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Menominee language

Pronunciation [omæːʔnomenew]
Native to United States
Region Northeastern Wisconsin
Native speakers
35  (2007)[1]
Official status
Regulated by Menominee Language & Culture Commission
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mez
Glottolog meno1252[2]

Menominee [3] (also spelled Menomini) is an Algonquian language originally spoken by the Menominee people of northern Wisconsin and Michigan. It is still spoken on the Menominee Nation lands in Northern Wisconsin in the United States.

The name of the tribe, and the language, Omāēqnomenew, comes from the word for wild rice, which was a staple of this tribe's diet for millennia. This designation for them (as Omanoominii) is also used by the Anishinaabe (Ojibwa), their Algonquian neighbors to the north.

The main characteristics of Menominee, as compared to other Algonquian languages, are its heavy use of the low front vowel /æ/, its rich negation morphology, and its lexicon. Some scholars (notably Bloomfield and Sapir) have classified it as a Central Algonquian language based on its phonology.

For good sources of information on both the Menominee and their language, some valuable resources include Leonard Bloomfield's 1928 bilingual text collection, his 1962 grammar (a landmark in its own right), and Skinner's earlier anthropological work.


  • Usage and revitalization efforts 1
  • Phonology 2
    • Vowels 2.1
    • Consonants 2.2
    • Syllable structure and stress 2.3
    • Pitch 2.4
  • Morphology 3
  • Syntax 4
  • Language family 5
  • Notes 6
  • External links 7

Usage and revitalization efforts

Menominee is a highly endangered language, with only a handful of fluent speakers left. According to a 1997 report by the Menominee Historic Preservation Office, 39 people spoke Menominee as their first language, all of whom were elderly; 26 spoke it as their second language; and 65 others had learned some of it for the purpose of understanding the language and/or teaching it to others.[4]

The Menominee Language & Culture Commission has been established by the Menominee Nation to promote the continued use of the language.[5] Residents of the Menominee reservation at Keshena have held intensive classes for adult learners, and have worked with linguists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to document the language and to develop curriculum and learning materials.[6][7]

In 1977, Menominee High School, founded when "the Indians of the Menominee Reservation separated from the Shawano-Gresham School District to open their own district," began to offer Menominee language, drumming, and tribal dance in addition to its academic program.[8][9]

Classes in the Menominee language are available locally at the pre-school, high-school, and adult levels,[10][11] and at the College of Menominee Nation and University of Wisconsin Green Bay.[12][13]

In 2012, the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay issued an apology to "a seventh-grader who was punished after using her native Menominee language in the classroom" in Shawano, Wisconsin.[14][15]

As of 2013, there are "six or seven people ... able to be conversational in the language," according to an article on the Menominee Place Names Map, a collaborative project at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.[16]


Below are the basic phonemes of Menominee represented in IPA.[17] Characters to the left are the standard way in which the sound is written; characters to the right are IPA (if it differs).

Labial Alveolar Postalveolar
/ palatal
Velar Glottal
Nasals m n
Plosives and
p t c [t͡ʃ] k q [ʔ]
Fricative s [s~ʃ] h
Approximant y [j] w
Front Central Back
short long short short long
Close i iː u uː
Close-Mid e eː o oː
Near-open ɛ [æ] ɛː [æː] aː
Open a
ia ua


  • Long /æː/ or /ɛː/ is labialized if the preceding syllable contains a back vowel or when it is followed by a palatalized consonant. The same is true for /eː/
  • Short /æ/ /ɛ/ is particularly open when found before h and q.
  • /o/ is consistently lengthened before /w/.
  • /ia/ and /ua/ are treated like long vowels in the assignment of stress. They contrast with /ja/ and /wa/. For example, uah ('he uses it') is distinct from wa:h ('fish egg'). Final /w/ after /i/ becomes primarily bilabial. The syllable /wa/ can alternate with /o/ for some speakers.

Vowels are slightly nasalized before or after /m/ or /n/.


