CUOQ, JEAN-ANDRÉ (named by the Algonquin Nij-Kwenatc-anibic, meaning “double beautiful leaf” or “second Bellefeuille,” in memory of a revered missionary, and by the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Orakwanen-takon, meaning “fixed star,” probably because of the immobility of his left eye, which had been damaged in an accident during his youth), priest, Sulpician, missionary, publisher, linguist, philologist, and author; b. 6 June 1821 in Le Puy, France, son of Jean-Pierre Cuoq, a locksmith, and Marie-Rosalie Delholme; d. 21 July 1898 at the mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka), Que.
After completing his literary studies, Jean-André Cuoq began theology at the Grand Séminaire du Puy on 20 Oct. 1840. Drawn to foreign languages, he learned Spanish and then gave lessons in it. He was made a deacon in October 1844, pursued his theological studies in Paris under Arthur Le Hir, and finished them at the Solitude (noviciate) at Issy-les-Moulineaux in 1846. Ordained a priest on 20 Dec. 1845, Cuoq embarked for Canada on 11 Oct. 1846 aboard the François 1er, and during the 38-day crossing from Le Havre to New York he studied English. He arrived in Montreal at the end of November and was appointed curate at Notre-Dame church.
On 26 Oct. 1847 Cuoq began his ministry at the mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes. While practising the vernacular languages with his Algonquin parishioners he became interested in the manuscripts of earlier missionaries and in the works of his Sulpician colleagues. The following year he began to learn Mohawk with Joseph Marcoux*, the parish priest at Caughnawaga (Kahnawake), and copied the Mohawk dictionary Marcoux had just completed. For the faithful at his mission, Cuoq supervised the publication or reprinting of religious pamphlets in Algonquin that had been prepared by his predecessors, in particular by former curate Flavien Durocher*. Beginning in 1857 he also ministered among the Iroquois at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, for whom he drew up and published a syllabary that included hymns in Mohawk.
Cuoq left his post in 1859, first to conduct the fourth-year class (Poetry) at the Petit Séminaire de Montréal, and then to teach at St Charles College in Baltimore, where he stayed in 1860 along with Étienne-Michel Faillon*. Later that year Cuoq resumed his position as curate at Notre-Dame, and between 1862 and 1865 he published several religious booklets for parishioners of the two linguistic groups at Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes.
Then the course of the missionary’s career was changed. In 1855 the publication in France of Ernest Renan’s Histoire générale et système comparé des langues sémitiques had created a storm in Catholic circles. To uphold the philosophical thesis he had developed in De l’origine du langage (1848) and to show the differences between those people considered primitive and those considered civilized, Renan, an ex-seminarian and student of Le Hir, denigrated the languages of America, particularly those of the Iroquois. According to Cuoq, he had relied on unfounded linguistic descriptions by ignorant travellers and tourists. At the behest of his former teacher at Saint-Sulpice, Cuoq published a scathing response in 1863, “Jugement erroné de M. Ernest Renan sur les langues sauvages,” signing it “N.O.,” the initials of his Indigenous names; it would have two further printings. In his retort Cuoq aimed not simply to demonstrate the beauty and complexity of the Algonquian and Iroquois tongues, but above all to defend the sacred principles of religion and faith. It was the unity of all peoples and of language that was under attack. Spurred by the success of his publication, he promised, in an 1864 article entitled “Encore un mot sur les langues sauvages,” to continue his comparative studies. Cuoq became the recognized specialist in New World languages with the publication in 1866 of Études philologiques sur quelques langues sauvages de l’Amérique, a work signed “N.O. ancien missionnaire,” which made him known in educated circles abroad. “Quels étaient les sauvages que rencontra Jacques Cartier sur les rives du Saint-Laurent?” appeared in the Annales de philosophie chrétienne in Paris in September 1869. That year the second edition of Jugement erroné de M. Ernest Renan was brought out. In the new, considerably augmented version, the author had tempered his hostility towards Renan and devoted himself to linguistic comparison. In the period 1872–83 he published articles and religious pamphlets, mainly on the Algonquian languages.
After the church and presbytery at the mission of Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes burned down in 1877, Cuoq returned to Montreal. Five years later, under the signature of “Cuoq, prêtre de Saint-Sulpice,” Lexique de la langue iroquoise came out, replete with notes, quotations, and material taken from Marcoux. Lexique de la langue algonquine, which appeared in 1886 under the same signature, was based on Jean-Baptiste Thavenet*’s Algonquin-French dictionary. During this period Cuoq was appointed a professor of Indigenous linguistics at the Université Laval. The Royal Society of Canada, which welcomed him into its ranks in 1888, would publish his last articles: “Grammaire de la langue algonquine” in 1891 and 1892, and its appendix, “Anotc kekon” (or “Miscellany”), in 1893. It was at the mission that he was afflicted with paralysis and died 11 days later on 21 July 1898; his funeral took place on 25 July.
