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Readings from the Dictionaries

Selected Topics, Metaphors, and Phrases

Michael McCafferty


About Snow

Originally, manetoowa ‘spirit’ was the word applied to snow that was falling from the sky, while waapikoona (literally “white-snow”) was the snow on the ground. That distinction relaxed over time.

A Distant Neighbor

< Cha8an8han8i >   A ‘southerly wind with respect to the Illinois River, wind that comes from the direction of the Shawnee’. The Shawnee Tribe was living in the Ohio River Valley during the late 17th century. 


A Ceremony ?

The dictionaries contain three verbs with the same translation:  < tchem8nghinekichinto >

< nirani8nghi apissate8iro >  < papintchinta8iro >.  
‘Cut the end of your finger in water and make it fall on my tongue’. 

Metal Hand

< anic8inekitanghi kipicat8i > "one who has a metal hand". This is probably a reference to the noted explorer, trader, and associate of La Salle, Henri Tonti who built a fort amongst the Peoria in 1691. Tonti was fitted with an artificial hand on his left arm.


A Manitou ?


< nepahag8iani >

This phrase, found in Pinet’s dictionary, is a particularly intriguing one. As Pinet translated it into French, it reads marche la nuit sur l eau, or “[I] walk on the water at night”.

The first part of the phrase represents the preverb neepaa- ‘at night’. No part of phrase actually means “walk”. The second part means “I am on the water” or “I float on the water”. The verb in question can actually imply different experiences on the water. 

However, Pinet’s more “lyrical” translation – “I walk on the water” -  is supported elsewhere in the dictionaries. For instance, both < nitak8ss8sse nipinghi  > (translated in French as je marche sur l eau) for “I walk on the water”  and < ne8s8sse8a areni tac8an8i  > “he walks on the water as if it were ice” contain the verb meaning “walk,” -ohsee, and the locative noun < nipinghi > meaning “on the water”. 

The original referent for this phrase appears to be a shaman whose Manitou or dream body walks on the water at night. Pinet may have appropriated the verb to work it into the Biblical story of Jesus walking on the surface of the Sea of Galilee as the Apostles’ boat floundered in a storm.

The Letter 8

The Jesuits used a special letter in their Indigenous language dictionaries in New France. When published it took on the form of a circle surmounted by a crescent and resembles the astrological sign of Taurus: ᴕ. When writing this letter, Jesuit scribes wrote it as a figure 8. 


This letter could represent a number of different sounds in the Illinois-Miami language: w, short o/u and long oo/uu, which is the sound o/u spoken with a longer duration. Le Boullenger and Jacques Marquette occasionally use 8 to represent wa(a). Pinet sometimes uses double 88 to represent long oo/uu. 


In essence, the letter 8 was simply a quick way to write French “ou”: French “oui” would have been written “8i” and French “coupe” would have been written “c8pe”.


However, the letter 8 was used not just as a shorthand method but as a way to avoid misunderstanding various combinations of letters such as oi, on, om, etc., which could easily be written in an unintelligible fashion and thus introduce mistakes in a handwritten dictionary or report.


Palm Sunday in Illinois


There is an interesting note about Palm Sunday in Le Boullenger's dictionary that involves two entries. One entry is < chincoki akigicomao8i >, or Le Jour des rameaux.  < chincoki > lines up well with an entry from Largillier's dictionary < Ching8ki >, phonemic šinkooki, which he translated as "any tree (when) chopped (that is) similar to the fir.” < akigicomao8i  > is akiišikomawaawi, or 'their day'.


The second entry is < chincoco miritina on s entredonne le Cedre rouge >, the French being "people give each other red cedar". Here Le Boullenger's < chincoco > is in fact the name of the tree: šinkwaahkwa, or 'Eastern red cedar' (literally "resin-tree").


So, this all boils down to the fact that on Palm Sunday, the Indigenous people of Illinois who followed the priests’ Catholic teachings substituted the palm leaf for red cedar branches on Palm Sunday.

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