A Native American people, and their Algonkian language spoken in Oklahoma and in Montana. Formerly in decline, it was adopted as the official language of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe on 21 April 1997.

The people call themselves Tsétsêhéstâhese, or in simplified spelling Tsististas. The name "Cheyenne" appears to be a Dakota word, meaning "little Cree". The Dakota word shahiya means Cree (though the Dakota usually just call the Cree "Manshtincha", or "rabbits", if you're interested), and its diminutive was shahiyena, which appears on the 1679 French map of Jean-Baptiste Franquelin as Chaiena. Several less plausible etymologies have also been proposed, such as French chien 'dog', and a Dakota word for 'red'.

There are three vowels A E and O, and twelve consonants H K M N P S SH T TS V X and ' for the glottal stop. The letter X is a velar fricative as in 'loch' or 'chutzpah'. The vowels can occur with either high or low pitch, or can be devoiced (whispered). Although E is written, it is actually closer to English I, and V may be closer to English W.

In the official orthography SH is represented by an accented S, high-pitched vowels are written with acute accents á é ó, and voiceless vowels are written with a dot over them. In this node a circumflex is used instead of the dot, as â ê ô.

Pitch is phonemic, that is a difference in pitch may make a difference in meaning. In fact the plural of nouns is often marked by a change of pitch.

hótame = dog, hotáme = dogs
séstótó'e = pine tree, séstotó'e = pines
vé'ho'e = white man or spider, vé'hó'e = white men or spiders

There are two classes or genders, called animate and inanimate because animate beings are in the "animate" class, though other nouns are divided between the two classes. Verbs are marked to agree in animacy with their subject and object of verbs, and demonstratives also agree. There is a variety of plural endings for nouns.

In Cheyenne there are two pronouns for English "we", one being inclusive (I am including you), the other exclusive. And in the third person there is a distinction between proximate and obviative. See my node on obviative for a detailed explanation of that, with examples from Cheyenne verb forms.

A useful Cheyenne word to memorize is náohkêsáa'oné'seómepêhévetsêhésto'anéhe, which means 'I truly do not pronounce Cheyenne well'.

A bit of vocabulary:

  • hé'e = woman
  • hetane = man
  • ka'êskone = child
  • ve'keso = bird
  • hoohtsêstse = tree
  • ese'he = sun
  • ho'e = land
  • o'he'e = river
  • hesta = heart
  • ma'kesta = vulva
  • vetoo'ôtse = penis
A proverb frequently quoted by the late Cheyenne historian John Stands In Timber is Névé'novôhe'étanóme mâsêhánééstóva, onésetó'ha'éeta netáhoestovevoo'o, onésêhestóxévétáno mâsêhánééstóva!. Literally this means "Don't race in craziness, try to stop your mounts, try to come in last in terms of craziness!", and the essence of it is "Don't live a hurried life!".

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