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Beothuk Language (Beothuck, Skraeling, Red Indian)

Language: Little is known of the Beothuk language today. Our only records are a few Beothuk words collected from children and young women the British captured as slaves, usually at the cost of their families' lives. The vocabulary sets provided by these traumatized youths are small and don't match each other well (it didn't help that the Beothuks were asked to name housecats, glass, tea, and other European objects they had never seen before.) Nothing was recorded about the structure of the Beothuk language at all. Some linguists believe it was an Algonquian language, possibly related to Innu. Others consider it a language isolate, unrelated to any other known language. Alternate spellings of the name Beothuk have included Beothuck, Beothuc, Bethuck, Bethuk, Beothukan, and Boethuck.

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People: The Beothucks were probably the Skraelings described by Viking explorers, and therefore the first American Indians ever to encounter Europeans. It's possible the Skraelings were Micmac or Innu instead; however, ruins of the Viking settlement were unearthed in L'Anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, which was territory known to have belonged to the Beothuck people. Also, the Norse description of natives obsessed with the color red matches the Beothucks, who decorated themselves so extensively with red ochre that the British called them the Red Indians (a term that has found an unfortunate second life as a racist epithet.) Anything Beothuck oral history may have said about this encounter has been lost to time. The Beothucks and the second wave of European colonists never even learned to communicate with each other before the Beothuck people were wiped out completely, so they will always remain something of an enigma. Almost everything we know about their culture comes from the stories and drawings of two Beothuk women, Demasduit and Shanawdithit, who were captured by the British in the 19th century and learned a bit of English before dying of tuberculosis.

History: Many American Indian cultures are wrongly declared "extinct" when in fact they have only been relocated or forced into a different lifestyle. The Beothuks, though, really are extinct. The only natives of the eastern seaboard to ally with neither the French nor the English (or, for that matter, the Iroquois or Wabanakis), the Beothuk tribe paid a heavy price for their isolation. That the French paid the Mi'kmaq to annihilate the Beothuks is denied by both, but the French and Mi'kmaq certainly drove them inland from the Newfoundland coast they relied on for food, and starvation is blamed for many Beothuk deaths. The English shot them on sight, and the Mohawks raided Beothuk villages for slaves. By 1800 the Beothuks only made the history books as the occasional captive servant of an Englishman, and in 1829 the last known Beothuk, a woman named Shawnadithit or Shanawdithit, died in English captivity. A few Beothuk descendants surfaced among the Mi'kmaq and Mohawk after that (those tribes often adopted captured enemies into their own families), and other Beothuks may have fled to the Innus for protection. By 1900, though, the assimilation of any refugees into those neighboring tribes was complete. There are no known descendants of the Beothuk Indians today.

Beothuk Language Resources
Beothuk language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Beothuk Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Beothuck Indians.

Beothuk Indians Fact Sheet
Our answers to frequently asked questions about the Beothuks, their language and culture.

Beothuk Language Resources

Our Beothuk Language Materials

Beothuk Vocabulary:
    List of Beothuk words, with comparison to words in Algonquian languages.
Beothuk Animal Words:
    Picture glossary of animal names in the Beothuk language.
Beothuk Body Parts:
    Picture glossary showing parts of the body in Beothuk.
Beothuk Numbers:
    Worksheet showing how to count in Beothuk.
Beothuk Food:
    Worksheet with pictures of food words in the Beothuk language.

Beothuk Dictionaries and Language Books
Our organization earns a commission from any book bought through these links

Beothuk Vocabularies, a Comparative Study:
    Book on the Beothuk Indian language for sale online.
Native American Language Dictionaries:
    American Indian dictionaries and language materials for sale.

Beothuk Language Lessons and Linguistic Descriptions

Beothuk Language:
    The Beothuk Indian language and its three recorded informants.
First Nations Language Groups at the Time of European Contact:
    Linguistic map of Canada showing where Beothuk and other indigenous languages were spoken.
Beothuck Language:
    Excerpt from Howley's ethnography including Beothuck wordlists.
The Beothuk Indians * The Beothuk Indians, Article Two * The Beothuk Indians, Article Three:
    Scanned-in copy of Gatschet's anthropology articles on the Beothuks including a sketch of their language.
Beothuk Music:
    Radio interview with linguist John Hewson and an audio file of the only recorded Beothuk song.
Is Beothuk an Isolate Language?:
    Discussion of Beothuk's relationship to other Amerindian languages.
Beothuk Language Tree:
    Theories about Beothuk's language relationships compiled by Linguist List.
Beothuk Language Structures:
    Beothuk linguistic profile and academic bibliography.

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Links, References and Additional Information

   Wikipedia: Beothukan:
   Encyclopedia article on the Beothuk language.
   La Lengua Beothux * Langue Béothuk:
   Articles on the Beothuk language in Spanish and French.
   Beothuk Language * Beothuk Tribe * Beothuks:
   Beothuk links page.
  Beothuk Tribe:
  Beothuk Indian books.

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