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The settlement of the two American continents and the establishment of a separate identity as American colonists offered many opportunities for the creation of a unique American version of English. This began earliest in the adoptation of loanwords from indigenous peoples, and current English owes a linguistic debt to the native tongues of the area. Often, English speakers would adopt indigenous words for unfamiliar wildlife and botany in the Americas. Here are some Amerindian and West Indies words we have taken into current usage:

  • chipmunk
  • moose
  • raccoon
  • skunk
  • caribou
  • opposum
  • terrapin
  • hickory
  • petunia (from South American indigenous tribes)
  • quinine (from Incan, via Spanish)
  • coyote (from Aztec, via Spanish)
  • tomato (from Aztec, via Spanish)
  • alpaca (from Incan, via Spanish)
  • condor (from Incan, via Spanish)
  • puma (from Incan, via Spanish)
  • jaguar (from Brazilian, via Spanish)

Other borrowings came from technologies and cultural artifacts new to the Europeans:

  • moccasin
  • toboggan
  • tomahawk
  • totem
  • wigwam
  • canoe (West Indies)
  • hammock (West Indies)
  • poncho (from South American indigenous tribes via Spanish)

Other borrowings came from foodstuffs:

  • hominy
  • chili (from Aztec via Spanish)
  • chocolate (from Aztec via Spanish)
  • barbeque (West Indies)
  • maize (West Indies via Spanish)
  • potato (West Indies)
  • jerky (from Incan via Spanish)
  • succotash
  • pone (i.e., corn bread)
  • cayenne (from South American indigenous tribes)
  • tapioca (from South American indigenous tribes)

A miscellany of other borrowings include these words:

  • squaw
  • papoose
  • totem
  • hurricane



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Copyright Dr. L. Kip Wheeler 1998-2018. Permission is granted for non-profit, educational, and student reproduction. Last updated April 24, 2018. Contact: kwheeler@cn.edu Please e-mail corrections, suggestions, or comments to help me improve this site. Click here for credits, thanks, and additional copyright information.