  • /t/ is postdental
  • The unvoiced sibilant /s/ can range between [s] and [ʃ]
  • /h/ and /ʔ/ do not appear initially, except sometimes as the on-glide of a vowel, in which case they should probably not be considered phonemic. Final /h after /i/ is sometimes dropped and sometimes replaced with /j/, as in pih, ('paddle').

Consonants, including nasals, are palatalized before front vowels and labialized before back vowels.

Menominee does not make contrasts between voiced and voiceless stops and voicing from a following vowel may set in before the opening is complete.

Syllable structure and stress

Syllable structure in Menominee is typically VC(C) or C(C)VC(C); syllables do not end in vowels. Any consonant can begin or end a syllable except h and q. The only clusters which can occur at the end of a syllable are qc and qs. The only cluster which can begin a syllable is kw.

Primary stress occurs on every long vowel or diphthong that is in the next-to-last syllable of a word. Most compounds and inflected forms are treated as single words in assigning stress. Rhetorical stress comes on the last syllable.


In an interrogative sentence which uses a question word, there is a rising and then falling of pitch near the beginning and a drop at the end. In yes-no questions, there is a sharp rise in pitch at the end of the sentence. The modulations of pitch for expressing exclamations, quotations, etc. is generally much more pronounced in Menominee than in English.


Nouns exist in two classes, animate and inanimate, which are marked in the plural inflection.

  • Animate nouns take the plural ending -ak (enɛ:niwak men)
  • Inanimate nouns take the plural ending -an (we:kewaman houses)

Gender is also marked in referential inflection, such as in verb inflection which marks the gender of the actor. (The animate/inanimate distinction usually, but not necessarily, coincides with whether an object is animate or inanimate in the world)

There are four personal prefixes used to modify nouns and in personal pronouns:

  • 1st person: nɛ-
  • 2nd person: kɛ- (also used for inclusive 1st person plural)
  • 3rd person: o-
  • indefinite: mɛ-

Certain nouns occur only in possessed forms, typically referring to body parts or relatives, such as okiːqsemaw, "son"; kese:t, "your (s.) foot"; mese:t, "someone's foot". These affixes are used to indicate possession (e.g. neme:h "my older sister"; neta:qsɛnem, "my stone"). They are also used in the inflection of verbs to indicate the actor.

The personal pronouns formed by these prefixes are as follows:

1st person singular ("I"): nenah

1st person exclusive ("we"): nenaq

1st person inclusive ("we"): kenaq

2nd person singular ("you"): kenah

2nd person plural ("you"): kenuaq

3rd person singular ("he/she/it"): wenah

3rd person plural ("they"): wenuaq

Nouns and nearly all pronouns are inflected for singular and plural. Some nouns occur only as singulars, typically denoting liquids or other uncountable substances (e.g. kahpeːh, coffee). The singular is often used for a representative meaning, e.g. ɛːsespemaːteset omɛːqnomeneːw, "the way the Menomini lives".

Nouns can also be inflected for locality:

weːkewam, "house"

weːkewameh, "in a house"

yoːm, "this"

yoːs, "right here"

Diminutives can be formed from any noun by suffixing -æshs

Agent nouns (i.e., nouns that mean one who does the action of the verb, such as "worker" from "work", "talker" from "talk", in English) are homonymous with the third person inflected verb. So,

anohkiːw, "he works" or "worker"

moːhkotaːqsow, "he whittles" or "carpenter"


Menominee displays inflectional reference. Nouns, verbs, and objects are inflected to agree in gender, person, and number of their possessor, actor, or transitive verb, respectively.

Intransitive verbs typically occur in two forms: one for animate actors, the other for inanimate actors: paːpɛhcen, "he falls" paːpɛhnɛn, "it falls"

Transitive verbs can be used with either animate or inanimate actors. Transitive verbs contain inflectional reference both to their subject and to the object. One form of the verb exists for animate objects and another for inanimate objects: koqnɛw, "he fears him" koqtam, "he fears it"

Impersonal verbs occur with no identifiable actor and in the singular inflection: kɛqsiw, "it is cold" kemeːwan, "it is raining"

The negator kan typically precedes the verb: kan kemeːwanon, "it is not raining". The negator also inflects for certain elements of modal inflection: kasaq kemeːwanon, "why, it isn't raining anymore!" It can be used alone to answer a yes-no question. The particle poːn is used to negate imperatives: poːn kasɛːhkehseh, "don't be too late".

