Cheyenne language

From Academic Kids

Cheyenne (Etsėhesenestse / Tsêhést)
Spoken in: United States
Region: Montana and Oklahoma
Total speakers: ~1700
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Algic languages

 Algonquian languages
  Plains Algonquian languages

Official status
Official language of: -
Regulated by: -
Language codes
ISO 639-1-
ISO 639-2chy
See also: LanguageList of languages

The Cheyenne language is a Native American language spoken in present-day Montana and Oklahoma, USA. It is part of the Algonquian language family. Like many Native American languages, it has complex agglutinative morphology.



Cheyenne is one of the Algonquian languages, which is a subphylum of the Algic languages.

Geographic distribution

Cheyenne is spoken on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana and in Oklahoma. It is spoken by about 1700 people, mostly adults.



Cheyenne phonology is not exceptionally complex. While there are only three basic vowels, they can be pronounced in three ways: high pitch, low pitch, and voiceless[1]. The high and low pitches are phonemic, while vowel devoicing is governed by environmental rules, making voiceless vowels allophones of the voiced vowels. The digraph ‘ts’ represents assibilated /t/; a phonological rule of Cheyenne is that underlying /t/ becomes affricated before an /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 (when precedes or follows a non-front vowel, /a/ or /o/), and the far-past tense morpheme /h/ which is pronounced as |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.

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


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 persons (1st, 2nd, 3rd) plus obviated 3rd (3'), 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's 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 -ho. Verbs register the presence of obviated participants whether or not they are present as nouns.

[1] There are also two other variants of the phonemic pitches: the mid and raised-high pitches. These are often not represented in writing, although there are standard diacritics to indicate all of them. Linguist Leman included one more variant in his International Journal of American Linguistics[1] ( (1981) article on Cheyenne pitch rules, a lowered-high pitch, but has since recognized that this posited pitch is the same as a low pitch.




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