Mainstream sources trace the origin of the name Canada to the word ‘kanata’, a Native American word used by the First Nations, meaning ‘settlement’, ‘village’, or ‘land’. ‘First Nations’ comprise of a group of Native American tribes that have been inhabiting the North American continent since antiquity).

Two theories have been put forth. It is said that either the word ‘Canada’ stems from the Mohawk word ‘kanata’ or from the Iroquoian word ‘canada’. The two words hold the same meaning in both the languages – ‘hut’, ‘village’ or ‘settlement’.

The question that is being dealt with here is whether there is any link between the Sanskrit language and Native American languages? In 1909, a lady by the name of Mrs. Helen Troy, was initiated into the Onondaga Native American tribe. Mrs. Troy and her mentor, Mrs. Isaac Thomas – the daughter of a Mohawk chief, had “delved deeply into the fascinating mythology of the Indians, of which comparatively little is known.” Troy and Thomas were both reportedly working on “a dictionary of the languages of the Six (Iroquious) Nations.” Their compilation of Onondaga and Mohawk words was said to total 30,000. On completion of the manuscript, Mrs. Troy made this observation, “There exists no doubt that the mythology of the Iroquois antedates that of the Greeks and Romans, and in fact all other peoples just as their language does that of the Hebrews and all others.” She further claimed “that Onondaga, the mother of all the languages, mothered also Sanskrit.” She had indeed found Sanskrit and Onondago languages to be closely linked. 

Here is a look at the word ‘kanata’ from which the name ‘Canada’ is said to be derived. The Onondogan word ‘kanata’ may be traced to two Sanskrit words – ‘kanta’ and ‘anta’. ‘Kanta’ (कान्त) has two meanings -: 1) it means ‘a certain type of a house’, 2) the other more common meaning of the word is ‘a settlement’, a ‘boundary’ or the ‘outskirt’ of a town or village.Then there is the second word ‘anta’ (अन्त) which means  both ‘outskirt of a village’ and ‘a settlement’. 

‘Kanta’ (कान्तmeans a ‘village’ or
a ‘settlement’ in Sanskrit.
Photo: aboutnativeamericans.blogspot.in

A related word of ‘anta’ is ‘anantaga’ (अनन्तग) which means ‘moving indefinitely’ or ‘moving for ever’ and in this context indicates to the ‘movement of a tribe’. Though ‘Anantaga’ sounds a lot like Onanadaga, it most likely is not the root of the word ‘Onandaga’. ‘Onanta’ which means a ‘hill’ in the Onondagan language seems to be much closer to the Sanskrit ‘onantya’ (औन्नत्य) which means ‘elevation’ or ‘height’.

A lot of research has been done on the name ‘Québec’ and it is said it originates from the Algonquin word kébec meaning “where the river narrows”, originally referred to the area around Quebec City where the Saint Lawrence River narrows to a cliff-lined gap. Related words in Sanskrit are ‘kucha’ (कुच्) which means ‘connecting part’ or ‘kantha’ (कण्ठ) which means narrowest part.

Many Native American languages and the words therein that have survived seem to be combination words, much like that we have in Sanskrit. It is therefore sometimes difficult to identify the words within a combination word, and the difficulty also arises from the fact that parts of these languages are not understood today or have taken on a different meaning with time.

However, some parts of a combination word in Onondoagon or Delaware languages can still be identified with the help of Sanskrit. For example: in the Delaware word ‘wuliechtottam’ which literally translates as ‘let’s make good’, the sound ‘tottam’ can be easily deciphered by a Sanskrit speaker – ‘uttam’ (उत्तम) is Sanskrit for ‘good’. 

A curious factor is that many Native American words which have cognates in Sanskrit are cognates of very refined Sanskrit words, unlike words in European languages which are more often than not cognates of simpler Sanskrit words . For example, the Onondogon word for ‘fish’ is ‘nameesha’ – it is a cognate of Sanskrit ‘animisha’ (अनिमिष) which also means ‘fish’. However, the more common word for ‘fish’ in Sanskrit is ‘jhasa’ (झष) or ‘matsya’ (मत्स्य) of which the PIE ‘peisk’ or Latin ‘piscis’ are cognates -from where the English ‘fish’ is derived. 

1. Hawkin’s picture of Quebec: With Historical Recollection By Alfred Hawkins
2. Vedabase Dictionary
3. Zeisberger’s Indian Dictionary
4. Sanskrit Dictionary


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