Fox language

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Native toUnited States, Mexico
RegionCentral Oklahoma, Northeastern Kansas, Iowa, and Coahuila
Ethnicity760 Meskwaki and Sauk (2000 census),[1] 840 Kickapoo in the US (2000 census)[citation needed] and 423 Mexican Kickapoo (2010 census)[2]
Native speakers
727 Sauk and Fox, and 1,141 Kickapoo in the US (6 monolinguals) (2009-2013)[3]
420 in Mexico (2010)[4]
Great Lakes Algonquian syllabics
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
sac – Fox and Sauk
kic – Kickapoo
qes Mascouten
Oklahoma Indian Languages.png
Map showing the distribution of Oklahoma Indian Languages
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Fox (known by a variety of different names, including Mesquakie (Meskwaki), Mesquakie-Sauk, Mesquakie-Sauk-Kickapoo, Sauk-Fox, and Sac and Fox) is an Algonquian language, spoken by a thousand Meskwaki, Sauk, and Kickapoo in various locations in the Midwestern United States and in northern Mexico.


There are three distinct dialects:

  • Fox or Meskwakiatoweni ("Meskwaki Language")[5] (also called Mesquakie, Meskwaki),
  • Sauk or Thâkiwâtowêweni ("Thâkîwaki Language") (also rendered Sac), and
  • Kickapoo (also rendered Kikapú; considered by some to be a closely related but distinct language[6]).

If Kickapoo is counted as a separate language rather than a dialect of Fox, then there are only between 200 and 300 speakers of Fox. Extinct Mascouten was most likely another dialect, though it is scarcely attested.


Most speakers are elderly or middle-aged, making it highly endangered. The tribal school at the Meskwaki Settlement in Iowa incorporates bilingual education for children.[7][8] In 2011, the Meskwaki Sewing Project was created, to bring mothers and girls together "with elder women in the Meskwaki Senior Center sewing traditional clothing and learning the Meskwaki language."[9]

Prominent scholars doing research on the language include Ives Goddard[10] and Lucy Thomason of the Smithsonian Institution and Amy Dahlstrom of the University of Chicago.


The consonant phonemes of Fox are given in the table below. There are eight vowel phonemes: short /a, e, i, o/ and long /aː, eː, iː, oː/.

Labial Alveolar Postalveolar
or palatal
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Stop plain p t k
preaspirated ʰp ʰt ʰtʃ ʰk
Fricative s ʃ h
Approximant j w

Other than those involving a consonant plus /j/ or /w/, the only possible consonant cluster is /ʃk/.

Until the early 1900s, Fox was a phonologically very conservative language and preserved many features of Proto-Algonquian; records from the decades immediately following 1900 are particularly useful to Algonquianists for this reason. By the 1960s, however, an extensive progression of phonological changes had taken place, resulting in the loss of intervocalic semivowels and certain other features.[11]



Mesquakie numerals are as follows:[12]

nekoti one
nîshwi two
nethwi three
nyêwi four
nyânanwi five
nekotwâshika six
nôhika seven
neshwâshika eight
shâka nine
metâthwi ten

Writing systems[edit]

Letter in the Kickapoo language written in Coahuila, Mexico in the 1950s

Besides the Latin script, Fox has been written in two indigenous scripts.[13]

"Fox I" is an abugida based on the cursive French alphabet (see Great Lakes Algonquian syllabics). Consonants written by themselves are understood to be syllables containing the vowel /a/. They are l /pa/, t /ta/, s /sa/, d /ša/, tt /ča/, /ya/,[14] w /wa/, m /ma/, n /na/, K /ka/, 8 /kwa/. The characters d for /š/, tt for /č/, and 8 for /kw/ derive from French ch, tch, and q(u).

Vowels are written by adding dots to the consonant: l. /pe/, /pi/, l.. /po/.

"Fox II" is a consonant–vowel alphabet, though according to Coulmas /p/ is not written (as /a/ is not written in Fox I). Vowels (or /p/ plus a vowel) are written as cross-hatched tally marks, approximately × /a/, II /e/,[15] III /i/,[16] IIII /o/.[17]

Consonants are (approximately) + /t/, C /s/, Q /š/, ı /č/, ñ /v/,[18] ═ /y/, ƧƧ /w/, /m/, # /n/, C′ /k/, ƧC /kw/.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Meskwaki at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  2. ^ Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. (2015). Lenguas indígenas en México y hablantes (de 3 años y más) al 2015.
  3. ^ "Detailed Languages Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2017-11-14.
  4. ^ Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas (2012) México: Lenguas indígenas nacionales
  5. ^ Meskwaki Settlement School - Meskwakiatoweni (Meskwaki Language)
  6. ^ Moctezuma Zamarrón, José Luis 2011, El sistema fonológico del Kickapoo de Coahuila analizado desde las metodologías distribucional y funcional. México: INALI
  7. ^ Meskwaki Settlement School Website, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-16. Retrieved 2009-02-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Meskwaki Education Network Initiative (MENWI)". American Indian Studies Research Institute at Indiana University. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  9. ^ Scandale, Maria (2011-02-21). "Meskwaki Tribe Receives Grant for Sewing and Language Project -". Indian Country Today Media Network, Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  10. ^ Nelson, John (2008-07-27). "Talking the talk". Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  11. ^ Language change in the speech community: change by loss of a stylistic register, in Historical Linguistics: Toward a Twenty-First Century Reintegration (ISBN 0521583322), page 57
  12. ^ Sauk Counting Worksheet (Sac and Fox). Retrieved 17 March 2019 from
  13. ^ Coulmas
  14. ^ "の" used here for /ya/ is a graphic approximation; it's a small clockwise loop with a long tail.
  15. ^ If the cross-hatching does not show up (perhaps because this line has been copied without formatting), this is like a small capital H with the cross-bar sticking out on either side.
  16. ^ Resembles Chinese 卅 but lower and wider.
  17. ^ Resembles Chinese 卌, but lower and wider.
  18. ^ Actually, like one script n stacked on another.
  • Bloomfield, Leonard. 1925. "Notes on the Fox Language." International Journal of American Linguistics 3:219-32.

External links[edit]