Learning the Seneca Indian Language
Nya:wëh sgë:nö' (pronounced nyah-weh-sgeh-noh)!
This translates to "I am thankful you are well" and is a common greeting in Seneca. Sometimes, this greeting is abbreviated to "sgë:nö’," meaning "health" or "well-being."
The mission of this website is to share conversational words and phrases of the Seneca language, Onöndowa’ga:’ Gawë:no׳ (pronounced oh-nohn-doh-wah'gah gah-way-noh), or the Language of the People of the Great Hills, as I learn them. LearningSeneca is by no means meant to be an exhaustive account of the language but rather a periodic chronicling of my own learning journey. If you wish to pursue your studies of the Onöndowa’ga:’ Gawë:no further, please see the section called “For Further Learning” (accessible under the "More" sub-header above).
I first began work on this project in late-2015, inspired by reports of the low number of fluent speakers of the language. I was also inspired - and, perhaps, most inspired - by akso:tgë'ö', my maternal grandmother, who in her later years expressed an interest in learning her traditional language and who, due to health concerns, could not travel to Onöndowa’ga:’ territories to take advantage of in-person classes.
The Onöndowa’ga:’ Gawë:nö’ is a Haudenosaunee (Iroquoian) language. It is the traditional language of the Seneca Nation of Indians and the Tonawanda Band of Seneca. Indigenous Seneca lands include what is now known as western New York between the Genesee River and my hometown of Canandaigua.
The Seneca Nation holds land titles for the Cattaraugus Reservation, the Allegany Reservation, the Oil Springs Reservation, and at reservations at Niagara and Buffalo. The Tonawanda Indian Reservation is located across the Genesee, Niagara, and Erie counties in western New York. The Senecas comprise one of the original five nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The other original four nations are the Cayuga, the Mohawk, the Oneida, and the Onondaga. The Tuscarora became the sixth nation of the confederacy in 1722.
Through my maternal grandmother, I am an enrolled member of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca, Wolf Clan, but I did not grow up "on-territory and within the ceremonial cycle of the year," to quote Penelope Kelsey in her own articulation of her subject-hood (xi). I received funding from the Humanities New York (formerly the New York Council for the Humanities) when I began this project as a doctoral candidate at Stony Brook University. I am presently an Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College (CUNY).
All artwork is by ke’gë:’, my younger sister, Kristen Delgado, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Questions and/or corrections are strongly encouraged. You can contact me via email at Quinata.Delgado@gmail.com or Twitter @DelgadoQuinata.
: = elongate the preceding vowel sound. As in the case of Nya:wëh sgë:nö’, the "a" in "Nya:wëh" is held for an extra beat.
*** Note: If there is a : between two vowels, elongate each vowel sound equally. An example of this is Dëjíhnita:ë’, meaning "We will talk again" (under the "Hello/Goodbye" subheader). The "a" and "e" ("ah" and "eh" sounds, respectively) are each held for an extra beat. ***
’ = glottal stop, such as the one in the middle of the English word ‘uh-oh’
a = “ah” sound, as in the English “father”
ä = the “a” sound in “cat”
e = “ey” sound, as in the English “they”
ë = “eh” sound (nasalized)
o = “oh” sound, as in the English “float”
ö = “oh” sound (nasalized) as in “known”
sy = “sh” sound
u = “ooh” as in the English “moon”
dz = “dz” as in the English “adze”
"Birth of a Nation." Seneca Nation of Indians, https://sni.org/culture/birth-of-a-nation/. Accessed 7 March 2017.
Hauptman, Laurence M. The Tonawanda Senecas’ Heroic Battle Against Removal. State University of New York Press, 2011.
Kelsey, Penelope. Reading the Wampum: Essays on Hodinõhsõ:ni’ Visual Code and Epistemological Recovery. Syracuse University Press, 2014.
“Reclaiming Traditional Seneca Culture.” The Allegheny Front, 9 October 2015, http://archive.alleghenyfront.org/story/reclaiming-traditional-seneca-culture.html. Accessed 5 March 2017.
“Seneca Indian Language.” Native Languages of the Americas, http://www.native-languages.org/seneca.htm. Accessed 5 March 2017.
Pictured: The Hiawatha Belt. The shapes
correspond to the five original nations of the
Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. They are, from left to right: the Seneca, the Cayuga, the Onondaga, the Oneida, and the Mohawk. (Courtesy of Kristen Delgado)