Winnebago Language
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Winnebago Language
Hoock hoit'éra
Native toMidwestern United States
RegionWisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Illinois, and Minnesota
Ethnicity1,650 Ho-Chunk (2000 census)[1]
Native speakers
250 (2007)[1]
Mainly older adults (no date)[2]
Latin (Ho-Chunk alphabet),
Great Lakes Algonquian syllabics
Language codes
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Ho-Chunk language (Hooc?k, Hoc?k), also known as Winnebago, is the traditional language of the Ho-Chunk (or Winnebago) nation 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.

"Winnebago" is an exonym, an Anglicization of the Sauk and Fox word Oinepegi.[3][4] The anglicized form of the endonym is "Ho-Chunk".


Phonemic Inventory

Ho-Chunk's vowels are distinguished by nasality and length. That is to say, the use of a nasal vowel or a long vowel affects a word's meaning. This is evident in examples such as p 'bag' compared to paa 'nose,' and waruc 'to eat' compared to waaruc 'table.'[5] All of Ho-Chunk's vowels show a short/long distinction, but only /i/ /a/ and /u/ have nasal counterparts.

Ho-Chunk's consonants are listed in the following table:

Typical of Mississippi Valley Siouan languages, Ho-Chunk has aspirated /p/ and /k/ phonemes but no aspirated /t/.

Nasalization Rules

In Ho-Chunk, nasalizable vowels /a/, /i/, and /u/ are always nasalized when they occur after nasal consonants /m/ and /n/. The nasality spreads to an adjacent vowel if that vowel is nasalizable as well.[5] The spread operates across syllable or word boundaries and can move across consonants /h/ and /w/, but is blocked by all other consonants. Examples include n? 'a tree' and ha'?w? 'we (exclusive) do':

n hi
tree one
n? 'a tree'
ha- -wi
1.E.A- do -PL
ha'?w? 'We (exclusive) do'

Another frequently occurring nasalization rule is /r/ to [n] alternation: the /r/ consonant is pronounced as [n] when it immediately follows a nasal vowel. That is shown in the sentence Mh? haan?n? juujuxn? 'My knife is dull':

Mh? ha<ha>n?=ra juujux-n?
knife <1E.A>have=DEF dull-DECL
Mh? haan?n? juujuxn? 'My knife is dull'

Dorsey's Law (Vowel copying rule)

There is a notable sound law in Ho-Chunk called Dorsey's Law[9] which dictates the following:

  • /ORS/ -> [OSRS]

where O is a voiceless obstruent, R is a resonant, and S a syllabic sound. In other words, if there is an underlying voiceless obstruent (in Ho-Chunk, /p/, /c/, /k/, /s/, /?/, and /x/) followed by resonant (/r/, /n/, or /w/), the vowel following the resonant is copied into the proceeding consonant cluster. All Dorsey's Law sequences attested in the language are listed below, with V representing the copied vowel:[6]

  • pVnV
  • pVrV
  • kVnV
  • kVrV
  • kVwV
  • sVnV
  • sVrV
  • sVwV
  • sVnV
  • sVrV
  • sVwV
  • cVwV
  • xVnV
  • xVrV
  • xVwV

Multiple sources advocate that Dorsey's Law is a synchronic process in the language because of the way that things like stress assignment and the morphological process of reduplication are affected by it.[6][7][8]

Dorsey's Law can apply within a single morpheme, as in /pra/ becoming [para] in the word paras '(be) wide, flat', or across morpheme boundaries, as in /?ra/ becoming [?ara] in the word ?ara?e 'you go there,' where ? is the second person pronominal prefixing to the verb rahe 'to be going there.'

Metrical structure

Ho-Chunk is a mora counting, but syllable accenting language. The stress placement of words spoken in isolation is extremely regular. Single-syllable words always have a long vowel (two moras), and stress falls on the first mora (e.g. áa 'arm'). Two-syllable words have two moras, and primary stress falls on the second mora (e.g. wajé 'dress'). In words longer than two syllables, primary stress most often falls on the third syllable, with secondary stress on each even numbered vowel after the point of primary stress (e.g. wa?i?í 'ball,' or hoc?ck 'boy').[9][10] A few rare examples of words with primary stress not on the third syllable include booráxux 'you break something into pieces' and gik?n?hé 'to invite somebody.' These and other exceptions are a result of syllable weight affecting stress location.[10] As seen in booráxux 'you break something into pieces,' when one of the first two syllables of a multiple-syllable word is a heavy syllable, then the main stress falls on the second syllable

