American Indian languages
American Indian tribes
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Mahican vs. Mohegan
Of all the tribes of North America, the
Mohegan tribes are probably the ones most frequently confused. Even ordinarily reliable online sources
like the Ethnologue of Languages and Wikipedia are incorrectly lumping these peoples together. This confusion is nothing new, either--in the
19th-century classic "Last of the Mohicans," James Fenimore Cooper famously confused important details from at least these two tribes (he may have
gotten the idea of a tribe on the verge of extinction from a third Algonquian tribe of New England, since neither the Mahicans nor the Mohegans were in
Anyway, so we get asked a lot whether these two tribes are really the same and whether their names are the same and whether they spoke the same language.
First, no, they are not the same tribe and never have been. They were kinfolk and shared many cultural traits, like other Algonquian peoples of New England,
but they were no more closely related to each other than they were to the Lenape, the Munsee, the Wampanoag, the Abenaki, and dozens of other New England
tribes whose names were less confusingly similar. Second, the names were not so similar before English speakers got ahold of them. The Mohegans called
themselves Mahiingan, "wolf," and the Mahicans called themselves Muheconneok, their name for the Hudson River. And third, the languages
were not the same. They were related to each other, like English and German, but were different enough that colonists who had learned one language could
not communicate with the other tribe. (Most of the Indians in this area were multilingual themselves, so it is hard to tell from historical accounts how mutually
comprehensible the languages were.)
Here is a comparative chart of a few vocabulary words in Mahican/Mohican and the same words in Mohegan/Pequot. These words come only
from 18th- and 19th-century sources, so we did not include them on our main Algonquian vocabulary page, as the words that were recorded are
too limited to compare with the living languages. However, this may at least help to illustrate some of the differences between the Mohican
and Mohegan languages--as well as some of their similarities.
Click here to see vocabulary words in living Algonquian languages:
Algonquian Indian Words
Here are some themed word lists in Mohegan and Mohican that we have put together and illustrated for language learners. Feel free to print them out for classroom purposes!
Mohegan animal words
Mohican animal words
Massachusetts Native languages
Native American dictionaries
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