INTERESTING COINCIDENCES BETWEEN ALGONQUIAN, FINNIC, AND INUIT LANGUAGES
My interest is peoples in North America who had
long boat-oriented ways of life began when I saw the use of the "INI"
word stem in the Inuit language ( Inuit means 'the people' in their
language), and in Algonquian languages. In the Algonqiuian language the
INI or INNI stem refers to 'person' as well. For example the word is
used in the name of Algonquians in Labrador and Quebed (there is the
Labrador "Innu" on the Churchill RIver, and the Quebec "Innu" on the
Saguenay River. Others have derived words for their own name
("Iniwesi", "Anishnabe", etc..) while still having the inini word for 'person, man'.
Being of Estonian descent, it resonated with the
Estonian word for 'person' which is "inimene". Also there is the
origins of the word "Finnic" appearing historically as FINNI or
FENNI. Since the "F" sound does not exist in Finnic, the initial
F-sound may be a speech characteristic caused by a strong empasis on
the first syllable, that to varying degrees produced an unintended
voiceless launch consonant - such as a voiceless fricative like F, V, H
- which arises when the initial syllable begins with a vowel. Needing
to be emphasized, the vowel is produce explosively which causes the
voiceless consonant to seem to appear. Thus foreigners hearing Finnic
words starting with a vowel, would imagine they heard an "F" (="PH").
"V", "H", "WH". For example, Romans originally used the sound "W"
for the character "V". so their name for "Veneti" peoples actually
sounded like "WHENETI". Greeks meanwhile, used "Eneti" but it would
have sounded like "HENETI" If we reverse the addition of the
voiceless consonants imagined by foreigners for Finnic words begining
with a vowel, we arrive at Finnic originating from "INNI". or if the vowel was more rounded, the "Hanti" peoples name originated from "ANTI".
Historically there were in the Scandinavian Peninsula a people
described as "Cwens" in English, or "Quans" in Swedish. These
people are identified with the Finnish dialect "Kainu" which would have
originally been "AINU". This
word now also brings to mind the "Ainu" boat-oriented culture that was
original to Japan. But in historic times, Finnic languages have been
influenced mainly by Germanic languages, and for instance an Estonian
will not say "HINIMENE" when intending "INIMENE".
A good example of how the need to emphasize an
initial vowel produced a consonantal sound can be found in "Hiigla"
meaning 'giant'. It is common to find in Estonian words needing not
just the length of double vowels but the initial emphasis, will add the
H to make the sound more explosive.
My conclusion is that a voiceless consonant in front
of a Finnic word with a strong initial vowel, is either conjured by
foreign listeners or has developed into the Finnic language from its
being too strong to ignore in written Finnic.
The presence of the INI stem in North American boat
peoples tends to suggest that all these boat peoples originally had the
same language, and that as long as they followed their unique
boat-oriented way of life, a continuous thread of linguistic descent
was preserve, even if there was much change from external influences
If this is true, then we should be able to find more
words that have survived over thousands of years without changing too
In my investigation of a Lake Superior dialect of
the Ojibwa (Anishnabe today) language, I discovered some words that are
identifiable in all the boat peoples I looked at, words with no
similarity at all, and a large spectrum in between. I will below
highlight some of the remarkably similar words. I will avoid dealing
with the in-between words, which may or may not be valid.
The reality is that words in all languages
degenerate or are even abandoned if not often used. The
remarkably similar words MUST be common words that had to be used
frequently for thousands of generations, or else they would not have
survived so long. In our study, after all, we are dealing with the
survival of words for up to 6,000 years. If we are comparing the
language with another language, these would have to be long lasting
common words in BOTH languages. As a result, linguists acknowledge the
words with most longevity would be words pertaining to family
In our investigation of the Inuit language, the
words with remarkable similarity to Estonian and Finnish were indeed
words that would have been in constant use generation after generation,
and change only slightly.
