Arapaho language

Last updated
Native to United States
Region Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming; Oklahoma
Ethnicity Arapaho
Native speakers
1,087, 10% of ethnic population (2009-2013) [1]
  • Besawunena
Language codes
ISO 639-2 arp
ISO 639-3 arp
Glottolog arap1274 [2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For a guide to IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Arapaho (Arapahoe) language (Hinónoʼeitíít) [3] is one of the Plains Algonquian languages, closely related to Gros Ventre and other Arapahoan languages. It is spoken by the Arapaho of Wyoming and Oklahoma. Speakers of Arapaho primarily live on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, though some have affiliation with the Cheyenne living in western Oklahoma.

The Plains Algonquian languages are commonly grouped together as a subgroup of the larger Algonquian family, itself a member of the Algic family. Though the grouping is often encountered in the literature, it is an areal grouping rather than a genetic one. In other words, the languages are grouped together because they were spoken near one another, not because they are more closely related to one another than to any other Algonquian language. Within the Algonquian family, only Eastern Algonquian constitutes a separate genetic subgroup.

Atsina, or Gros Ventre, is the ancestral language of the Gros Ventre people of Montana. The last fluent speaker died in 1981, though revitalization efforts are underway.

The Arapahoan languages are a subgroup of the Plains group of Algonquian languages: Nawathinehena, Arapaho, and Gros Ventre.



Arapaho is an Algonquian language of the Algic family. [4]

Algic languages language family

The Algic languages are an indigenous language family of North America. Most Algic languages belong to the Algonquian family, dispersed over a broad area from the Rocky Mountains to Atlantic Canada. The other Algic languages are the Yurok and Wiyot of northwestern California, which, despite their geographic proximity, are not closely related. All these languages descend from Proto-Algic, a second-order proto-language estimated to have been spoken about 7,000 years ago and reconstructed using the reconstructed Proto-Algonquian language and the Wiyot and Yurok languages.


By the 1850s, Arapaho bands formed two tribes: the Northern Arapaho and Southern Arapaho. Since 1878 the Northern Arapaho have lived with the Eastern Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and are federally recognized as the Arapahoe Tribe of the Wind River Reservation. The Southern Arapaho live with the Southern Cheyenne in Oklahoma. Together their members are enrolled as the federally recognized Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

Current status

The exact number of Arapaho speakers is not precisely known; however it has been estimated that the language currently retains between 250 [5] and 1,000 [6] active users. Arapaho has limited development outside of the home; however, it is used in some films [7] and the Bible was translated into the language in 1903. [8] According to one source, under 300 people over the age of 50 speak the language in Wyoming, and in Oklahoma the language is used by "only a handful of people . . . all near eighty or older". [5] As of 1996, there were approximately 1,000 speakers among the Northern Arapaho. [9] As of 2008, the authors of a newly published grammar estimated that there were slightly over 250 fluent speakers, plus "quite a few near-fluent passive understanders". [5] In 2008, it was reported that a school had been opened to teach the language to children. [10] Arapaho language camps were held in Summer 2015 at Wind River Tribal College and in St. Stephens, Wyoming. [11] Currently, the language may be acquired by children, for a population estimate as recent as 2007 lists an increase to 1,000 speakers and notes that the language is in use in schools, bilingual education efforts begun on Wind River Reservation in the 1980s and the Arapaho Language Lodge, a successful immersion program, was established in 1993. [12] "The Arapaho Project" is an effort made by the Arapaho people to promote and restore their traditional language and culture. [13] Despite hope for the language, its relatively few active users and the fact that it has seen recent population decreases render Arapaho an endangered language. Ethnologue deems it "threatened," meaning that some children are learning it but it is threatened by other languages and it may be losing speakers.

Bible collection of sacred books in Judaism and Christianity

The Bible is a collection of sacred texts or scriptures. Varying parts of the Bible are considered to be a product of divine inspiration and a record of the relationship between God and humans by Christians, Jews, Samaritans, and Rastafarians.

WRTC is a Tribally charted college located in Fort Washakie, Wyoming. The campus is on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming. WRTC serves residents of the Wind River Indian Reservation and surrounding communities. WRTC's enrollment consists of mostly Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone students.

St. Stephens, Wyoming Unincorporated community in Wyoming, United States

St. Stephens is an unincorporated community in Fremont County, Wyoming, United States. It is home to the St. Stephens Indian Mission.


Besawunena, only attested from a wordlist collected by Kroeber, differs only slightly from Arapaho, though a few of its sound changes resemble those seen in Gros Ventre. It had speakers among the Northern Arapaho as recently as the late 1920s.


Among the sound changes in the evolution from Proto-Algonquian to Arapaho are the loss of Proto-Algonquian *k, followed by *p becoming either /k/ or /tʃ/; the two Proto-Algonquian semivowels merging to either /n/ or /j/; the change from *s to /n/ in word-initial position, and *m becoming /b/ or /w/ depending on the following vowel. Arapaho is unusual among Algonquian languages in retaining the contrast between the reconstructed phonemes *r and *θ (generally as /n/ and /θ/, respectively). [14] [15] [16] These and other changes serve to give Arapaho a phonological system very divergent from that of Proto-Algonquian and other Algonquian languages, and even from languages spoken in the adjacent Great Basin. Some examples comparing Arapaho words with their cognates in Proto-Algonquian can illustrate this: [17] [18] [16]

Proto-Algonquian is the proto-language from which the various Algonquian languages are descended. It is generally estimated to have been spoken around 2,500 to 3,000 years ago, but on the question of where it was spoken, there is less agreement. The Algonquian family, which is a branch of the larger Algic language family, is usually divided into three subgroups: Eastern Algonquian, which is a genetic subgroup, and Central Algonquian and Plains Algonquian, both of which are areal groupings. In the historical linguistics of North America, Proto-Algonquian is one of the best studied, most thoroughly reconstructed proto-languages. It is descended from Proto-Algic.

