Mandan language

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Native to United States
Region Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota
Ethnicity Mandan
Native speakers
1  (2009)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mhq
Glottolog mand1446[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Mandan (autonym: nų́ʔetaːre) is an endangered Siouan language of North Dakota in the United States.

Language use and revitalization efforts[edit]

By 2009, there was just one fluent speaker of Mandan, Dr. Edwin Benson (born 1931).[3] Dr. Benson and others are teaching in local school programs to encourage the use of the language.[4]

Mandan is taught at Fort Berthold Community College, along with the Hidatsa and Arikara languages.[3] Linguist Mauricio Mixco of the University of Utah has been involved in fieldwork with remaining speakers since 1993. As of 2007, extensive materials in the Mandan language at the college and at the North Dakota Heritage Center, in Bismarck, North Dakota, remained to be processed, according to linguists.[5]

Genetic relations[edit]

Hidatsa was initially thought to be closely related to the languages of the Hidatsa and the Crow tribes. However, since the Mandan language has been in contact with Hidatsa and Crow for many years, the exact relationship between Mandan and other Siouan languages (including Hidatsa and Crow) has been obscured and is currently undetermined. For this reason, Mandan is most often considered to be a separate branch of the Siouan family.

Mandan has two main dialects:

  1. Nuptare
  2. Nuetare

Only the Nuptare variety survived into the 20th century, and all speakers were bilingual in Hidatsa. In 1999, there were only six fluent speakers of Mandan still alive.[6]

The language received much attention from White Americans because of the supposedly lighter skin color of the Mandan people, which they speculated was due to an ultimate European origin. In the 1830s Prince Maximilian of Wied spent more time recording Mandan over all other Siouan languages and additionally prepared a comparison list of Mandan and Welsh words (he thought that the Mandan may be displaced Welsh).[7] The idea of a Mandan/Welsh connection was also supported by George Catlin.[8]


Mandan has the following phonemes:

Consonants of Mandan[9] Labial Alveolar Post-
Velar Glottal
Stop p t k ʔ
Fricative s ʃ x h
Sonorant w r

/w/ and /r/ become [m] and [n] before nasal vowels, and /r/ is [ⁿd] word-initially.[10]

Vowels of Mandan[9]
Front Central Back
Oral Nasal Oral Nasal Oral Nasal
short long short long short long short long short long short long
Close i ĩ ĩː u ũ ũː
Mid e o
Open a ã ãː


Mandan is a subject–object–verb language.

Mandan has a system of allocutive agreement - that is, different grammatical forms may be used that depend on the gender of the addressee. Questions asked of men must use the suffix -oʔša while the suffix -oʔrą is used when asking of women. Likewise the indicative suffix is -oʔs when addressing men and -oʔre when addressing women, and also for imperatives: -ta (male), -rą (female).[11]

Mandan verbs include a set of postural verbs, which encode the shapes of the subject of the verb:[12]

wɛ́rex nakóc
wɛ́rex nak-óc
pot sit-present
'A pot was there (sitting).'
mítixtɛ̀na tɛ́romakoc
míti-xtɛ̀-na -romakoc
village-big-emphatic stand-narrative.past
'There was a big village.'
má:ta makómakoc
má:ta mak-omakoc
river lie-narrative.past
'The river was there.'

Note that the English translations of these forms are not "A pot was sitting there," "A big village stood there," or "The river lay there." This reflects the fact that the postural categorization is required in such Mandan locative statements.


Mandan, like many other North American languages, has elements of sound symbolism in their vocabulary. A /s/ sound often denotes smallness/less intensity, /ʃ/ denotes medium-ness, /x/ denotes largeness/greater intensity:[13]

  • síre "yellow"
  • šíre "tawny"
  • xíre "brown"
  • sró "tinkle"
  • xró "rattle"

Compare the similar examples in Lakhota.