map shows both the wide distribution of the Algonquian boat peoples (in
blue) and arctic seagoing boat peoples in purple, that appear to have
loaned many words into Algonquian, or perhaps were first to inhabit the
post-glacial interior at a very early time. (This implies that the
Algonquian boat culture may not have developed, at least not entirely,
in North America, but practices and ideas came from the arctic seagoing
My purpose here is to present evidence that reveals
a common origin in northern boat-oriented original peoples. See also my
other short reviews of aboriginal peoples in North American Pacific
coast. These may serve as proof that the aboriginal peoples of North
America did not entirely come by foot over the Bering land bridge. Ever
since the invention of seagoing boats, there has probably been hundreds
of crossings to North America from Eurasia (and why not the other way
too? and North America before European colonization was already a
mixing of cultures according to the strength of the immigration,
compared to the strength of peoples already established.
WORDS AND WATER/SEA WORDS
Note: the Northwest Lake Superior dialect is used as it would be least influenced in recent times.
In chapter 4, I proposed that the Algonquian
indigenous peoples of the northeast quadrant of North America had
origins in the arctic peoples, such as the "Dorset" and/or earlier
who arrived in the arctic waters in skin boats since around 6,000 years
ago or more, and continued an established life of hunting whales, seals
They would have spoken a prehistoric language that was carried with the
expansions of the oceanic boat peoples, ultimately from origins in
The first seagoing boat peoples to arrive in the vicinity
of Newfoundland would have found the rich seas uninhabited. However,
there would have been pedestrian hunting peoples in the interior. When
some of the arctic skin boat peoples
ventured further south either from Hudson Bay, or south along the
Labrador coast, they would have also encountered indigenous woodland
hunters - pedestrian and avoiding post-glacial flooded lands. In
any case, the resulting languages were those called "Algonquian" by
linguists today. The immigrants would have been free to inhabit
still-uninhabited flooded post-glacial lands, and would have
intermarried with the indigenous peoples.
The Algonquians of Quebec and Labrador called
themselves "Innu". There were the Labrador
Innu associated with the
Churchill River, Montagnais Innu
associated with the Saguenay River.
But as we moved west, the names changed a little. The Algonquins of the
Ottawa River valley today call themselves "Iniwesi" which means 'we
people here alone'. The Ojibwa peoples use variations of the word
"Anishnabe" whose meaning is
something more complex than 'the people'.
However all the Algonquins have their word for 'man, person' in a form
similar to inini. Just as I was originally drawn to the Inuit language because the word is plural for 'person' (singular is inuk) so too I was drawn to the name Innu in Labrador and north coast of the Saint Lawrence, and to the word for 'person' inini. I found it a mysterious coincidence that Estonian possesses the word inimene for 'person' plural inimesed.
The results of my investigation of similarities
between Algonquian language and Finnic language are not
earth-shattering - otherwise scholars would have noticed it earlier.
(Maybe not, since there are very few if any scholars who know a Finnic
language, who have even considered investigating Algonquian. You have
to bear in mind that my investigations arise entirely from my discovery
of an expansion of boat peoples in the wake of the retreat of the Ice
Age in northern Europe. Unless one begins to try to trace the expansion
of boat-oriented way of life, first by rivers to the east, and then
into the arctic and Atlantic oceans, the question of whether
boat-oriented aboriginal peoples also spread the original language -
which I identify with the archeologically defined "Kunda" material
culture - would not have occurred to them.
Interestingly the Algonquian peoples
pictured North America as a large turtle in a sea, a concept that would
only be envisioned by seagoing peoples accustomed to travelling long
distances in the sea. Because North America is very large, knowledge
that it is surrounded by seas and is an island, requires people able to
travel long distances along coasts and major rivers.
The following looks at some of the more significant
discoveries, according to various themes. The examples given here
are from the "Ojibway
Language Lexicon" by Basil Johnson, presenting his dialect of
north of Superior, a dialect that is unlikely to have
been subject to much influence from modern developments.
(A proper study of correspondences requires a greater
knowledge of Ojibwa than I have. Ojibwe, like Inuit, is built from
strings of elements.
There are no clear 'words' in the sense of modern
European languages having clear 'words'. Thus it is necessary to be
able to break down the words into constituent components. For that
reason it is best if the analyst knows the Algonquian language well
enough to grasp the inner composition.)
