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Many Native American Indian tribes use the word for "people" as the meaning of their nation.
Often Indian groups come to be known by a foreign term, such as the English names Dogrib and Yellowknife for Athabascan tribes in the Northwest or the naming of most Coastal California languages for the nearest Spanish mission (Luiseno was the Uto-Aztecan language spoken around Mission San Luis Rey, for example, and the Chumash language Obispeno was named for Mission San Luis Obispo).
Names for Native American Indian languages can be confusing.
Some names are chosen politically rather than linguistically: for instance, Creek and Seminole are mutually intelligible Muskogean languages but are traditionally treated as separate because the tribes who use them are different.
Some other designations, occasionally derogatory, originated with other Indians--the name Comanche, for example, is from Southern Paiute kimantsi, "stranger." Both languages are Uto-Aztecan.
In some cases the same name has been used for two or more distinct languages.
The great diversity of Indian languages, however, has thus far prevented proof of common origin, and most Americanists favor more conservative classifications of the languages into a number of distinct groups.
Only a few Native American Indian languages have a written history; therefore, comparative study must be based upon quite recent sources.
Linguistic diversity is greatest in South America, where many languages spoken in remote jungle and mountain regions remain unrecorded and unclassified.Broader classifications of the more than 80 South American language families into a smaller number of macrophyla have been proposed by Joseph Greenberg, Morris Swadesh, Cestmir Loukotka, and others.Because these South American stocks have not as yet been fully documented with lists of cognate sets, they are not accepted by all specialists.Related families can be classified in turn into larger groups called phyla (singular, phylum) or stocks, or into even broader groupings known as macrophyla or superstocks.On the basis of the Luiseno, Papago, and Aztec words cited above, linguists have proposed the reconstruction of initial p sound in the words for "water" and "road" in the Proto-Uto-Aztecan ancestor of the three languages in question.