it deserved, in the Introduction to his “ Atlas Ethnographique,” which drew the attention of the Antiquarian Society, and induced it to ask me for a copy. I had not kept any, but had in the mean while collected and obtained access to many important materials, In the winter of 1825 – 6, the attendance at Washington of a numerous delegation of southern Indians enabled me to obtain good vocabularies of the Muskhogee, Uchee, Natchez, Chicasa, and Cherokee; and I then published a table of all the existing tribes in the United States, which, in its arrangement, does not differ materially from that now adopted. The War Department circulated at the same time, at my request, printed forms of a vocabulary containing six hundred words, of verbal forms, and of selected sentences; and also a series of grammatical queries. The only communication, received in answer to those queries, is that of the Rev. Mr. Worcester respecting the Cherokee, which is inserted in the Appendix. The verbal forms and select sentences in that language, the verbal forms of the Muskhogee, Chocta, and Caddo, and the copious supplementary vocabularies in the same tongues, and in the Mohawk and Seneca, were also received in answer; and that of the Chippeway, . by Dr. James, (Appendix to Tanner's account,) is partly on the same model.
I believe that I have, in every instance, stated to whom I was indebted for every communication of which any use was made, and pointed out the authority where recourse was had to works already published. I received most liberal assistance from every quarter where I made application. The libraries of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, and VOL. II.
of the Historical Societies of New York and of Massachusetts, were opened to me af aši times, and their books and manuscripts communicated without reserve. The War Department, both formerly and lately, con.unicated the materials in its possession; and I am indebted to many individuals, but especially to Mr. Du Ponceau, who, in the most liberal and friendly manner, put his valuable collection of manuscript vocabularies at my disposal, and gave me every information which he thought might be of any use to me.
The form of a comparative vocabulary was adopted as far as practicable; and, in preparing it, every source of information, whether in manuscript or in works already published, was resorted to. The selection of the words was necessarily controlled by the materials. Those and no others could be admitted, but such as were found in a number of the existing vocabularies, sufficient for the purpose intended. Some words of inferior importance were introduced, only because they were common to almost all the vocabularies; and many have been omitted, because they were to be found only for a few dialects. This will account for the absence of abstract nouns, prepositions, &c., in the Comparative Vocabulary. The deficiency is partly supplied for the Southern and for the Iroquois tribes, by the Supplementary Vocabulary. Although the number of words in the comparative vocabulary (No. I.), which embraces fifty-three tribes, was reduced to one hundred and eighty, less than onehalf of that number could be obtained for some of the languages. A lesser vocabulary (No. II.) of fifty-three words includes sixteen tribes. About the same number of words has been supplied by Umfreville, for four tribes, (No. III.) The miscellaneous vocabularies (No. IV.) in. clude seventeen, whose scanty vocabularies could not be arranged in the same form. Of the ninety languages or dialects of which specimens are thus given, I think that nine (marked ß and v) are duplicates, or only varieties.
The Synopsis was originally intended to embrace all the tribes north of the semi-civilized Mexican nations. The want of materials soon confined the inquiry, towards the south, to the territory of the United States. The loss of the vocabularies collected by Lewis and Clarke has not been supplied. With the exception of the Salish, and of a few words of the Shoshonee and of the Chinook, we have as yet no knowledge of the Indian languages west of the Stony Mountains, within the United States.
The only existing tribe in the United States, east of the Mississippi, of which the language has not been ascertained, is that of the Alibamons and Coosadas, consisting of five or six hundred souls, seated on the waters of the river Alabama, and who make part of the Creek con
federacy. West of the Mississippi, and on or south of the Red river, fragments remain, in Louisiana, of ten or twelve tribes, amounting together to about fifteen hundred souls. The vocabularies of four of these have been obtained. Each speaks a distinct language; and it is probable, that this is the case with some of the others. We are unacquainted with the languages of three tribes, (the Kaskaias, Kiawas, and Bald Heads,) estimated at three thousand souls, who wander between the upper waters of the Red river of the Mississippi, and those of the river Platte of the Missouri; and we have as yet but specimens of the languages of the Black Feet, of the Fall or Rapid Indians, and of the Crows. In other respects, the Synopsis of the Indians within the United States, east of the Stony Mountains, is nearly as complete as could have been expected, and embraces some tribes altogether or nearly extinct.
North of the United States, all or nearly all the families of languages are known; but the subdivision into languages or dialects of the same family is incomplete. The inland districts of Russian America have not been explored; and I must acknowledge some deficiency on my part, in not having investigated all the existing materials, respecting the various languages of the tribes which inhabit the seacoast and adjacent islands, from Nootka to Prince William's Sound.
