Winnebago language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Native to United States
Region Wisconsin Nebraska and Minnesota
Ethnicity 1,650 Ho-Chunk (2000 census)[1]
Native speakers
250 (2007)[1]
mainly older adults (no date)[2]
Latin (Winnebago alphabet),
Great Lakes Algonquian syllabics
Language codes
ISO 639-3 win
Glottolog hoch1243[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Winnebago language (Hocąk) is the traditional language of the Ho-Chunk (or Winnebago) tribe of Native Americans in the United States. The language is part of the Siouan language family, and is closely related to the languages of the Iowa, Missouri, and Oto.

The language can be written using the "Ba-Be-Bi-Bo" syllabics. As of 1994, the official alphabet of the Ho-Chunk Nation is an adaptation of the Latin script.

Language revitalization[edit]

Although the language is highly endangered, there are currently vigorous efforts underway to keep it alive, primarily through the Hocąk Wazija Haci Language Division, which offers classes, immersion daycare, and a language apprentice program.[4][5] A "Ho-Chunk (Hoocąk) Native American Language" app is available for iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices.[6]

[Lewis “Bleu”] St. Cyr, who serves as media specialist for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska’s Ho-Chunk Renaissance Program, says he’s always on the lookout for creative ways to bring the Ho-Chunk language back to life. So far, he’s worked up a language quiz game based on the show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?} and has been using Facebook and YouTube videos to get young people engaged. "The world is moving so fast with technology, and our youth are the ones who are going to carry the language on,” he said. “I think it’s received pretty well."[7]


Oral vowels Front Central Back
Close i   u
Mid e   o
Open   a  
Nasal vowels Front Central Back
Close ĩ   ũ
Open   ã  
Consonants Bilabial Labiovelar Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p  b   d     k  ɡ ʔ
Affricate       tʃ  dʒ      
Nasal m   n        
Fricative     s  z ʃ  ʒ   x  ɣ h
Trill     r        
Approximant   w     j    

Also typical of Mississippi Valley Siouan languages, Winnebago had aspirated ph and kh phonemes (but not th) and a glottalized series p', t' and k' as well.[8] There is a notable sound law in Winnebago called Dorsey's Law[9] which dictates the following:

  • /ORS/ ~ [OSRS] (e.g.: /pra/ ~ [para]),

where O is a voiceless obstruent, R is a non-syllabic sonorant, and S a syllabic sound.


Grammatical Categories[edit]

Winnebago has many features in the language that allow it to be both agglutinative and isolate in nature, should one desire. Many words can be separated to show emphasis away from the rest of the sentence, while at the same time the language allows for the verb in the sentence to take on many affixes to help display meaning. This verbal complex follows a hierarchy that appears to follow a syntactic pattern (albeit one that has yet to be explored).

Nominal stems are distinguishable morphologically from verbal stems, though many of the affixes will switch to accommodate the stem.

The Verbal Complex[edit]

Within the Verbal Complex of Winnebago, the most unmarked structure is as follows: locative, pronoun, instrumental, stem and suffixes. In his book, "Winnebago Grammar," William Lipkind also points out the inclusive dual subject and object (hĩ- and wãŋga- respectively) pronouns will always occupy the first position within the complex; which differs than the other pronouns.[10]

Locative Prefixes[edit]

The locative prefixes in Winnebago consist of three different distinctions,[11] usually categorized broadly as "on" (ha-), "in" or "into" (hω-), and "with" (hi-).


(to lie) (to lie on)


(to sleep) (to sleep in)


(to pull) (to pull with)

There were examples where the verb was never found without one of the locative prefixes:

hawajə̃` (to push)

And often in examples Lipkind found where two locatives were acceptable together, one of the prefixes was found in a complex that was inseparable.[12]

hirok'ʋ`hi + hok'ʋ`

(to use) (to give)

Modal Prefixes[edit]

"The prefix wa-, which probably means "something" or "thing" (the word for "something" is waźə̃: wa + hiźə̃', the indefinite article), is used to make transitive verbs intransitive and to form nouns out of active and neutral verbs."


(to eat) (to eat it)


(to kill) (to kill him)


(bladder) (to urinate)

wωrə̃`k. ← hωrə̃`k.

(story) (to tell)

The modal prefix is placed before the locative and many phonetic changes occur here between the prefixes to help agree with the syllabic structure mentioned in Dorsey's Law.

Instrumental Prefixes[edit]

There are 8 instrumental prefixes laid out in Lipkind's Grammar book:[13]

- nã- (by the use of the foot)

: nãgã` (to scratch as a chicken), nãncə'k (to kick)

- mã- (with the knife, by cutting)

: mãc'o`p' (to cut in small pieces), mãŋsw' (to whittle)

- wa- (by pressure, by pushing away from the body)

: wak'e`s (to scrape), waka` (to scour)

- gi- (by striking)

:gihi`ri (to mash), giwi`s (to strike an edge)

- ra- (with the mouth)

: rasi`ri (to vomit), rac'ka` (to taste)

- ru- (with the hand, by pulling toward the body)

: ruwĩ`s (to pinch) ruksa`p' (to break in half)

- ta- (with fire, with heat)

: tanu` (to burn), tase`p (to tan)

- bω- (by shooting, by blowing, by great force)

: bωski` (to sting), bωc'i`wis (to strike a glancing blow...)


The current official orthography derives from an Americanist version of the International Phonetic Alphabet. As such its graphemes broadly resemble those of IPA, and there is a close one-to-one correspondence between graphemes and phonemes.

Winnebago orthography differs from IPA in that the nasal vowels are indicated using an ogonek, thus į, ų, ą (respectively /ĩ/, /ũ/, /ã/). Furthermore, the postalveolar and palatal consonants are written as c, j, š, ž, and y (respectively IPA /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/ and /j/) – the last three being the norm in Americanist phonetic notation. More unusually, t represents /d/, while ǧ represents IPA /ɣ/. Finally, the glottal stop is represented by ʼ (known in Winnebago as hiyuša jikere).


  1. ^ a b Winnebago at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Winnebago language at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ho-Chunk". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ "Hoocak Waaziija Haci Language Division". Retrieved 2012-09-12. 
  5. ^ "Video: Wisconsin Media Lab Releases Fifth Installment, Language Apprentice". Indian Country Today Media Network. 2013-04-27. Retrieved 2013-05-07. 
  6. ^ "App Shopper: Ho-Chunk (Hoocąk) Native American Language for iPhone/iPod Touch (Education)". Retrieved 2012-09-12. 
  7. ^ "American Indian tribes turn to technology in race to save endangered languages". Washington Post. 2013-04-17. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  8. ^ "Two Winnebago Texts". 
  9. ^ "On Some Theoretical Implications of Winnebago Phonology", ERIC: ED357655, Kenneth L. Miner, 1993.
  10. ^ Lipkind, William (1945). Winnebago Grammar. New York, King's Crown Press. p. 15. 
  11. ^ Lipkind. p. 15.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Lipkind. p. 16.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Lipkind. p. 18.  Missing or empty |title= (help)


  • Hocąk Teaching Materials (2010). Volume 1: Elements of Grammar/Learner's Dictionary. Helmbrecht, J., Lehmann, C., SUNY Press, ISBN 1-4384-3338-7. Volume 2: Texts and Audio-CD, Hartmann, I., Marschke, C. SUNY Press, ISBN 1-4384-3336-0

External links[edit]