Comparative Siouan Dictionary.

This is another of those things that makes me remember why I got into historical linguistics; Lameen Souag posts about a wonderful resource that’s finally online:

A key document in Native American philology which has been circulating in samizdat form for decades is finally online and searchable: the multi-authored Comparative Siouan Dictionary (as noted by Guillaume Jacques). Named for the last of its speakers to resist colonization, the Sioux or Lakota, the Siouan family was spread over a vast section of North America, covering much of the Missouri and Mississippi valleys but with old outliers as far east as Tutelo in Virginia. The names of several Midwesternstates derive from Siouan languages, so they make a convenient starting point for exploring the database. Minnesota is from Dakota mni sota “cloudy water”,both elements of whose history you can trace back here to proto-Siouan: *waRé• “lake, water” and *(a)só•tE “hazy, bluish, cloudy”. *waRé• also yields Chiwere ñį, which in combination with the Chiwere reflex of *parás-ka “spread > flat (1)” yields the name of Nebraska. Dakota, from a name of the Sioux, has a less venerable history, being traceable only back to proto-Mississippi Valley Siouan *hkota/*hkoRa/*hkora “friend”, with unexplained internal variation and similar forms in other families suggesting the possibility of a loan. (The la- element might have something to do with fire; see John Koontz’s discussion.)

Just looking at those lists of cognates makes me want to start learning the languages!


  1. And right behind it, the impending release of the comparative Pama-Nyungan database.

  2. It will most probably be available as a series of downloads at In order to download the data, you will need to register and agree to some terms and conditions.

    Bah. They’d better be pretty innocuous terms and conditions.

  3. Very pleasant, informative and amusing reading, even if I don’t understand all their phonetic (?) symbols.

  4. David Marjanović says

    The symbols probably belong to Americanist phonetic notation or something similar.

  5. From WP s.v. “Tutelo language”:

    [Horatio] Hale [19C American ethnographer] published a brief grammar and vocabulary [of Tutelo] in 1883, and confirmed the language as Siouan through comparisons with Dakota and Hidatsa. His excitement at finding an ancient Dakotan tongue once widespread in Virginia, to be preserved on an Iroquois reserve in Ontario, was considerable.

    I’ll bet.

  6. Here‘s Hale’s 1883 paper. Which syllable of Tutelo is stressed, I wonder?

  7. Rodger C says

    First, I think. Variant: Tottery.

  8. Ah, and that would imply -u- as in “tut.”

  9. cf. the unrelated tupelo.

  10. Tutelo is an Iroquoian exonym anyway, and there are so many variants and corrupt forms that trying to recover the original vocalism is probably hopeless.

    Hale says that the Tutelo retained a seat on the Six Nations council even after there were no full-bloods left (the Iroquois were matrilineal), and occasionally the Tutelo representative would exercise his right to give a speech in Tutelo, thus flummoxing the official interpreter, who could only handle Iroquoian languages.

    Hale, by the way, was the son of Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the influential women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, advocate of a national U.S. Thanksgiving Day, and author of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.

  11. Tutelo is an Iroquoian exonym anyway, and there are so many variants and corrupt forms that trying to recover the original vocalism is probably hopeless.

    Oh, sure, but I’m simply wondering how to pronounce the corrupted anglicized form correctly. I don’t want to be in the position of those hapless people who say “Poon-jab” for Punjab.

  12. It’s pronounced commonly as I’ve heard it, TWOtulow, with the emphasis on the first syllable. This, of course, is not the original pronunciation, which would have had the emphasis on the second syllable. I have a feeling the ‘l’ sound was pronounced differently, hence the variation, Tottero.

    Hmm. Looks like a spelling pronunciation got generalized and nobody really knows. Ah well.

  13. More likely the “r” was a tapped or trilled consonant, which interchanges with [l] much more easily than an English-language “r”. Proto-Iroquoian is reconstructed with /ɹ/, like AmE intervocalic /t/, but I do not know how this comes out in the modern languages. PI had a pretty sparse phoneme inventory, the consonants being /t k kʷ ʔ ts s h n ɹ j w/ and the vowels being short and long /a e ẽ i o õ u/.


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