Lenape Tribe Seal

Lenape Talking Dictionary

By English WORD or PHRASE

By Lenape WORD or PHRASE

About Us

The Lenape Talking Dictionary

Project History: In January, 2002, the Lenape Language Preservation Project received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to produce a resource dictionary database of Lenape. We then had a database built to create a Lenape Talking Dictionary. Much of the funding has gone to digitizing and preserving our existing audiotapes which were made with native speakers of Lenape.

We had originally planned to make the Talking Dictionary available on a CD, but the Internet is available to so many people and is basically free, so we decided that more people would benefit by making this available on the Internet. The Culture section of the Delaware tribal website is located at http://delawaretribe.org/culture-and-language/ and it also has a link to this Dictionary. This is a work-in-progress so come back often as more words and sound files are being added. The main website of the Delaware Tribe of Indians is found at: http://www.delawaretribe.org/tribalsite/.

Dialects of Lenape

The language used in the Lenape Talking Dictionary is what linguists call the "Southern Unami Dialect." See the map below which will show where this particular dialect was once spoken in the Lenape homeland. This is the dialect that was later used by both groups of Lenape (Delawares) in Oklahoma.

The Lenape Speakers in This Talking Dictionary

Around the year 1600 the Lenape language was spoken by thousands of people. Now, the remaining speakers who grew up with Lenape as their first language have all left this life. We can be grateful that some of our elders took the time to try to preserve the Lenape language for us. They did this by teaching classes, making recordings, working with younger tribal members and with linguists.

Below are photographs of two of the main speakers whose voices you will hear in the Lenape Talking Dictionary. The photo shows two of them visiting while at a Stomp Dance.

Lucy Parks Blalock
1906 - 2000
Nora Thompson Dean
1907 - 1984
Lucy began to teach Lenape classes at the Tribal headquarters in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in 1992 under the auspices of the Delaware Tribal Culture Preservation Committee. These continued until May of 1994 when she was no longer able to teach, but the language work continued with some language committee members going to Lucy's home at Quapaw, Oklahoma. We would also like to express our thanks to Dr. David Oestreicher for sharing the recordings of the Lenape language he made with Nora and Lucy.
Lucy Blalock With Part of Her Language Class - 1993

Nora taught Lenape language classes at Nowata, Oklahoma, in the years 1979-80. Mrs. Dean also developed several cassette learning tapes and booklets called the Lenape Language Lessons in 1980. Over the years she also worked extensively with a number of linguists and anthropologists to try to preserve the Lenape language and culture. We would like to acknowledge Carrie Briggs, a student in Bruce Pearson's linguistics course, for sharing recordings she made with Nora.

Nora Dean Gives a Lecture on Lenape Folklore at Bryn Mawr College – 1973

 Other Speakers of the Delaware Tribe

James H. Thompson


One elder who contributed to this dictionary is James H. Thompson, the father of Nora Thompson Dean and Leonard Thompson. James was born in Kansas near Kansas City, and as a baby moved with his family when the Delawares were forced to move to Indian Territory (later Oklahoma). He worked with several scholars such as Willard Rhodes and W. W Newcomb, Jr., to preserve some knowledge of his people's songs and customs. He worked with Jim Rementer on the language in the early 1960's.

Edward Leonard Thompson

1904 - 2002

Another elder who has contributed to this dictionary is Edward Leonard Thompson, the brother of Nora Thompson Dean. Leonard taught some language classes in 1985. He has also worked with a number of people on the language.

Willie Longbone

1867 - 1946

Willie worked with linguist Carl Voegelin in 1939 at the University of Michigan.

James C. Webber

1877 - 1950

James, more commonly known as Charlie, worked with anthropologist Frank Speck at the University of Pennsylvania in 1928.

Fred Fall-Leaf

1900 - 1971

Fred Fall-Leaf promoted efforts in the 1950s and 1960s to have events for the people who spoke the Lenape language to get together and have a chance to keep in practice with the language. Fred also worked with several linguists over the years. His father John Fall-Leaf also promoted the traditional ways by holding Stomp Dances.

Ollie Beaver Anderson


Ollie Beaver Anderson was a fluent speaker of Lenape, and was married to another Delaware named George ‘Tom’ Anderson. Ollie worked on the language during the 1960s mainly with linguist Ives Goddard, then a graduate student at Harvard. We would like to express our thanks to Dr. Goddard for sharing these recordings of the vocabulary work he made with Ollie.

Reuben Wilson

1899 - 1970

Reuben worked with anthropologist Frank Speck, and with linguist Bruce Pearson and also Jim Rementer in his efforts to preserve information about traditional Lenape language, songs and dances, as well as handmade items. As far as we know Reuben was the only Lenape to have been on a radio show singing Lenape songs, although at the time he was extremely hard-of-hearing due to an auto accident. Reuben was also the last living Lenape to have sung his vision song in the traditional Big House Church.

Freddie Washington

1905 - 1976

Over the years Freddie worked with a number of linguists and anthropologists, including Frank Speck, in attempts to preserve the Lenape language and culture. Freddie worked on the language during the 1960s with linguists Ives Goddard and Bruce Pearson, then graduate students working on their dissertations.

Annie Brown Parks

1891 - 1980

Annie worked on the language during the 1960s with linguists Ives Goddard and Bruce Pearson, then graduate students working on their dissertations.

Speakers of the Delaware Nation

Martha Ellis

1900 - 1978

Martha worked on the language during the 1960s with linguist Ives Goddard, then a graduate student working on his dissertation. She later worked with linguist Ralph Cooley of the University of Oklahoma.

