World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Hidatsa language

Native to United States
Region North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota
Ethnicity Hidatsa
Native speakers
510  (2000 census)[1]
200 and decreasing (2007 Golla)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 hid
Glottolog hida1246[2]

Hidatsa [3] is an endangered Siouan language, closely related to the Crow language. It is spoken by the Hidatsa tribe, primarily in North Dakota and South Dakota.

A description of Hidatsa-Mandan culture, including a grammar and vocabulary of the language, was published in 1877 by Washington Matthews, a government physician who lived among the Hidatsa at Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.[4]

More recently, the Hidatsa language was the subject of work in the generative grammar tradition.[5]


  • Sacagawea 1
  • Phonology 2
    • Vowels 2.1
    • Consonants 2.2
  • Grammatical Categories 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Linguists working on since the 1870s have considered the name of Sacagawea, guide and interpreter on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, to be of Hidatsa origin. The name is a compound of two common Hidatsa nouns, cagáàga 'bird' and míà [míà] 'woman'. The compound is written as Cagáàgawia 'Bird Woman' in modern Hidatsa orthography, and pronounced (/m/ is pronounced [w] between vowels in Hidatsa). The double /aa/ in the name indicates a long vowel and the diacritics a falling pitch pattern. Hidatsa is a pitch-accent language that does not have stress, therefore in the Hidatsa pronunciation all syllables in [tsaɡáàɡawia] are pronounced with roughly the same relative emphasis. However, most English speakers perceive the accented syllable (the long é/aa/) as stressed. In faithful rendering of the name Cagáàgawia to other languages, it is advisable to emphasize the second, long syllable, not the last, as is common in English.[6]



   Short   Long 
 Front   Back   Front   Back 
 High (close)  i u
 Low (open)  a
 Diphthong  ia ua
Hidatsa contains five vowels and two diphthongs. It lacks nasal vowels, which is a way it differs from other Siouan languages. (Boyle 2007) The /a/ vowel has three sounds. The long ‘a:’ sounds like the ‘a’ in the English word, ‘father’; ‘ǎ’ has the sound of the ‘a’ in the English word ‘what’;  and an obscure sound, ‘ạ’, which represents the short ‘u’ sound in English, like in the word ‘fun’. 
          The /e/ vowel also has three sounds. Unmarked ‘e’ has the English sound ‘ai’, like the initial syllable in the word ‘air’; ‘ě’ has the short English ‘e’ sound, such as in the word ‘den’;  ‘e:’ has the sound of the English long ‘e’, like the sound of the ‘e’ in ‘they’.
        The /i/ vowel has only two sounds. The ‘ǐ’ in Hidatsa sounds like the short ‘i’ sound in English, like in the word ‘pin’; the long ‘i:’ sounds like the English ‘i’ in the word ‘marine’. 
        The /o/ and /u/ vowels have one sound each, the ‘o’ in the English word ‘bone’ and the ‘u’ in the English word ‘tune’, respectively. (Matthews 1877)
        The /e/ and /o/ vowels are rare and appear as long sounds. Length, as demonstrated in the table above, is phonemically distinct. There is evidence of this within some minimal and near-minimal pairs in the language: 

(1) e/e: gáre /káre/ ‘to stick into’ garée /karé:/ ‘to vomit’

(2) a/a: miŕa /wiŕa/ ‘wood’ miíraa /wiíra:/ ‘goose’ (3) i/i: máashii /wáaši:/ ‘holy story’ máashi /wáaši/ ‘to buy, to hire’


Hidatsa possesses ten consonants.

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k (ʔ)
Fricative š (sh) x
Affricate c
Sonorant w r h

Unlike the Mississippi Valley Siouan languages, Hidatsa does not have either the glottalized and aspirated stops of Proto-Siouan. It only has one series of voiceless oral stops. These stops, /p,t,k/ are voiced intervocalically and are realized as [b,d,g]. Hidasta has one voiceless affricate, /c/. The two fricatives, /š / and /x/, are voiceless when unaspirated. They are not voiced intervocalically. Hidatsa has three sonorants: the two glides /w/ and /r/, as well as /h/. The glides are realized as [m] and [ŋ] after a pause, most frequently at the beginning of a word.[7]

Grammatical Categories


In Hidatsa, the usage of different words creates a division between masculine and feminine. These words may either stand alone or be added to common gender words.[8]

