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Wyandot language

Native to Canada, United States
Region northeastern Oklahoma, Quebec
Extinct Spoken until recently near Sandwich, Ontario, and Wyandotte, Oklahoma. There were two older adult speakers still alive in 1961.
  • Northern
    • Lake Iroquoian
      • Five Nations
        • Huronian
          • Wyandot
modified Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 wya
Glottolog wyan1247[1]

Wyandot is the Iroquoian language traditionally spoken by the people known variously as Wyandot, Wyandotte, Wendat, or Huron. It was last spoken primarily in Oklahoma and Quebec. Linguists have traditionally considered Wyandot as a dialect or modern form of Wendat.

Wyandot essentially "died out" as a spoken language nearly a century ago, though there are now attempts at revitalization. The Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma is offering Wyandot language classes in the Wyandotte Public Schools, grades K–4, and also at the Wyandotte Nation's preschool "Turtle-Tots" program. The Wendat Community of Quebec is offering adult and children's classes in the Wendat language at its village school in Wendake.


  • History 1
  • Phonology 2
    • Consonants 2.1
    • Vowels 2.2
  • Wyandot and Wendat today 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Sources 7


Although it is traditionally equated with or seen as a dialect of the Iroquoian Wendat (Huron), Wyandot became so differentiated as to be considered a distinct language. This change appears to have happened sometime between the mid-eighteenth century, when the Jesuit missionary Pierre Potier (1708–1781) documented the Petun dialect of Wendat in Canada, and the mid-nineteenth century. By the time the ethnographer Marius Barbeau made his transcriptions of the Wyandot language in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, in 1911-1912, it had diverged enough to be considered a separate language.[2]

Significant differences between Wendat and Wyandot in diachronic phonology, pronominal prefixes, and lexicon challenge the traditional view that Wyandot is modern Wendat.[3] History suggests the roots of this language are complex; the ancestors of the Wyandot were refugees from various Huronian tribes who banded together to form one tribe. After being displaced from their ancestral home in Canada on Georgian Bay, the group traveled south, first to Ohio and later to Kansas and Oklahoma. As many members of this group were Petun, some scholars have suggested that Wyandot may be more influenced by Petun than being descended from Wendat.[4]

The work of Marius Barbeau was used by linguist Craig Kopris to reconstruct Wyandot; he developed a grammar and dictionary of the language.[5] This work represents the most comprehensive research done on the Wyandot language as spoken in Oklahoma just prior to its extinction (or its "dormancy" as modern tribal members refer to it).



The phonemic inventory of the consonants is written using the orthography Kopris employed in his analysis, which was based on Barbeau’s transcriptions. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol is written in parentheses afterward in cases where the orthography differs from IPA. Followers of Kopris listed places of articulation for the consonants, with the caveat that this was not a distinction made by Barbeau.
Wyandot consonants new

(m) is placed in parentheses because it appears as an allophone of /w/ in nearly all cases, though its presence cannot always be explained this way. The presence of a single voiced stop, /d/, contrasting with the voiceless stop /t/, makes Wyandot unusual among Iroquoian languages, all of which lack a voicing distinction.[6] Both the Wyandot /d/ and /n/ are cognate with /n/ in other Northern Iroquoian languages. Although it could be argued that the two are in free variation, in most instances they are in complementary distribution and clearly contrast, as in the minimal pairs da (‘that; the; who’) and na (‘now; then’). The ambiguity of the relationship between /d/ and /n/ seems to indicate that the two were in the process of a phonemic split that was not yet complete by the early 20th century.[7]

Another unique feature of Wyandot is the presence of the voiced fricative /ž/, creating an /š ž/ contrast, although the language lacks a corresponding /s z/ contrast.[8] The phoneme /k/ also has no voiced counterpart.

Consonants in Wyandot may appear in clusters. Word-initial consonant clusters can be up to three consonants long, medial clusters up to four consonants long, and final clusters only two consonants long.[9]


Barbeau’s original transcriptions contained great detail and a complex system of diacritics, resulting in 64 different vowel characters. By eliminating allophones, Kopris came to a list of six phonemes, in addition to the marginal phoneme /ã/.

Wyandot vowels
  Front Back
High i u
Mid ɛ̃ ɔ̃
Low e a

Other analysis of the same Barbeau data suggests vowel length is contrastive in Wyandot, as in other Iroquoian languages.[10]

Wyandot and Wendat today

Members of the Wyandotte Nation, whose headquarters is in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, are promoting the study of Wyandot as a second language among its people as part of a cultural revival.[11] Since 2005, Richard Zane Smith (Wyandot) has been volunteering and teaching in the Wyandotte Schools with the aide of the linguist Dr. Craig Kopris.

Linguistic work is also being done on the closely related Wendat. The anthropologist John Steckley was erroneously reported in 2007 as being "the sole speaker" (non-native) of Wendat.[12] Several Wendat scholars have Master's Degrees in Wendat Language and have been active as linguists in the Wendat Community in Quebec. In Wendake, Quebec, the First Nations people are working on a revival of the language and culture. The language is being introduced in adult classes and into the village primary school. The linguist Megan Lukaniec (Wendat) has been instrumental in helping to create curriculum, infrastructure and materials in the language programs in Wendake.

The Wendat language is written with the Latin alphabet. Although based on the 17th century orthography of the Jesuit missionaries, the current spelling no longer uses the Greek letters θ for [tʰ], χ for [kʰ], ͺ for [ç], or ȣ for [u] and [w]. The Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf wrote his original lyrics for his Christmas hymn, "Huron Carol" in Wendat in 1643.

Examples of Wendat:

  • Seten-Stop, used on road signs (with arrêt) in some Huron reserves, such as Wendake in Quebec.
  • Skat-One
  • Tindee-Two
  • Shenk-Three
  • Anduak-Four
  • Weeish-Five
  • Sandustee-Water

See also

  • Gabriel Sagard, Le grand voyage and Dictionnaire de la langue huronne (Dictionary of the Huron Language), 17th century
  • John Steckley, ed. (2009). Dictionary of the Huron Language
  • For an example of Wyandot(te) language revitalization work in progress, see an online lesson: "Wyandotte", Southern Oklahoma University


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Wyandot". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Julian, 2010, p. 324
  3. ^ Kopris, 2001, p. 371
  4. ^ Steckley, 1988, p. 60
  5. ^ Kopris, 2001, p. xxi
  6. ^ Kopris, 1999, p. 63
  7. ^ Kopris, 2001, p. 77
  8. ^ Kopris, 2001, p. 46
  9. ^ Kopris, 2001, p. 57
  10. ^ Julian, 2010, p. 326
  11. ^ "Language page of the Wyandotte Nation"
  12. ^ J. Goddard, "Scholar sole speaker of Huron language", Toronto Star, Dec 24, 2007.


  • Barbeau, Marius. (1960). "Huron-Wyandot Traditional Narratives: In Translations and Native Texts." National Museum of Canada Bulletin 165, Anthropological Series 47.
  • Julian, Charles. (2010).A History of the Iroquoian Languages. Winnipeg, Canada: University of Manitoba dissertation.
  • Kopris, Craig. (1999). "Wyandot Phonology: Recovering the Sound System of an Extinct Language". Proceedings of the Second Annual High Desert Linguistics Society Conference 2: 51-67.
  • Kopris, Craig. (2001). A Grammar and Dictionary of Wyandot. Buffalo, NY: SUNY dissertation.
  • Steckley, John L. (1988). "How the Huron Became Wyandot: Onomastic Evidence," Onomastica Canadiana 70: 59-70.


  • Wyandot words
  • Language page of the Wyandotte Nation
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