The eighty-one tribes (excluding the nine duplicates), embraced by the Synopsis, have been divided into twenty eight families.* A single glance at the annexed Map will show, that, excluding the country west of the Stony Mountains and south of the fifty-second degree of north latitude, almost the whole of the territory contained in the United States and in British and Russian America is or was occupied by only eight great families, each speaking a distinct language, subdivided, in most instances, into a number of languages or dialects belonging to the same stock. These are the Eskimaux, the Athapascas (or Cheppeyans), the Black Feet, the Sioux, the Algonkin-Lenape, the Iroquois, the Cherokee, and the Mobilian or Chahta-Muskhog. I believe the Muskhogee, which is the prevailing language of the Creek confederacy, and the Chocta or Chicasa, to belong to the same family, although, in conformity with general usage, they have been arranged under two distinct heads. This would reduce the number of families to twenty-seven, Of
The Woccons, an extinct tribe, distinguished in the vocabulary as the XIXth family, have, since that was prepared for the press, been ascertained to have belonged to the Catawba family, No. VII. The eight great families embrace sixty-one of the distinct languages. Excluding the extinct Woccons, the nineteen other families have each but one ascertained language or dialect.
the nineteen others, ten are west of the Stony Mountains; and seven of these inhabit, south of the sixtieth degree of north latitude, the islands and the narrow tract of land contained between the Pacific Ocean and the continuation of the Californian chain of mountains, as far south as the forty-seventh degree of north latitude. Six of the remaining nine families, the probable remnants of ancient nations, are found amongst the southern tribes, either annexed to the Creek confederacy, or in the swamps of West Louisiana. The three others are the Catawbas, the Pawnees, and the Fall or Rapid Indians. Some new families, or totally distinct languages, will hereafter be found in the quarters already indicated: West Louisiana, the wandering tribes on the upper waters of the Arkansas and of the Missouri, and west of the Stony Mountains, in the territory drained by the Columbia river. Many distinct languages or dialects of the Eskimaux, of the Athapascas, and of some of the other great families, will be added to the present enumeration. But I believe that the classification now submitted will, as far as it goes, be found correct. I feel some confidence, that I have not been deceived by false etymologies; and that the errors, which may be discovered by further researches, will be found to consist in having considered as distinct families some which belong to the same stock, and not in having arranged as belonging to the same family any radically distinct languages forming separate families. The only exceptions, in that respect, refer to the Minetare group and the Shyennes, both stated as being Sioux, and to the Sussees, annexed to the Athapascas, in regard to whom the evidence is not conclusive.
It must, however, be understood, that the expression “ family," applied to the Indian languages, has been taken in its most extensive sense, and as embracing all those which contained a number of similar primitive words, sufficient to show that they must, at some remote epoch, have had a common origin. It is not used in that limited sense in which we designate the Italian, Spanish, and French as languages of the Latin stock, or the German, Scandinavian, Netherlandish, and English as branches of the Teutonic; but in the same way as we consider the Slavonic, the Teutonic, the Latin and Greek, the Sanscrit, and, as I am informed, the ancient Persian, as retaining in their vocabularies conclusive proofs of their having originally sprung from the same stock.
Another important observation relates to the great difference in the orthography of those who have collected vocabularies. Those which proceed from the native language of the writer, may be reconciled without much difficulty; and it is almost sufficient, in that respect, to note whether he was an Englishman, a German, a Frenchman, &c. But the guttural sounds which abound in all the Indian languages, and even
some of their nasal vowels, have no equivalent, and cannot be expressed with our characters, as used by the French or English. The perpetual substitution for each other of permutable consonants, the numerous modifications of which vocal sounds are susceptible, and the various ways in which we express them, even in our own languages, have been fruitful sources of the diversified manner in which the same word is spelled by the European hearers. It requires some practice before you learn how to decipher those varieties. The habit is, however, acquired by comparing together the several vocabularies of the same language, and of two or more dialects previously ascertained to be only varieties of the same tongue. It is proper here to add, that there are nations known by a generic name, but spread over an extensive territory, without being united under a common government, such as the Knistinaux and the Chippeways; of whom it may be said that they have, properly speaking, no general uniform language, but, as might be naturally expected, a number of patois, differing in some respects from each other, but still so nearly allied, that they are mutually understood without interpreters. Whenever this is the case, we consider them as the same dialect.
The number of families, of distinct languages, and of dialects, does not appear to be greater in North America, than is found amongst uncivilized nations in other quarters of the globe, or than might have been expected to grow out of the necessity for nations in the hunter state to separate, and gradually to form independent communities. Insulated remnants of ancient languages are also found, not only in Asia, as in the Caucasian mountains, but even in Europe, such as the Basque. The difficulty of accounting for that diversity, is the same here as in the other continent; and there is nothing that I can perceive, in the number of the American languages and in the great differences between them, inconsistent with the Mosaic chronology.
Amidst that great diversity of American languages, considered only in reference to their vocabularies, the similarity of their structure and grammatical forms has been observed and pointed out by the American philologists. The substance of our knowledge in that respect will be found in a condensed form in the Appendix. The result appears to confirin the opinions already entertained on that subject by Mr. Du Ponceau, Mr. Pickering, and others; and to prove that all the languages, not only of our own Indians, but of the native inhabitants of America from the Arctic Ocean to Cape Horn,* have, as far as they have been
* The grammar of the language of Chili is the only one, foreign to the immediate object of the Synopsis, with which a comparison has been introduced in this essay. Want of space did not permit to extend the inquiry to the languages of Mexico and other parts of Spanish America.