Nouns of the masculine gender: 'matsé' ('man'), ṡikàka ('young man'), 'itàka' ('old man'), the terms used for male relations ('itsùka', 'idìṡi', etc.) and their compounds (such as 'makadiṡta-maste' and 'itakaḣe') are the masculine nouns for humans. The word 'kedapi' by itself means “bull”, but designates the maleness of any of the lower animals in its suffix form, with or without the interposition of the adverb 'adu'.[8]

Nouns of the feminine gender: 'mia' ('woman'), kaduḣe ('old woman'), the terms used for female relations ('idu', 'itakiṡa',etc.) and their compounds (such as 'miakaza', meaning “a young woman”) are the feminine nouns for humans. The word 'mika', meaning “a mare”, is the designation for the females of the lower animals, with or without the interposition of 'adu'.[8]


Hidatsa nouns do not change forms to mark the difference between singular and plural. Some nouns are only known to be singular or plural from the original meaning of the word or how they are used in a sentence; in other cases, numeral adjectives or adjectives such as ahu ('many'), etsa ('all') and kauṡta ('few') are the only indications at discerning number.[8]


There are five simple pronouns. 'ma' and mi', sometimes contracted to 'm', refer to the first person; 'da' and di', sometimes contracted to 'd', for the second person; and 'i' for the third person. They are normally incorporated into other words, but occasionally stand out for repetition or emphasis purposes.

'ma' (“I”) and 'da' (“thou”) are the proper nominative forms, used as the nominatives of transitive verbs, but may also be used as the nominative of certain intransitive verbs which have an active sense, such as 'amaki' (“he sits”) and 'adamaki' (“you sit”). They may also be prefixed, suffixed, or inserted into verbs, such as 'kikidi' (“he hunts”), 'dakikidi' (“you hunt”) and 'amakakạṡi' (“I write”).[9]

'ma' (“my”) is used in the possessive case, prefixed to the noun to indicate the possessed, in 'intimate or nontransferable' possession; examples include words such as 'maṡạki', “my hand”, from the original word saki (“hand”).[9]


There are three modes in Hidatsa: the infinitive, indicative, and imperative. They are shown in the conjugations of verbs.

The infinitive is the same as the third person indicative, which is the simple form of the verb. However, finite verbs are much more commonly used in speech. For example, “I try to cough” would be produced as mahua mamahets, or “I cough, I try” rather than hua mamahets, or “to cough I try”. In the third person, no distinction is made between infinitive and indicative mode.

The simple form of the verb is the third person indicative; for the first and second persons, this is modified by the incorporated pronouns.

The imperative mode has five forms. The first form uses the same form as the second person indicative, which uses verbs that have incorporated pronouns suffixed. The second is made by final ‘i’ or ‘e’ of the infinitive to ‘a’, or using an infinitive ending in a or u. The third is formed by dropping the final ‘i’ of verbs ending in ‘ki’ and sometimes of those ending in ‘ti’. The fourth form adds the auxiliary ‘da’ to the second form of the imperative, usually placed after the verb. The fifth form is made by adding ‘diha’ instead of ‘da’. The fourth and fifth forms are used when immediate compliance with the order is desired.[10]


In Hidatsa, there are two distinct conjugations of verbs related to time: one for the indefinite, and one for future time. The indefinite tense is shown by the simple form of the verb, with or without the incorporated pronouns, and is used for both past and present time.

In future tense, indicative mode, ‘mi’ and ‘miha’ are added to the indefinite for the first person, and ‘di’ and ‘diha’ for the second person; in the third person the form is the same as in the indefinite.[11]


A majority of adverbs of place in Hidatsa a formed from nouns by suffixing prepositions ‘du’, ‘ha’, ‘ka’, ‘koa’, and ‘ta’. Some examples include dumàta “the middle”, dumàtadu, “in or through the middle”, and dumàtaka “on the middle”, dumàtakoa “at the middle”, and dumàtata, “facing the middle”or “in the direction of the middle”. Words formed this way are pronounced and used in the same way as the English adverbs ‘windward’ and ‘forward’.

