Open Access Articles- Top Results for Cheyenne language

Cheyenne language

Native to United States
Region Montana and Oklahoma
Native speakers

2,100  (2007)[1]
Spoken by:

  • 1,700 in Montana
  • 400 in Oklahoma (Golla 2007)
  • Ethnic population: 4,000 (Golla 2007) in Montana
Language codes
ISO 639-2 chy
ISO 639-3 chy
Glottolog chey1247[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Cheyenne language (Tsėhésenėstsestȯtse or, in easier spelling, Tsisinstsistots) is the Native American language spoken by the Cheyenne people, predominantly in present-day Montana and Oklahoma in the United States. It is part of the Algonquian language family. Like all Algonquian languages, it has complex agglutinative morphology.


Cheyenne is one of the Algonquian languages, which is a sub-category of the Algic languages. Specifically, it is a Plains Algonquian language. However, Plains Algonquian, which also includes Arapaho and Blackfoot, is an areal rather than genetic subgrouping.

Geographic distribution

File:Tipi parts Cheyenne.JPG
Tipi parts in Cheyenne

Cheyenne is spoken on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana and in Oklahoma. At the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, where as of March 2013, there were approximately 10,050 enrolled tribal members, of which about 4,939 resided on the reservation ; slightly more than a quarter of the population five years or older spoke a language other than English.[3]

The Cheyenne language is considered a "definitely endangered" in Montana, and "critically endangered" in Oklahoma by the UNESCO.[4] Classes in the Cheyenne language are available at Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana,[5] at Southwestern Oklahoma State University,[6] and at Watonga High School, in Watonga, Oklahoma,[7]


Cheyenne phonology is quite simple. While there are only three basic vowels, they can be pronounced in three ways: high pitch (e.g. á), low pitch (e.g. a), and voiceless (e.g. ė).[8] The high and low pitches are phonemic, while vowel devoicing is governed by environmental rules, making voiceless vowels allophones of the voiced vowels. The phoneme /h/ is realized as [s] in the environment between /e/ and /t/ (h > s / e _ t). /h/ is realized as [ʃ] between [e] and [k] (h > ʃ / e _ k) i.e. /nahtóna/ nȧhtona alien, /nehtóna/ nėstona your daughter, /hehke/ heške his mother. The digraph ‘ts’ represents assibilated /t/; a phonological rule of Cheyenne is that underlying /t/ becomes affricated before an /e/ (t > ts/_e). Therefore, ‘ts’ is not a separate phoneme, but an allophone of /t/. The sound [x] is not a phoneme, but derives from other phonemes, including /ʃ/ (when /ʃ/ precedes or follows a non-front vowel, /a/ or /o/), and the past tense morpheme /h/ which is pronounced [x] when it precedes a morpheme which starts with /h/.

The Cheyenne orthography of 14 letters is neither a pure phonemic system nor a phonetic transcription; it is, in the words of linguist Wayne Leman, a "pronunciation orthography". In other words, it is a practical spelling system designed to facilitate proper pronunciation. Some allophonic variants, such as voiceless vowels, are shown. e represents not the phoneme /e/, but is usually pronounced as a phonetic [ɪ] and sometimes varies to [ɛ]. š represents /ʃ/.

Bilabial Dental Postalveolar Velar Glottal
Stop p t k ʔ
Fricative v s ʃ (x) h
Nasal m n
Front Central Back
Non-low e o
Low a


Cheyenne has 14 orthographic letters composed of 13 phonemes, several of which can be devoiced. ([x] is written as x orthographically but is not a phoneme.) Devoicing naturally occurs in the last vowel of a word or phrase. It can also occur in vowels at the penultimate and prepenultimate positions within a word. Non-high [a] and [o] is also usually devoiced preceding h plus a stop. Phonemic /h/ is absorbed by a preceding voiceless vowel. Examples are given below

Penultimate Devoicing

/hohkoʃ/ hohkȯxe ‘ax'; /tétahpetáht/ tsétȧhpétȧhtse ‘the one who is big’; /mótehk/ motʃėʃke ‘knife’

