There are two politically independent Hoocąk tribes today. The larger group are the Wisconsin Hoocąks. They have about 6,000 enrolled members who live scattered in various places of south, central and northern Wisconsin. Their government and most of the departments of the tribal political organization are located in Black River Falls, WI. They call themselves and their language Hoocąk (pronounced [hoː’tʃaŋk]) which is the traditional self-denominatio. The other group are the Nebraska Winnebagos who have about 4000 enrolled members living mostly in their reservation in Nebraska. They use the name Winnebago for themselves and their language. This name is of Algonquian origin and has been used in the linguistic and anthropological literature to refer to both groups. There are minor lexical and perhaps phonetically differences between the inherited languages of both groups. A linguistic investigation of these differences is still lacking. It is probably apt to speak of Wisconsin Hoocąk and Nebraska Winnebago as dialectal varieties of one language, which is also true from a historical perspective. The Hoocąk/ Winnebago were historically one tribe with their homeland in eastern and central Wisconsin. The contemporary separation of the tribe was the result of the land cessions and deportations in the 19th century by the US American government (cf. http://www.winnebagotribe.com/tribal_history.html and http://www.ho-chunknation.com/?PageId=79).

The Hoocąk language is spoken by about 200 elders of the Hoocąk tribe. Children and todays parents are not able to speak or understand the language. The language still plays an important role in religious and traditional ceremonies, but has lost its importance in everyday communication. Actually, Hoocąk is used only seldom in such situations. One of the major goals of the tribe and – in particular – of the Hoocąk Wazija Haci Language Division in Mauston,WI is to stabilize the language and to reverse this trend. They organize language courses all over Wisconsin for children, adolescents and adults. They have language teaching in the head start centers and since recently in high schools. Language immersion in summer camps and weekend gatherings are other important means to stop the loss of the inherited language. The threat of the loss of the inherited languages is shared by the other neighboring Indian communities in Wisconsin, too.

2. Genetic Affiliation

Hoocąk is the only member of the Siouan language family that is spoken in Wisconsin. The other indigenous tribes in Wisconsin belong to the Algonquian family. In pre-Columbian times, they (the Fox, the Sauk, etc.) were the immediate neighbors of the Hoocąks. The about seventeen languages of the Siouan family were spoken throughout central and southeastern North America. The genetic classification of the Siouan languages is given in Table 1.

Catawba Catawba
Siouan Missouri River Hidatsa
Mississippi Valley Dakotan Sioux
Dhegiha Omaha-Ponca
Hoocąk (Winnebago)
Chiwere (Oto, Missouria, Iowa)


Ohio Valley Ofo

Table 1. Genetic classification of Siouan Languages

Although the sub-grouping of Siouan languages as given in Table 1 is repeated over and over in the literature, it is not really established on the basis of firm facts. One of the reasons for this is that many of the languages are either poorly documented and/or already extinct. The Hoocąk language, which is usually referred to as Winnebago in the literature, is closely related to Oto, Missouri, and Iowa and belongs to the MISSISSIPPI VALLEY GROUP. This sub-group is rather defined negatively as distinct from the MISSOURI RIVER and the OHIO VALLEY GROUP and not by means of regular sound changes or common linguistic innovations of its own. The position of Mandan and the relation of Catawba to the other Siouan languages are two additional problems that are not yet solved in Siouan comparative linguistics.

3. Sound System

The phonological system of Hoocąk is not particularly complex. There are about 19 consonant and 16 vowel phonemes. The consonants include voiced and voiceless stops and fricatives of various articulation places, two nasals, a trill and two glide consonants. There is no /l/ phoneme, but glottalized fricatives /s’/, and /x’/ etc. The vowel system is as follows.

Hoocąk vowel system

Table 2. Hoocąk vowel system

This system of short vowels is doubled by a corresponding system of long vowels.

