Remember “Kunepiam”?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story about a strange engraving, on an equally strange door, set in the brick wall that separates the train station parking lot from the lovely Stony Point homes just beyond it.

The engraving said “Kunepiam.” It was surrounded by what look like Native American pictograms, and perhaps settlers.

Kunepiam

No one was quite sure where it came from, or what it meant. “06880” readers thought it might have been part of witchcraft; perhaps a Christian symbol; maybe even more modern than anyone imagined. Mary Palmieri Gai wondered if it came from the Native American word meaning “long water land,” which Quinnipiac College was named after.

Yesterday, the Westport Library reference department posted the definitive answer. Most readers may have missed it — they were busy mourning the impending end of Mario’s, just across the tracks — so here is the complete result of what the researchers found.

But first, cue the applause for our library!

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We started working on this question a few weeks ago when we saw this post. We are happy to report that “kunepiam” is derived from the Algonquin word “koonepeam,” meaning “thou art welcome.”

Our success in finding this answer was due to the extra effort made by Lucianne Lavin, director of research and collections at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut. She reached out to Carl Masthay, retired medical editor, linguist, and Algonquianist, who in turn reached out to Dr. Ives Goddard, a nationally known professional, senior linguist and curator in the anthropology department at the Smithsonian Institution. He was the linguistic and technical editor for the Handbook of North American Indians, and is a specialist in Algonquian languages.

Here is Dr. Goddard’s answer:

Westport Library logo“If (considering the picture at 06880, Westport, Conn.) you look up “welcome” in Trumbull’s Natick Dictionary [page 343], you find koonepeam ‘(thou art) welcome’ (cited from Josiah Cotton, with no page [1830]). I type “oo” for Eliot’s digraph (rendered “8” in Goddard & Bragdon: Native Writings in Massachusett, 1988). Some knowledgeable person has slightly re-spelled this, perhaps someone at the Bureau of American Ethnology that a letter was referred to. The word is a calque* on the English (“you come well”) but perhaps in use in Cotton’s day. “

[Ives Goddard, pers. com., 25 March 2015. Carl Masthay’s note: “Natick” is now referred to as “Massachusett.” Morphemes**: k-ooni-pia-m ‘you-well-come-animate.final’.]

Mr. Masthay suggested that a small plate be installed next to the stone to help “clear up this issue for eternity.”

Please reach out to us for any follow-up questions or reference questions in general!

— Susan Luchars, Margie Frelich-Den, and Dennis Barrow, Reference Department, Westport Public Library 203 291 4840, ref@westportlibrary.org

*The meaning of “calque”: a loan translation, especially one resulting from bilingual interference in which the internal structure of a borrowed word or phrase is maintained but its morphemes are replaced by those of the native language, as German halbinsel for peninsula. (Dictionary.com)

**The meaning of “morpheme”: any of the minimal grammatical units of a language, each constituting a word or meaningful part of a word, that cannot be divided into smaller independent grammatical parts, as the, write, or the -ed of waited (Dictionary.com)

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Amazing. Now all we need to know is:

  • How do you pronounce it?
  • And how did it get there?

12 responses to “Remember “Kunepiam”?

  1. JIll Turner Odice

    I have to admit I kept checking back to see if anybody solved the mystery 🙂 Thanks for clearing it up !

  2. Holly Wheeler

    Astounding !!!
    Thanks, Dan. Thanks Westport Library et al. You’ve done it again.

  3. Marcy Fralick

    It wouldn’t be unusual for Colonists to have picked up some Algonquin words and Algonquins to pick up English words. They had to find a way to communicate in order for the Colonists to survive. Words travel down through generations, especially when they’re still needed, or they become embedded in each others languages. It’s possible that Kunepiam to later resdients of the area became something along the lines of what we say in parts of our country ~~ mi casa et su casa ~~ and there are many people who have that posted by their front doors.

  4. Great work! However, it strikes me as a little bit in conflict with the locked iron gates and imposing privacy wall protecting the property behind…

  5. Marcia Wright

    All this research brings back memories of the structural linguistics classes I took in college, albeit quite a bit rusty: digraphs, morphemes, internal structures, re-spellings. All that was missing was Grimms’ Law, Verner’s Law, and the Great Vowel Shift (1450-1700).

  6. Robert Mitchell

    Takes me back home. Natick, referenced by Goddard, is my home town, and is also one of the names of the Algonquin language spoken in the Massachusetts/Rhode Island area. The reference was later replaced by “Massachusetts”, as reported by Masthay. The first Native American translation of the Christian Bible was done in “Natick” by John Eliot in 1661.

  7. Adam Schwartz '75

    Remember when Roadrunner did his thing and the ACME anvil fell from the sky and landed on top of the Coyote and drove him down into the desert floor? Then the Coyote sticks his head up and his eyes are spinning 80 times a second and his head is wobbling like a bobble head doll in the rear window of a car? That’s how I feel after reading this article!

  8. Susan Hopkins

    The plot thickens!

    How do you pronounce it?
    And how did it get there?

  9. Roberta Tager

    Delighted to know the meaning of ‘Kunepiam”
    ‘Thank you!

  10. An enduring element of early garden and landscape architecture involves the notion of mystery; rusticated grottoes, follies and hermitages (sometimes with actual hermits) were some of the devises employed in furtherance of that romantic ideal. This intriguing little entrance, was likely part of a broader program which, regrettably, has been lost.

  11. That is amazing. Thanks for inspiring such curiosity that led to a new discovery!