July 25, 2014

Chiwere language


Language Classification:

 Siouan -> Western Siouan -> Mississippi Valley -> Chiwere–Winnebago -> Chiwere


Language Dialects:

Chiwere  (also called Iowa-Otoe-Missouria or Báxoje-Jíwere-Ñút’achi) was the language of the Ioway, Otoe, and Missouria. It is a is a Siouan language dialect originally spoken by the Missouria, Otoe, and Iowa peoples, who originated in the Great Lakes region but later moved throughout the Midwest and Plains. The language is closely related to Ho-Chunk, also known as Winnebago.

Christian missionaries first documented Chiwere in the 1830s, but since then virtually nothing has been published about the language. Chiwere suffered a steady decline after extended European-American contact in the 1850s, and by 1940 the language had almost totally ceased to be spoken.

Currently, neither the Iowa of Kansas-Nebraska or the Iowa of Oklahoma have language programs.

Number of fluent Speakers:

The last two fluent speakers died in the winter of 1996, and only a handful of semi-fluent speakers remain, all of whom are elderly, making Chiwere critically endangered. As of 2006, an estimated four members of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians still speak the language semi-fluently, while 30 members of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma are also semi-fluent. There are no speakers left in the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. 

Meaning of Name

The Iowa tribe refers to their language as Báxoje ich’é or Bah Kho Je. The Otoe-Missouria dialect is called Jíwere ich’é. The spelling Chiwere, used mostly by linguists, derives from the fact that the language has an aspiration distinction rather than a voice distinction, resulting in a mispronunciation that created an English spelling error.

Báxoje is often misrepresented to mean “dusty noses,” based on the misunderstanding of the first syllable as , or “nose.” However, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma says Bah-Kho-Je means “grey snow,” due to their winter lodges being covered with snow stained grey by smoke from their fires.


The phonology of Chiwere consists of approximately 29 consonants, three nasal vowels, and five oral vowels. Chiwere has five oral vowel phonemes, /a e i o u/, and three nasal vowel phonemes, /ã ĩ ũ/. Vowel length is distinctive as well.


Chiwere grammar is agglutinative; its verbal complex is central to the structure of the language. Verbs are formed by addition various affixes to a verb stem, each of which corresponds to a part of speech, such as a preposition, pronoun, case marker and so forth. Concepts such as possession, reflexivity and grammatical number, as well subject-object relation and case (including nine instrumental prefixes) are also expressed via affixing. In this way, large, complete sentences can be formed out of a single complex word.

Aside from its complex verbal morphology, Chiwere differs from English in a number of significant ways. There are separate male and female registers, and interrogatives are formed with the question particle je, though this is omitted in informal speech. Finally, Chiwere word order is subject-object-verb, in contrast to English.


The Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma’s Otoe Language Program teaches weekly classes in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Siouan-Catawban Language Family
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