Those who knew Jean-André Cuoq described him as an affable, modest man and an excellent raconteur. In seeking to honour God, to restore to favour the languages of the New World, and to satisfy the curiosity of contemporaries steeped in philology, he preserved works that would otherwise have been destroyed by time or by fire. He had the good sense, over the years, to set aside controversial comparative research and concentrate on describing Indigenous languages. It is, however, regrettable that in persistently using only a limited number of signs from the Latin alphabet to transcribe them, he ignored their distinctive phonetic traits, and that although he had access to an abundance of studies by missionaries spanning almost three centuries, he failed to shed new light on the structure of these languages.
Jean-André Cuoq is the author of Jugement erroné de M. Ernest Renan sur les langues sauvages (Montréal, 1864; 2e éd., 1869), first published in the Journal de l’Instruction publique (Québec et Montréal), 7 (1863): 166–68 and 8 (1864): 5–7, 20–22; “Encore un mot sur les langues sauvages,” Journal de l’Instruction publique, 8: 128–30; Études philologiques sur quelques langues sauvages de l’Amérique (Montréal, 1866); “Quels étaient les sauvages que rencontra Jacques Cartier sur les rives du Saint-Laurent?” Annales de philosophie chrétienne (Paris), 5e sér., 19 (1869); Chrestomathie algonquine (Paris, 1873); Lexique de la langue iroquoise . . . (Montréal, 1882); Lexique de la langue algonquine (Montréal, 1886); “Grammaire de la langue algonquine,” RSC Trans., 1st ser., 9 (1891), sect.i: 88–114 and 10 (1892), sect.i: 41–119; “Anotc kekon,” 11 (1893), sect.i: 137–79; and “Notes pour servir à l’histoire de la mission du Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, 1721–1898,” a manuscript written in 1898 which is at the ASSM. Cuoq also published a translation, Catéchisme algonquin avec syllabaire et cantiques . . . (Montréal, 1865).
AC, Terrebonne (Saint-Jérôme), État civil, Catholiques, Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka), 25 juill. 1898. AD, Haute-Loire (Le Puy), État civil, Le Puy, 7 juin 1821. Allaire, Dictionnaire. L.-A. Bélisle, Références biographiques, Canada–Québec (5v., Montréal, 1978), 2. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1898). The Catholic encyclopedia, ed. C. G. Herbermann et al. (15v., New York, 1907–12), 4: 569; 10: 381, 387. Louise Dechêne, “Inventaire des documents relatifs à l’histoire du Canada conservés dans les archives de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice à Paris,” ANQ Rapport, 1969: 149–288. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire. J. C. Pilling, Bibliography of the Iroquoian languages (Washington, 1888) and Bibliography of the Algonquian languages (Washington, 1891); reprinted as Bibliographies of the languages of the North American Indians (9 pts. in 3v., New York, 1973), vol.1, pt.3, and vol.2 respectively. Standard dict. of Canadian biog. (Roberts and Tunnell), vol.2. Wallace, Macmillan dict. Louis Bertrand, Bibliothèque sulpicienne ou histoire littéraire de la Compagnie de Saint-Sulpice (3v., Paris, 1900), 2. Olivier Maurault, Nos messieurs (Montréal, ). A. F., “L’abbé Cuoq; notice biographique,” RSC Trans., 2nd ser., 8 (1902), sect.i: 127–29. R. Bonin, “Les archives sulpiciennes, source d’histoire ecclésiastique,” CCHA Rapport, 2 (1934–35): 40–50. “Comparisons of American languages with those of the Old World,” Canadian Naturalist and Geologist (Montreal), new ser., 1 (1864): 146. G. Forbes, “La mission d’Oka et ses missionnaires,” BRH, 6 (1900): 147. John Reade, “The Basques in North America,” RSC Trans., 1st ser., 6 (1888), sect.ii: 21–39. P.-G. Roy, “Ouvrages publiés par l’abbé Jean-André Cuoq,” BRH, 30 (1924): 260. Joseph Royal, “[Compte rendu], Jugement erroné de M. Ernest Renan sur les langues sauvages . . . ,” Rev. canadienne (Montréal), 1 (1864): 253–54.