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Pawnee language

Native to United States
Region North-central Oklahoma
Native speakers
10; may be up to 79 [1]  (2007)[2]
Caddoan languages
  • Northern
    • Pawnee–Kitsai
      • Pawnee languages
        • Pawnee
Language codes
ISO 639-3 paw
Glottolog pawn1254[3]
Pre-contact distribution of Pawnee

The Pawnee language is a Caddoan language spoken by some Pawnee Native Americans now located in north central Oklahoma. Their traditional historic lands were along the Platte River in what is now Nebraska.


  • Dialects 1
  • Status 2
  • Sounds 3
    • Consonants 3.1
    • Vowels 3.2
  • Alphabet 4
    • Consonants 4.1
    • Vowels 4.2
  • Grammar 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Two important dialect divisions are evident in Pawnee: South Band and Skiri. The distinction between the two dialects rests on differences in their respective phonetic inventory and lexicon.


Once the language of thousands of Pawnees, today Pawnee is spoken by a shrinking number of elderly speakers. As more young people learn English as their first language, the status of Pawnee declines towards extinction. However, as of 2007 the Pawnee Nation is developing teaching materials for the local high school and for adult language classes, and there are currently extensive documentary materials in the language archived at the American Indian Studies Research Institute. [4]


The sounds described in this section belong to the South Band dialect of Pawnee.


Pawnee has eight consonant phonemes, and according to one analysis of medial- and final-position glottal stops, one may posit a ninth consonant phoneme.

  Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Stop p t k (ʔ)
Affricate   ts    
Rhotic   r    
Fricative   s   h
Approximant     w  
  • /ʔ/ is predictable when it occurs in the middle of words. However, since /ʔ/ is not completely predictable at the ends of words, it may also need to be considered as a (phonemic) consonant.


Pawnee has four short vowel phonemes and four long counterparts (also phonemic).

  Front Back
 High  i/iː u/uː
 Mid-low  e/eː a/aː


The Pawnee alphabet consists of 9 consonants and 8 vowels. The letters are relatively similar in pronunciation to their English counterparts.


Spelling Sound (IPA) English equivalents
p p poke, cup
t t top, cat
k k cool, stuck
c ʃ ~ ts shell, push ~ pants
s s silly, face
h h heart, ahead
r r car, ferry
w w wacky, away
ʔ The "-" in uh-oh


Spelling Sound (IPA) English equivalents
i ɪ sit
ii i feed
e ɛ red
ee paid
a ʌ nut
aa ɑ father
u ʊ shoot
uu u rude


Pawnee is a polysynthetic language and displays ergativity between nouns and verbs.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Pawnee at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Pawnee". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^


  • American Indian Studies Research Institute. (2008). Dictionary Database: Pawnee (Skiri and Southband dialects).
  • American Indian Studies Research Institute. (2001). Pawnee Alphabet Book.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Parks, Douglas R. (1976). A grammar of Pawnee. New York: Garland.
  • Taylor, Allan R. (1978). [Review of A grammar of Pawnee by D. Parks]. Language, 54 (4), 969-972.

External links

  • Pawnee Language Program, sponsored by the Pawnee Nation and Indiana University
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