Native Languages of the Americas: Lenape (Unami, Delaware, Lenni Lenape)
Language: Lenapé or Unami Delaware is an Algonquian
language originally spoken in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. There are no fully fluent speakers of Lenape Delaware anymore,
but the younger generation of Lenapes has undergone a resurgence of interest in
reviving the Delaware language. Southern Delaware or
Nanticoke, last spoken in the mid-1800's, and
still spoken by elders in Ontario, are considered distinct languages by most linguists because the different groups of Delawares could not easily understand
each other. Today, however, some Lenape language activists are trying to combine the Unami and Munsee languages into a single Delaware language to
improve its chances of survival. Lenape is a polysynthetic language with complex verb structure and fairly free word order.
People: The Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians are often said to be extinct. This is not true--there are 11,000 Lenape people in
Oklahoma, where they were sent by the US government (which only recently stopped incorrectly classifying them as Cherokees), and
another 5000 Lenape Indian descendents in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
There are also 3000 Munsee Delawares in Ontario and Wisconsin,
and around 1000 Nanticokes in Delaware.
History: Indian oral traditions call the Lenape homeland the original birthplace of the Algonquian tribes, and the
Lenape tribe was called "grandfather" by other Algonquian Indian nations
on account of this. However, the "walum olum," purported to be a pictographic history of the Lenape people, begins with the Lenapes migrating south from
Labrador. Whichever version is correct, by the time of European colonization, the Lenape Indians had been settled in the Delaware River area for centuries.
But the Lenapes, like many Native Americans, were decimated
by European diseases, and the survivors were
driven west by first British and then American expansion.
Most Lenape Indians were eventually forced to relocate to Oklahoma in the 1860's, where they entered an uneasy union with the
Cherokee Nation and regained independent tribal status only in 1996.
Other Lenape bands remained scattered in their own traditional lands or along the westward routes, where their descendents still live today.
Delaware Indian Placenames:
Chart of Lenne Lenape place names in the United States.
New Jersey Lenape Indian map with sound clips of the native names of various locations.
Indian Dog Names:
Our new fundraiser offering names for dogs and other animals in Native American languages (including Lenape).