Skip to main content

Indian Languages

ISSUE:  Autumn 1984

Thomas Jefferson Provides a List of Words
So That Lewis & Clark May Record the Indian Languages
But They Somehow Lose Their Notes
After Returning Home

Ask of all local inhabitants you meet
their own peculiar names for these things:

yesterday, today, tomorrow, a day, a month, a year,
spring, summer, autumn, winter, a man, a woman,

Learn these, that future travelers may easily
converse, and that trade may be accomplished
with all fairness and thrift:

father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife,
son, daughter, the body, the head, the hair.

Note any outstanding appearances of mineral riches
that may obtrude into your sight, and whether these may
easily be worked from the ground and transported thence:

redbird, snake, lizard, butterfly, fish, frog,
mulberry, a vine, tobacco, joy, sorrow.

Record landmarks for bands of settlers who may
follow in your path; note locations of luxurious
pasture, and probable sites of profitable tillage:

to eat, to drink, to sleep, to laugh, to cry,
to sing, to whistle, to smell, to hear, to see.

Observe the natural prospect of the country, that artists
may later depict from certain vantage points
the beauty of this land and people as they now are:

to speak, to walk, to run, to stand, to sit,
to lie down, to smoke a pipe, to love, to hate.

See and record all things as you come upon them first
that I may know them well, and others after:

to strike, to kill, to dance, to jump, to fall,
to break, to bend, yes, no.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading