Emily Martyn

Indigenous Languages and Their Contribution to the Global Lexicon

No-one knows exactly how speech evolved, which were the world’s first languages, or the precise migratory movements that led to the languages of the world today. Yet human languages are not islands. Words have been borrowed from one language to another since the dawn of time. Among these, indigenous languages have contributed a surprising amount of vocabulary to our modern global lexicon. Did you know that words like “chocolate”, “chili”, “avocado” and “tomato” come from Nahuatl? Or that “savanah”, “canoe”, “hurricane”, “iguana”, “papaya” and “potato” come from the Arawak languages of the Caribbean?

Etymology has left us a trail of clues to follow that help us uncover the linguistic legacy left by our ancestors. Come prepared to open your minds (and ears!) to the surprising semantic links that span centuries and continents. Discover what this teaches us about our origins and how this legacy has a daily impact on your life. We will make use of an analysis of translations into 150 languages from the uTalk corpus to uncover hidden linguistic links, as well as tapping into our combined experience of studying and working in international environments.

Ask the speaker a question


  • Emily Martyn says:

    Most of the examples in the presentation were taken from the uTalk app which you can try for free for a month with our special Polyglot Conference Global offer here:

  • Emily Martyn says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone, much appreciated! 🙂

  • says:

    In Portuguese, “canoe” = “canoa”. At least, Brazilian Portuguese 🌻😃

  • Hannah_0996 says:

    Some interesting examples, but remember, the Europeans who came to the Americas were not ‘explorers’ but ‘colonisers’. Perhaps the colonisation and its consequences for these ‘indigenous languages’ could have been discussed with a little more nuance.

  • Dafnes Moneim says:

    I would say colonizors influence, not indigenous influence. Good presentation, I just think it is important to pay attention that the words has also political power and the neutral just enfforce the inequalities that exists. Thank you for the exposition!

  • says:

    This was an enjoyable presentation.

  • Mathis Gilsbach says:

    Super interesting talk! I also like the example of the word for pineapple which is Ananas in most other languages but is Abacaxi in Portuguese. Both Ananas and Abacaxi come from indigenous languages (Tupi and Guarani if I’m not mistaken).

  • Ulogil says:

    Very interesting examples of indigenous influence on the world! Needed this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.