Kansa language

Kansa is a Siouan language of the Dhegihan group once spoken by the Kaw people of Oklahoma. The last mother-tongue speaker, Walter Kekahbah, died in 1983.[3]

Native toUnited States
RegionKansas, Oklahoma
Ethnicity1,700 Kaw (2007)[1]
Extinct1983, with the death of Walter Kekahbah[1]
Revivala dozen claim to know it (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3ksk
qlc Kansa-Osage


Kansa is a Dhegiha Siouan language, a broader category containing other languages such as Quapaw, Omaha, Ponca and Osage. This group of language falls under Mississippi Valley Siouan, which is grouped under the largest category of The Siouan Language Family.[4]


The speakers of Kansa, known as the Kaw people, lived together with the Siouan-speakers in a united nation known as the Dhegiha Siouan group. This group was originally situated north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River and then moved west down the Ohio River. After this migration, the Dhegiha Siouan group split into five subgroups or tribes that were known as the Poncas, Osages, Omahas, Quapaws and the Kaws. Later on the Kaw migrated west of Missouri river and were called the "People of the Southwind."[5]

Geographic distribution

The language was only spoken in Kansas and is no longer spoken since all of the speakers have died. Many of the members of the tribe now use English, but some are able to understand certain phrases or words in the language.[5]


The languages of the 5 tribes originating from the single Dhegiha group are extremely similar and have been considered as dialects of each other.


Scholarship and resources

Pioneering anthropologist and linguist James Owen Dorsey collected 604 Kansa words in the 1880s and also made about 25,000 entries in a Kansa-English dictionary which has never been published.[6] Dorsey also collected 24 myths, historical accounts, and personal letters from nine Kansa speakers.[7]

In 1974, linguist Robert L. Rankin met Kekahbah, Ralph Pepper (d. 1982), and Maud McCauley Rowe (d. 1978), the last surviving native speakers of Kansa. Rankin made extensive recordings of all three, especially Rowe, and his work over the next 31 years documented the language and helped the Kaw Nation to develop language learning materials.[8]


Kansa has 29 consonants and 8 vowels.[9]

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiced b d ɡ
glottalized ʔ
Fricative voiceless s ʃ x h
voiced z ʒ ɣ
Affricate voiced
tense tʃː
aspirated tʃʰ
glottalized tsʼ
Nasal m n
Approximant w l j
Vowels/ Nasal Vowels
Front Back
Close i (ĩ) y
Close-mid o~u (õ)
Open-mid ɛ
Open a~ə (ã)

Nasal vowels are in parentheses. /a/ and /o/ can also be pronounced as /ə/ and /u/.[10]


Kansa does not use tenses or a plural of a noun. Unlike English, they position the verb at the end of a sentence and the verb contains details about who or what performs and receives the action. For example, ni nbla means "Water, I want it." Also, a word like nga can mean "squirrel" or "squirrels."[4]


The Kansa language has a lot of words similar to the other tribes originated from the Dhegiha Siouan group.[4] The following table lists compares cognates in Kansa and Osage:

English Osage Kansa
House hcí ci
Man níhka níka
Woman wak'ó wak'ó

Language revitalization

As of 2012, the Kaw Nation offers online language learning for Kansa second language speakers.[8]

The 2nd Annual Dhegiha Gathering in 2012 brought Kansa, Quapaw, Osage, Omaha and Ponca speakers together to share best practices in language revitalization.[11]


  1. Kansa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kansa". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Ranney, Dave. "Researchers try to preserve Indian languages.", accessed 8 Apr 2011
  4. "WebKanza - KANZA". www.kawnation.com. Retrieved 2017-05-01.
  5. "Kaws (or Kanzas, Kansas) - Kansapedia - Kansas Historical Society". www.kshs.org. Retrieved 2017-05-01.
  6. Unrau, William E. The Kansa Indians: A History of the Wind People, 1673-1873. Norman: U of OK Press, 1971, p. 12
  7. Kaanze Weyaje: Kanza Reader. Kanza Language Project, Kaw City, OK: Kaw Nation, 2010, p. xiii
  8. Ranney, Dave. “Researchers try to preserve Indian languages.”, accessed 12 Apr 2011
  9. McBride, Justin T. "Orthography and Ideology: Examining the Development of Kaw Writing" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-02-23.
  10. Kanza Language for Families & Communities Volume 1 Online Edition (PDF). Kaw Nation of Oklahoma. 2003.
  11. "Dhegiha Gathering Agenda, 2012" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-06. Retrieved 2012-09-22.
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