Native American Contributions to Language

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13143

What do Connecticut, chipmunk, canoe, and caribou have in common? They start with a "c", but that's not all. Learn the origin of these words and find out who used the first sign language in the U.S.!


Verbal Communication, World Cultures

Social Studies
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Can you guess how many states in the U.S. have Native American names?

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Native Americans have given many gifts to the world; one of them is the many words from native languages that are now used in American English.

Look at some of the words that came from native languages.

Everyday Language

  • Have you ever eaten beef jerky or enjoyed a barbecue with friends?

You can thank Native Americans for giving us those! Look at other words and concepts borrowed from native tribes.

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Sign Language

Another way that Native Americans have influenced language is through the development of sign language.

The Plains tribes invented a way of communicating with each other using hand signals to help with trade. Although many modern sign language signs are different, some are very similar to the language invented by the Plains Indians.

Watch the silent video below and see if you can spot some similarities.

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Place Names

  • Do you remember how many U.S. states have Indian names?

That's right, 27! Look at those names and their meanings.

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Many cities, towns, lakes, rivers, and other places have Native American names. It would take a very long time to list them all. You'll get a chance to discover some more in the Got It? section.

Wow, you've learned a lot about how Native American words have influenced American English!

Now, move to the Got It? section to sort out the native-influenced state names and make your own list of native words!

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