Generally when words are spoken in sequence to form sentences, each retains its own stress domain. However, when two or more words are compounded, they are treated as a single word and form a new single stress domain in which the aforementioned patterns apply. Examples include hbókahi 'every day' (a compound consisting of hp 'day' and hokahí 'every') and wgwácek 'young man' (wk 'man' and wacék 'young').[10]

Ho-Chunk's stress system is substantially different from that of other Siouan languages, which have main stress on the second syllable or second mora. It is theorized that Ho-Chunk underwent a stress shift one mora to the right at some point in its history.[10]


The official Ho-Chunk orthography derives from an Americanist version of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). As such, its graphemes broadly resemble those of IPA, and there is a close one-to-one correspondence between graphemes and phonemes. The orthography differs from IPA in that the nasal vowels are indicated using an ogonek. Thus, /?/, /?/, and /ã/ are written as ?, ?, and ?, respectively. In addition, the postalveolar and palatal consonants are written as c, j, ?, ?, and y (in IPA: /t?/, /d?/, /?/, /?/ and /j/), the velar fricative /?/ is written as ?, and the glottal stop is written as ' .

The diacritic marks can be referred to in Ho-Chunk with the following terms: sc 'tail' for the ogonek, wookanak 'hat' for the ha?ek, and hiyu?a jikere 'sudden start/stop' for the glottal stop.

For a short period of time in the mid to late 1800s, Ho-Chunk was written with an adaptation of the "Ba-Be-Bi-Bo" syllabics system. As of 1994, however, the official alphabet of the Ho-Chunk Nation is an adaptation of the Latin script. The Ho-Chunk Nations of Wisconsin and Nebraska represent some sounds differently in the alphabets that they use, as the Wisconsin tribe write a double vowel to mark longer length, and the Nebraska tribe uses a macron over the vowel (compare oo with ? for IPA /o:/). These differences, shown with example words, are demonstrated in the chart below. In total, the Ho-Chunk writing system consists of 26 consonant and 16 vowel graphs/digraphs.[1]

The sounds of Ho-Chunk with example words[5]

Ho-Chunk Nation

of Wisconsin

Ho-Chunk Nation

of Nebraska

IPA Example word
a a a, ? ca? ?tapping sound?
aa ? a: caa / c? ?deer?
? ? ã, np?n? ?soup?
ã: p / p''' ?bag?
b b b booja? / b?ja? ?marbles?
c c t? caa / c? ?deer?
e e e, ? serec ?(be) long?
ee ? e:, ?: seep / s?p ?(be) black?
g g g gaaga / g?ga ?grandma?
? ? ? ?aak / ??k ?(to) cry?
h h h Hooc?k / H?c?k ?Ho-Chunk?
i i i kirikiri? ?(be) striped?
ii ? i: ciin?k / c?n?k ?village, town?
? ? ? hoc?c? ?boy?
?: p / p ?(be) good?
j j d? jaasge / j?sge ?how?
k k k keec?k / '''k'?c?k ?turtle?
k' k' k' k'ee / k'? ?(to) dig?
m m m mn?k / mn?k ?(to) sit?
n n n n / n' ?water?
o o o xoro ?(to) snore?
oo ? o: coo / c? ?(be) blue, green?
p p p p / p ?bag?
p' p' p' p'oop'o? / p'?p'o? ?(be) fluffy?
r r r rooh? / r?h? ?a lot?
s s s sii / s? ?foot?
s' s' s' rus'?s'? ?(to) shiver, shake?
? ? ? ?uuc / ??c ?(be) red?
?' ?' ?' ru?'a?'a ?(to) tickle?
t t t taan? / t?n? ?three?
t' t' t' t' / t'' ?(to) fly?
u u u waruc ?(to) eat, food?
uu ? u: huu / h? ?leg?
? ? ? gig?s ?(to) teach?
?: hc / hc ?bear?
w w w waa / w? ?snow?
x x x xee / x? ?(to) bury, hill?
x' x' x' x'ooke / x'?ke ?parents?
y y j iiyaara / ?y?ra ?(to) yawn?
z z z zii / z? ?(be) yellow, brown?
? ? ? ?uura / ??ra ?money, dollar?
? wa''? ?(to) be, do?


