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Twenty Years on the Saskatchewan, N.W. Canada
Chapter VIII. Indian Dialects


THOUGH original Indian types are not now abundant in the Canadian North-West, and students of ethnology should be careful as to the types of men chosen to represent the true 'red man' of America, enough of them remain to convey a distinct impression of their origin and history. Circumstances have given me fair opportunities of observing them.

In my old Muskoka mission I often visited the camps of Ojibwa Indians, arid afterwards I saw a little of the Mohawks near Rice Lake, Ontario. Then, in my travels over the Great Lakes and by the Dawson Route, I fell in with Ojibwa, Iroquois, Swampy Crees, Plain Crees, Wood Crees, and Blackfoot. Natives also have come down to Edmonton from Athabasca, Peace River, and McKenzie districts, with whom I have lived in free communication; and on comparing their types, customs, dialects, as far as I was able, I cannot doubt the general identity of these people with one another, however mixed with the white race they may have become.

A careful scholar will find the logical form of the dialects the same, in their syntax, in the form of the verbs, and in their wonderful conjugations, which have an illimitable power of description, painting at once to the ear, noun, adjective, verb, adverb, time, place, and quality, even as the artist Turner threw his landscape on canvas to the eye, and as effectively describing the thing that is dealt with. Even now, after centuries have passed, there is a clearly perceptible connection between the sound of words. Should the student use his comparative philology in collating the dialects, he would see the dialects of England transfused; or he would notice how the German and English become allied in the transmission of certain letters and their sounds; or he would recognise the laws of speech which divide, or unite, on a larger scale, the Indo-Germanic languages. Thus the d is often exchanged for the t, the s for the sh, etc.

The other letters, depending on mental laws which form sounds and arrange them into sentences, are transmitted and retransmitted, until from surface sound alone the dialects appear entirely different languages, though they are the same, or very nearly related, in the great groups of human speech. When the time comes for a great philologist--if it be not too late already--to collate the dialects of the American Continent, he is likely to see the identity of these, and to trace them to their source, viz., the uplands of Asia. Allowance must also be made for words retained or omitted--old forms and new forms--as in all dialects and languages.

Missionaries of repute do not always take this view of the Indian dialects. Archbishop Tache says:

'Each tribe talks a different language from any European; different--with the exception of Esquimaux, perhaps--from Asiatic or African idiom; different even from the language talked by other American tribes. Each of the races, even each of the tribes of Indians in the Northern department, uses a distinct dialect, as distinct the one from the other as French is from Chinese, or English from Hindustani.'

This is a specimen of the manner which is too often employed in these matters by persons of position, whose looseness of thought causes surprise, and even astonishment. The terms 'languages,' 'dialects,' 'idioms,' are all mixed up as if they meant the same thing.

Now, whatever may be the differences of French and Chinese, or of English and Hindustani, they are not dialects, but great languages, belonging to types of human speech that have little in common in their formation. French is a dialect formed by Indo-Germanic idioms, and Hindustani and English belong to the same great stem of languages, and they are all more or less allied. The Chinese language is not placed in this great class by any comparison at all. The Mongolian type of languages holds together by its similarity of arrangement, mode of formation, and methods of expressing sounds in speech after its own manner. It is my belief that learned research will prove that the Indian dialects are merely the dialects of Eastern Asia, transplanted to the American continent, and that the changes have been often less than is generally supposed, even in certain words which may be traceable to Mongolian roots.

Of these, almost daily I come across instances which cannot be accounted for by accident, such as the roots of words signifying common things--e.g., water, river, fire, the names of objects connected with religion, and the names of places that are similar in Asia and America. Thus, the root Ne, or Cree for water (Nepe), forms the root of words in the bays of Japan. Sepe, or Sebe, is the root for the name of Siberia, or the land of rivers. The Calmucs and Cossacks gave the designation to that land of flowing streams, and the Calmucs and Cossacks and Red Indians have much in common in their language, physical aspects, customs, and religion. In the Cree and in the Mongolian dialects the letters b, p, and d, and k, ch, and s, z, are perpetually interchanged; hence the city of Sebastopol, Sepastibol, or Sevastopol, in the Crimea, connects the far East with the far West. Manchuria Maniteau. Also the sameness of the terms Manichou, Maintoo, Muanedoo, Manadeo, and Mandu, in Asia and America, signifying the same things, and connected with the same religious rites, cannot be overlooked. Likewise the names of certain places on the two continents have a curious similarity, notwithstanding the blunders that are made in describing them on the maps that are now in use, viz.:

Jenissei, in Southern Siberia; Genisee, N.Y., U.S.A.
Geniseik, Siberia; Tennessee, U.S.
Moscow, Russia; Muskoka, Canada.
Sarces, Blackfoot Indians; Sards, South Russia.
Mississippi, river in U.S.A.; a bay in Japan.
Pechille Bay in China; Chili on the west coast of America.
Kichi Kulmagur, Indian and Mongolian for High or True Calmucs.


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