1. WATER: THE WATER-BODY: KAMO, GAMI, GEEM
One of the concepts discussed earlier is the use
of the AMA pattern to express 'water' in the sense of an expanse, a
sea. In the discussion of the Inuit language, it appeared it was found
there. Yes, we can find it within Ojibwa. For example 'he surfaces out
of water' is mooshkamo, the
word for water being expressed by I believe
-kamo. The AMA pattern is also
in gitchi/gami 'great
ocean, sea'. The idea of AMA seems to be present in Ojibwa, in that gami
properly refers to a 'water-body, sea' and not to the liquid.
Throughout early humankind, such as revealed in
ancient Greek, the world was seen as a large sea in which all lands
were islands in it. This flat fluid world represented a mother earth
that was not made of earth, but was a sea. Hence we should not be
surprised if the AMA word form referred also the the word for
'mother'. If gami meant 'sea', then it is interesting that the Ojibwa word element for
'mother' is -geem- which is
relatively close to gami.
In Estonian the word for 'mother' is ema.
indicate a view of a large water body as mother, the same as we see
everywhere else? (Estonian ema,
Basque ama 'mother')
Thus we can here see at least a coincidence in worldview - of seeing
the expanse of the sea as the Mother Earth, except the earth was seen
as a plane of water. In ancient Greek texts the known world was seen as
being surrounded by seas. This concept may have originated long before
ancient Greece, an accumulated wisdom that developed with the expansion
of boat use, and long distance trade.
So far we have not discovered much yet. We will have more success when we turn to the Ojibwa word for
'water', the liquid.
WATER, THE SUBSTANCE: BI, BII
Although the Inuit language presents the V
sound, the Ojibwa/Anishnabe language lacks the V, and B plays the role
of the V. But neither are the V or B sound we are used to with English.
Both sound more like a slightly voiced, slightly fricative B as opposed
to the silent one. But we will write the Algonquian (Ojibwa) words
according to modern practices. I will represent it here with "BH-"
In the Ojibwa/Anishnabe language there exists the suffixes
biiyauh a verbalizer meaning
'quality character nature of water or body
of water' and bi, bii 'verbalizer/nominalizer
refering to liquids,
water'. Examples are biitae
'water bubble', biitau
'river', mooshkibii 'he
surfaces out of
water'. It can be argued that the voiced "B" was the original
sound in all early languages. The Inuit
"V" and even the Finnic "V" may have originated from a softer B-like
sound that is simpler than "V". (A chimpanzee can produce such a "B"
sound, while it cannot say the modern "V"!)
Thus the original word for 'water' or 'liquid' may have sounded not
like modern Est/Finn. "VEE" but more like "BHEE" or
"WEE". Another observation is that Inuit lacks the "E" sound,
which suggests the original language of the boat people too lacked the
"E" sound, and instead used "I". In that case Estonian/Finnish words
for 'water' (the substance) would have been "VII" originally sounding
like "BHII" or "WII". It may have survived without modification in the
Finnic steam ui-
which means 'swim, float'. It all makes sense that the earlier forms of
the boat people language has endured longer in Inuit and Algonquian,
while it came under the influences of European In
GATHERING : KOOG-
means 'village', 'temporary
encampment'. As we saw above there was Inuit qaqqiq
'community house' versus Estonian/Finnish kogu/koko 'the whole, the
gathering'. Indeed in the Estonian landscape a common name for a
village was Kogela 'place of
We saw that the Inuit language had the dual
form, but that was not significant since the explicit recognition of a
dual form is only needed if the concept of being in a paired situation
is important. What was important though, was that it appeared that the
dual form was marked by the "K" as it is in Estonian/Finnish (example
In Ojibwa too, the sound "G" appears to have a function similar
to Estonian at least in its commative case ('also,
too') In Ojibwa, the pronoun niin means 'I' but adding ge- to the
front as in geniin makes it
'me too'. This is analogous to Estonian ka
me'. It applies similarly to other pronouns.
Continuing evidence of the use of G for dual: Ojibwa reveals
a dual in the imperative, where commanding two people is marked by -G
at the end. For example commanding one person is biindigen! 'you go
inside', while commanding two people is biindigeg!. This resembles the
Estonian plural imperative, which uses the -ge ending as in mine!
