Blackfoot language

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Siksiká (ᓱᖽᐧᖿ)
Native to United States, Canada
Region Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana and Piikani, Siksika, and Kainai Reserves in southern Alberta
Ethnicity See Blackfoot Confederacy
Native speakers
3,300  (2011)1
Language codes
ISO 639-2 bla
ISO 639-3 bla
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Blackfoot, also known as Siksika (ᓱᖽᐧᖿ) – the language's denomination in ISO 639-3 – Pikanii, and Blackfeet, is the Algonquian language spoken by the Blackfoot tribes of Native Americans, who currently live in the northwestern plains of North America. There are four dialects of Blackfoot, three of which are spoken in Alberta, Canada and one of which is spoken in the United States: Siksiká (Blackfoot), to the southeast of Calgary, Alberta; Kainai (Blood), spoken in Alberta between Cardston and Lethbridge; Aapátohsipikani (Northern Piegan), to the west of Fort MacLeod; and Aamsskáápipikani (Southern Piegan), in northwestern Montana.2

There is a distinct difference between Old Blackfoot (also called High Blackfoot), the dialect spoken by many older speakers; and New Blackfoot (also called Modern Blackfoot), the dialect spoken by younger speakers.3 Among fellow members of the Algonquian languages, it is relatively divergent in phonology and lexicon.4

The Cuts Wood Academy in Browning, Montana, founded by Darrell Kipp and the Piegan Institute, offers language immersion instruction in Blackfoot.5

Like the other Algonquian languages, Blackfoot is typologically polysynthetic.



Blackfoot has eighteen consonants, of which all but /ʔ/, /x/, /j/ and /w/ are distinguished by length.67

Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k ʔ
Fricative s x
Affricate t͡s t͡sː
Nasal m n
Approximant w j

The velar consonants become palatals [ç] and [c] when preceded by front vowels.


Blackfoot has a vowel system with three monophthongs, /i o a/. Length is distinctive (áakokaawa, "s/he will rope" vs. áakookaawa, "s/he will sponsor a sun dance"):678

Front Central Back
Close i
Close-Mid o
Open a

There are three additional vowels, called "diphthongs" in Frantz (1997). The first is pronounced [ɛ] before a long consonant, [ei] (or [ai], in the dialect of the Blackfoot Reserve) before /i/ or /ʔ/, and [æ] elsewhere (in the Blood Reserve dialect; [ei] in the Blackfoot Reserve dialect).9 The second is pronounced [au] before /ʔ/ and [ɔ] elsewhere. The third is /oi/.10 The short monophthongs exhibit allophonic changes as well. /a/ and /o/ are raised to [ʌ] and [ʊ] respectively when followed by a long consonant, /i/ becomes [ɪ] in closed syllables.8

Blackfoot has a pitch accent system, meaning that every word has at least one high-pitched vowel, and high pitch is contrastive with non-high pitch (e.g., ápssiwa, "it's an arrow" vs. apssíwa, "it's a fig").11 At the end of a word, non-high pitched vowels are devoiced.712

Glides are deleted word-initially and after another consonant, e.g. in póósa 'cat' from poos-wa (cat-SG).

Morphology and syntax

Blackfoot has four grammatical persons - first, second, third, and obviative. The third person is used for proximate nouns, while obviates are non-present or demoted in comparison to a third person. Inanimate objects cannot be the proximate third person. Redirectional markers can be applied to indicate that the fourth person is the active argument.

As a polysynthetic language, Blackfoot features object incorporation. As subject pronouns appear as affixes to the verb, this makes single-word sentences common. When arguments are not incorporated, however, an SVO word order is preferred.

Nouns must be inflected for number.


All nouns are classified as either animate or inanimate. Generally it is easy to determine whether a noun will be animate, although some inherently inanimate objects such as drums and knives are grammatically animate, probably due to the related cultural views of these items.

Verbs are marked with a transitivity marker which must agree with the animacy of its arguments. Even in stories in which a grammatically inanimate object are markedly anthropomorphisized, such as talking flowers, speakers will not use animate agreement markers with them.

Verbal structure

The structure of the verb in blackfoot can be broken down into the pre-verb, the root, the medial, and the final. The root and final are required elements.

Generally, information encoded in the pre-verb can include adverbs, most pronouns, locatives, manners, aspect, mood, and tense. The root is often very short in comparison to the length of the total verb. Incorporated objects appear in the medial. The final includes transitivity/ animacy markers, valency, and third-person plural pronouns.

Writing system

A syllabics script, ᑯᖾᖹ ᖿᐟᖻ ᓱᖽᐧᖿ pikoni kayna siksika, was created by Anglican missionary John William Tims around 1888. Although conceptually nearly identical to Western Cree syllabics, the letter forms are innovative. Two series (s, y) were taken from Cree but given different vowel values; three more (p, t, m) were changed in consonant values as well, according to the Latin letter they resembled; and the others (k, n, w) were created from asymmetrical parts of Latin and Greek letters; or in the case of the zero consonant, possibly from the musical notation for quarter note. The Latin orientation of the letters is used for the e series, after the names of the Latin letters, pe, te, etc.

