Pawnee language

Last updated
Native to United States
Region North-central Oklahoma
Ethnicity 2,500 Pawnee (2007) [1]
Native speakers
10 (2007) [1]
  • Northern
    • Pawnee–Kitsai
      • Pawnee languages
        • Pawnee
Language codes
ISO 639-3 paw
Glottolog pawn1254 [2]
Linguasphere 64-BAB-b
Pawnee lang.png
Pre-contact distribution of Pawnee
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 Pawnee language is a Caddoan language spoken by some Pawnee Native Americans who now live in north-central Oklahoma. Their traditional historic lands were along the Platte River in what is now Nebraska.

Caddoan languages family of Native American languages

The Caddoan languages are a family of languages native to the Great Plains. They were spoken by tribal groups of the central United States, from present-day North Dakota south to Oklahoma. In the 21st century, they are critically endangered, as the number of native speakers has declined markedly.

Pawnee people ethnic group

The Pawnee are a Plains Indian tribe who are headquartered in Pawnee, Oklahoma. Pawnee people are enrolled in the federally recognized Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. Historically, they lived in Nebraska and Kansas. In the Pawnee language, the Pawnee people refer to themselves as Chatiks si chatiks or "Men of Men."

Oklahoma State of the United States of America

Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.



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.

The term dialect is used in two distinct ways to refer to two different types of linguistic phenomena:

Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies the sounds of human speech, or—in the case of sign languages—the equivalent aspects of sign. It is concerned with the physical properties of speech sounds or signs (phones): their physiological production, acoustic properties, auditory perception, and neurophysiological status. Phonology, on the other hand, is concerned with the abstract, grammatical characterization of systems of sounds or signs.

A lexicon, word-hoard, wordbook, or word-stock is the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge. In linguistics, a lexicon is a language's inventory of lexemes. The word "lexicon" derives from the Greek λεξικόν (lexicon), neuter of λεξικός (lexikos) meaning "of or for words."


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. Now, there are extensive documentary materials in the language archived at the American Indian Studies Research Institute. [3]

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

Extinct language language that no longer has any speakers, or that is no longer in current use

An extinct language is a language that no longer has any speakers, especially if the language has no living descendants. In contrast, a dead language is "one that is no longer the native language of any community", even if it is still in use, like Latin. Languages that currently have living native speakers are sometimes called modern languages to contrast them with dead languages, especially in educational contexts.


The following describes the South Band dialect.


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

Consonant sound in spoken language, articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract

In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are, pronounced with the lips;, pronounced with the front of the tongue;, pronounced with the back of the tongue;, pronounced in the throat; and, pronounced by forcing air through a narrow channel (fricatives); and and, which have air flowing through the nose (nasals). Contrasting with consonants are vowels.

A phoneme is one of the units of sound that distinguish one word from another in a particular language.

Affricate ts  
Rhotic r  
Fricative s h
Approximant  w 


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

In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may have arisen from one etymologically, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most other dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in many other languages, for instance in Arabic, Finnish, Fijian, Kannada, Japanese, Old English, Scottish Gaelic and Vietnamese. It plays a phonetic role in the majority of dialects of British English and is said to be phonemic in a few other dialects, such as Australian English, South African English and New Zealand English. It also plays a lesser phonetic role in Cantonese, unlike other varieties of Chinese.

 High i/iːu/uː
 Mid-low e/eːa/aː


Pawnee is an ergative-absolutive polysynthetic language.

In linguistic typology, polysynthetic languages are highly synthetic languages, i.e. languages in which words are composed of many morphemes. They are very highly inflected languages. Polysynthetic languages typically have long "sentence-words" such as the Yupik word tuntussuqatarniksaitengqiggtuq which means "He had not yet said again that he was going to hunt reindeer." The word consists of the morphemes tuntu-ssur-qatar-ni-ksaite-ngqiggte-uq with the meanings, reindeer-hunt-future-say-negation-again-third person-singular-indicative; and except for the morpheme tuntu "reindeer", none of the other morphemes can appear in isolation.


The Pawnee alphabet [ citation needed ] has 9 consonants and 8 vowels. The letters are relatively similar in pronunciation to their English counterparts.


SpellingSound (IPA)English equivalents
pppoke, cup
tttop, cat
kkcool, stuck
cʃ ~ tsshell, push ~ pants
sssilly, face
hhheart, ahead
rrcar, ferry
wwwacky, away
ʔThe "-" in uh-oh


SpellingSound (IPA)English equivalents


  1. 1 2 Pawnee at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Pawnee". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

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