Another even rarer typological feature can be found in the accent system of Hoocąk. Hocank has a fixed system of stress placement. Primary stress is put on the third mora from the left. Thus, Hoocąk is a mora counting language, a short vowel counts as one mora, a long vowel as two. Typologically rare is the rule that it is the third mora from the left edge of the word that receives primary stress. Secondary stress is then put on every second syllable counting from the position of the primary stress.
Sound symbolism can be found in many North American Indian languages and is also well known in Siouan languages. Hence, it is not surprising to find remnants of sound symbolism in the Hoocąk lexicon as well. There are at least two series of sounds, /s/, /š/, /x/, and /z/, /ž/, /ğ/, that alternate in verb stems indicating an alternation in meaning. The relative backness of the point of articulation has an augmentative or intensifying effect on the meaning, cf. pirís ‘to wrinkle’, pirís` ‘to curl’, piríx ‘to curl in large curls’.

4. Morphology

Hoocąk has a very rich verbal morphology. Grammatical categories that are indicated morphologically on the verb include among others the person of the (transitive or intransitive) actor and the person of the (transitive or intransitive) undergoer. Up to three arguments of the verb can be marked by pronominal affixes on the verb. Furthermore, we find derivational morphology marking two types of locative application, instrument application, recipient/ benefactive application as well as affixes indicating reciprocal, reflexive, and possessive reflexive meanings. Grammatical categories that are expressed mainly by suffixes or enclitics include plurality, tense, mood and aspect categories.

A peculiarity of the verbal morphology in Hoocąk (and all other Siouan languages) is a large set of transitivizing prefixes that add an instrumental meaning to the meaning of the verb. For instance, there is a bound verbal root -cee in Hoocąk meaning ‘break off’. With an instrumental prefix nąą- meaning ‘by foot’, the resulting stem nąącé receives the meaning ‘to break off by foot’. With mąą- ‘by cutting’, mąącé means ‘to break off by cutting’. With the instrumental prefix taa- ‘by heat’, taacé means ‘to burn off’, and so on. There are five other instrumental prefixes, viz. boo- ‘by shooting, blowing, great force’, wa- ‘by pressure or pushing’, gi- ‘by striking’, ra- ‘with the mouth’, and ru- ‘by hand’ actually causing similar semantic effects as the ones just illustrated.

Another typological peculiarity Hoocąk shares with many of the other Siouan languages is the sub-classification of intransitive verbs into active intransitive and inactive intransitive verbs. This – partly semantically based – classification of intransitive verbs is reflected morphologically in the way the respective verbs are personally inflected. Active intransitive verbs employ one set of person markers, the inactive ones the other set. The two sets are utilized also with transitive verbs indicating the same or related semantic roles of the participants. The actor series of pronominal prefixes represent agent-like semantic roles, the undergoer series of pronominal prefixes represent patient-like semantic roles. Thus, Hoocąk is a good representative of the active-inactive coding type that is opposed to the nominative-accusative and the ergative-absolutive type in syntactic typology.

Another peculiarity of the verbal morphology deserves some remarks. From a synchronic perspective, Hoocąk verbs show immense and systematic infixation. Pronominal prefixes as well as certain derivational prefixes are systematically inserted in the stem of the verb. For instance, there is a verb nąąxgų́ ‘to hear sth.’ which shows almost all personal affixes between the first syllable nąą- and the second syllable -xgų́. Thus, ‘I hear sth’ looks like nąą-ha-xgų́ -> ną́ąxgų in Hoocąk, with infixation of first person singular active ha-. Similarly, if one wants to add a recipient or benefactive argument in the argument structure of a verb, one has to employ the derivational morpheme gi-, which is infixed in most of the cases. For instance, there is verb horák ‘to tell sth.’ Now, if one wants to add a recipient or addressee of the telling, Hoocąk speakers add a benefactive application within the word, cf. hogirak ‘to tell sth. to someone’. The benefactive applicative gi- is infixed into the stem of the word.

5. Syntax

Hoocąk shows some properties of a SOV language. The verbal predicate is clause and sentence final, with the main lexical noun phrases such as the actor / subject NP and the Undergoer / object NP usually preceding it. The order of the lexical NPs as main constituents is, however, not strict. If a possessive relation is expressed by means of a juxtaposition of NPs, the order is always possessor preceding possessum. Typical for a SOV language is also the order Verb – Auxiliary, which we find in Hoocąk, too. On the other hand, almost all modifiers and determiners follow the head noun within the NP, and the same holds for the relative clause. Both properties are usually found in SVO languages.

