American Indian Loan Words

by Holly Hartman

Moose
From their earliest contact with traders and explorers, American Indians borrowed foreign words, often to describe things not previously encountered. In this way, Russian was the source of the Alaskan Yupik word for "cat" and an Athabaskan word for "bullets." Native Canadian groups adopted French terms still in use, and southwestern groups in what is now the U.S. borrowed numerous Spanish terms.

The language exchange went both ways. Today, thousands of place names across North America have Indian origins—as do hundreds of everyday English words.

Many of these "loan words" are nouns from the Algonquian languages that were once widespread along the Atlantic coast. English colonists, encountering unfamiliar plants and animals—among them moose, opossum, and skunk—borrowed Indian terms to name them. Pronunciations generally changed, and sometimes the newcomers shortened words they found difficult; for instance, "pocohiquara" became "hickory."

Some U.S. English Words with Indian Origins

anorak from the Greenlandic Inuit "annoraq"

bayou from the Choctaw "bayuk"

chipmunk from the Ojibwa "ajidamoon," red squirrel

hickory from the Virginia Algonquian "pocohiquara"

hominy from the Virginia Algonquian "uskatahomen"

igloo from the Canadian Inuit "iglu," house
RELATED LINKS
American Indian Tribes

Spanish Loan Words

Asian Loan Words

Foreign Words and Phrases


kayak from the Alaskan Yupik "qayaq"

moccasin from the Virginia Algonquian

moose from the Eastern Abenaki "mos"

papoose from the Narragansett "papoos," child

pecan from the Illinois "pakani"

powwow from the Narragansett "powwaw," shaman

quahog from the Narragansett "poquauhock"

squash from the Narragansett "askutasquash"

succotash from the Narragansett "msickquatash," boiled corn

tepee from the Sioux "tipi," dwelling

toboggan from the Micmac "topaghan"

tomahawk from the Virginia Algonquian "tamahaac"

totem from the Ojibwa "nindoodem," my totem

wampum from the Massachusett "wampumpeag"

wigwam from the Eastern Abenaki "wik'wom"


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