Winnebago language

Native to United States
Region Wisconsin Nebraska Iowa South Dakota Illinois and Minnesota
Ethnicity 1,650 Ho-Chunk (2000 census)[1]
Native speakers
100 (date missing)
Mainly older adults (no date)[2]
Latin (Ho-Chunk alphabet),
Great Lakes Algonquian syllabics
Language codes
ISO 639-3 win
Glottolog hoch1243[3]

The Ho-Chunk language (Hoocąk, Hocąk), 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.[4][5] 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 pąą ’bag’ compared to paa ’nose,’ and waruc 'to eat' compared to waaruc 'table.'[6] All of Ho-Chunk's vowels show a short/long distinction, but only /i/ /a/ and /u/ have nasal counterparts.

Oral vowels Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a
Nasal vowels Front Central Back
High ĩ i
Low ã

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

Consonants Bilabial Labiovelar Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p b d k g ʔ
Nasal m n
Fricative s z ʃ ʃʼ ʒ x ɣ h
Trill r
Approximant w j

Typical of Mississippi Valley Siouan languages, Ho-Chunk has aspirated /p/ and /k/ phonemes but no aspirated /t/. [8]

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.[6] 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 nąįžą ’a tree’ and ha’ųwį ’we (exclusive) do’:

nąįžą 'a tree'
ha’ųwį '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 Mąąhį haanįną juujuxšąną ’My knife is dull’:

Mąąhį haanįną juujuxšąną '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:

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/, /š/, 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:[7]

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.[7][8][9]

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 /šra/ becoming [šara] in the word šaraše ’you go there,’ where š 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. waǧiǧí 'ball,' or hocįcįįk 'boy').[10][11] A few rare examples of words with primary stress not on the third syllable include booráxux 'you break something into pieces' and gikąnąhé ’to invite somebody.’ These and other exceptions are a result of syllable weight affecting stress location.[11] 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 hąąbókahi ’every day’ (a compound consisting of hąąp ’day’ and hokahí ’every’) and wąągwácek ’young man’ (wąąk ’man’ and wácek ’young’).[11]

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.[11]


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, /ĩ/, /ũ/, and /ã/ are written as į, ų, and ą, respectively. In addition, the postalveolar and palatal consonants are written as c, j, š, ž, and y (in IPA: /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/ and /j/), the velar fricative /ɣ/ is written as ǧ, and the glottal stop is written as ʼ .

The diacritic marks can be referred to in Ho-Chunk with the following terms: sįįc ’tail’ for the ogonek, wookanak ’hat’ for the haček, and hiyuša 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 ō 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.

The sounds of Ho-Chunk with example words[6]

Ho-Chunk Nation

of Wisconsin

Ho-Chunk Nation

of Nebraska

IPA Example word
a a a, ʌ caš ′tapping sound′
aa ā caa / cā ′deer′
ą ą ã, ʌ̃ nįįpąną ′soup′
ąą ą̄ ã: pąą / p'ą̄''' ′bag′
b b b boojaš / bōjaš ′marbles′
c c caa / cā ′deer′
e e e, ɛ serec ′(be) long′
ee ē eː, ɛː seep / sēp ′(be) black′
g g g gaaga / gāga ′grandma′
ǧ ǧ ɣ ǧaak / ǧāk ′(to) cry′
h h h Hoocąk / Hōcąk ′Ho-Chunk′
i i i kirikiriš ′(be) striped′
ii ī ciinąk / cīnąk ′village, town′
į į ĩ hocįcį ′boy′
įį į̄ ĩ: pįį / pį̄ ′(be) good′
j j jaasge / jāsge ′how′
k k k keecąk / '''k'ēcąk ′turtle′
k’ k’ k’ k’ee / k’ē ′(to) dig′
m m m mįįnąk / mį̄nąk ′(to) sit′
n n n nįį / nį̄' ′water′
o o o xoro ′(to) snore′
oo ō o: coo / cō ′(be) blue, green′
p p p pąą / pą̄ ′bag′
p’ p' p’ p’oop’ / p’ōp’ ′(be) fluffy′
r r r roohą / rōhą ′a lot′
s s s sii / sī ′foot′
s’ s’ s’ rus’įs’į ′(to) shiver, shake′
š š ʃ šuuc / šūc ′(be) red′
š’ š’ ʃ’ ruš’ąš’ą ′(to) tickle′
t t t taanį / tānį ′three′
t’ t’ t’ t’ąą / t’ą̄' ′(to) fly′
u u u waruc ′(to) eat, food′
uu ū u: huu / ′leg′
ų ų ũ gigųs ′(to) teach′
ųų ų̄ ũ: hųųc / hų̄c ′bear′
w w w waa / ′snow′
x x x xee / xē ′(to) bury, hill′
x’ x’ x’ x’ooke / x’ōke ′parents′
y y j iiyaara / īyāra ′(to) yawn′
z z z zii / zī ′(be) yellow, brown′
ž ž ʒ žuura / žūra ′money, dollar′
ʔ waų ′(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.[12]

Person prefixes

Ho-Chunk verbs are inflected with eight pronominal categories marked for person and clusivity.[6] 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[6] 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 nįį-V ∅-ha-V nįį-V-wi wa-ha-V
2SG hį-ra-V ∅-ra-V hį-ra-V-wi wa-ra-V
3SG hį-∅-V nį-∅-V ∅-∅-V wąąga-∅-V wąąga-∅-V-wi hį-∅-V-wi nį-∅-V-wi wa-∅-V
1I.DU hį-∅-V hį-wa-V
1I.PL hį-∅-V-wi hį-wa-V-wi
1E.PL nįį-V-wi ∅-ha-V-wi nįį-V-wi wa-ha-V-wi
2PL hį-ra-V-wi ∅-ra-V-wi hį-ra-V-wi wa-ra-V-wi
3PL hį-V-ire nį-V-ire ∅-V-ire wąąga-V-ire wąąga-V-ire-wi hį-V-ire-wi nį-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.[6]