Another peculiar feature of Hoocąk is the lack of case marking. There is no morphological category of case on nouns, and there are no adpositions indicating the semantic roles of NPs. The question arises how Hocank marks the semantic roles of the participants in the clause and sentence. If the participants in a clause are speech act participants, the semantic roles are expressed unambiguously on the verb by means of the different series of pronominal affixes. This holds also for cases in which the lexical noun phrases are plural, since there are different forms for third person plural categories in both paradigms. However, if there are only third person singular lexical NPs in the clause, no cross-referencing affix can be found on the verb. Third person singular actors and undergoers are represented by zero morphemes. In these cases, pragmatics and word order play an important role for the assignment of the respective semantic role of the NPs.

Hoocąk syntax is characterized by another trait, which could be called the avoidance of adjuncts. In English and other European languages, peripheral participants, i.e. participants that are not subject, direct object or indirect object, are expressed by means of prepositional phrases. Usually, these participants play semantic roles in the clause such as benefactive, comitative, instrument, manner, locative, source, goal, and perhaps some others. Adpositions that cover these semantic relations are lacking in Hoocąk. There has to be another way to communicate these semantic relations. Hoocąk employs at least two alternative strategies to express these relations. One strategy is to assign them argument status, i.e. to raise them to an undergoer (direct object) position in the clause by means of the various ways of locative, instrument, and benefactive application already mentioned above. The other strategy is to express these semantic relations using subordinate clauses. This is, for instance, the preferred way to express a manner role or a comitative role. There is a verb hakižu ‘to be together’ which functions as the predicate of a subordinated clause introducing as subject the participant that accompanies the actor / subject of the main clause.

6. Lexicon

As can be expected, there are many words in the lexicon of Hoocąk that do not have an exact equivalent in English. Often the meanings of the Hoocąk words have to be paraphrased by longer expressions or even whole sentences in order to get the meaning right. This holds in particular for words that designate cultural concepts for which a cultural equivalent is lacking in English. For instance, there is a word hąątáginac that could be translated as ‘to fast’ in English. This translation, however, covers only a part of the meaning. Actually, it means ‘to fast for a vision or for a blessing’. The cultural background of this word meaning is the concept of and function of fasting. Traditionally, Hoocąks believed that fasting is necessary in order to have dreams or visions, which contain messages from the spirits. These messages help the faster to solve specific questions or problems. These visions are seen as helpful guidance and advice from the spirits. The one who successfully managed to fast was seen as someone who was blessed by the spirits.

This is an example for the semantic peculiarity of single words that are culturally conditioned. There are, however, also groups of words that show some paradigmatic structure (semantic fields) encoding language specific meaning oppositions. The set of motion verbs and the positionals will be briefly mentioned in order to illustrate this issue. The first of these, the set of motion verbs, or better the verbs of coming and going, contain twelve forms having regular semantic oppositions, cf. Table 3

come go come back go back
begin, start huu ree guu keré
arrive, end jii hii kirí gii
be on the way huuhé raahé guuhé karahé

Table 3. Verbs of ‘coming’ and ‘going’ in Hoocąk

The semantic features encoded in the lexical paradigm of verbs are ‘movement towards speaker’ versus ‘movement away from speaker’, ‘return to speaker’ versus ‘return to a place away from speaker’, ‘starting of movement’ versus ‘arriving or end of movement’, and ‘being in the midst of the movement’.

The second set of forms, the so-called positionals, are common Siouan. They include four verbs of ‘being’ that are used as auxiliaries. They classify the subject according to its spatial orientation distinguishing a standing or vertical position, a lying or horizontal position, and a sitting or compact position, cf. the forms in Table 4.

‘to be’ singular plural
sitting, compact nᶏk nᶏᶏk
standing, vertical jee
lying, horizontal ‘ᶏk/ ‘ak

Table 4. The Hoocąk positionals.

The basic forms of these positional given in Table 4 play a significant role in Hoocąk grammar and are used for various purposes. First, they are used as copulas in clauses with a non-verbal predicate, e.g. of the type ‘there is a tree standing’, classifying the subject according to its spatial orientation. In addition, they are used as auxiliaries in clauses with a verbal predicate a) indicating the spatial orientation of the actor / subject, b) sometimes rather classifying the spatial orientation of the action / movement of the subject itself, and c) marking progressive aspect. Thirdly, these forms are morphological components of a parallel set of attributive demonstrative pronouns leading to a spatial / local classification of the head noun.