In phonetics and phonology, a semivowel or glide, also known as a non-syllabic voiced, is a sound that is phonetically similar to a vowel sound but functions as the syllable boundary, rather than as the nucleus of a syllable. Examples of semivowels in English are the consonants y and w, in yes and west. Written in IPA, y and w are near to the vowels ee and oo in seen and moon, written in IPA. The term glide may alternatively refer to any type of transitional sound, not necessarily a semivowel.

Great Basin large depression in western North America

The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America. It spans nearly all of Nevada, much of Oregon and Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, and Wyoming. It is noted for both its arid climate and the basin and range topography that varies from the North American low point at Badwater Basin to the highest point of the contiguous United States, less than 100 miles (160 km) away at the summit of Mount Whitney. The region spans several physiographic divisions, biomes, ecoregions, and deserts.

*weθkwenihís'(his) liver'
*sakime•wanóúbeː'mosquito' > 'fly'
*akweHmihóú'blanket, robe'
*ka•ka•kiwahóuu'raven' > 'crow'


At the level of pronunciation, Arapaho words cannot begin with a vowel, so where the underlying form of a word begins with a vowel, a prothetic /h/ is added. [19]

Arapaho has a series of four short vowels /i e o u/ (pronounced [ɪ ɛ ɔ ʊ]) and four long vowels /iː eː oː uː/ (customarily written ii ee oo uu and pronounced [iː ɛː ɔː uː]). The difference in length is phonemically distinctive: compare hísiʼ, "tick" with híísiʼ, "day", and hócoo, "steak" with hóócoo, "devil". [19] /i/ and /u/ are mostly in complementary distribution, as, with very few exceptions, the former does not occur after velar consonants, and the latter only occurs after them. /u/ does have some exceptions as in the free variants kokíy ~ kokúy, "gun"; kookiyón ~ kookuyón, "for no reason"; and bííʼoxíyoo ~ bííʼoxúyoo, "Found in the Grass" (a mythological character). There is only one minimal pair to illustrate the contrast in distribution: núhuʼ, "this" versus níhiʼ-, "X was done with Y", in which níhiʼ- only occurs in bound form. [20]

Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth.

Remarkably, unlike more than 98% of the world's languages, Arapaho has no low vowels, such as /a/. [21]

In addition, there are four diphthongs, /ei ou oe ie/, and several triphthongs, /eii oee ouu/ as well as extended sequences of vowels such as /eee/ with stress on either the first or the last vowel in the combination. [22]

Vowel Location
Front Back
High ɪʊ
Mid ɛɔ


The consonant inventory of Arapaho is given in the table below. When writing Arapaho, /j/ is normally transcribed as y, /tʃ/ as c, /ʔ/ as ʼ, and /θ/ as 3.

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal n
Stop btkʔ
Fricative θsxh
Approximant jw


The phoneme /b/ (the voiced bilabial stop) has a voiceless allophone [p] that occurs before other consonants or at the end of a word. The plosives /tʃ/, /k/, and /t/ are pronounced without aspiration in most environments, but are aspirated before other consonants or at the end of a word, or when preceding a syllable-final sequence of short vowel + /h/. In this same environment /b/ is aspirated and devoiced. For example, the grammatical prefix cih- is pronounced [tʃʰɪh], the grammatical prefix tih- is pronounced [tʰɪh], and the word héétbihʼínkúútiinoo, "I will turn out the lights" is het[b̥ʰ]ihʼínkúútiinoo. [19]

Consonant clusters

Consonant clusters in Arapaho can only be two consonants long. Consonant clusters do not occur word initially, and /hC/ is the only that occurs word finally. The only consonant cluster that is "base generated" (exists in the most underlying representation of words) is /hC/. At the "surface" (at the level of actual pronunciation), other clusters arise by phonological processes including vowel syncope, or by juxtaposition of morphemes.


Arapaho is a pitch accent language. There are two phonemic tones: high (marked with an acute accent) or "normal" (unmarked). The contrast can be illustrated with the pair hónoosóóʼ, "it is fancy" and honoosóóʼ, "it is raining." Long vowels and vowel sequences can carry a contour tone from high to low, as in hou3íne-, "to hang" (where the first syllable has a normal tone) versus hóu3íne-, "to float" (where the first syllable has a high+normal, or falling, tone). Although tonal contrasts are distinctive in Arapaho, minimal pairs such as those listed above are rare. [23]


  1. "Detailed Languages Spoken at Home and Ability to Speak English". US Census Bureau. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Arapaho". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Conathan 2006, 'A'.
  4. "Arapaho". Ethnologue.
  5. 1 2 3 Cowell & Moss 2008, p. 1.
  9. Greymorning 2001, p. 287.
  10. Frosch 2008.
  11. Over, Ernie. "Northern Arapaho Language Camp wrapped up Wednesday at St. Stephens". County 10. Retrieved 2015-10-03.
  14. Hale 2001, pp. 283-284.
  15. Goddard 1974.
  16. 1 2 Goddard 1990, p. 103.
  17. Goddard 1974, pp. 1974:104, 106, 107, 108.
  18. Goddard 2001, p. 75.
  19. 1 2 3 Cowell & Moss 2008, p. 14.
  20. Cowell & Moss 2008, pp. 14-16.
  21. Search the UPSID database for languages not having a low vowel
  22. Salzman et al. 1998.
  23. Cowell & Moss 2008, pp. 22-23.

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Further reading