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firewater, heap big, iron-horse
Posted: 09 February 2010 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Dr T, I was just surprised you let such a naff link through. Your new link sounds far more authoritative and convincing. I wouldn’t have sneered if you’d posted this one originally. How was I to know they had sign language? I am not a professional linguist; indeed I am a tyro, especially regarding the Americas which is why so many of my posts are about American usage. I always got the impression you enjoyed unearthing stuff from the internet (maybe even regarding it as a challenge), most of which is fascinating, as are related posts adding to our store of knowledge. Nothing I googled about ‘heap’ dug up what you managed with an OED2 online subscription.
I have ‘time constraints’ too.

Betraying my ignorance again - was there much intermarriage and therefore bilingualism? ie recognising in a ‘primitive’ way the dangers of inbreeding in an isolated tribe (as mentioned in my Michener Eskimo reference earlier)? Or was the gene pool large enough?

Dr T’s link also has mention of the Sioux Nation and this prompted to look up ‘nation’ in an Amerindian sense with little joy:

“3 : a tribe or federation of tribes (as of American Indians)” - MW.

“3. a member tribe of an American Indian confederation.” -dictionary.com

So it seems to be modern NAs adopting a convenient English word for lack of a common inter-tribal one?

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Posted: 09 February 2010 10:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Intermarriage and trade, including long-distance trade, among Indian tribes was commonplace, just like any other human population. The processes that lead to multilingualism, pidgins/creoles, borrowing of vocabulary, etc. are the same as anywhere else.

Most tribes would not be considered “isolated,” and the total population was quite sizable. There were about 2 million North American Indians at the time of Columbus. This was very rapidly reduced in the next few decades due to the introduction of European diseases. The total population of the North American continent (native, white, and black slave) probably did not hit the 2 million mark again until the mid-18th century. (There are relatively good population records for the white-settled areas of the thirteen colonies; numbers for western Indian populations are much more uncertain; I’m guessing what the Canadian population is--good records probably exist for white-settled areas, but I don’t know them.) White immigration (mostly from Britain and Ireland) skyrocketed in the 18th century and coincided with high birth rates (large farming families) and low death rates among whites (healthy, outdoor lifestyle; decent nutrition; little overcrowding), so that by the time of the American Revolution in 1776, the total population of North America (white, slave, and native) was probably around 3.5 million. (The 18th century population growth in North America is truly astounding.) Current Native American population in the United States is around 2.5 million, up from a low of about 500,000 in 1900.

Regarding nation, in this context I don’t think it has a precise definition. Degrees of political organization varied widely, both among tribes and over time (a particularly powerful leader might exert widespread power and influence, only to see that fade with his heirs). I would say it is a “a tribe or group of tribes that are linguistically and culturally linked.” There were certainly many different native words expressing the same idea, but like in most everything else, English became the lingua franca among tribes in political matters. North American natives are very diverse linguistically. Asking “what’s the Indian word for X?” is like saying “what’s the European word for X?”

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