Native Languages of the Americas: Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Language
Language: This Algonquian language has two major dialects:
Maliseet (or Malécite), spoken mainly in New Brunswick, and Passamaquoddy (or Peskotomuhkati), spoken mostly in Maine. There are 1500
speakers of both dialects combined. Very few people in the younger generations speak the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet language (especially the
Passamaquoddy dialect), but language revival efforts
are underway to restore its use among Maliseet and
Passamaquoddy children. Maliseet-Passamaquoddy is a
polysynthetic language with complex verb morphology and fairly free word order.
Thank you for your interest in Native American languages!
People: The Passamaquoddy and
Maliseet tribes belonged to the loose confederation of eastern Indians known as the
Wabanaki Alliance, together with the
and Abenaki Indians. They are politically independent nations, discussed together here
because they speak mutually intelligible dialects of the same Algonquian
language. The Maliseet tribe lives primarily in Canada, especially New Brunswick, with one band across the
border in neighboring Maine. Their own name for themselves is Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet is a Mi'kmaq word
for someone who can't talk very well,) but today they are usually known as Maliseets or Malecites. The
Passamaquoddy tribe lives primarily in Maine, although there are also a few hundred Passamaquoddy
Indians in New Brunswick.
History: The Maliseet and
Passamaquoddy people were closely related neighbors who shared
a common language, but though the French referred to both tribes collectively as Etchemins, they always
considered themselves politically independent. The tribes of the east coast were confusing to
Europeans, who couldn't understand why dozens of small groups of Native Americans
lived together yet claimed to be separate nations. What they didn't realize was
that these groups had not always been so small.
European diseases decimated the Indian populations--the Passamaquody were 20,000
strong before European contact, and no more than 4000 afterwards--and they regrouped
as best they could. The Maliseet and Passamaquoddy, near relatives and
long-time allies who spoke dialects of the same language, banded together against European and
Iroquoian aggression with their neighbors the
This Wabanaki Confederacy was no more than a loose alliance, however, and
the tribes never gave up their sovereignty. Today the
Passamaquoddy live primarily in the United States and the Maliseet in Canada, but the distinction
between the two is not imposed by those
governments--the two tribes have always been politically distinct entities.