Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Wondrous Words: Native American Words from My Recent Reading

I'm a person who is wild about languages. I learned English first, but later I've learned a lot of Spanish, a good bit of French, and a little Italian.

I've even learned a tiny bit of Japanese.

But I have never run across any words from languages spoken by Native Americans, the first languages spoken on my continent...

Or I hadn't until I read two books this week about Native Americans, one fiction and one nonfiction. Don't let the title put you off, but Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask is a fabulous nonfiction book (written by a Native American who asserts that it is perfectly fine to call Native Americans Indians) that poses and answers hundreds of good questions about Native Americans. The Firekeeper's Daughter is the story of a Native American who is asked to work as an undercover agent to help law enforcement stop a drug-running group on a reservation. 

Both of these books were filled with Ojibwe words. Ojibwe is, of course, but one language of many spoken by Native Americans. As the author writes in Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask: "How many tribal languages are spoken in the Americas? There were around 2,300 tribal languages spoken in North and South America before sustained contact with Europeans (500 in what’s now the United States and Canada and 300 in Mexico, with the remaining 1,500 spoken in South America). There are now around 650 total in all of the Americas (with just 150 of those spoken in the United States and Canada), and the number is shrinking quickly...There are 56 Indigenous language families in North America and over three times that number in South America. Sometimes Native American languages spoken by groups that are next to each other (like Ojibwe and Dakota) are as different as Chinese and English."

Here are some of the words I took away from these two books.

Minobimaadiziwin, perhaps?

minobimaadiziwin: the good way of life—attained through love, humility, respect, honesty, bravery, wisdom, and truth.

wiijiindiwina word for when you no longer walk alone on your path but are together for the journey on this earth. 

manaadendamowin: to act without harm.

nibwaakaawin: to be wise by living with an abundance of sight.

debwewin: to know truth.

Aren't these beautiful words? These are words I think we need in our lives today.

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where you can share new words that you’ve encountered, or spotlight words you love.  Feel free to get creative! It was first created by Kathy over at Bermuda Onion and is now hosted at Elza Reads. 


  1. They are beautiful words! Both books sound good, and I think I'll try Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians first as Native American characters and culture have kept coming up in my book selections recently.

  2. I thought the tribes had different languages

  3. Lovely words indeed, but I did get in a bit of muddle trying to pronounce them!

  4. I occasionally encounter Ojibwe words in some of the books by Native American writers that I read, although I don't recall having encountered the ones you mention. I grew up in Northeast Mississippi and very many of the place names there are Chickasaw or Choctaw words.

  5. I have both of these books on my TBR list. November will be a perfect time to pick at least one of them up. Thanks for sharing these words.

  6. I'd love to hear those words pronounced. They look quite challenging for my English-language lips and tongue. My background is in Linguistics, so I'm always fascinating by anything to do with languages and culture. Thanks for introducing us to this book here today.

  7. probably good books :) Love that buttefly!

  8. All of them end with win. That's a good outcome to have.

    My latest post:

  9. Interesting. The white invadors did everything to erase the "Indian" languages. We had a bit of that in Germany where the gothic writing was in use. After the war the occupants couldn't read gothic and forced the population to write the latin letters. I had one year of gothic writing then it was banned from the schools. For the elderly people it was very difficult to change and my grandma always put some gothic letters in her texts.

  10. Gorgeous words. But spelling must have been very hard to learn for kids!

  11. That's an interesting look at some ideas along with words. Your commenter Gattina seems to have forgotten why Germany had "occupiers." Her comparison, making Germans the victims, is quite offensive.

    best... mae at

  12. Interesting. That's such a pretty butterfly picture.

  13. Interesting words--they say so much. Great post, Deb.

  14. Nice butterfly. Great words. Hope you enjoy your week and enjoy everything your are doing.

  15. The words you have chosen to share here are beautiful! I think you would really love the author I am currently reading, Linda Lagarde Grover.


I love to hear what you think.