Verb structure

Ho-Chunk is an agglutinating and somewhat fusional language. Verbs contain several affixes to indicate things like person, number, tense, and mood.

Prefix field

Ho-Chunk uses prefixes on a verb stem to mark person, locative case, instrumental case, benefactive case, reflexivity (including possessive reflexivity), and reciprocality.[11]

Person prefixes

Ho-Chunk verbs are inflected with eight pronominal categories marked for person and clusivity.[5] Ho-Chunk is a pro-drop language; pronouns are used very infrequently, and information on grammatical person is found on the verb in the form of one or more prefixes.

  1. First person singular (abbreviated 1SG)
  2. Second person singular (abbreviated 2SG)
  3. Third person singular (abbreviated 3SG)
  4. First person dual inclusive (abbreviated 1I.DU)
  5. First person inclusive plural (abbreviated 1I.PL)
  6. First person exclusive plural (abbreviated 1E.PL)
  7. Second person plural (abbreviated 2PL)
  8. Third person plural (abbreviated 3PL)
Person marking in transitive verbs

Ho-Chunk's transitive verbs are inflected with agent (actor) and patient (undergoer) pronominals. The generic paradigm of the pronominal prefixes in transitive verbs[5] is outlined below. The letter V stands in the place of the verb stem.:

Transitive verb pronominal prefixes
Actor 1SG 2SG 3SG 1I.DU 1I.PL 1E.PL 2PL 3PL
1SG n-V ?-ha-V n-V-wi wa-ha-V
2SG h?-ra-V ?-ra-V h?-ra-V-wi wa-ra-V
3SG h?-?-V n?-?-V ?-?-V wga-?-V wga-?-V-wi h?-?-V-wi n?-?-V-wi wa-?-V
1I.DU h?-?-V h?-wa-V
1I.PL h?-?-V-wi h?-wa-V-wi
1E.PL n-V-wi ?-ha-V-wi n-V-wi wa-ha-V-wi
2PL h?-ra-V-wi ?-ra-V-wi h?-ra-V-wi wa-ra-V-wi
3PL h?-V-ire n?-V-ire ?-V-ire wga-V-ire wga-V-ire-wi h?-V-ire-wi n?-V-ire-wi wa-V-ire

In this table, the null symbol (?) is used to represent all third person singular actor and patient pronominals. It indicates that there is no overt prefix for those pronominals (in other words, that they are null morphemes). Some cells are left blank because there are no pronominal affixes associated with that particular person/number combination. In cases like these, the action is reflexive (i.e. I do something to myself, or you (plural) do something to yourselves). Reflexivity in Ho-Chunk is indicated with another prefix, kii-.

The sounds in the prefixes run together in casual speech, often leading to the deletion of the /h/ consonant and thus a long vowel or diphthong. This is evident in the example waakere 'I put them (standing),' in which the third person plural patient prefix wa- merges with the first person actor prefix ha-, producing waa-.

Person marking in intransitive verbs

Ho-Chunk's intransitive verbs fall into three main types: intransitive active verbs, intransitive stative verbs, and intransitive 'third person-only' verbs.[5]

Intransitive active verbs are those which involve only human or animate agent(s). An example is ?gaac 'play,' which is inflected for person and number as follows:

Person and number marking paradigm for intransitive action verb ?gaac
Ho-Chunk verb Translation
Agent 1SG ha?gac (ha-?gac) 'I play'
2SG ra?gac (ra-?gac) 'you play'
3SG ?gaac (?-?gac) 'he or she plays'
1I.DU hgac (h?-?gac) 'you and I play'
1I.PL hgacwi (h?-?gac-wi) 'we (inclusive) play'
1E.PL ha?gacwi (ha-?gac-wi) 'we (exclusive) play'
2PL ra?gacwi (ra-?gac-wi) 'you (plural) play'
3PL ?gaacire (?gaac-ire) 'they play'

Intransitive stative verbs involve an action affecting a patient. This is characteristic of the verb ?'aak 'to be old':