Blackfoot Latin source
pe P
te T
ke K
me m
ne N
we digamma Ϝ

The direction for each vowel is different from Cree, reflecting Latin alphabetic order. The e orientation is used for the diphthong /ai/. Symbols for consonants are taken from the consonant symbol minus the stem, except for diphthongs (Ca plus for Cau, and Ca plus for Coi, though there are also cases of writing subphonemic [ai, ei, eu] with these finals).

C -a -e -i -o final

There are additional finals: allophones [h] and [x], and three medials: ᖿᐧ ksa, ᒣᐧ tsa, ᖿᑉ kya, kwa.

is used for a period.

Radio programming in Blackfoot

Radio station KBWG in Browning, Montana, broadcasts a one hour show for Blackfoot language learners four times a week.13 The Voice of Browning, Thunder Radio, FM 107.5, or "Ksistsikam ayikinaan" (literally "voice from nowhere") went live in 2010, and focuses on positive programming. In 2011, John Davis, a 21-year-old Blackfeet Community College student explained "I was the first Blackfeet to ever talk on this radio," Davis said. "This is my coup story." A story in the Great Falls Tribune noted, "When the station was replaying programming that originated elsewhere, the radio was all "tear in my beer" and "your cheatin' heart." They called it the suicide station for its depressing old country themes ..." The station's offerings have now expanded beyond country to include AC/DC and Marvin Gaye, and "on-the-air jokes they would never hear on a Clear Channel radio station, such as: "The captain is as cool as commodity cheese."14

“So far we have broadcasting Monday through Friday from around 6:30, Indian time,” quipped station manager Lona Burns, “to around 11, Indian time.” ... “It’s Indian radio,” agreed Running Crane. “Where else can you hear today’s hits with traditional music?15


  1. ^ Blackfoot at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Don Frantz' Blackfoot page
  3. ^ Bortolin & McLellan (1995)
  4. ^ Mithun (1999:335)
  5. ^ "Cuts Wood Academy - Blackfeet Immersion School in Browning, Montana". The Piegan Institute. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  6. ^ a b "Blackfoot Pronunciation and Spelling Guide". Retrieved 2007-04-10
  7. ^ a b c Frantz, Don. The Sounds of Blackfoot. Retrieved 2007-04-11
  8. ^ a b Frantz (1997:1-2)
  9. ^ Frantz (1997:2)
  10. ^ Frantz (1997:2-3)
  11. ^ Frantz (1997:3)
  12. ^ Frantz (1997:5)
  13. ^ Stephanie Tyrpak (2011-04-14). "KBWG Brings Blackfoot Language Lessons to the Airwaves". Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  14. ^ "KBWG, the "Voice of Browning Montana" can be heard at 107.5 FM". 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  15. ^ John McGill (2011-01-19). "‘Voice of Browning’ radio station KBWG expanding". Glacier Reporter. Retrieved 2012-09-09. 



  • Bortolin, Leah and Sean McLennan. A Phonetic Analysis of Blackfoot. MS, University of Calgary, 1995.
  • Frantz, Donald G. and Norma Jean Russell. Blackfoot Dictionary of Stems, Roots, and Affixes, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8020-2691-5 (Second edition published 1995, ISBN 0-8020-0767-8)
  • Frantz, Donald G. Blackfoot Grammar, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8020-5964-3
  • Geers, Gerardus Johannes, "The Adverbial and Prepositional Prefixes in Blackfoot", dissertation. Leiden, 1921
  • Kipp, Darrell, Joe Fisher (Director) (1991). Transitions: Destruction of a Mother Tongue. Native Voices Public Television Workshop. Retrieved 2012-12-03. 
  • Uhlenbeck, C.C. A Concise Blackfoot Grammar Based on Material from the Southern Peigans, New York: AMS, 1978. (Originally published 1938 by Hollandsche Uitgevers-Maatschappij, Amsterdam, in series Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam, Afdeeling Letterkunde. Nieuwe Reeks, Deel XLI) ISBN 0-404-1597-1
  • Uhlenbeck, C.C. An English-Blackfoot Vocabulary, New York: AMS, 1979. (Originally published 1930 in series: Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam, Afd. Letterkunde, Nieuwe Reeks, Deel 29, No. 4) ISBN 0-404-15796-3
  • Uhlenbeck, C.C. and R.H. van Gulik. A Blackfoot-English Vocabulary Based on Material from the Southern Peigans, Amsterdam: Uitgave van de N.V. Noord-Hollandsche Uitgevers-Jaatschapp-ij, 1934. (Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Akademie Van WetenSchappen te Amsterdam. Afdeeling Letterkunde, Nieuwe Reeks, Deel XXXIII, No. 2)
  • Uhlenbeck-Melchior, Wilhelmina Maria. Montana 1911 : a professor and his wife among the Blackfeet : Wilhelmina Maria Uhlenbeck-Melchior's diary and C. C. Uhlenbeck's original Blackfoot texts and a new series of Blackfoot texts (2005 ed.). Calgary: University of Calgary Press. ISBN 9780803218284. 

External links

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