ACCOMPANYING ANIMATE CREATURES - USE OF -G
Ojibwa also distinguishes between animate and
inanimate words. All nouns in Ojibwa or Cree language are animate or
inanimate and the verbs must agree. The main marker is that
animate nouns always end in G in the plural, while inanimate nouns end
in N in the plural. For example the animate inini 'man' in plural
becomes ininiwag while the
inanimate ishkode 'fire'
This phenomenon of animate versus inanimate can be interpreted in an
interesting way. Animate beings are things which 'accompany' the human,
and thus require the K, G sound that marks accompanying. In other words
'fellow living beings'
There is no
distinction between animate or inanimate in Estonian/Finnish, but once
there may have been, since many names of animals or trees begin with
KA, KO, KU. For example Estonian karu,
koer, kajakas, kaur, kala, kull,
kask, kuusk, etc .(bear, dog, seagull, loon, fish, seagull,
birch, fir, etc) It suggests the Finnic primitive ancestors named
things with "KA" plus some descriptive suffixes. It is clear that in
the ancient past there was a more systematic use of the K sound in ways
that recognized parallelism of animate things.
THE EVERLASTING WORLD: AKI, AJI
It is significant to investigate the
Ojibwa word for 'land, earth'. As I said above, if the sea-people used
the word AMA to refer to the World-Mother, and mainly to the
Sea-Mother, then they would have had another name for the land. In
Basque (another language with deep roots), 'earth' is given by lur.
This could in my view originate from Finnic ALU-RA 'way of the
The Ojibwa word for 'earth'
is aki, but this word is
similar to Ojibwa words related to time!
It is not uncommon that where languages from the
same origin drift apart, each can select a version of a word based on
different stem ideas.For example in Finnish 'sun' is given by aurinko, which seems to have a connection to steam (aur-), while in Estonian 'sun' is given by päike. which resonates with äike 'lightning' so that pää äike
seems like 'the main lightening'. Two related languages can thus look
more different than they really are, when we consider that the same
idea can be expressed, and preferred, in different ways.
In this case, it looks like the Ojibwa word for
'earth' was derived from the idea of 'that which endures forever' - an
eternal constant in the environment.
This is proven if we find other words of similar form, describing aspects of 'time'.
In Algonqian, ajina 'a while, a
short time'. It compares with Estonian aja- stem meaning
'related to time'. In the Inuit examples we saw Inuit akuni 'for a long
time', which we compared to Est./Finn. aeg/aika 'time', kuna/kun
'while', and kuni/---
Estonian has the interesting
imperative akka! meaning
'begin!'. Ojibwa has akawe!
with the reverse
meaning 'wait!' These examples of words pertaining to time suggests
that the Ojibwa word for 'land, earth' presents the concept of 'the
The Ojibwa use of CHII in
chiimaan, the word for 'canoe,
boat, water-vessel' is peculiar, but can
be explained in terms of the concept of the human body being a vessel
of the spirit -- the boat too was seen as a vessel, container, hence
the name chiimaan. One of the unique aspects of boat-people
spiritual world-view is that spiritual journeys are seen to be carried
out in spirit boats. The word for the soul-spirit in Ojibwa is chiibi
after death and chiijauk when
still alive. We can speculate on whether
it has a connection with the Chi
of oriental worldview, but for the
present, we can point to Estonian, and its traditions using "HII".
recently in Estonian tradition HII was
used in the idea of grove as in püha
hiis 'sacred grove', Thus one may
wonder if it only meant 'grove'. The answer is that püha 'sacred' is
probably redundant in püha
hiis. The -S ending on hiis
it originates from HIISE, meaning 'something connected with HII'.
Elsewhere in the Estonian vocabulary one finds that hiig- means
'extreme, giant'. The concept 'big, high, great' exists in
Ojibwa also in the word kitchi.
Perhaps there is a connection between
the two CHI situations. (?)In that case the common concept in all is
To continue the quest for coincidences, the
following are a sampling of words in no particular order, that resonated with Finnic (Finnish and/or Estonian were used.)
