What Is the History of the Ho-Chunk Language?


Quick Answer

Because the written history of the Ho-Chunk, or Winnebago, tribe of Native Americans is relatively brief, it is difficult to trace the language's history very far into the past. The Ho-Chunk language dominated the area during the 16th century, but since then the language has declined, and the number of speakers as of 2015 is about 200. Many actions are being taken to revitalize the language and to teach it to the younger generations.

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Full Answer

The Winnebago language, also called Hoc?k, is part of the Siouan language family. This language family comprises many languages that were spoken in what is now Wisconsin, Minnesota, and parts of Iowa and Illinois. Some ethnologists have speculated that, like some other Siouan peoples, the Ho-Chunk originated along the East Coast and migrated west in ancient times.

Oral histories indicate that the Ho-Chunk culture dominated the area with a population of many thousands during the 16th century, but that their numbers declined in the 17th century due to war, disease and weather. This resulted in the steep decline in the Hoc?k language, which continued until 1990, when the Ho-Chunk Culture Committee began programs to maintain the language.

Today, the language is spoken by few elders and is mainly used during ceremonies. All of the language's speakers also speak English. In an effort to revitalize the language, the tribe organizes language courses across Wisconsin for children and adults, as well as language immersion summer camps.

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