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!


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

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.

Let's take a look at some of the words we use 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! Let's look at some other words and concepts that we borrowed from native tribes.


Sign Language

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

The Plains tribes invented a way of communicating with each other using hand signals in order 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.

Comparing American Sign Language & Crow Sign Language (PISL) from Seek the World:


Place Names

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

That's right, 27! Let's take a look at the names and their meanings:

Of course, there are many cities, towns, lakes, rivers, and other places with 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 on to the Got It? section, where you'll sort out the native-influenced state names and make your own list of native words!

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