Honoring the earlier place names

A revival of Indigenous languages, which were long suppressed by federal policy, is gaining momentum where I live in Way Downeast Maine.

For one thing, the Passamaquoddy are now teaching it in their schools.

For another, their words are pronounced in ways that transcriptions into Latin-based letters don’t quite capture. There are simply sounds that my ears miss entirely and my tongue and lips will never manage to enunciate properly. How humbling!

“Passamaquoddy,” for instance, is pronounced more like “peskotomuhkati,” meaning “people who spear pollock,” reflecting their ocean hunting skills.

Linguistically, the Passamaquoddy language works differently than do European languages with their subject-verb-object constructions, and reflects an alternative way of comprehending the land, waters, and skies where we dwell.

Detail of the new map, with some places denoted by dual names.

The latest edition of the Tides Institute’s Artsipelago map of communities and sites around the tidal waters of our corner of Maine and neighboring New Brunswick, Canada, now includes Passamaquoddy names in addition to the more familiar English, Anglicized, and French ones.

To my eyes, this adds another dimension to our awareness of the landscape and its legacy.

How do you see it?

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