Word Order

In Hidatsa, the order of words in sentences is Subject-object-verb.[12]

Unconjugated verbs

Since there are no copulas in the Hidatsa language, all adjectives, adverbs, and nouns that are used as predicates of nouns are regarded as intransitive verbs. They do not undergo a change of form to denote different modes and tenses. They make take the incorporated pronouns 'mi' and 'di' for their nominatives. These pronouns are prefixed. Verbs beginning with consonants are usually prefixed in full. An example is liié, or 'old, to be old'; liie, 'he, she, or it' is or were old, 'you are' or 'were old'. Before verbs beginning with vowels, the pronouns are often contracted. Transitive verbs in the third person, or used impersonally in a passive sense, with pronouns in the objective case prefixed also look like the unconjugated intransitive verbs. [13]


Hidatsa nouns are not inflected to indicate case except (arguably) in the possessive.[14] Possession is shown by the use of possessive pronouns, which are before the noun denoting what is possessed, and is typically considered as prefixed to it. Two kinds of possessions are indicated in Hidatsa: intimate (or non-transferable) possession, such as parts of the body, relationships, anything that cannot be relinquished; examples are the words 'idakoa', his friend or comrade, and iko'pa,her friend or comrade. Initimate possession is shown by simple possessive pronouns, 'i', 'di', and 'ma', as well as the contractions 'm' and 'd'. Example: 'ṡạki', hand, can turn into 'iṡạki', his or her hand; 'diṡạki', your hand; and 'maṡạki', my hand. The other type, acquired possession, indicates transferable possession, or anything we can acquire/give to one another. It is shown by compound possessive pronouns 'ita', 'dita', and 'mata', all of which are formed by added the syllable -ta to simple pronouns. Example: 'midaki', a shield, 'itamidaki', his shield, 'ditamidaki', your shield, 'matamidaki', my shield.

The position of a word in a sentence and the conjugation of the verb that follows usually show whether it is in the nominative or objective case. Often it is unmistakable in context.[15]


Going by the Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale, originally proposed by linguist Joshua Fishman in 1991, the status of the Hidatsa language is at level 7, or ‘Shifting’. This level is when “The child-bearing generation can use the language among themselves, but it is not being transmitted to children”.[16]

Research by linguist Victor Golla in 2007 found that out of an ethnic population of 600, only 200 people are able to speak Hidatsa. There are 6 monolingual speakers, and only 50 speak the language semi-fluently; the most proficient speakers are ages 30 and older, while children are only familiar with the language in passing. Conversations in Hidatsa primarily take place between elders in the privacy of the home.[17] Revitalization is still possible, since a good number of speakers are of child-bearing age, but emphasis on Hidatsa language education must be stressed while this is still the case.


  1. ^ Data Center States Results
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Hidatsa". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Park, Indrek. 2012. A Grammar of Hidatsa. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Indiana, Bloomington.
  4. ^ Matthews, Washington (1877). Ethnography and philology of the Hidatsa Indians.  
  5. ^ Matthews, G.H. (1965). Hidatsa Syntax. Mouton. 
  6. ^ Park, Indrek. 2012. A Grammar of Hidatsa. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Indiana, Bloomington. p. 36.
  7. ^ Boyle, John P. "Hidatsa morpho-syntax and clause structure . The University of Chicago, Proquest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2007. 3272979.
  8. ^ a b c d Matthews, Washington. Grammar and Dictionary of the Language of the Hidatsa. New York: AMS, 1983. p. 34. Print.
  9. ^ a b Matthews, Washington. Grammar and Dictionary of the Language of the Hidatsa. New York: AMS, 1983. p. 37. Print.
  10. ^ Matthews, Washington. Grammar and Dictionary of the Language of the Hidatsa. New York: AMS, 1983. p. 45. Print.
  11. ^ Matthews, Washington. Grammar and Dictionary of the Language of the Hidatsa. New York: AMS, 1983. p. 46. Print.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Matthews, Washington. Grammar and Dictionary of the Language of the Hidatsa. New York: AMS, 1983. p. 115. Print.
  14. ^ Matthews, Washington. Grammar and Dictionary of the Language of the Hidatsa. New York: AMS, 1983. p. 96. Print.
  15. ^ Matthews, Washington. Grammar and Dictionary of the Language of the Hidatsa. New York: AMS, 1983. p. 97. Print.
  16. ^
  17. ^

External links

  • Hidatsa Dictionary
  • Hidatsa words
  • Hidatsa Water Buster Account (including clan song)
  • "N. Dakota school is trying to save Hidatsa language". Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  • "A family's quest: Brothers lead effort to save Hidatsa language". Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  • "Internet Archive Search: Hidatsa language". Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.