Wiktionary:About Proto-Algonquian

Proto-Algonquian (PA) is the ancestor of all the Algonquian languages. Their relatedness and descent from a common source was recognised early on; a decade before William Jones' famous "philologer" speech on Proto-Indo-European, native Mohegan speaker Jonathan Edwards reported to the Connecticut Society of Arts and Sciences on the Algonquian "language [family that] is spoken by all the Indians throughout New England. Every tribe, as that of Stockbridge, that of Farmington, that of New London, &c. has a different dialect [i.e. language], but the language [family] is radically the same."[1] Proto-Algonquian is now one of the best-studied, most thoroughly-reconstructed proto-languages.[2][3]

Proto-Algonquian was spoken around 2 500 to 3 000 years ago[4] somewhere around the Great Lakes. It descends, like the languages Wiyot and Yurok, from Proto-Algic.


Proto-Algonquian had four basic vowels, which could be either long or short.

long: *i·, *e·, *a·, *o·
short: *i, *e, *a, *o

Short *i and *o occur in only a few words, where they seem to be the result of morphophonological shortening; they are therefore thought to be of no great antiquity as independent phonemes, but are still used in reconstructions.[2][5]


Proto-Algonquian consonant phonemes
labial alveolar postalveolar/
velar glottal
stop / plosive p t č /tʃ/ 1 k ʔ 2
fricative central s š /ʃ/ h
possibly lateral θ /θ/ or /ɬ/ 3
sonorant nasal m /m/ n /n/
lateral or rhotic l or r 4
semivowel w y /j/
1 Whether č was an independent phoneme or an allophone of t before i is uncertain.[6]
2 The nature of this phoneme is not certain, but it probably was indeed /ʔ/.[2][7]
3 The nature of this phoneme is uncertain; it was most likely /θ/ or /ɬ/.
4 Bloomfield reconstructed this phoneme as l, but Goddard argues it is more likely r.

Reconstructing Proto-Algonquian's consonant clusters is difficult because their evolution in different child languages has been complex. In addition to the consonants above, two consonants of uncertain identity can be found in clusters before p and k. Bloomfield and some scholars after him have arbitrarily used the symbols x and ç to represent them (the consonants are not /x/ and /ç/). Goddard believes that Bloomfield's x can be reconstructed as s and that Bloomfield's ç is the non-nasal alveolar sonorant (which is either l or r, as described above).


  1. ^ Lyle Campbell, American Indian Languages
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Ives Goddard, Comparative Algonquian (1979)
  3. ^ Lyle Campbell Historical Linguistics: An Introduction (2004)
  4. ^ Ives Goddard, Central Algonquian Languages, in Trigger (1978), volume 15 of the Handbook of North American Indians
  5. ^ Howard Berman, Two Phonological Innovations in Ritwan (1982)
  6. ^ Ives Goddard, A New Look for Algonquian (1994)
  7. ^ Lucy Thomason, Proto-Algonkian Phonology and Morpho-Syntax (2006), in the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics 10, second edition
Last modified on 4 August 2013, at 20:29