Assiniboine language

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Assiniboin, Hohe, Nakota, Nakoda, Nakon, Nakona, or Stoney
Native toCanada, United States
RegionSaskatchewan, Canada Montana, United States
Ethnicity3,500 Assiniboine (2007)[1]
Native speakers
150, 4.3% of ethnic population (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3asb
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Assiniboine language (also known as Assiniboin, Hohe, or Nakota, Nakoda, Nakon or Nakona,[3] or Stoney) is a Nakotan Siouan language of the Northern Plains. The name Assiniboine comes from the term Asiniibwaan, from Ojibwe, meaning "Stone Siouans". The reason they were called this was that Assiniboine people used heated stone to boil their food. In Canada, Assiniboine people are known as Stoney Indians, while they called themselves Nakota or Nakoda, meaning "allies".


The Dakotan group of the Siouan family has five main divisions: Dakota (Santee-Sisseton), Dakota (Yankton-Yanktonai), Lakota (Teton), Nakoda (Assiniboine) and Nakoda (Stoney).[4][5] Along with the closely related Stoney, Assiniboine is an n variety of the Dakotan languages, meaning its autonym is pronounced with an initial n (thus: Nakʰóta as opposed to Dakʰóta or Lakʰóta, and Nakʰóda or Nakʰóna as opposed to Dakʰód or Lakʰól). The Assiniboine language is also closely related to the Sioux language and to the Stoney language (likewise called Nakoda or Nakota), although they are hardly mutually intelligible.

The Siouan Family of Languages[6]

Official status[edit]

The Assiniboine language is not a government-recognized official language of any state or region where Assiniboine people live. There are two Reservations located in Montana, but the official language of the state is English.[7] An estimate of native speakers ranges from less than 50,[6] to about 100,[8] to about 150 Assiniboine people, most of them elderly.[9]

Related languages[edit]

Sioux, Assiniboine, and Stoney are closely related languages of the Dakota family. Many linguists consider Assiniboine and Stoney to be dialects. However, they are mutually unintelligible. Parks and DeMallie report that they are not variant forms of a single dialect, but that Assiniboine is closer to the Sioux dialects than it is to Stoney. The exact number of interrelationships among the subdialects and dialects comprising this continuum is unknown.[4]

Santee-Sisseton Dakhóta Sioux
Yankton-Yanktonai Dakȟóta Sioux
Teton Lakȟóta Sioux
Assiniboine Nakhóta Assiniboine
Stoney Nakhóda Stoney

Geographic distribution[edit]

The languages of the Dakotan group are spoken in the following regions:

Alexis Stoney
Big Horn Stoney
Eden Valley Stoney
Paul Stoney
Stoney (Morley) Stoney
Carry the Kettle Assiniboine
Moose Woods (White Cap) Sioux (Sisseton, Yanktonai)
Mosquito-Grizzly Bear's Head Assiniboine
Sioux Wahpeton (Round Plain) Sioux (Sisseton, Yanktonai)
Standing Buffalo Sioux (Sisseton, Yanktonai)
Whitebear Assiniboine
Wood Mountain Sioux (Teton)
Birdtail Sioux (Santee)
Oak Lake Sioux (Santee)
Sioux Valley Sioux (Santee)
Sioux Village-Long Plain Sioux (Santee)
North Dakota
Devil's Lake Sioux (Sisseton, Yanktonai)
Standing Rock Sioux (Yanktonai)
South Dakota
Cheyenne River Sioux (Teton)
Crow Creek Sioux (Yanktonai)
Flandreau Sioux (Santee)
Lower Brule Sioux (Teton)
Pine Ridge Sioux (Teton)
Rosebud Sioux (Teton)
Sisseton Sioux (Teton)
Standing Rock Sioux (Teton)
Yankton Sioux (Yankton)
Santee Sioux (Santee)
Lower Sioux Sioux (Santee)
Prairie Island Sioux (Santee)
Prior Lake Sioux (Santee)
Upper Sioux Sioux (Santee)
Fort Belknap Assiniboine
Fort Peck Assiniboine, Sioux (Yanktonai, Sisseton)

D-N-L Classification System[edit]

The Assiniboine language(Nakota), the Dakota language and the Lakota language are usually classified into a group with D-N-L subgroup classification. As suggested by the name of the system, the variation in pronunciations of certain words follows the D-N-L rule. A typical example is given below:[4]

English meaning greasy
Santee-Sisseton sda
Yankton-Yanktonai sda
Teton sla
Assiniboine sna
Stoney sna

Santee-Sisseton and Yankton-Yanktonai are languages that belong to the Dakotan group and Teton is a language in the Lakotan group. The table above illustrates a typical variation amongst these three languages. Just as the name of these three tribes suggest, the Dakota language, the Lakota language and the Nakota (Assiniboine) language have respective inclinations towards /d/, /l/, and /n/ in some substitutable consonants.