Bessie Snake

1896 - 1999

Bessie is shown here being interviewed by Ray Elkhair, Jr. in 1985. Bessie worked on language preservation during the 1960s with linguist Ives Goddard. She later worked with linguist Ralph Cooley of the University of Oklahoma. Also with linguist Bruce Pearson, and several other scholars on various topics.

Willie Snake

1900 - 1989

Willie worked on language preservation with linguist Ralph Cooley of the University of Oklahoma. Also with linguist Bruce Pearson, and Duane Hale to help preserve the Lenape language.

Willard Thomas

1905 - 1988

Willard worked on language preservation with linguist Ralph Cooley of the University of Oklahoma. He also worked with Duane Hale to help preserve the Lenape language. In 1963 Willard represented his Delaware group as an invited guest to Sweden along with Jasper Hill and Cephas Snake of Moraviantown, Ontario.

Lillie Hoag Whitehorn

1902 - 1994

Lillie worked on language preservation with linguist Bruce Pearson, and also with Jim Rementer to help preserve the Lenape language and music. Lillie was half Caddo and was also fluent in the Caddo language.

 Additional Language Project Personnel

Lenape Language Committee

Members of the Committee: Mike Pace, Jim Rementer, Mary Louise Watters, and Janifer Brown present a Lenape Language CD to former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating.

Project Personnel: The people working on the project are Jim Rementer, Dr. Bruce Pearson, Jan Brown, Dr. Nicky Kay Michael, April Daniels, and Ray Whritenour who has done extensive work with Lenape language as written by Moravian Missionaries. Dr. Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian Institution serves as a consultant to the project.

Jim Rementer, project director, began his study of the Lenape or Delaware language in the summer of 1961. He returned the following summer and resumed his study with James H. Thompson, one of the oldest tribal members. After Mr. Thompson’s death in 1964, Jim continued his study primarily with Nora Thompson Dean, daughter of James Thompson. Jim continued his studies with other speakers, and in 1997 the Delaware Tribe appointed him director of the Lenape Language Project.  He recently discovered that his fifth great uncle, Nicholas Ramstein, was a captive of the Delaware Indians for fifteen months beginning in January 1756.  

Note: In addition to the native speakers listed above, as project director I have added my pronunciation of words which lack sound files.  I am doing so with the permission of the Delaware Tribe's Culture Preservation Committee.  My pronunciation will be replaced if recordings of native speakers become available as we continue to work through our extensive recordings. - Jim Rementer.

Bruce L. Pearson, who had served as project co-director, began his work on Delaware with Nora Thompson Dean in 1968 while a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. He taught linguistics and phonetics at the University of South Carolina from 1972 through 2003 while continuing to work with Mrs. Dean and others in the last generation of native Delaware speakers. Now professor emeritus he has contributed his notes and recordings to help to analyze language materials for this and related projects.

Grant Leneaux, emeritus professor of German at the University of Nevada, received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. He taught German, Classical Greek and Latin, and French for 25 years in the department, and despite his supposed retirement, he continues to teach courses in German and the Classics. Grant is from the Lenape family whose original spelling was Lenno. Grant serves as a consultant to the Lenape Talking Dictionary by commenting on the Moravian missionary materials written in Lenape and German.

Raymond Whritenour is a student of the closely related Northern Unami dialect of Lenape. For over 32 years he has worked with the materials written by the Moravian missionaries about the language and culture. He is the editor, translator, and publisher of over 25 books of Lenape language in that closely related dialect. 

Nicky Kay Michael, Ph.D., a Delaware Tribal member, has her degree from the University of Oklahoma. Nicky edits the CDs for content, removal of extraneous noise, and removing unnecessary conversation. Nicky was able to use the Lenape language for her foreign language requirement when she was working on her Master’s Degree. When not working on the language project she trains for and has been in several triathlons. She also enjoys powwows and stomp dances.

Janifer Brown (1946 - 2015), a Delaware Tribal member, shown here with Lucy Blalock, worked on timing and listing content of the audiotapes, and editing the CDs for content. Jan prepared herself for this specialized work by taking a special workshop in linguistics conducted by Dr. Akira Yamamoto of the University of Kansas. Jan was also a member of the Lenape Language Committee and the Culture Preservation Committee, and was an active participant in the tribal social dances. Jan was also the senior author of the Conversational Lenape Mini-Dictionary, a pocket-size dictionary available through the tribal gift shop.

David M. Oestreicher, Ph.D. worked on the Lenape language and culture beginning when he was 17 years old.  For seven years until her passing he worked principally with Nora Thompson Dean, then with Lucy Blalock, and over the next four decades with all of the remaining Lenape speakers in Oklahoma and Canada.  His notes and recordings are a  major repository of the language and culture.  Over the years David has worked with the Lenape on projects to help them preserve their heritage.  In 2009 at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, with the help of the Lenape he curated Lenape: Ellis Island’s First Inhabitants - the first major exhibition in New York City to tell the story of the Lenape from earliest times until today.  David is happy to share his recordings with the Lenape Talking Dictionary Project and to help the dream the Lenape elders had of keeping alive their language and culture.

April R. (Vinyard) Daniels, a Delaware Tribal member, used her services and expertise to keep the tribal website up to date. April's great-great grandmother enrolled her family in the early 1900's. Her family, who live and work primarily in Vinita, have maintained close ties with their Delaware heritage, including maintaining their original land allotments in the Vinita area. April lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and son, but even though they are so far away from Bartlesville, April wants to maintain connection with her tribe.