'snake' and 'god' terms.

Alan Knutson boris at terracom.net
Sat Aug 12 22:32:34 UTC 2006

I am curious as to why a final nasalized vowel is not reconstructed in the
'medicine' set but is in the 'sacred' set, and also if there are any
cognates in  Crow-Hidatsa or Mandan.
Alan K

-----Original Message-----
From: Rankin, Robert L [mailto:owner-siouan at lists.colorado.edu] On Behalf Of
Rankin, Robert L
Sent: Saturday, August 12, 2006 3:18 PM
To: siouan at lists.colorado.edu
Cc: Rankin, Robert L
Subject: RE: 'snake' and 'god' terms.

The similar words for 'god' and 'snake' are apparently not a coincidence,
since in Sac-Fox (I think) Shawnee and Kickapoo the same two terms are also
closely related according to Paul Voorhis and Dave Costa, with whom I
corresponded about this a long time ago.  The Algonquian words are
completely different from Siouan /wakhaN/, of course, but 'snake' and
'manitou' are related in at least those Algonquian languages.  So somehow
there was evidently a connection seen between snakes and deities at one
time.  The connection may have been via the Siouan cognate set for
'medicine'.   I believe I posted the follow note sometime back.  It was in
my computer files written in "net Siouan", so it's probably in the list
archive.  I can't seem to get the file to format properly into columns, but
the sets should be obvious.

The recent discussion of the lexical class of Dakota 'wakhaN' brought to
mind a historical comment I recently made in a paper that Giulia Oliverio
and I are publishing. It is possible that the nominal status of 'medicine'
has affected the status of 'sacred, mysterious', ordinarily a stative verb. 

Is it also possible that the root of 'sacred' was just -hkaN and that the
wa- nominalized it? Here, in any event are the two cognate sets. 

                          'medicine'                 'sacred'

*PSI:                 *wáN:hka                *wahkáN

Dakotan:               makhaN                 wakháN 'spirit, sacred'

Chiwere:              máNkhaN               wakháN 'snake' 

Winneb:               maN:káN                wakáN 'snake'

Omaha:               maNkkáN                wakkáNda 'sacred, god' 

Omaha                maNkkáN               wakkáNdagi 'water monster'

Kansa:                 mokkáN                 wakkáNda 'holy, god' 

Osage:                 maNhkáN              wahkáNta 'holy, god' 

Quapaw:              makkáN                 wakkáNtta 'spirit, god'

*OVS:               *muNka 'snake' 

Biloxi:                      n-dé:si 'snake' 

Ofo                        oNktéfi 'snake' 

Saponi                 "moka" 'snake' 

In 'medicine' and 'sacred' we have two semantically similar, but
derivationally unrelated, roots which, quite by chance, differ only in
nasalization and accent placement. Their superficial similarities appear to
have led to a certain amount of mixing. The 'medicine' column is where this
Ohio Valley Siouan set properly belongs phonologically, but it has undergone
the semantic specialization, acquiring the meaning 'snake', that is typical
of the 'sacred' set in particular geographical areas. 

'Sacred' underwent an exactly parallel change in Winnebago, Chiwere and
Omaha. Here it should be noted that the concepts 'God, sacred' and 'snake'
were related in much of the prehistoric eastern and central U.S.
Nevertheless, there is identical semantic specialization in all three OVS

Paul Voorhis provided comments on the areal nature of this phenomenon.
Voorhis points to similar parallel conflation of 'snake' and 'deity' in
Kickapoo. Shawnee maneto is similarly 'snake' (David Costa, personal

Here, as usual, Biloxi and Ofo lose initial labial resonants, while Virginia
Siouan keeps them. The -(k)desi portion of the Biloxi and Ofo cognates means
'striped' or 'spotted' and has good cognates throughout Siouan. 


From: owner-siouan at lists.colorado.edu on behalf of goodtracks at peoplepc.com
Sent: Fri 8/11/2006 9:19 PM
To: Earl Fenner
Cc: siouan at lists.colorado.ed

I believe I can explain it out for IOM in regard to the word for "God"/
"Thunders" (in an older traditional application) and the word "snake."
There was a Snake Clan, long extinct, which still exists among the Ponca and
Winnebago.  How would you render an explaination to someone who noted the
[NOTE:  Wakánda = God.  (It may noted the coincidental similarity of the
word - Wakánda - and the word Wakán (snake).  The root of both words is
"kán-" (holy; sacred; consecrated).  This does not infer to some kind of
reptile divinity.  To the contrary, the term Wakánda is most likely related
to the Lakota term, "wakan: holy, mysterious" both sharing the same root of

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