Arguments against the Classification System[edit]

Some scholars argue that the D-N-L classification system may not be totally accurate due to the non-rigidness of the substitution form.[4] Siouan Indians live on an expansive continuum such that the distinction between different languages does not manifest in a rigid, clear-cutting criterion. Historically, linguists have debated on Yankton-Yanktonai languages and their proper positions into the D-N-L classification system, but the coexistence of /d/ and /n/ phonemes made such classification doubtful. This example of lexical difference between the languages of the Siouan group illustrates another possible distinction besides the D-N-L variations.[4]

English meaning horse
Santee-Sisseton súkataka
Yankton-Yanktonai sukawaka
Teton sukawaká
Assiniboine súkataka
Stoney suwatága


The phonemic inventory has 27 consonants, which includes aspirated, plain, and ejective stops. In addition to this, it has five oral vowels and three nasal vowels. It is a structure-preserving language. Assiniboine has no definite or indefinite articles, no nominal case system, and no verbal tense marking. Clauses unmarked are "realized," while clauses marked as "potential" by means of verbal enclitic, which is successful in producing a future/non-future distinction. The verbal system is split into active and stative (split-intransitive). The active object pronominal affixes coincide with the stative verbs of the subject pronominal affixes.[8]

Labial Alveolar Palatal or
Velar Glottal
Stop Aspirated tʃʰ
Ejective tʃʼ ʔ
Plain p t k
Fricative Voiceless s ʃ x
Ejective ʃʼ
Voiced z ʒ ɣ
Nasal m n
Approximant w j h[cn 1]

The affricates and stops of Assiniboine are often described as voiced rather than voiceless, due to intervocalic voicing rules which result in surface voiced forms. [8]

Oral vowels[edit]

Character we use: IPA Symbol Assiniboine Pronunciation
i i i as in police
u u oo as in book
e e e as in a in mate
o o o as in vote
a a a as in father

Nasal vowels[edit]

Character we use: IPA Symbol Also used as
ą ã an, an, aη, aN
į ĩ in, in, iη, iN
ų ũ un, on, un, uη, uN

There are five oral vowels in Assiniboine, /i u e o a/, and three nasal vowels, /ĩ ũ ã/.[8]

Words that follow above rules

  • /bahá/ hill
  • /pahá/ hair
  • /čupó/ fog
  • /ptą/ otter
  • /pka/ heavy
  • /psi/ rice
  • /pša/to sneeze


Syllable structure[edit]

Syllables are primarily of CV structure. While codas are possible, they are restricted and uncommon, often becoming restructured as the onset of the following syllable. Onsets may include up to two consonants but codas must be simplex. Possible onset clusters are given in the following table:[11]

p t k s š c m n
First p - ptą


- psį






- -
t - - tkA


- - - - -
k kpamni




- ksuyA










s spayA






- - scu






š špą






- - šcųka






x xpą




- - - xcina





have a sore

m - - - - - - - mnA




Morphological processes for Assiniboine language are primarily agglutinating.[8] In addition, the character of morpheme alternation in Assiniboine may be classified in terms of phoneme loss, phoneme shift, contraction, nasalization loss, syllable loss, syntactic contraction, and syntactic alternation. [12]


Examples from Levin (1964).[12] Contraction->When two syllabics come into contact they contract as in:

/a/+/i/ > /i/
Ex1) ápa "morning" + íyapi "they go" > ápayapi "they stayed awake until morning"
Ex2) nakóta "ally" + iápi "they speak" > nakótiapi "a little Indian (to speak)"
/i/+/i/ > /i/ Ex) ohómini "circle" + íyapi "they go" > (a) óhominiyapi "they circle"
/a/+/u/ > /u/ Ex) wicá "them" + úkkupica "we give" > wicúkkupica "we give them"

Phoneme loss: Syllabics

when /a/ is in medial position between /k/ and /h/:

/a/> /Φ/ Ex) waníyaka "to see you" + hi "he comes" > waníyakshi "he came to see you"

when /o/ is in the medial position between /i/ and/k/:

/o/>/Φ/ Ex) ukíce "we ourselves" + okáxniga "to understand" > ukícaxnigapi "we understand each other"

when /e/ is in medial position between /p/ and /k/:

/e/>/Φ/ Ex) napé "hand" + kóza "to wave" > napkóza "to beckon"

Phoneme loss: semi syllabics

/y/ > /Φ/ when:
/y/ follows /n/ Ex)mn "I" + yuhá "to have" > mnuhá "I have"

Phoneme loss:non syllanics

/k/ is in medial position between/u/ and/k/ or /u/ and /h/ or /u/ and /n/ or /u/ and /y/

/k/ > /Φ/
Ex1) uk "we" + kágapi "they make" > ukágapi "we make"
Ex2) uk "we" + ya "you" + naxú "to hear" > nauyaxúpi "you hear us"

Phoneme shift:syllanics

/i/ > /a/ before /n/ Ex) awáci "to think" + ni "you" > awácani "you think"

