What language did the Powhatan speak?

A Weroan or Great Lord of Virginia, de Bry engraving

A Weroan or Great Lord of Virginia, de Bry engraving

The Powhatan people spoke a very different language from the English. At the time Columbus arrived in the New World, more than 220 different languages and dialects could be found being spoken throughout the North American Indian tribal populations. The Powhatan people spoke a form of Eastern Algonquian, a family of languages used by various tribes along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Canada, and had no form of written communication. Depending upon their location on the Coastal Plain, the Powhatan groups in Virginia may have spoken a number of varying dialects of Powhatan Algonquian. Variation can be seen in the word lists compiled by some English observers. Some of their words, like moccasin and tomahack (tomahawk), are familiar to us today. Powhatan Algonquian does not survive today as a spoken language, and no one knows precisely what it sounded like.