Arapaho language

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Native to United States
Region Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming; Oklahoma
Ethnicity Arapaho
Native speakers
1,000 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-2 arp
ISO 639-3 arp
Glottolog arap1274[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Arapaho (Arapahoe) language (in Arapaho: Hinónoʼeitíít [3]) is one of the Plains Algonquian languages, closely related to Gros Ventre and other Arapahoan languages. It is spoken by the Arapaho people of Wyoming and Oklahoma. Speakers of Arapaho primarily live on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, though some have affiliation with the Cheyenne people living in western Oklahoma.


Arapaho is an Algonquian language of the Algic family.[4]


By the 1850s, Arapaho bands formed two tribes: the Northern Arapaho and Southern Arapaho. Since 1878 the Northern Arapaho have lived with the Eastern Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and are federally recognized as the Arapahoe Tribe of the Wind River Reservation. The Southern Arapaho live with the Southern Cheyenne in Oklahoma. Together their members are enrolled as the federally recognized Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

Current status

The exact number of Arapaho speakers is not precisely known; however it has been estimated that the language currently retains between 250 [5] and 1,000 [6] active users. Arapaho has limited development outside of the home; however, it is used in some films[7] and the Bible was translated into the language in 1903.[8] According to one source, under 300 people over the age of 50 speak the language in Wyoming, and in Oklahoma the language is used by "only a handful of people . . . all near eighty or older".[5] As of 1996, there were approximately 1,000 speakers among the Northern Arapaho.[9] As of 2008, the authors of a newly published grammar estimated that there were slightly over 250 fluent speakers, plus "quite a few near-fluent passive understanders".[5] In 2008, it was reported that a school had been opened to teach the language to children.[10] Arapaho language camps were held in Summer 2015 at Wind River Tribal College and in St. Stephens, Wyoming.[11] Currently, the language may be acquired by children, for a population estimate as recent as 2007 lists an increase to 1,000 speakers and notes that the language is in use in schools, bilingual education efforts begun on Wind River Reservation in the 1980s and the Arapaho Language Lodge, a successful immersion program, was established in 1993.[12] "The Arapaho Project" is an effort made by the Arapaho people to promote and restore their traditional language and culture.[13] Despite hope for the language, its relatively few active users and the fact that it has seen recent population decreases render Arapaho an endangered language. Ethnologue deems it "threatened," meaning that some children are learning it but it is threatened by other languages and it may be losing speakers.


Besawunena, only attested from a wordlist collected by Kroeber, differs only slightly from Arapaho, though a few of its sound changes resemble those seen in Gros Ventre. It had speakers among the Northern Arapaho as recently as the late 1920s.


Among the sound changes in the evolution from Proto-Algonquian to Arapaho are the loss of Proto-Algonquian *k, followed by *p becoming either /k/ or /tʃ/; the two Proto-Algonquian semivowels merging to either /n/ or /j/; the change from *s to /n/ in word-initial position, and *m becoming /b/ or /w/ depending on the following vowel. Arapaho is unusual among Algonquian languages in retaining the contrast between the reconstructed phonemes *r and *θ (generally as /n/ and /θ/, respectively).[14][15][16] These and other changes serve to give Arapaho a phonological system very divergent from that of Proto-Algonquian and other Algonquian languages, and even from languages spoken in the adjacent Great Basin. Some examples comparing Arapaho words with their cognates in Proto-Algonquian can illustrate this:[17][18][16]

Proto-Algonquian Arapaho Translation
*erenyiwa hinén 'man'
*wa•poswa nóːku 'hare'
*nepyi nétʃ 'water'
*weθkweni hís '(his) liver'
*mexka•či wóʔoːθ 'leg'
*si•pi•wi níːtʃíː 'river'
*sakime•wa nóúbeː 'mosquito' > 'fly'
*akweHmi hóú 'blanket, robe'
*ka•ka•kiwa hóuu 'raven' > 'crow'
*aθemwa héθ 'dog'


At the level of pronunciation, Arapaho words cannot begin with a vowel, so where the underlying form of a word begins with a vowel, a prothetic /h/ is added.[19]

Arapaho has a series of four short vowels /i e o u/ (pronounced [ɪ ɛ ɔ ʊ]) and four long vowels /iː eː oː uː/ (customarily written ⟨ii ee oo uu⟩ and pronounced [iː ɛː ɔː uː]). The difference in length is phonemically distinctive: compare hísiʼ, "tick" with híísiʼ, "day", and hócoo, "steak" with hóócoo, "devil".[19] /i/ and /u/ are mostly in complementary distribution, as, with very few exceptions, the former does not occur after velar consonants, and the latter only occurs after them. /u/ does have some exceptions as in the free variants kokíy ~ kokúy, "gun"; kookiyón ~ kookuyón, "for no reason"; and bííʼoxíyoo ~ bííʼoxúyoo, "Found in the Grass" (a mythological character). There is only one minimal pair to illustrate the contrast in distribution: núhuʼ, "this" versus níhiʼ-, "X was done with Y", in which níhiʼ- only occurs in bound form.[20]

Remarkably, unlike more than 98% of the world's languages, Arapaho has no low vowels, such as /a/.[21]

In addition, there are four diphthongs, /ei ou oe ie/, and several triphthongs, /eii oee ouu/ as well as extended sequences of vowels such as /eee/ with stress on either the first or the last vowel in the combination.[22]

Vowel Location
Front Back
High ɪ ʊ
Mid ɛ ɔ


The consonant inventory of Arapaho is given in the table below. When writing Arapaho, /j/ is normally transcribed as ⟨y⟩, /tʃ/ as ⟨c⟩, /ʔ/ as ⟨ʼ⟩, and /θ/ as ⟨3⟩.