  1. ^ Edwin Benson, born 1931
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Mandan". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b The Missoulian. 11 May 2009. Jodi Rave. "The last speaker: UND to honor Mandan, last to speak Nu'eta as 1st language."
  4. ^ "Last known fluent Mandan speaker honored". News From Indian Country. Retrieved 2012-09-27. 
  5. ^ "Rancher, linguist working to preserve Mandan language". News From Indian Country. 2007-08-07. Retrieved 2012-09-27. 
  6. ^ Personal communication from Mauricio Mixco in 1999, reported in Parks & Rankin. 2001. p. 112.
  7. ^ Chafe. 1976b. p. 37-38.
  8. ^ Catlin, G. Die Indianer Nordamerikas Verlag Lothar Borowsky
  9. ^ a b Mauricio Mixco, reported in Wood & Irwin 2001, p. 349
  10. ^ Wood & Irwin 2001, p. 349
  11. ^ Hollow. 1970. p. 457 (in Mithun 1999. p. 280).
  12. ^ Mithun, Marianne (2001). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-0-521-29875-9. 
  13. ^ Hollow & Parks 1980. p. 82.


  • Carter, Richard T. (1991a). Old Man Coyote and the wild potato: A Mandan trickster tale. In H. C. Wolfart & J. L. Finlay (Ed.), Linguistic studies presented to John L. Finlay (pp. 27–43). Memoir (No. 8). Winnipeg: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics. ISBN 0-921064-08-X.
  • Carter, Richard T. (1991b). Maximilian's Ruptare vocabulary: Phililogical evidence and Mandan phonology. In F. Ingemann (Ed.), 1990 Mid-America Linguistics Conference: Papers (pp. 479–489). Lawrence, KS: Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas.
  • Chafe, Wallace. (1973). Siouan, Iroquoian, and Caddoan. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Current trends in linguistics (Vol. 10, pp. 1164–1209). The Hague: Mouton. (Republished as Chafe 1976a).
  • Chafe, Wallace. (1976a). Siouan, Iroquoian, and Caddoan. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Native languages of the Americas (pp. 527–572). New York: Plenum Press. ISBN 0-306-37157-X. (Originally published as Chafe 1973).
  • Chafe, Wallace. (1976b). The Caddoan, Iroquoian, and Siouan languages. Trends in linguistics: State-of-the-art report (No. 3). The Hague: Mouton. ISBN 90-279-3443-6.
  • Coberly, Mary. (1979). A text analysis and brief grammatical sketch based on 'Trickster challenges the buffalo': A Mandan text collected by Edward Kennard. Colorado Research in Linguistics, 8, 19-94.
  • Hollow, Robert C. (1970). A Mandan dictionary. (Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley).
  • Hollow, Robert C.; & Parks, Douglas. (1980). Studies in plains linguistics: A review. In W. R. Wood & M. P. Liberty (Eds.), Anthropology on the Great Plains (pp. 68–97). Lincoln: University of Nebraska. ISBN 0-8032-4708-7.
  • Kennard, Edward. (1936). Mandan grammar. International Journal of American Linguistics, 9, 1-43.
  • Lowie, Robert H. (1913). Societies of the Hidatsa and Mandan Indians. In R. H. Lowie, Societies of the Crow, Hidatsa, and Mandan Indians (pp. 219–358). Anthropological papers of the American Museum Of Natural History (Vol. 11, Part 3). New York: The Trustees. (Texts are on pp. 355–358).
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Mixco, Mauricio C. (1997a). Mandan. Languages of the world series: Materials 159. Münich: LINCOM Europa. ISBN 3-89586-213-4.
  • Mixco, Mauricio C. (1997b). Mandan switch reference: A preliminary view. Anthropological Linguistics, 39, 220-298.
  • Parks, Douglas R.; Jones, A. Wesley; Hollow, Robert C; & Ripley, David J. (1978). Earth lodge tales from the upper Missouri. Bismarck, ND: Mary College.
  • Parks, Douglas R.; & Rankin, Robert L. (2001). The Siouan languages. In R. J. DeMallie (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Plains (Vol. 13, Part 1, pp. 94–114). W. C. Sturtevant (Gen. Ed.). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-050400-7.
  • Will, George; & Spinden, H. J. (1906). The Mandans: A study of their culture, archaeology and language. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University (Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 81–219). Cambridge, MA: The Museum. (Reprinted 1976, New York: Kraus Reprint Corporation).
  • Wolvengrey, Arok. (1991). A marker of focus in Mandan discourse. In F. Ingemann (Ed.), 1990 Mid-America Linguistics Conference: Papers (pp. 584–598). Lawrence, KS: Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas.
  • Wood, Raymond W.; & Irwin, Lee. (2001). "Mandan". In "Plains", ed. Raymond J. DeMaille. Vol. 13 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

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