Going Powhatan #5: Virginia Algonquian Autodidacticism

Been a while since I posted on the “Going Powhatan” subject, so I figured I’d drop a post so you don’t get the idea I’ve stopped working.

As for learning the Virginia Algonquian language  — a.k.a. “Powhatan” — it’s been rough sledding.  Mighty hard to learn a language all by your lonesome! One of the things I started doing several months ago, to teach myself the numbers, was to start counting in Powhatan during training sessions.  I journal most days and I always record the temperature.  So I started writing the temp in Powhatan also.

Then about a month ago I read this post by the immortal Mark Hatmaker concerning autodidacticism and it really set me afire.  Notice the line I put in bold:

Schliemann (Heinrich Schliemann, the German merchant who found the lost city of Troy) was an untutored auto-didact, not merely in archeology, but also in foreign languages. Despite having never attended a single foreign language class or having access to a “self-teaching” Rosetta Stone course he mastered a dozen languages.

Here’s historian Will Durant on Schliemann.

“In his travels as a merchant he had made it a practice to learn the language of each country he traded with, and to write in that language the current pages of his diary.  By this method he learned English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Swedish, Polish, and Arabic. Now he went to Greece, studied the language as a living speech, and was soon able to read both ancient and modern Greek as fluently as German.” Will Durant, The Life of Greece, pp. 24-25

I realized that I was on the right track, but not aggressive enough.  Around the same time I read Mark’s article, I watched an interview of Benny Lewis in which he advocated the “sink or swim” outlook even if you’re learning solo.  He basically said, to paraphrase, ‘don’t try to speak perfectly, just force yourself to say things in the language as best you can.’

This is the language equivalent of making a rough pencil sketch on the canvas before starting your painting, or a rough draft of an article before you send it off to the editor.  It’ll get perfected later.  Just get the words out now!

So I started  writing in my journal as best I could using the Powhatan words I knew — even if I had no idea how to properly conjugate or decline a given word.  Basically my journal notes started looking like “Powhatan haiku.”  Here’s my journal entry from 4/25/21:

4/25/21 — parenskapooeksu (50), kemiw (“it is raining”) – wekontamook (rejoice!)

Lord paswappu, nenenohtawaw (The Lord is here, I understand him)

sissip awassew necehcak (bird, it flies, my soul)

I’m pretty sure there are at least a half dozen errors in there.  But I’m still doing a better job of speaking Powhatan than I was six months ago, right?  It’s like the bartender says at closing time: “I don’t know where you’re going but you can’t stay here.”

Stagnation is no option.  Onward and upward!


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