A list of SAT vocabulary words from www.FreeVocabulary.com gives the following definition for the word aboriginal:

aboriginal adj. Primitive; unsophisticated.

I know that aboriginal means a person or group of people who have been living beforehand or the first people to live in a certain region. How does it mean "unsophisticated"?

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    Where did you find this definition? I'd agree that the meaning doesn't make sense, but I'd also argue that it's not standard—simply a racist correlation. But let us know where you came across this and we can work on it with you
    – Unrelated
    Aug 5, 2018 at 6:16
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    Pertaining to aborigines; hence, primitive; simple; unsophisticated: as, aboriginal customs; aboriginal apathy. From The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 5, 2018 at 6:24
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    From freevocaulary.com: "The worst test I have ever seen . . ." The site is one that's critical of the test and its vocabulary. Aug 5, 2018 at 6:32
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    @MuhammadAhmedNasir, I would reccommend searching terms like 'aboriginal' and 'unsophisticated' through standardized dictionaries, like Cambridge, Oxford English Living Dictionaries, Merriam Webster, etc. Also, I side against some fake PDF files that spread misinformation on their own.
    – Ahmed
    Aug 5, 2018 at 6:35
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    @MuhammadAhmedNasir The author of the website effectively rants against all SAT tests from 2016 on—disparaging Common Core. (He suggests that the 2015-and-earlier tests are fine.) The actual information provided about the definitions may be correct, and it seems that they are definitions from a pre-2016 test, but I'm not sure if I'd point to that website as an objective or authoritarian source given what seems to be its high level of subjectivity. Aug 5, 2018 at 7:04

2 Answers 2


aboriginal OED

a. First or earliest as recorded by history; present from the beginning; primitive. Of peoples, plants, and animals: inhabiting or existing in a land from earliest times; strictly native, indigenous.


b. Frequently with initial capital. Of, relating to, or characteristic of the Aborigines of Australia or their languages.


b. Also with capital initial. Inhabiting or occupying a country before the arrival of European colonists and those whom they introduced.

unsophisticated OED

Not sophisticated in habits, manners, or mind; natural, ingenuous, inexperienced. Not tampered with, altered, or falsified; uncorrupted, genuine. Unmixed, unadulterated.

Speaking of aboriginal peoples: unsophisticated only in a sense of comparison to other collections of humans at the time. The Oxford English Dictionary does not use the word, and there is no sense of disparagement in its definitions.

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    Why have you capitalized aboriginal peoples? an aboriginal people or aboriginal peoples, is fine. The Canadians capitalize the word aboriginal,which means First Nation. aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1307460755710/1307460872523
    – Lambie
    Aug 5, 2018 at 13:54
  • @Lambie because of am indeed UNSOPHISTICATED.
    – lbf
    Aug 5, 2018 at 13:57
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    @Lambie For what it's worth, the more commonly used term in Canada is Indigenous. (As in the title of the webpage you linked—and the somewhat authoritarian style guide Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples.) I was slightly surprised to see Aboriginal used in the body of the webpage, but I suppose it's used in some contexts. Aug 5, 2018 at 18:29
  • @JasonBassford I did a translation for a First Nation (French-speaking) art professor. He told me: First Nation, Amerindian, aboriginal (not sure if that is capitalized), indigenous and autochthonous are all good. I base myself on what he told me....:)
    – Lambie
    Aug 9, 2018 at 14:31

The association of terms like “native” and “aboriginal” became associated with unsophisticated and savage because of the prevalent ethnocentrism of the Imperial age (primarily 16th to 18th century European history, however may be considered to extend into 19th to early 20th century European and USA history).

Whether calling them aborigines, natives, or savages; the prevalent rationale was that the cultural, scientific, industrial, legal and social achievements of Continental Europe exemplified the highest achievements of humanity. This engendered a discriminatory attitude to those societies that function without these same advancements.

I believe history shows that the “enlightened” could be judge at least as “savage”, if not more, than any culture they judged; consider the Slave Trade, the Trail of Tear, and the destruction of South American cultures (Maya, Inca, Aztec) by Spanish conquistadors, the subjugation of India, the subjugation of Vietnam, the subdivision of the entire African continent, etc.

However “aboriginal” in its own primary definition is more akin to “native”, rather than the engender “savage”.

Referring to the etymology, the Latin root really implies just the original inhabitants.

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    You might want to reread your post for grammar and punctuation.
    – Lambie
    Aug 5, 2018 at 13:51
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    It's called "the Trail of Tears". And there appears to be a typo in "the prevent rationale"?
    – Phil Sweet
    Aug 5, 2018 at 13:55
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    Although I agree with your eurocentrism point, to say that the Enlightment era could be judged to as savage if not more savage is very troublesome ground to be treading. The fact is that most abolitionist movements came out of Enlightment reasoning. The slave trade was made illegal in the French empire in 1794; in the British empire in 1807; and in 1808 the importation of slaves was made illegal in the US. It's true slavery was either de facto practised or actually returned to being legal, but the whole spirit of the Enlightment was abolitionist.
    – Zebrafish
    Aug 5, 2018 at 18:58
  • As for America continuing the practice for so long, by about 1850 half states were slave states and half were free. The push to abolish slavery at the national level would split the country with disastrous consequences, which it did. 70 years before the Civil War Jefferson predicted that it would be an issue that would divide the country. So when asking yourself why did slavery continue for so long in America, it's well worth considering the sensitive topic of it in regard to secession and costly civil war.
    – Zebrafish
    Aug 5, 2018 at 19:02
  • @Zebrafish 1794 is the very tail end of the 18th century. Hence I said it was primarily in the 16th to 18th century, but had remnants into the early 20th century (India’s independence from British colonial rule in 1947, Vietnam’s independence from French colonial rule in 1945, the independence of numerous African countries from British, French, Dutch, etc.) Aug 5, 2018 at 19:37

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