Native American Words in American Term Paper

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Subject: Communication - Language
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #68100209

Excerpt from Term Paper :

If items from both areas continue to be found throughout the archeological record over an extended time, then it would indicate trade. However, if the archeological record indicates one massive wave of articles from the Roanoke area and then stops, it would be more indicative of a migration.

This approach was not considered in the literature found. However, it would be an excellent tool for supporting or disproving the theories proposed by Torbert. The language of the Lumbee is important in understanding how language exchange flowed in each direction. It tells us much about the early contact between culture and how these cultures began to communicate. Torbert was the only major researcher to have explored the Lumbee language for its ancestral connection. However, this work presents many more questions than it answers. For instance, why did the Lumbee transition to English. Torbert provides pervasive evidence that this transition occurred many years ago. When early settlers first moved to the area, they would have been the minority. It would make sense for the settlers to have adopted Lumbee language, not the other way around. How the transition occurred is one of the key questions that remain unanswered by Torbert's studies. The answer to this question, if it is ever found, may give us clues as to how the process of Native American acculturation began.

Torbert was able to locate early interviews with Lumbee that can give use clues as to the existence of traces of the ancestral language. For instance, a fieldworker in 1934 was conducting an interview with a Native American born in the Pembroke area in the 1860s. The interviewer had to abort the interview because the interviewee was unable to communicate effectively. The researcher noted that the subject "preserves traces of foreign speech" (Torbert, p. 372). This is am important comment because it demonstrates that at that time the ancestral language of the Lumbee was still around. This may suggest that the transition to English occurred more slowly over a longer period of time.

Isolation is required for the preservation of language. Torbert argues that school desegregation in Robeson County has led to a steady decline in the Lumbee language. Torbert's study compared the use of consonant clusters in the Lumbee, Anglo speakers, and African-Americans in Robeson County. This analysis demonstrated that consonant cluster reduction is not an ethno linguistic marker in Robeson County and that differences in prevalence among the Lumbee did not differ significantly from other populations in the area (Torbert, p. 378). Torbert explains that this may be a result of the disappearance of their ancestral language so long ago. The study found that consonant cluster reduction was greatest in the oldest members of the population. Torbert surmises that this may be a result of the transfer of their language in the past (Torbert, p. 383).

Schilling, (2000) focused on / ay / patterning in the Lumbee. Schilling found that the Lumbee in Robeson county can be divided into several dialects among themselves. Schilling also explored the presence of these distinctly Lumbee patterns in whites and African-Americans in the area as well. Schilling found that the Lumbee have managed to preserve some degree of linguistic uniqueness and that they have influenced native speakers from other ethnic groups in the area as well (Schilling, p, 168).

The Lumbee are the largest Native American group east of the Mississippi. The process of selective accommodation has allowed the Lumbee to develop their own unique language, even though their ancestral language was lost many years ago (Wolfram, 1996). Native Americans have been involved in contact with a number of different language groups. They were contact with English speaker, Spanish speakers, French speakers, Africans, German speaker, and many other language groups. The most interesting trait of the Lumbee language is that it demonstrates selectivity in the inclusion of elements from other languages (Wolfram, 1996). Another unique quality of Robeson County is that the three primary ethnic groups that live there choose to remain completely separate from one another. The development of cultural constructs in the area appears to be purposeful, rather than accidental.

What Does this Mean for Native American Words in American English?

The Lumbee and the unique social and cultural environment that they live provide an excellent setting for the study of how languages develop. The strong desire to preserve their cultural identity, although their ancestral language was lost long ago, demonstrates how the adoption of certain language elements can be purposeful, rather than entirely accidental. Several Lumbee words have worked their way into American English. The word kelvinator means refrigerator. The word "tote" means carry. Many Lumbee words are more familiar to those that speak the Southern dialect such as "cooter" for turtle, "younguns" for children, "mash" for push, and the phrase "sorry in the world" for not feeling well. The Lumbee refer to one that is more privileged as a "brick house Indian." This is still a prominent phrase in Southern English. These phrases have been a part of American English for centuries, but are more familiar in the southern U.S..

The purpose of this research is to explore the presence and importance of Native American language in the American English vernacular. We know that many names for flora and fauna have Native American roots. More interesting than the presence of Native American words in the English language, is the question of how they came into popular usage. We discovered that the first mode of entrance was more likely to be functional in nature. However, if the acceptance of new words were truly functional in nature, then the usage of them could be expected to diminish as the use of the new language became more prevalent. We have only touched on the number of words in American language that stem from Native American languages.

The Lumbee demonstrated that the preservation and development of a language can be intentional and a means to preserve cultural identity. Perhaps the preservation of remnants of Native American language is further evidence of this phenomenon. In some cases, the native tribes may have made a conscious effort to remain in control of an area. They may have engaged in an intentional refusal to call a place or animal by the English name. There have been no formal studies that address this issue. However, the case of the Lumbee resistance to assimilation is a key clue that this may have occurred in other areas as well. Many tribes fought fervently to fight assimilation and loss of their cultural identity. The presence of remnants of their language may stand as a testimony to this attempt at preserving their cultural identity.

If one conducts a thorough investigation of Native American words in American English perhaps tens of thousands of examples would be found. The number would be even greater if one began to explore various dialects around the country. Many Native American place names are so familiar that we never stop to consider their origins. Some examples are the Ohio River and the Mississippi River. When one eats a box of popcorn at the movie theater, they never stop to think about the fact that native Americans gave the knowledge of corn to the early settlers. Foods such as pumpkins and tomatoes owe their root to native origins. We take many native contributions for granted in our daily lives, but this does not diminish their influence.

One of the most important findings of this research is that cultural influences go both ways. English eventually replaced most other languages in the U.S. To become the dominant language. The Anglican influence meant the minimization of other languages such as French, German, and Native American tongues. These languages were still spoken in isolated communities, but as Anglican influence spread, many of these language groups had to learn English in order to conduct business. Isolation is necessary for the preservation of language. Contact, even on a limited basis introduces new words and phrases to both languages.

In conclusion, tribal languages are typically spoken only in places where tribal members are isolated. However, it is doubtful if there are any areas left where the tribal language is spoken exclusively. Typically the tribal language exists alongside English. As the number of native speakers diminishes, so does the usage of that language until it is eventually extinguished. This has been the fate of many native languages. The remnants that remain in American English are testimony to their existence. In some cases they are one of the last remaining references to their existence. The study of native American words in the English language gives us a glimpse into many ancient languages that are long forgotten and can give us clues to the cultures of these people as well. The study of Native language remnants is a testimony to the tribes and peoples that once represented the dominant culture in North America.


Cite This Term Paper:

"Native American Words In American" (2006, December 07) Retrieved January 20, 2017, from

"Native American Words In American" 07 December 2006. Web.20 January. 2017. <>

"Native American Words In American", 07 December 2006, Accessed.20 January. 2017,