My dictionaries of first resort, the OED, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, and American Heritage, all give a four-syllable pronunciation for the name of this New England Indian tribe; M-W renders it “wäm-p&-‘nO-(“)ag, AH is the same (rendered in their own system), and the OED differs only in having a schwa in the final syllable. But the original pronunciation was clearly three syllables; the first citation in the OED (Roger Williams, 1676) calls them “Wampanoogs,” and the ending must be the same as in the original Narraganset name for the Pequots, Pequttôog, and the word for Europeans, Wautaconâug ‘coatmen,’ which I presume are two spellings of the same vowel or diphthong. It was still three syllables in the early nineteenth century; John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1830 poem “Metacom” rhymes “Beneath the closing veil of night,/ And leafy bough and curling fog,/ …Rested the fiery Wampanoag” and “The scorched earth—the blackened log—/ …Be the sole relics which remain/ Of the once mighty Wampanoag!” In 1847, John Brougham’s parody of the wildly popular play Metamora: Or, the Last of the Wampanoags was titled “Metamora, or the Last of the Pollywogs,” which strongly implies a pronunciation WAMP-anogs. And I just found a recording (mp3) of Chief Wild Horse, the last speaker of the Wampanoag dialect, reading the Lord’s Prayer (followed by a detailed linguistic explication) in 1961, and both he and the guy who introduces him say WAMP-anog, three syllables. So why do the dictionaries list only the spelling pronunciation wampa-NO-ag?

Addendum. Martin, in the comments, links to some extremely interesting sites: an article about Jessie “Little Doe” Fermino, a Mashpee Indian who last year earned a master’s in linguistics and is trying to revive the Wampanoag language (there’s more about the revival effort here, where the table on the upper right is, oddly, the syllabary for Inuktitut, a language not mentioned in the piece), and the website for the Wôpanâak Language Revitalization Project (and I note that the address line at the bottom refers to the “Wampanog Tribe”).

I should also mention that I got the mp3 recording from this webpage.


  1. Because they may be wrong, your investigation of the issue may be the most detailed anyone in this field has ever been, and you should contact them and either paste this entry, or point them towards it?

  2. “Has ever done,” even. I blame the cheap, good wine.

  3. Thanks for this great recording!

  4. An attempt at simplifying english orthography by changing the pronunciation?

  5. At the LSA summer session at MIT just concluded, there was a presentation by Wampanoags trying to revive their language. They had with them a baby, about a year old; they said this baby would be the first native speaker of Wampanoag for seven generations.
    I’m recounting this secondhand; David Nash was there. It was part of a larger presentation to honor the memory of Ken Hale.

  6. Fascinating. What sort of materials do they have for reviving the language? Old recordings and grammars? It sounds quite difficult — the new Wampanoag could end up something like Israeli vs Hebrew.
    At least, though, I hope he doesn’t grow up saying Wampano-ag 🙂

  7. A piece in an MIT publication about the Wampanoag language re-introduction can be found here: http://web.mit.edu/giving/spectrum/spring01/inspired-by-a-dream.html
    This is part of MIT’s initiative to preserve and revive indiginous languages, described here: http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/www/mitili/proposal%20-%20MITILI.pdf
    See also http://www.wampanoagtribe.net/Pages/Wampanoag_Education/S004B1EF9 on the Wampanoag site.
    Their own phonetic spelling is Wôpanâak.
    The Bible in Wampanoag, according to that site, was the first book published on North American soil.

  8. Correcting: the Wampanoag site says “first book” but actually the Bible in Wampanoag was the first complete Bible published in a North American native language.

  9. This is wonderful news! Nothing wrong w/ indigenous language revitalization, especially in a case like this where it was so mercilessly steamrolled out of existence.
    I hope this gets wider media attention as well. Native American language/culture tends to be an afterthought in much of the east, especially given how much the indigenous languages/cultures were annihilated in comparison w/ the west & southwest (where such things _comparatively are more “robust”).
    This is all about who we are as “Americans”; let’s embrace it!

  10. I had though the “oag” was cognate with “wek” as in Illiniwek.
    “the first citation in the OED (Roger Williams, 1676) calls them “Wampanoogs,”
    That is probably about as authoritative as the litle eroded nubs of native names and words in California that straggled into English via Spanish.

  11. Jim: Of course it’s not “authoritative,” but since people wrote as they heard and spoke in those days, it’s a pretty good sign that Roger Williams didn’t say wampa-NO-ag.

  12. Martin: Thanks! I’ve created an Addendum to showcase your links.

  13. People may have written as they heard, but they may not have heard what was said — we have a President who persists in saying “nukular” despite having a librarian spouse who must have tried to correct him: “It’s nuclear, dear” “That’s what I said, nukular.”

  14. I’m pretty sure that Boston-area newscasters pronounce it correctly. And they do from time to time, in pieces for the Thanksgiving season or about federal recognition and asino-cays (a word the comment filter forbids).

  15. Got it. Thanks.
    How about “wapan-wag”?

  16. In East Providence there’s a street called “the Wampanoag Trail”, and everyone pronounces the final syllable as if it were “nog”. We also have a town in Rhode Island named “Pascoag”, the last of whose two syllables is always pronounced as if it were “co”. And then there are quahogs, whose name usually starts with “ko”. So go figure.

  17. For what it’s worth, our best guess about how the Wampanoag themselves pronounced it has four syllables, something like WAM-pa-NA-ak, with the vowel of the first syllable of ‘father’ in the last three syllables, and a nasal version of that vowel in the first one. The third and fourth syllables have a vowel hiatus between them, which Wampanoag seems to be pretty relaxed about–historically, there would have been a ‘w’ there, but that ‘w’ often gets lost intervocalically, especially when the preceding vowel is long, as it is here.
    When the revival project started, different Wampanoag communities pronounced it in the two different ways being discussed here–either three syllables, with the last one rhyming with ‘log’, or four (wamp-a-NO-ag, with the last vowel that of “ash”).
    It means “people of the dawn”–that is, people from the east coast.

  18. The name Wampanoag must be cognate with the name of the Abenaki of northern New England, which is also translated as people of the east. The word wapan means dawn or east or both in other Algonquian languages such as Cree and Ojibwe, according to the Proto-Algonquian Dictionary.

    (Germanic words for east are also derived from a Proto-Indo-European word for dawn, though not so transparently.)

    The Algonquian root wap-, meaning light or white, can also be seen in English in the loanwords wampum ‘white (shell-bead) string’ (also from New England Algonquian) and wapiti ‘white rump’ (from Shawnee), and in the name of the Wabash River (from Miami-Illinois via French, because of its limestone bed).

    And it seems to me that Norvin, who had already been involved with the reclamation project for several years by 2005, would be a reliable source on the pronunciation. Dictionaries should give both — and in fact, Merriam-Webster online has updated its pronunciation, and now gives \ˈwäm-pə-ˌnäg; ˌwäm-pə-ˈnō-(ˌ)ag, ˌwȯm- \.

    March 2021 radio interview with a Wampanoag language teacher, who uses both three- and four-syllable pronunciations; there are also a few snippets of children’s lessons in school.

  19. Very interesting, thanks for that!

  20. *wa·pi- is the root. Long *a· gets nasalized in a number of Easern Algonquian languages, likely under Iroquoian influence, following the shift of *e· to *a·. See Goddard, More on the Nasalization of PA *a· in Eastern Algonquian, IJAL 37, 139, 1973.

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