The Western Delaware Nation and Language-UNAMI

Western Delaware is a variation of a Southern Unami Native American dialect, taught by the Delaware Tribe of Indians. It is labeled Western because the language was used in the Western region of Oklahoma.

The Unami language in its original form – also known as Lenape ‘is now an extinct language formerly hailing from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Delaware Tribe has struggled to create tapes of natives and make up lessons in order to save the Western Delaware element of the original Unami speech, as most residents in Oklahoma have shifted to speaking English in the present day. Only elders aged ninety and above speak it on a day-to-day basis.

Western Delaware comes from Lenape (pronounced Leh-nah-pay), and the tribal name gets adopted to mean “the real people” (the Delaware part comes from the Delaware River, which frequents Lenape lands and was traveled on via canoes).

It is a language stemming from the Algonquian family. It has been said that the Western Delaware homelands are the original birthplace of the Algonquian language family, even being dubbed the “grandfather” by other tribes.

You may find it surprising to know that English contains roughly 150 Algonquian Indian words. This is interesting compared to the number we’ve borrowed from the much more widely spoken tongue of Russian (a mere fifty or so). We mainly inherited various animal names like caribou, moose, chipmunk, raccoon, muskrat, and skunk from the Algonquian relatives.

Plants such as hickory, pecan, persimmon, and squash and food meals including hominy and succotash are also examples. The prime Algonquian influence occurred in naming cities and states like Manhattan, Chesapeake, Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri, and Wyoming. Some rivers may also reflect the influence.

“N-” is a very simple prefix that shows possession in the Western Delaware language. When it comes to forming adjectives, however, the spellings change based on if the subject at hand is animate or intimate. The color yellow is translated as wisaw, but “the yellow rock” is wisae, and “the yellow bird” is wisawsu.

One need not fret when learning the tongue and speaking it back to a native, however, as they will still probably understand you if you mix up the tenses a little, just as an English speaker could still comprehended “fighted” for “fought”.

There are eleven thousand Lenape people in Oklahoma today, many of whom have been mistaken for Cherokee. They were significantly effected by the various diseases Europeans brought over back in the day, and were also forced west by American expansion.

They only regained independent tribal status twelve years ago, and their language is also trying to be preserved by the Boy Scouts of America.


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