Person and number marking paradigm for intransitive stative verb ?'aak
Ho-Chunk verb Translation
Patient 1SG h'ak (h?-?'ak) 'I am old'
2SG n'ak (n?-?'ak) 'you are old'
3SG ?'aak (?-?'aak) 'he or she is old'
1I.DU wga?'ak (wga-?'ak) 'you and I are old'
1I.PL wga?'akwi (wga-?'ak-wi) 'we (inclusive) are old'
1E.PL h'akwi (h?-?'ak-wi) 'we (exclusive) are old'
2PL n'akwi (n?-?'ak-wi) 'you (plural) are old'
3PL ?'aakire (?'aak-ire) 'they are old'

Intransitive third-person-only verbs designate states and properties of mostly inanimate things, such as "(to) be delicious" or "(to) be expensive." They can only be inflected for third person singular or third person plural subjects (e.g. ceexi (?-ceexi) 'it is expensive' or ceexire (ceexi-ire) 'they are expensive').

Locative prefixes

Ho-Chunk has two locative prefixes, ha- 'on' or 'onto,' and ho- 'in' or 'into.' These prefixes were first described by William Lipkind in his 1928 grammar of the language[11] . The prefixes are added to a verb stem as seen in the examples below:

mk -> ham?k

to lie (somewhere) -> to lie on top of

mk -> hom?k

to lie (somewhere) -> to lie in

A locative prefix may derive a noun, a verb, or both. This is true for hom?k, which can refer to a verb 'to lie in' or a noun 'bed.' More recent learning materials refer to the ha- prefix as a superessive applicative marker, and the ho- prefix as an inessive applicative marker.[5]

Instrumental prefixes

Ho-Chunk has a set of instrumental prefixes which indicate that an action is accomplished by means of some instrument, force, or special type of instrumental movement. These prefixes are translated into English with such phrases as 'by foot,' 'by hand,' or 'by striking.' Some sources list eight instrumental prefixes in Ho-Chunk,[5][12] while others recognize a ninth n- 'by internal force' (phonologically identical to n- 'by foot').[13][14] These prefixes are listed first with their English translation, then paired with a stem wax 'to break, cut or sever a string-like object':

Instrumental prefixes
Instrumental prefix English translation
Inner gi- 'by striking'
ra- 'with the mouth, with the teeth'
ru- 'by hand'
wa- 'by pressure, by pushing'
Outer boo- 'by shooting, by blowing, by force'
m- 'by cutting'
n(1)- 'by foot'
n(2)- 'by internal force'
taa- 'by extreme temperature'
Instrumental prefixes paired with stem wax
Ho-Chunk verb English translation
giwax 'break string in two by striking'
rawax 'bite string in two'
ruwax 'break string in two by pulling'
wawax 'break string by downward pressure'
boowax 'shoot string in two'
mwax 'cut string in two'
nwax 'break string in two by foot'
nwax 'string breaks of own accord'
taawax 'string is burned in two'

The instrumental prefixes are identified as 'Inner' or 'Outer' due to their position relative to other prefixes attaching to the verb stem. Inner prefixes are closer to the verb stem, while outer prefixes are farther away on the left edge of the word. Instrumental prefixes are found in all Siouan languages,[15] and it is theorized that outer instrumentals originated as nouns or nominalized stems.[16]

Suffix field

Ho-Chunk's suffixes mark number, tense, mood, negation, and aspect.


Basic word order

Like other Siouan languages, Ho-Chunk's basic word order is Subject-Object-Verb (SOV).An example of a typical sentence is Hin?kra watirehi ruw? 'The woman bought a car.' In a sentence with two objects, such as Hin?ki?a hoc?c?hi wiiwagaxhi hok'? 'A girl gave a boy a pencil,' the canonical word order is Subject-Indirect Object-Direct Object-Verb. Word order is relatively free in Ho-Chunk; however, while a word order such as Watirehi, hin?kra ruw? 'The woman bought a car' is permissabie, the change from the basic neutral word order of SOV requires a prosodic pause indicated by a comma.[17] Without this pause, an interpretation 'A car bought the woman' is possible, though highly unlikely.


Negative phrases are expressed with a particle, such as hke 'not' or h?kaga 'never' paired with the suffix/enclitic -n? 'not.' Both elements are required in such phrases: the particle precedes the verb phrase, while -n? is suffixed to the verb. The following examples demonstrate this construction:[17]

Wkra heepn?
wk-ra heep-n?
man-the sneeze-NEG
Wkra hke heepn? 'The man did not sneeze.'
H?kaga t'eehaan? wa'?aje
h?kaga t'ee-haa-n? wa'?-ha-jee
never die-1.cause-NEG aux-1SG-POS.VERB
H?kaga wak? t'eehaan? wa'je.' 'I never kill snakes.'