Phoneme shift: non syllabics

When /a/--/e/ is in medial position between/g/ and /š/

/g/ > /x/ Ex) okáxnige "to understand" + -ši(negative suffix) > owákaxnixeši "I don't understand"

When /a/--/e/ is in medial position between/g/ and /c/

/g/ > /x/ Ex) okáxniga "to understand" + -ce(iterative suffix) + wa "I" > owákaxnixace "I understand"

When /g/ is in medial position between /a/ and /y/

/g/ > /x/ Ex) icáge "to grow" + -ya(causative suffix) > icáxya "to cause to grow"

Nasalization loss exists as follows:

/ą/ > /a/ Ex) mázą "iron" + ska "white" > mazáska "money"

Syllable loss occurs as follows:

/ye/ > /Φ/ Ex) iyópe... ye "to pay" so, iyópe + wa + ye > iyópewa "I pay"

Syntactic contraction: personal inflectional morphemes

wa "I" + ni "you" > ci ""; Ex) kku "to give" + ci "I... you" + -kta(future suffix) > cicúta "I will give you"

Syntactic contraction with verbal themes occurs as follows

/i/ + /k/ - /kk/ > c; Ex) i "with something" + kahíta "to sweep" > icáhita "broom"

Syntactic alternation

/a/ > /e/ in verbal theme Ex) wamnáka "I saw" > wamnáke "I saw"
/a/>/e/ in nomial theme Ex) skúya "sweet" > skúye "sweet"
/a/>/e/ with the future suffix; wicákkupikta "they will be given" > wicákkupikte "they will be given"


Assiniboine is SOV word order. Elements order might be different from the canonical SOV, this is not free nor scrambling word order, but instead, the result of topicalization or other movements. Out of context sentences are always interpreted as SOV order even if it sounds odd. For example, 'the man bit the dog', unless an element is moved into a focus position. Focused element sentences are highly marked, and practically, a strange semantic reading is preferred over an interpretation of OSV. For example, the following sentence was interpreted as 'A banana ate the boy' by a native speaker, and to get the OSV reading out of it the object must be stressed, for example if the sentence was given as a reply to the question 'What did the boy eat?'.[13]











škóškobena wãži hokšína že yúda.

banana a boy DET ate

'A banana ate the boy.' (or 'The boy ate a banana.')


  1. wąži - one
  2. nųba - two
  3. yamni - three
  4. tópa - four
  5. záptą - five
  6. šákpe - six
  7. iyušna - seven
  8. šaknoğą - eight
  9. napcuwąga - nine
  10. wikcémna - ten
  11. saba - black
  12. ska - white
  13. ša - red
  14. to - blue

More words can be found in the Dakota-English Dictionary[14]

Writing system[edit]

Class 1

wa- 1st person+singular

ya- 2nd person

Class 2

ma- 1st person+singular

ni- 2nd person

For both class 1 and 2

ũ- 1st person-singular

o- 3rd person

wica- 3rd person

ci- 1st person + singular subject/ 2nd person object[6]


  1. ^ Cumberland (2005) includes /h/ as a glide rather than fricative due to its frequent place assimilation to the following vowel.


  1. ^ a b Assiniboine at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Assiniboine". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ For the usage of the term "nakona" by Fort Peck's Assiniboine, cf. Fort Peck Community College and NHE
  4. ^ a b c d e Parks & DeMallie 1992.
  5. ^ Miller, D., Smith, D., McGeshick, J. R., Shanley, J., & Shields, C. (2008). The History of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana, 1800-2000. Montana: Montana Historical Society Press.
  6. ^ a b c West 2003.
  7. ^ Services, Dale Matheson, Montana Legislative. "1-1-510. English as official and primary language of state and local governments". Retrieved 2017-09-26.
  8. ^ a b c d e Cumberland 2005.
  9. ^ Ethnologue (cf. above).
  10. ^ Hollow, R. C.. (1970). A Note on Assiniboine Phonology. International Journal of American Linguistics, 36(4), 296–298. Retrieved from
  11. ^ Reproduced from Cumberland (2005).
  12. ^ a b Levin, N. B. (1964).The Assiniboine language. Bloomington: Indiana University.
  13. ^ West 2003, pp. 48–49.
  14. ^ Riggs, S. R. (1892). A Dakota-English Dictionary. Washington: US Government Printing


  • Cumberland, Linda (2005). A grammar of Assiniboine: a Siouan language of the Northern Plains (Ph.D. Thesis). Indiana University.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Parks, Douglas R.; DeMallie, Raymond J. (1992). "Sioux, Assiniboine, and Stoney Dialects: A Classification". Anthropological Linguistics. 34 (1/4): 233–255. JSTOR 30028376.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • West, Shannon L. (2003). Subjects and Objects in Assiniboine Nakoda (Doctoral dissertation). University of Victoria. hdl:1828/371.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[edit]