Devoicing occurs when certain vowels directly precede the consonants [t], [s], [ʃ], [k], or [x] that is itself followed by an [e]. This rule is linked to the rule of e-Epenthesis, which simply states that [e] appears in the environment of a consonant and a word boundary.[9]

Prepenultimate Devoicing

/tahpeno/ tȧpeno ‘flute’; /kosáné/ kȯsâne sheep (pl.)’; /mahnohtehtovot/ mȧhnȯhtsėstovȯtse ‘if you ask him’

A vowel that does not have a high pitch is devoiced if it is followed by a voiceless fricative and not preceded by [h].[9]

Special [a] and [o] Devoicing

/émóheeohtéo/ émôheeȯhtseo’o ‘they are gathering’; /náohkeho’sóe/ náȯhkėho’soo’e ‘I regularly dance’; /nápóahtenáhnó/ nápôȧhtsenáhno ‘I punched him in the mouth’

Non-high [a] and [o] become at least partially devoiced when they are preceded by a voiced vowel and followed by an [h], a consonant and two or more syllables.[10]

Consonant Devoicing

émane [ímaṅi] ‘He is drinking.’

When preceding a voiceless segment a consonant is devoiced.[10]


-pėhévoestomo’he ‘’kind’’ + -htse ‘imperative suffix’ > -pėhévoestomo’ėstse tsé- ‘conjunct prefix’ + -éna’he ‘old’ + -tse ‘3rd pers. Suffix > tsééna’ėstse ‘ the one who is old’ né + ‘you’ + -one’xȧho’he ‘burn’ + tse ‘suffix for some ‘you-me’ transitive animate forms’ > néone’xȧho’ėstse ‘ you burn me’

The [h] is absorbed when preceded or followed by voiceless vowels.[11]


There are several rules that govern pitch use in Cheyenne. Pitch can be ˊ = high, unmarked = low, ˉ = mid, and ˆ = raised high.


/ʃé?ʃé/ ʃê?ʃe ‘duck’; /sémón/ sêmo ‘boat’

A high pitch becomes a raised high when it is not followed by another high vowel and precedes an underlying word-final high.[12]

Low-to-High Raising

/méʃené/ méʃéne ‘ticks’; /návóomó/ návóómo ‘I see him’; /póesón/ póéso ‘cat’

A low vowel is raised to the high position when it precedes a high and is followed by a word final high.[12]

Low-to-Mid Raising

/kosán/ kōsa ‘sheep (sg.)’; /he?é/ hē?e ‘woman’; /éhomosé/ éhomōse ‘he is cooking’

A low vowel becomes a mid when it is followed by a word-final high but not directly followed by a high vowel.[12]

High Push-Over

/néháóénáma/ néhâoenama ‘we (incl) prayed’; /néméhótóne/ némêhotone ‘we (incl) love him’; /náméhósanémé/ námêhosanême ‘we (excl) love’

A high vowel becomes low if it comes before a high and followed by a phonetic low.[12]

Word-Medial High-Raising

/émésehe/ émêsehe ‘he is eating’; /téhnémenétó/ tséhnêmenéto ‘when I sang’; /násáamétohénoto/ /násâamétȯhênoto ‘I didn’t give him to him’

According to Leman, "some verbal prefixes and preverbs go through the process of Word-Medial High-Raising. A high is raised if it follows a high (which is not a trigger for the High Push-Over rule) and precedes a phonetic low. One or more voiceless syllables may come between the two highs. (A devoiced vowel in this process must be underlyingly low, not an underlyingly high vowel which has been devoiced by the High-Pitch Devoicing rule.)” [13]


Cheyenne represents the participants of an expression not as separate pronoun words but as affixes on the verb. Its pronominal system uses typical Algonquian distinctions: three grammatical persons (1st, 2nd, 3rd) plus obviated 3rd (3', also known as 4th person[14]), two numbers (singular, plural), animacy (animate and inanimate) and inclusivity and exclusivity on the first person plural. The 3' (obviative) person is an elaboration of the third; it is an "out of focus" third person. When there are two or more third persons in an expression, one of them will become obviated. If the obviated entity is an animate noun, it will be marked with an obviative suffix, typically -o or -óho. Verbs register the presence of obviated participants whether or not they are present as nouns.