FOG OR HONOUR - AWUN, AU-
The Ojibwa word awun 'fog' is interesting
because the Algonquians had the practice of the sweat lodge, which in
Finnic is called sauna. In
Finnic the word fails to break down, other
than au means 'honour'; but
if we assume auna is 'fog',
initial S would suggest 'in the fog'.
FALLING - KUKA-
An interesting Ojibwa word that used the word
for 'water, surf' is kukaubeekayh
meaning '(river) falls'. This word
compares with Estonian/Finnish kukuda/kukua
'to fall'. Plus add vee 'water' . So in Estonian one can say kukuv vee-. 'falliing water'. Also kukozhae
'ashes, cinders' may reflect the same meaning of falling. An Ojibwa
speaker can tell us if the implication in the kuko- element is 'fall'.
BONE - KUN
Ojibwa kun means
'bone', and it compares with
Estonian kont 'bone'.
LUNG (SWELL) - PUN
Ojibwa pun means
'lung' which reminds us of
Inuit puvak 'lung' which
connects well with Estonian puhu
'blow'. Ojibwa puyoh
means 'womb', which reminds us of
Inuit, paa 'opening',
Estonian poeb 'he crawls
poegima/poikia 'to bring forth
FEMALE - NOZHAE-
Another Ojibwa word element with coincidences in both
Inuit and Estonian/Finnish is -nozhae-
'female'. We recall Inuit
ningiuq 'old woman' and najjijuq 'she is pregnant'. These
Estonian/Finnish stem nais-/nais-
meaning 'pertaining to woman,
female-'. The Ojibwa nozhae
is very close to Estonian/Finnish
nais-/nais-, and with exactly
the same meaning. Estonian says
'woman', genitive form being naise
'of the woman'
This is a word that can have such common use that it
could survive with little change for many thousands of years.
FATHER - -OSSE-
Another word that would have endured for thousands of years, is a word for 'father'. In Inuit we found the word for
'father' to be
ataata. However the common
Estonian word for 'father' is isa.
reflected in Ojibwa -osse- 'father'.
TREES - METI-
In Ojibwa we have the following referring to
trees: metigimeesh 'oak', metigwaubauk 'hickory', and metigook 'trees'.
In Estonian/Finnish mets/metsä means
TO SELF(Reflective) - ISS, IZ, IZO
iz, izo is a verbalizer, reflexive
form, indicating action to the self, to one, to another. This compares
with Estonian/Finnish ise/itse
TO GO - KAE
is a verbalizer that makes nouns
into verbs. Can be compared to Est/Finn. käis/kydä 'to go, function'.
There is something similar in Inuit.
INSIDE - SSIN, ASSIN, SHIN
assin shin is a verbalizer
meaning to be in a place. This compares with Estonian/Finnish cases and
words that use -S- and denote a relationship to the 'inside' of
something. For example Estonian says tule
sisse to mean 'come inside.'
Note that we found that Inuit too employed "S" to convey the idea
ALL - KAKINA
Ojibwa had kakina
'all' which compares with
Estonian/Finnish köik/kaikki also meaning 'all'.
BUTTON - NAUB
naub or naup means 'lace, string
together, connect, join, unite', and
ROCK (HARD OBJECT?) -ASIN
Ojibwa asin means
'rock', which compares with
SEAGULL - KAYASHK
'seagull' corresponds to
'seagull'. This is an almost exact parallel. Is it possible that in
their seagoing days, seeing seagulls was important - a sign they were
close to land, and the importance of the bird ensured the word would
The above selection represent very strong examples.
There are of course many borderline examples whose similarities are not
perfectly clear, unless a more comprehensive analysis is pursued. There
is of course a balance of words with no resonances at all with either
Inuit or Finnic, that have evolved through history, or arrived from
But in general, the above examples seem to confirm
immediate cultural connections to the Inuit of the North American
arctic, and indirect connections going back to northern Europe many
thousands of years ago..
author: A.Paabo, Box 478,
Apsley, Ont., Canada
2018 (c) A. Pääbo.