Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Historical Influences on the Odawa Language

Historical Influences on the Odawa Language

Michael T. Vollbach

The Eastern Ojibwe dialect, often referred to as the Odawa language, is currently a secondary language spoken among thirteen thousand people in North America. The intent of this paper is to explain the changes that the language underwent as encountered other indigenous and European languages. Furthermore, the paper delves into the revitalization of the language that occurred in the early twentieth century. The paper relies heavily on primary sources. Many early sources observe the Odawa’s first contact with Europeans. These observations are important as they relate to the reader where early settlement and interaction with other indigenous took place. The research bears out that the result of the Iroquois Wars forced the Odawa to seek refuge in larger numbers of indigenous people that spoke a separate dialect. Living among diverse speakers effected the base language over time. As well, European influence often time saw that loan words appeared in the Odawa tongue. American domination of indigenous people had the most detrimental effect on the language. The goal of the government was to set up boarding schools that cleansed indigenous youth of their culture. These schools, sometimes called Carlisle Schools, have a very negative consequence on the Odawa language as usage began to disappear. During the decade of the 1930’s the language of the Odawa was dying. The recognition of this plight of the language led to elders leading a revitalization of the language to a modern Odawa language that is currently being spoken and taught in high schools near historical settlements today.


April 5, 2019 - Posted by | abstract


  1. I get the impression that in recent years, the notion of recovering Odawa as a distinct language is being displaced by a larger linguistic context, that of Anishinaabmowin. It may be that the experience of dwelling with other Anishinaabeg in the wake of the Iroquois Wars blurred the lines, as you have noted. In my own research on a curated Odawa historical narrative, I found the 1970s work of the Odawa Language Project helpful in providing traditional narratives, presented as learning tools:

    Odawa Language Project: Second Report, ed. Glyne L. Piggott and Jonathan Kaye (Toronto: Centre for Linguistic Studies, University of Toronto, 1973), 82-99.

    Also the work of the Indigenous Languages Preservation and Promotion (ILLP), Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, University of Wisconsin.

    I don’t find so much in the recent literature, suggesting that the modern process of recovering identity is difficult, complex, yet ongoing, as groupings and affiliations shifted over time and space.

    Comment by Daniel Harrison | April 5, 2019 | Reply

    • There is indeed a conflict among the people living in Harbor Springs about the language. There has been disagreements as to the dialect that should be taught. Their language program has seen the firing of several directors. Conservatives want Eastern Ojibwe taught while liberals want the more common Western Ojibwe taught. Part of the issue is that Eastern Ojibwe is taught spoken in the household, while some are abandoning the dialect all together.

      Comment by Michael T. Vollbach | April 15, 2019 | Reply

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