Bloomfield distinguishes five modes of the verb in Menominee, which are reflected in the verb, negator, personal and demonstrative pronouns, and auxiliary verbs:

  • Indicative: piːw, "he comes"

The indicative makes statements. In the first-person plural, it is used as a hortatory (first person plural imperative: kenawmaːciaq, "let's set out"

  • Quotative: piːwen, "it is said that he comes"
    • The quotative typically ends in -en, is used when the speaker is stating something learned from another person or from a dream or vision. It is the mode used in traditional narrative.
  • Interrogative: piːq, "is he coming?"
    • The interrogative is used for yes-no questions.
  • Present: piasah', "so he is coming"
    • The present mode, typically ending in -esa or -sa, puts an emphasis on the fact that the event is taking place in the present, as opposed to the past or in contrast with expectation.
  • Preterit: piapah, "he did formerly come"
    • The preterit, typically ending in -epa or -pa, puts an emphasis on the fact that the event took place in the past, as opposed to in the present or in contrast with expectation.

Language family

Menominee is an Algonquian language, part of the larger family of Algic languages. Goddard (1996) and Mithun (1999) classify it with the Central and Plains Algonquian languages, along with languages like Blackfoot, Arapaho, Cheyenne, Cree-Montagnais, and Eastern Great Lakes languages like Ojibwe.

In his more controversial classification of American Indian languages, Joseph Greenberg places the Algic family within a family which he calls Almosan.[18] The classification was first proposed by Edward Sapir in 1929. It groups Algic with other language families including Kutenai, otherwise thought to be an isolate, and Mosan, which includes Wakashan, Chimakuan, and Salishan. The Mosan family proposal is currently considered to be unfounded.


  1. ^ Menominee at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Menominee". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ "Menominee".  
  4. ^ Hoffman, Mike. "Menominee Place Names In Wisconsin". The Menominee Clans Story. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  5. ^ "Language and Culture". Menominee Indian Tribe Of Wisconsin. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  6. ^ "News release: Professor documents endangered Menominee language". University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  7. ^ Pervos, Stefanie (2002-10-05). "Wisconsin Tribal Languages in Danger of Dying Out". Canku Ota (71). Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  8. ^ O'Meara, Robery (1986-02-02). "Learning Language, Crafts Instills Pride in Students : Reservation Schools Keep Indian Tribe's Culture Alive". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  9. ^ "Revitalizing the Menominee Language". Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Culture. 2003. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  10. ^ Jones, Meg (2009-03-07). "Menominee tribe makes effort to keep language alive". Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  11. ^ Jagannathan, Malavika (2008-12-01). "Menominee language finds new life in schools". Canku Ota. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  12. ^ "College of Menominee Nation - Native American College, Tribal College, Wisconsin - Come join us!". Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  13. ^ "UW-Green Bay to offer Menominee language course for students, community". UW-Green Bay Inside. 2012-08-22. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  14. ^ Associated Press (2012-02-28). "Green Bay diocese apologizes to student punished for using native Menominee language". Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  15. ^ Rickert, Levi (2012-02-03). "Menominee 7th Grader Suspended for Saying I Love You in Native Language". NativeNewsNetwork. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  16. ^ Vine, Nathan (2013-08-25). "Map project promotes tribal history". Appleton Post-Crescent. Retrieved 2013-09-07. 
  17. ^ Bloomfield, Leonard. The Menominee Language. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.
  18. ^ Greenberg, Joseph. An Amerind Etymological Dictionary. Stanford University, 2007

External links

  • Wisconsin Tribal Languages in Danger of Dying Out
  • Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin Language & Culture Commission
  • Native Languages of the Americas: Menominee
  • Menominee Language Lessons
  • The Meaning of the Menominee Myth of the Flood--in Relation to People Today
  • Hoffman, Mike. "Menominee Place Names In Wisconsin". The Menominee Clans Story. 
  • OLAC resources in and about the Menominee language
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