Language revitalization

Although the language is highly endangered, there are currently vigorous efforts underway to keep it alive in Ho-Chunk communities. In Wisconsin, the Hoc?k Wazija Haci Language Division runs several language classes, an immersion daycare, and a language apprentice program.[18] In Nebraska, the Ho-Chunk Renaissance program teaches the language in local and reservation schools. Both tribal governments recognize the importance of technology in language learning, and are active in Facebook and YouTube to reach the younger generation of learners. A "Ho-Chunk (Hooc?k) Native American Language app" is available for iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices.[19] Language is a crucial aspect of Ho-Chunk culture:

"Within a lot of Native American cultures, language and culture go together," Lewis St. Cyr, language program director for the Ho-Chunk, said. "You can't have culture without language and you can't have language without culture. The importance of it is of who we are."[20]


  1. ^ a b Winnebago at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Winnebago language at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  3. ^ YourName. "About | Ho-Chunk NationAbout Ho-Chunk Nation | Ho-Chunk Nation". Archived from the original on 2015-02-06. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Gilmary Shea, John. "Ho-Chunk and Winnebago Explained" (PDF). Wisconsin Historical Collections.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Helmbrecht, Christian; Lehmann, Christian (2010). Hocak Teaching Materials, Volume 1. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-1-4384-3339-4.
  6. ^ a b Miner; Dorsey (1979). "Dorsey's Law in Winnebago-Chiwere and Winnebago Accent". International Journal of American Linguistics. 45: 25-33. doi:10.1086/465571.
  7. ^ Miner, Kenneth L. (1989). "Winnebago Accent: The Rest of the Data". Anthropological Linguistics.
  8. ^ Miner, Kenneth (1993). Oliverio, Giulia; Linn, Mary Sarah (eds.). "On some theoretical implications of Winnebago phonology". Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics. 18.
  9. ^ Hale, Kenneth; White Eagle, Josie (1980). "A preliminary metrical account of Winnebago accent". International Journal of American Linguistics. University of Chicago Press. 46 (2): 117-132. doi:10.1086/465641.
  10. ^ a b c d Helmbrecht, Johannes (2010). "The accentual system of Hoc?k". In Wohlgemuth, Jan; Cysouw, Michael (eds.). Rara & rarissima: Documenting the fringes of linguistic diversity. Berlin: De Gruyer Mouton. pp. 117-143. ISBN 9783110228557.
  11. ^ Helmbrecht, Johannes; Lehmann, Christian (2008). "Hocank's challenge to morphological theory". In Harrison, David; Rood, David; Dwyer, Ariane (eds.). Lessons from Endangered Languages. Amsterdam: Benjamins. pp. 271-317.
  12. ^ "Winnebago Grammar :: Turning Points in Wisconsin History". Retrieved .
  13. ^ Garvin, Cecil; Hartmann, Iren (2006). Hooc?k Hit'ekjawi!. Mauston, WI: Ho-Chunk Nation.
  14. ^ Hartmann, Iren (2012). Valency classes in Hooc?k (Siouan). Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzing, Germany
  15. ^ "Comparative Siouan Dictionary -". Retrieved .
  16. ^ Rankin, Robert L. 2008. Instrumental prefixes in the Siouan Languages. Paper presented at the 3rd Workshop on Comparative Siouan Syntax in conjunction with the 28thSiouan andCaddoan Languages Conference. Missouri Southern State University, Joplin MO.
  17. ^ a b Johnson, Meredith; Thompson Lockwood, Hunter; Rosen, Bryan; and Schuck, Mateja. 2012. A Preliminary Sketch of Hoc?k Syntax. Siouan and Caddoan Languages Conference, Lawrence, Kansas.
  18. ^ "Video: Wisconsin Media Lab Releases Fifth Installment, Language Apprentice". Indian Country Today Media Network. 2013-04-27. Retrieved .
  19. ^ "App Shopper: Ho-Chunk (Hooc?k) Native American Language for iPhone/iPod Touch (Education)". Retrieved .
  20. ^ "Ho-Chunk Tribe looks to revitalize language".


  • Hoc?k 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

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