January 05, 2007

More on The New World

A language revisited

Indians and scholars hope to revive the words that once dominated coastal VirginiaIn 2003, director Terrence Malick was preparing to film a movie about Jamestown, "The New World." Blair Rudes, a linguist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, was hired to translate dialogue for Pocahontas' people.

Rudes started with Colonial-era word lists and scholarly work and filled in the linguistic blanks using better-known Algonquian languages from all over the Eastern Seaboard. One scene with three pages of dialogue took him a month.

The director loved it. He wanted 50 scenes. Rudes translated in his hotel room for two weeks solid. At the end, people were speaking entire sentences in Virginia Algonquian--or at least a linguist's best guess at it--for the first time in 200 years.

His work has helped to dispel one of the area's beliefs: that "Chesapeake" means something like "Great Shellfish Bay." It doesn't, Rudes said. The name might mean something like "Great Water," or it might have been a village at the bay's mouth.

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