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The English Language's Roots in Native American Vocabulary

portrait by George Catlin, photo courtesy of Cliff
One Native American noun that has reached Iowa is Osceola, Iowa, which was named after a Seminole Indian leader, Chief Osceola.

Moccasin, chipmunk, hickory--many words from Native American languages have morphed into words we use in modern American English. English language expert Patricia O’Conner explains that many Native American words that have been adopted into English still retain their native associations, but there are many words especially for animals and different kinds of food that have gone full cross cultural.

“We have words for animals like moose, opossum, abalone, caribou, raccoon, skunk, woodchuck, coyote, husky, and possibly chipmunk and muskrat. […] There are words for things we use to get around, like kayak, canoe, and toboggan. And there are lots of words for food and produce—hominy, succotash, squash, pecan, persimmon, tomato, avocado, pone (as in corn pone), chili, for the hot pepper, and sockeye for the salmon.”

There are also words that we use in English language that still maintain their original Native meanings.  

“This is true of words like moccasin, papoose, sachem for a chief, squaw, wampum, totem, and tomahawk."

In this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with O’Conner about Native American words that English has inherited or co-opted.