Contact and change in Oneida

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Oneida is the highly endangered Iroquoian language of several communities of Oneida people in Wisconsin, Ontario, and New York. It is most closely related to Mohawk and then to the languages of the other five nations of the League of the Iroquois, whose homelands stretched across New York from Mohawk near the Hudson west through the territories in the order of Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca near Lake Erie. Over the last four centuries the Oneida speakers have had increasing contact with speakers of other languages. An initial inspection of the language suggests that it has been remarkably resistant to borrowing from these other languages; that deserves an explanation. This paper reviews the history of language contact for Oneida with a focus on the opportunities and pressures for bilingualism and how that bilingualism may have effected change in Oneida.


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