Thursday, September 11, 2014

American Indian word for Vegetarian

Q: Hello, could you please settle a bet by telling me the true meaning of the American Indian word for "vegetarian" in any dialect. Thanks.

AI'm sorry, but we don't know of any Native American language which has a native word for "vegetarian." To the best of my knowledge there was no indigenous tribe in the Americas which practiced true vegetarianism (although there are many with heavily plant-based traditional diets.) We have one Native American volunteer in our organization who is personally a vegetarian and the explanation she gives in her language literally is "does not eat meat."

The idea that there is some Native American tribe out there which embraces vegetarianism probably comes from one of two sources:

1) A common confusion about "Indian religion" or about "American Indians" versus "Indian Americans." Many Hindu, Jainist, or other people from the country of India do indeed practice vegetarianism, and the ambiguous name "Indian" has caused many mistakes over the years.

2) A story about a fictional tribe of Native Americans who are vegetarians and whose tribal name, which was given to them by an adjacent tribe, means "lousy hunters." This is a joke, not a true story.

Hope that helps, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
American Indian food
American Indian words  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Q: Hello, I am looking for the correct spelling and pronunciation of
the word butterfly. I see it most commonly spelled Aponi.
One website said it is a variant of the Blackfoot word
Apaniwa but that it is often shortened to just Apani. I have
seen it spelled: Aponi, Apani, Apponi, Appani, Aponni, Apanni,
Aponii, Apanii

Which of these, if any, are correct? If none of them are,
what is? I wish to be accurate and I know the internet is
not reliable. Thank You.

AThanks for writing. The Blackfoot language was traditionally unwritten, so the spellings of Blackfoot words in English sometimes vary a lot, as you've seen. For the same reason there really is no "right" spelling. However, in the modern Blackfoot orthography (spelling system) which is most commonly used, this word is spelled Apaniiwa or just Apanii. ("-wa" is a common animate suffix in Blackfoot and is not always pronounced by all speakers of the language, so the word is sometimes pronounced uh-pah-nee-wuh and other times uh-pah-nee.)

Hope that helps, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

Further reading:
Blackfoot language
Blackfoot tribe
Native American names