Pawnee language

The Pawnee language is a Caddoan language spoken by some Pawnee Native Americans who now live in north-central Oklahoma. Their traditional historic lands were along the Platte River in what is now Nebraska.

Native toUnited States
RegionNorth-central Oklahoma
Ethnicity2,500 Pawnee (2007)[1]
Native speakers
10 (2007)[1]
  • Northern
    • Pawnee–Kitsai
      • Pawnee languages
        • Pawnee
Language codes
ISO 639-3paw
Pre-contact distribution of Pawnee


Two important dialect divisions are evident in Pawnee: South Band and Skiri. The distinction between the two dialects rests on differences in their respective phonetic inventory and lexicon.


Once the language of thousands of Pawnees, today Pawnee is spoken by a shrinking number of elderly speakers. As more young people learn English as their first language, the status of Pawnee declines towards extinction. However, as of 2007, the Pawnee Nation is developing teaching materials for the local high school and for adult language classes. Now, there are extensive documentary materials in the language archived at the American Indian Studies Research Institute.[3] The Pawnee language can be heard spoken in the 2015 movie The Revenant.[4]


The following describes the South Band dialect.


Pawnee has eight consonant phonemes, and according to one analysis of medial- and final-position glottal stops, one may posit a ninth consonant phoneme.

  Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Stop p t k (ʔ)
Affricate   ts    
Rhotic   r    
Fricative   s   h
Approximant     w  
  • /ʔ/ is predictable when it occurs in the middle of words. However, since /ʔ/ is not completely predictable at the end of words, it may also need to be considered a phoneme.


Pawnee has four short vowel phonemes and four long counterparts (also phonemic).

  Front Back
 High  i/iː u/uː
 Mid-low  e/eː a/aː


Pawnee is an ergative-absolutive polysynthetic language.


The Pawnee alphabet has 9 consonants and 8 vowels. The letters are relatively similar in pronunciation to their English counterparts.


Spelling Sound (IPA) English equivalents
p p poke, cup
t t top, cat
k k cool, stuck
c ʃ ~ ts shell, push ~ pants
s s silly, face
h h heart, ahead
r r car, ferry
w w wacky, away
ʔ The "-" in uh-oh


Spelling Sound (IPA) English equivalents
i ɪ sit
ii i feed
e ɛ red
ee paid
a ʌ nut
aa ɑ father
u ʊ book
uu u rude


  1. Pawnee at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Pawnee". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4., Bethany Nolan,. "IU linguists provide Arikara and Pawnee dialogue for Oscar-nominated film 'The Revenant'". Inside IU Bloomington. Retrieved 2019-07-24.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)


  • American Indian Studies Research Institute. (2008). Dictionary Database: Pawnee (Skiri and Southband dialects).
  • American Indian Studies Research Institute. (2001). Pawnee Alphabet Book.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Parks, Douglas R. (1976). A grammar of Pawnee. New York: Garland.
  • Taylor, Allan R. (1978). [Review of A grammar of Pawnee by D. Parks]. Language, 54 (4), 969-972.
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