The Algonquian languages are a subfamily of Native American languages that includes most of the languages in the Algic language family (others are Wiyot and Yurok of northwestern California). They should be carefully distinguished from Algonquin, which is only one language of many Algonquian languages.
Before the European colonisation of the Americas, peoples speaking Algonquian languages stretched from the east coast of North America all the way to the Rocky Mountains. This large family can be divided roughly into three major subfamilies:
- Plains Algonquian
- Central Algonquian
- Eastern Algonquian
The group may also have included the extinct Beothuk language of Newfoundland, although evidence is scarce. Etchimin and the pre-colonial language of the Lumbees may also have been Algonquian languages, but in both cases documentary evidence is at best very weak.
The Algonquian language family is renowned for its complex morphology and sophisticated verb system. Statements that take many words to say in English can be expressed with a single "word". Ex: (Menominee) enae:ni:hae:w "He is heard by higher powers" or (Plains Cree) kāstāhikoyahk "it frightens us." Languages in this family typically mark at least two distinct third persons, so that speakers can keep track of central characters in narrative. These languages have been famously studied in the structuralist tradition by Leonard Bloomfield and Edward Sapir among others. Many of these languages are extremely endangered today, while others have died completely.
Because Algonquian languages were some of the first that Europeans came in contact with in North America, the language family has given many words to English. Many eastern U.S. states have names of Algonquian origin (Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin), as do many cities: Milwaukee, Chicago, et al. The capital of Canada is named after an Algonquian nation - the Odawa.
For information on the peoples speaking Algonquian languages, see Algonquian peoples.
English words of Algonquian origin
- Algonquian Family (http://www.native-languages.org/famalg.htm)
- Algonquin First Nation, Language Resource (http://fox.nstn.ca/~hila/nation/speak2.html)