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

Person and number marking paradigm for intransitive action verb šgaac
Ho-Chunk verb Translation
Agent 1SG hašgac (ha-šgac) ’I play’
2SG rašgac (ra-šgac) ’you play’
3SG šgaac (∅-šgac) ’he or she plays’
1I.DU hįšgac (hį-šgac) ’you and I play’
1I.PL hįšgacwi (hį-šgac-wi) ’we (inclusive) play’
1E.PL hašgacwi (ha-šgac-wi) ’we (exclusive) play’
2PL rašgacwi (ra-šgac-wi) ’you (plural) play’
3PL šgaacire (šgaac-ire) ’they play’

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

Person and number marking paradigm for intransitive stative verb š’aak
Ho-Chunk verb Translation
Patient 1SG hįš’ak (hį-š’ak) ’I am old’
2SG nįš’ak (nį-š’ak) ’you are old’
3SG š’aak (∅-š’aak) ’he or she is old’
1I.DU wąągaš’ak (wąąga-š’ak) ’you and I are old’
1I.PL wąągaš’akwi (wąąga-š’ak-wi) ’we (inclusive) are old’
1E.PL hįš’akwi (hį-š’ak-wi) ’we (exclusive) are old’
2PL nįš’akwi (nį-š’ak-wi) ’you (plural) are old’
3PL š’aakire (š’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:


to lie (somewhere) → to lie on top of


to lie (somewhere) → to lie in

A locative prefix may derive a noun, a verb, or both. This is true for homįk, 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.[6]

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,[6][13] while others recognize a ninth nąą- ’by internal force’ (phonologically identical to nąą- ’by foot’).[14][15] These prefixes are listed first with their English translation, then paired with a stem wax ’string’:

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’
mąą- ’by cutting’
nąą(1)- ’by foot’
nąą(2)- ’by internal force’
tąą- ’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’
mąąwax ’cut string in two’
nąąwax ‘break string in two by foot’
nąąwax ‘string breaks of own accord’
tąąwax ‘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,[16] and it is theorized that outer instrumentals originated as nouns or nominalized stems.[17]

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 Hinųkra wažątirehižą ruwį ’The woman bought a car.’ In a sentence with two objects, such as Hinųkiža hocįcįhižą wiiwagaxhižą hok’ų ’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 Wažątirehižą, hinųkra ruwį ’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.[18] Without this pause, an interpretation ’A car bought the woman’ is possible, though highly unlikely.


Negative phrases are expressed with a particle, such as hąąke ’not’ or hąkaga ’never’ paired with the suffix/enclitic - ’not.’ Both elements are required in such phrases: the particle precedes the verb phrase, while - is suffixed to the verb. The following examples demonstrate this construction:[18]

Wąąkra hąąke heepšįnį 'The man did not sneeze.'
Hąkagat’eehaanį wa’ųaje
hąkagat’ee-haa-nį wa’ų-ha-jee
neverdie-1.cause-NEG aux-1SG-POS.VERB
Hąkaga waka t’eehaanį wa’ųaje.' '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 Hocąk Wazija Haci Language Division runs several language classes, an immersion daycare, and a language apprentice program.[19] 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 (Hoocąk) Native American Language app" is available for iPhone, iPad, and other iOS devices.[20] 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.”[21]


  1. Winnebago language at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Ho-Chunk". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. YourName. "About | Ho-Chunk NationAbout Ho-Chunk Nation | Ho-Chunk Nation". Retrieved 2016-04-29.
  4. Gilmary Shea, John. "Ho-Chunk and Winnebago Explained" (PDF). Wisconsin Historical Collections.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Helmbrecht, Christian; Lehmann, Christian (2010). Hocak Teaching Materials, Volume 1. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-1-4384-3339-4.
  6. 1 2 Miner; Dorsey (1979). "Dorsey's Law in Winnebago-Chiwere and Winnebago Accent". International Journal of American Linguistics.
  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).
  10. 1 2 3 4 Helmbrecht, Johannes (2010). "The accentual system of Hocąk". In Wohlgemuth, Jan; Cysouw, Michael. 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. Lessons from Endangered Languages. Amsterdam: Benjamins. pp. 271–317.
  12. "Winnebago Grammar :: Turning Points in Wisconsin History". Retrieved 2016-04-29.
  13. Garvin, Cecil; Hartmann, Iren (2006). Hoocąk Hit’ekjawi!. Mauston, WI: Ho-Chunk Nation.
  14. Hartmann, Iren (2012). Valency classes in Hoocąk (Siouan). Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzing, Germany
  15. "Comparative Siouan Dictionary -". Retrieved 2016-04-29.
  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. 1 2 Johnson, Meredith; Thompson Lockwood, Hunter; Rosen, Bryan; and Schuck, Mateja. 2012. A Preliminary Sketch of Hocąk 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 2013-05-07.
  19. "App Shopper: Ho-Chunk (Hoocąk) Native American Language for iPhone/iPod Touch (Education)". Retrieved 2012-09-12.
  20. "Ho-Chunk Tribe looks to revitalize language".


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