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal n
Stop b t k ʔ
Fricative θ s x h
Approximant j w


The phoneme /b/ (the voiced bilabial stop) has a voiceless allophone [p] that occurs before other consonants or at the end of a word. The plosives /tʃ/, /k/, and /t/ are pronounced without aspiration in most environments, but are aspirated before other consonants or at the end of a word, or when preceding a syllable-final sequence of short vowel + /h/. In this same environment /b/ is aspirated and devoiced. For example, the grammatical prefix cih- is pronounced [tʃʰɪh], the grammatical prefix tih- is pronounced [tʰɪh], and the word héétbihʼínkúútiinoo, "I will turn out the lights" is het[b̥ʰ]ihʼínkúútiinoo.[19]

Consonant clusters

Consonant clusters in Arapaho can only be two consonants long. Consonant clusters do not occur word initially, and /hC/ is the only that occurs word finally. The only consonant cluster that is "base generated" (exists in the most underlying representation of words) is /hC/. At the "surface" (at the level of actual pronunciation), other clusters arise by phonological processes including vowel syncope, or by juxtaposition of morphemes.


Arapaho is a pitch-accent language. There are two phonemic tones: high (marked with an acute accent) or "normal" (unmarked). The contrast can be illustrated with the pair hónoosóóʼ, "it is fancy" and honoosóóʼ, "it is raining." Long vowels and vowel sequences can carry a contour tone from high to low, as in hou3íne-, "to hang" (where the first syllable has a normal tone) versus hóu3íne-, "to float" (where the first syllable has a high+normal, or falling, tone). Although tonal contrasts are distinctive in Arapaho, minimal pairs such as those listed above are rare.[23]


  1. Arapaho at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Arapaho". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Conathan 2006, 'A'.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Cowell & Moss 2008, p. 1.
  9. Greymorning 2001, p. 287.
  10. Frosch 2008.
  11. Over, Ernie. "Northern Arapaho Language Camp wrapped up Wednesday at St. Stephens". County 10. Retrieved 2015-10-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Hale 2001, pp. 283-284.
  15. Goddard 1974.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Goddard 1990, p. 103.
  17. Goddard 1974, pp. 1974:104, 106, 107, 108.
  18. Goddard 2001, p. 75.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Cowell & Moss 2008, p. 14.
  20. Cowell & Moss 2008, pp. 14-16.
  21. Search the UPSID database for languages not having a low vowel
  22. Salzman et al. 1998.
  23. Cowell & Moss 2008, pp. 22-23.


  • Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514050-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Conathan, Lisa (2006). "English-Arapaho dictionary (draft)". The Arapaho Language: Documentation and Revitalization Project. University of California at Berkeley. Retrieved 8 March 2012.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cowell, Andrew; Moss, Alonzo, Sr. (2008). The Arapaho Language. University Press of Colorado. ISBN 978-0-87081-901-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Goddard, Ives (1974). "An Outline of the Historical Phonology of Arapaho and Atsina". International Journal of American Linguistics. 40: 102–16. doi:10.1086/465292.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Goddard, Ives (1990). "Algonquian Linguistic Change and Reconstruction". In Philip Baldi (ed.). Linguistic Change and Reconstruction Methodology. Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 45. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 99–114.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Goddard, Ives (2001). "The Algonquian Languages of the Plains". Handbook of North American Indians. 13. Washington: the Smithsonian Institution. pp. 71–79.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Greymorning, Steven (2001). "Reflections on the Arapaho Language Project". In Ken Hale and Leanne Hinton (eds.) (ed.). The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego, California: Academic Press.CS1 maint: extra text: editors list (link) CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hale, Ken (2001). "The Arapaho Language". In Ken Hale and Leanne Hinton (eds.) (ed.). The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego, California: Academic Press.CS1 maint: extra text: editors list (link) CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Frosch, Dan (16 October 2008). "Its Native Tongue Facing Extinction, Arapaho Tribe Teaches the Young". New York Times.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kroeber, Alfred Louis (1917). Arapaho dialects. University of California Press. Retrieved 24 August 2012.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Salzmann, Zdeněk and The Northern Arapaho Tribe and Anderson, Jeffrey. 1998. Dictionary of the Northern Arapaho Language.

Further reading

  • Goddard, Ives. 1998. "Recovering Arapaho etymologies by reconstructing forwards". In Melchert, Craig & Jasanoff, Jay H. (eds.) Mír Curad: Studies in Honor of Calvert Watkins, Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachwissenschaftder Universität Innsbruck, Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft, pp. 183–200.
  • Jacques, Guillaume 2013. "The sound change s>n in Arapaho", Folia Linguistica Historica 34:43-57
  • Pentland, David. 1997. [review of] Principles and Methods in Historical Phonology: From Proto-Algonkian to Arapaho, by Marc Picard, 1994. Diachronica 14.2: 383–386.
  • Pentland, David. 1998. "Initial *s > n in Arapaho-Atsina". Diachronica 15.2:309–321.
  • Picard, Marc. 1994. Principles and Methods in Historical Phonology: From Proto-Algonkian to Arapaho. Montreal and Kingston: McGill—Queen's University Press.
  • Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

External links