Cheyenne Language Web Site
Cheyenne Language Web Site

last updated June 11, 2009
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The Cheyenne Language

Cheyenne is spoken in southeastern Montana on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, and in central Oklahoma. It is a member of the large Algonquian language family of North America which includes other languages such as Blackfoot, Arapaho, Cree, Ojibwa, Algonquin, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Menomini, Fox, Massachusett, Delaware, Shawnee, Micmac, and Naskapi.

The Cheyenne alphabet and pronunciation guide

There are only 14 letters in the Cheyenne alphabet but they can combine together to create some very long words, composed of many smaller meaning parts. Following are some words illustrating the Cheyenne alphabet and a prounciation guide for the Cheyenne letters. Many other words are found in a new, large Cheyenne Dictionary on CD, the Cheyenne Sounds booklet, our online dictionary, word lists, and other pages at this site.


       a         mahpe      water         a as in English "father"
       e         ehane      our father    e as in English "pit" ("i" not "e" sound)
       h         hese       fly           h as in English "happy"
       k         kosa       goat          k as in English "skip" (unaspirated)
       '         he'eo'o    women         - as in English "Uh-oh!"
       m         me'ko      head          m as in English "man"
       n         nahkohe    bear          n as in English "never"
       o         okohke     crow          o as in English "note"
       p         poeso      cat           p as in English "spoon" (unaspirated)
       s         semo       boat          s as in English "say"
                e'e      duck           (sh) as in English "shirt"
       t         tosa'e     Where?        t as in English "stop" (unaspirated)
       v         vee'e      tepee         v as in English "vein"
       x         xao'o      skunk         x as in German "Achtung!"
The symbol has the same sound as the two English letters "sh". The apostrophe (') stands for the glottal stop, a very frequent "sound" in Cheyenne. It is the quick stopping "sound" between the two syllables of the English exclamation, "Uh-oh!" Cheyenne "x" has the same sound as German "x". It is a voiceless velar fricative, raspier than English "h". When Cheyenne "v" comes before an "a" or "o" vowel, it will often sound like English "w". It is still the same sound unit (phoneme), however, whether it is pronounced as "v" or "w". The Cheyenne "stop" sounds, "p", "t", and "k" are unaspirated. That is, they do not have a puff of air after them as these letters do when they begin English words, such as "pen," "toy", and "kite." Instead, they sound like the letters "p", "t", and "k" when they follow the letter "s," as in the English words "spill," "still," and "skill."

There are three Cheyenne vowels (a, e, o). They can be marked for high pitch (, , ) or be voiceless (whispered), as in , , . The preferred symbol to indicate voiceless vowels is a dot over the vowels; this symbol is available in Cheyenne fonts for personal use. This paragraph can be seen with dots over vowels if you click here.

Cheyenne words are made up of smaller meaning parts

Here is one of the longest Cheyenne words which we have heard:

nohksa'on'semephvetshsto'anhe, meaning 'I truly do not pronounce Cheyenne well.' This word has the following meaning parts (technically known as morphemes):

   n- 'I'
   ohke- 'regularly'
   sa- 'not' (this also requires the -he at the end of the word)
   on'seme- 'truly'
   phve- 'good, well'
   tshst- 'Cheyenne'
   -o'ane 'pronounce'
This is just a brief introduction to Cheyenne. If you would like to learn more, visit other Cheyenne pages at this site, or consult the Cheyenne language reference materials page at the Web site of the SSILA (Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas) or the materials listed in the Cheyenne language bibliographies at this site. You can also access the Cheyenne Dictionary online.

Cheyenne is still alive, but for how much longer? The U.S. government was unable to eradicate the Cheyenne language through its campaigns of military genocide against Cheyennes and its policies of cultural and language assimilation at boarding schools. Yet those policies have left a gangrenous wound among the Cheyennes, a lesson taught explicitly (through punishment for speaking Cheyenne) or implicitly in the government schools, and then believed by many parents, that their children cannot "succeed" in the world today unless they speak only English. Not all Cheyenne educators, leaders, or parents believe this false doctrine, which is unsupported by scientific studies of bilingualism, but enough do so that Cheyenne language attrition is occurring today at an alarming rate. Another factor contributing to Cheyenne language loss is the monopoly that English has in the media surrounding Cheyenne children. The end of any language is death to part of the soul of that culture. Wise Cheyennes today resist the threatened death of their language, and are trying to find some cures at this stage of culture and language change. They recognize that some of the most successful Cheyennes have been fluent in both Cheyenne and English, and that knowing one's ancestral tongue need not keep one from functioning well in the dominant society as well, of course, within Cheyenne society. Instead, knowing more than one language can enrich a person, can give him more than one viewpoint from which to view the world. Speaking and understanding the ancestral tongue should be a cause for celebration.

Remember the Tsitsistas in your thoughts and prayers. Remember Cheyenne leaders who are trying to keep their language, a vital part of the soul of the Tsitsistas, alive for future generations. May wisdom be theirs as the Tsitsistas enter the 21st century, while trying to maintain the knowledge and values which are so important to them. The onset of death pangs of endangered languages around the world is felt today by Cheyennes and many other Native American language communities. Ma'heo'o, nehnevatamemeno, "Great One, take pity on us!"


On January 21, 2007, a new Cheyenne translation of parts of the Bible was dedicated at a service in Lame Deer, Montana.

On April 21, 1997, the Tribal Council of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe passed an ordinance which declares Cheyenne as the official language of the tribe.

June 1998, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe held its first annual Language Immersion Camp. Participants were to speak only Cheyenne within the circle of the tepee camp. This is part of the effort to keep the language alive among the children.

January 8, 1999, Cheyenne runners complete 400 mile run from Ft. Robinson, celebrating the breakout of their ancestors from that fort 120 years ago. Read about it in this full-page Billings Gazette article.

July 19-30, 1999, Second Annual Cheyenne Language Immersion Camp: Crazyhead Springs Campground on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, 42 happy little campers, the youngest is 4.

August 10, 2000, 1st Annual Northern Cheyenne Culture and Language Summit, A Collaborative Program of Dull Knife Memorial College and St. Labre Indian School, held at St. Labre Indian School, Ashland, Montana.


Visit these pages for more information:

Cheyenne language pages

Other sites featuring Cheyennes

Cheyenne books

Native American languages

General language and linguistics resources

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We welcome email, however WE DO NOT PROVIDE A TRANSLATION SERVICE AT THIS SITE. PLEASE DO NOT SEND US E-MAIL ASKING US TO TRANSLATE WORDS TO CHEYENNE OR ANY OTHER NATIVE AMERICAN LANGUAGE. PLEASE DO NOT SEND US ANY NATIVE AMERICAN WORDS, ASKING US TO TRANSLATE THEM TO ENGLISH. PLEASE DO NOT E-MAIL US, ASKING FOR SUGGESTIONS FOR NATIVE AMERICAN NAMES FOR PETS. For Cheyenne translations, please use the language materials already at this web site. Please do not ask us to put you in contact with Cheyenne speakers; we cannot do this. Send email to: kovaahe at gmail dot com


A Cheyenne Proverb

Nv'novhe'tanme mshnstva, onset'ha'eta nethoestovevoo'o, onshestxvtno mshnstva!

Don't race in craziness, try to stop your mounts, try to come in last in terms of craziness!

(This proverb was frequently quoted by the late Cheyenne historian, John Stands In Timber. Its essential meaning is "Don't live a hurried life!")


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