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Winnebago language

Native to United States
Region Wisconsin and Minnesota
Ethnicity Ho-Chunk
Native speakers
250  (2007)[1]
Latin (Winnebago alphabet),
Great Lakes Algonquian syllabics
Language codes
ISO 639-3 win
Glottolog hoch1243[2]

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 1
  • Phonology 2
  • Orthography 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Language revitalization

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.[3][4] A "Ho-Chunk (Hoocąk) Native American Language" app is available for iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices.[5]

[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."[6]


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    

There is a notable sound law in Winnebago called Dorsey's Law[7] 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.


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. ^ Winnebago at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ho-Chunk". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ "Hoocak Waaziija Haci Language Division". Retrieved 2012-09-12. 
  4. ^ "Video: Wisconsin Media Lab Releases Fifth Installment, Language Apprentice". Indian Country Today Media Network. 2013-04-27. Retrieved 2013-05-07. 
  5. ^ "App Shopper: Ho-Chunk (Hoocąk) Native American Language for iPhone/iPod Touch (Education)". Retrieved 2012-09-12. 
  6. ^ "American Indian tribes turn to technology in race to save endangered languages". Washington Post. 2013-04-17. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  7. ^ "On Some Theoretical Implications of Winnebago Phonology", ERIC: ED357655, Kenneth L. Miner, 1993.


  • 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

  • The Hocąk People and Their Language, Documentation of Endangered Languages website (DOBES in German)
  • Hocank Language, Documentation of Endangered Languages website (DOBES in German)
  • Hoocąk Waaziija Haci Language and Culture Division, Ho-Chunk Nation (of Wisconsin) website, extensive materials about Hoçak language and restoration efforts
  • William Lipkind, "Winnebago Grammar", Wisconsin History
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