The Abenaki live in New England, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces of eastern Canada. They are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, made up of five tribes and First Nations speaking related languages, which are part of the Algonquin or Algic language family. Their name is made up of the words wôban (‘dawn’) and aki (‘here’ or ‘land’)—land of the Dawn.
Joseph Laurent was chief of the Abenaki at Odanak, Quebec in the late 19th century. Laurent, also known as Sozap Lolô, is esteemed as a Native American linguist who helped preserve his own language. Ives Goddard, a noted historian of linguistics, observed of Laurent, “this is a really remarkable case of native grammatical tradition emerging among native people,” a unique case in North America.
In 1884, Laurent wrote New Familiar Abenakis and English Dialogues, the first ever comprehensive dictionary and grammar of the Abenaki language, sometimes referred to as Western Abenaki. Decades later, in 1957, Chief Laurent's son, Stephen Laurent, recorded a cover-to-cover reading of his father's book, excerpts of which are featured above. These tapes were made in New Hampshire with the assistance of the linguist Gordon Day. Day’s Western Abenaki Dicitonary was published shortly after his death, in 1994.
Stephen Laurent, whose papers are also housed at the APS, was an accomplished linguist in his own right, who worked with the anthropologists Frank G. Speck and A. Irving Hallowell. The APS collections include a large number of Abenaki photographs taken by Speck and Hallowell, including the picture of Stephen as a young man, to the right.
Collections with Abenaki audio recordings: