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Ioway Cultural Institute : Language :
On the Ioway Language

Chiwere: Language of the Ioway, Otoe, and Missouria

Language preservation and learning is perhaps the most vital cultural issue facing Ioways today. Language is the heart of any culture. With the loss of language, the loss of culture is inevitable. Currently, neither the Iowa of Kansas-Nebraska nor the Iowa of Oklahoma have language programs. No native speakers exist among the Iowa of Kansas-Nebraska, and only a very few elders can speak it in Oklahoma. The Otoe may have a few more speakers than the Iowa.

The Ioway language is very similar to that of the Otoe-Missouria, which is why Ioway is often referred to as Ioway-Otoe. The two tribes separated politically sometime in the early 1700s. Ioway and Otoe are considered by linguists to be two dialects of the same language linguists call Chiwere. Chiwere is the term the Otoe use for themselves. Ioway and Otoe are also closely related to Hochunkara (also known as Hochunk or Winnebago), and more distantly related to Omaha and Lakota. All these languages are categorized as Siouan, although they are not Sioux. This is sort of like how English is characterized as Germanic although English is not German.

The real issue is that the Ioway language is almost gone. With the passing of most native speakers in the last decade, it remains to be seen how much can be saved, but that is our purpose here. Some linguistic scholars who study the Chiwere language have done a paper which looks at the cause of language death, using Ioway-Otoe as an example. As usual, the beginning of the situation was punishment of students speaking Ioway-Otoe in school. However, the final blow may have been factionalism and other internal factors. If you want to read their paper on language death, it is in our online Ioway Library.


John Koontz's "What are the Siouan Languages?" page at the University of Colorado.

Native American Tribes, Culture Areas
Note: New link. Columbia no longer maintains their site which had the map that was originally linked.

Ethnologue Summary for Ioway-Otoe Language.

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