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The Illinois-French Language Dictionaries


The language spoken by the various tribes of the Illinois was still spoken in Oklahoma and Indiana through the nineteenth century. By the twentieth century, however, the language was slowly disappearing, and by the 1970s it was no longer spoken as a living language.


Very shortly after the first contact between the Illinois and the French, a concerted effort to not only learn but interpret and record the indigenous language was made by several French Jesuit priests. The dictionaries they created are a priceless record of the language spoken by the Illinois and Miami nations at the time of contact with European. Today, these dictionaries are used to revitalize the use of the ancient language.


The name of the Illinois-Miami language is hyphenated because it was spoken by members of two major dialect groups, the Illinois with its many subtribes, and the Miami with its subtribes. Minor differences existed among the dialects of different subtribes within each major dialect group. However, all of the dialects of the language were mutually intelligible and differed no more than, say, the English spoken today in Chicago, Springfield, and St. Louis. 


The three extant dictionaries of the Illinois-Miami language include a French-to- Illinois-Miami dictionary by Father Pierre François Pinet, a Miami-Illinois-to-French dictionary by Brother Jacques Largillier, and a French-to-Miami-Illinois dictionary by Father Jean Le Boullenger.

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