A Key Into the Language of America

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Title page of the book

A Key into the Language of America (also known as A help to the Language of the Natives in that part of America called New England) is a book written by Roger Williams in 1643 describing the Native American languages (largely Narragansett, an Algonquian language) in New England in the 17th century.[1] The book is the first study of an Amerindian language in English.


The author, Roger Williams, was a Puritan who was banished from Massachusetts and founded Rhode Island. He believed that the king had no right to grant title to Native American lands without their permission. Williams interacted extensively with the Narragansett and Wampanoag tribes as a missionary, friend, and trader. Williams extolled many parts of Indian culture as superior to European culture, and he wrote several complimentary poems within the book. Presumably, Williams also published the book to rebut Massachusetts' distorted claims about the first Native American conversions to Christianity (particularly that of Wequash Cooke, a Pequot in Connecticut) and to thereby halt Massachusetts' moral claims to Rhode Island's territory.[2] Williams' friend Gregory Dexter printed the book in London, England, and the publication brought Williams much public attention.[3]

Notable words[edit]

The book helped to popularize and introduce numerous Native American loan words into the English lexicon,[4] including:


  1. ^ Williams, Roger (1827). A key into the language of America. Providence: John Miller. p. 110. Retrieved 2008-12-11.  Reprint of a book first published in 1643.
  2. ^ "The Ambivalent Uses of Roger Williams's "A Key into the Language of America"," by J. Patrick Cesarini, Early American Literature Vol. 38, No. 3, (© 2003 University of North Carolina Press), pp. 469-494 (accessed July 9, 2009 on JSTOR)
  3. ^ O'Brien, Francis; Jennings, Julianne (2001). Introduction to the Narragansett Language: A Study of Roger Williams' A Key Into the Language of America. Aquidneck Indian Council. 
  4. ^ a b c Cutler, Charles L. (2000). O Brave New Words: Native American Loanwords in Current English. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 39–42. ISBN 978-0-8061-3246-4. 
  5. ^ Science, Volume 18, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Nov. 6, 1891, (Moses King, 1891) pg. 261 books.google.com
  6. ^ John Pickering, A vocabulary or collection of words and phrases which have been supposed to be peculiar to the United States of America, "Squaw" (Pub. by Cummings and Hilliard, No. 1 Cornhill, 1816) pg. 180 books.google.com
  7. ^ Allan A. Metcalf, The world in so many words: a country-by-country tour of words that have shaped our language (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999)[1]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]