Pronominal affixes

There are three basic pronominal prefixes in Cheyenne:

ná- First person
né- Second person
é- Third person

These three basic prefixes can be combined with various suffixes to express all of Cheyenne's pronominal distinctions. For example, the prefix ná- can be combined on a verb with the suffix -me to express the first person plural exclusive ("we, not including you"), as with nátahpetame, "we.EXCL are big."

Historical development

Like all the Algonquian languages, Cheyenne developed from a reconstructed ancestor referred to as Proto-Algonquian (often abbreviated "PA"). The sound changes on the road from PA to modern Cheyenne are complex, as exhibited by the development of the PA word *erenyiwa "man" into Cheyenne hetane:

  • First, the PA suffix -wa drops (*erenyi)
  • The geminate vowel sequence -yi- simplifies to /i/ (semivowels were phonemically vowels in PA; when PA */i/ or */o/ appeared before another vowel, it became non-syllabic) (*ereni)
  • PA */r/ changes to /t/ (*eteni)
  • /h/ is added before word-initial vowels (*heteni)
  • Due to a vowel chain-shift, the vowels in the word wind up as /e/, /a/ and /e/ (PA */e/ sometimes corresponds to Cheyenne /e/ and sometimes to Cheyenne /a/; PA */i/ almost always corresponds to Cheyenne /e/, however) (hetane).


Some Cheyenne words (with the Proto-Algonquian reconstructions where known):

  • ame (PA *pemyi, "grease")
  • he'e (PA *weθkweni, "his liver")
  • hē'e (PA **eθkwe·wa, "woman")
  • hetane (PA *erenyiwa, "man")
  • ma'heo'o ("sacred spirit, God")
  • matana (PA *meθenyi, "milk")


Early work was done on the Cheyenne language by Rodolphe Charles Petter, a Mennonite missionary based in Lame Deer, Montana, from 1916.[15] Petter published a mammoth dictionary of Cheyenne in 1915.[16]


  1. ^ Cheyenne at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Cheyenne". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Northern Cheyenne Tribe website
  4. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  5. ^ "Course Descriptions: Cheyenne Studies". Chief Dull Knife College. Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  6. ^ "Southwestern Oklahoma State University - Course Availability". Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  7. ^ Rebecka Lyman (2012-10-15). "Keeping Cheyenne Language Alive" (PDF). Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribal Tribune. Retrieved 2013-01-06. 
  8. ^ There are also two other variants of the phonemic pitches: the mid (e.g. ā) and raised-high pitches (e.g. ô). These are often not represented in writing, although there are standard diacritics to indicate all of them. Linguist Wayne Leman included one more variant in his International Journal of American Linguistics[1] (1981) article on Cheyenne pitch rules, a lowered-high pitch (e.g. à), but has since recognized that this posited pitch is the same as a low pitch.
  9. ^ a b Leman, 1979, Cheyenne Grammar Notes p. 215
  10. ^ a b Leman, 1979, Cheyenne Grammar Notes p. 218
  11. ^ Leman, 1979, Cheyenne Grammar Notes p. 217
  12. ^ a b c d Leman, 1979, Cheyenne Grammar Notes p. 219
  13. ^ Leman, 1979, Cheyenne Grammar Notes p. 220
  14. ^ Semiotics, Self, and Society, edited by Benjamin Lee, Greg Urban
  15. ^ "Petter, Rodolphe Charles (1865-1947)" Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, accessed September 20, 2009
  16. ^ "Petter, 1915, English-Cheyenne Dictionary.


  • Fisher Louise, Leroy Pine Sr., Marie Sanchez, and Wayne Leman, 2004. Cheyenne Dictionary. Lame Deer, Montana: Chief Dull Knife College.
  • Leman, Wayne, 1980. A Reference Grammar of the Cheyenne Language. University of Colorado Press. (out-of-print; revised and republished as Leman, 2012)
  • Leman, Wayne, 2012. A Reference Grammar of the Cheyenne Language. Lulu Press. (revision of Leman, 1980)
  • Mithun, Marianne, 1999. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Petter, Rodolphe, 1915. English-Cheyenne Dictionary. Kettle Falls, Washington. Annotated version also available online.

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