Mandan (Mandan: Nų́ų́ʔetaa íroo) is an extinct Siouan language of North Dakota in the United States.

Nų́ų́ʔetaa íroo
Native toUnited States
RegionFort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota
Extinct9 December 2016, with the death of Edwin Benson[1]
RevivalTaught at Fort Berthold Community College
Language codes
ISO 639-3mhq
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Use and revitalization efforts


By 2009, there was just one fluent speaker of Mandan, Dr. Edwin Benson (1931–2016).[2] The language is being taught in local school programs to encourage the use of the language.[3] Prior to Benson's death, Estonian linguist Indrek Park worked with him for more than two years to preserve the language as much as possible.[4] The 2020 documentary To Save A Language portrays Park's efforts to revive the language.[5]

Mandan is taught at Fort Berthold Community College along with the Hidatsa and Arikara languages.[2] Linguist Mauricio Mixco of the University of Utah has been involved in fieldwork with remaining speakers since 1993. As of 2007, extensive materials in the Mandan language at the college and at the North Dakota Heritage Center, in Bismarck, North Dakota, remained to be processed, according to linguists.[6]

The MHA Language Project has created language learning materials for Mandan, including a vocabulary app, a dictionary, and several books in the language. They also provide a summer learning institute and materials for teachers.[7]



Mandan was initially thought to be closely related to Hidatsa and Crow. However, since Mandan has had language contact with Hidatsa and Crow for many years, the exact relationship between Mandan and other Siouan languages (including Hidatsa and Crow) has been obscured and is currently undetermined. Thus, Mandan is most often considered to be a separate branch of the Siouan family.

Mandan has two main dialects: Nuptare and Nuetare.

Only the Nuptare variety survived into the 20th century, and all speakers were bilingual in Hidatsa. In 1999, there were only six fluent speakers of Mandan still alive.[8] Edwin Benson, the last surviving fluent Mandan speaker, died in 2016.[9]

The language received much attention from White Americans because of the supposedly lighter skin color of the Mandan people, which they speculated was due to an ultimate European origin. In the 1830s Prince Maximilian of Wied spent more time recording Mandan over all other Siouan languages and prepared a comparison list of Mandan and Welsh words (he thought that the Mandan might be displaced Welsh).[10] The idea of a Mandan/Welsh connection was also supported by George Catlin.[11]

Will and Spinden (p. 188) report that the medicine men had their own secret language.



Mandan has the following consonant phonemes:

Labial Alveolar Post-
Velar Glottal
Stop p t k ʔ
Fricative s ʃ x h
Sonorant w r

/w/ and /r/ become [m] and [n] before nasal vowels, and /r/ is realized as [ⁿd] word-initially.[12]

Front Central Back
Oral Nasal Oral Nasal Oral Nasal
short long short long short long short long short long short long
Close i ĩ ĩː u ũ ũː
Mid e o
Open a ã ãː



Mandan is a subject–object–verb language.

Mandan has a system of allocutive agreement and so different grammatical forms may be used that depend on the gender of the addressee. Questions asked of men must use the suffix -oʔsha: the suffix -oʔną is used to ask of women. Likewise, the indicative suffix is -oʔsh to address men, -oʔre to address women. The same goes for the imperative: -ta (male), -ną (female).[13]

Mandan verbs include a set of postural verbs, which encode the shapes of the subject of the verb:[14]








wérex ną́koʔsh

wérex ną́k-oʔsh

pot sit-PRESENT

'A pot was there (sitting).'








mį́ʔtixteną roomąkoʔsh

mį́ʔti-xte-ną -roomąkoʔsh


'There was a big village.'








mą́ątah mą́komąkoʔsh

mą́ątah mą́k-omąkoʔsh


'The river was there.'

The English translations are not "A pot was sitting there," "A big village stood there," or "The river lay there." That reflects the fact that the postural categorization is required in such Mandan locative statements.



Mandan, like many other North American languages, has elements of sound symbolism in its vocabulary. A /s/ sound often denotes smallness/less intensity, /ʃ/ denotes medium-ness, /x/ denotes largeness/greater intensity:[15]

  • síire "yellow"
  • shíire "tawny"
  • xíire "brown"
  • seró "tinkle"
  • xeró "rattle"

Compare the similar examples in Lakhota.


  1. ^ "Edwin Benson, last-known fluent speaker of Mandan, passes away at 85". Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b Rave, Jodi (11 May 2009). "The last speaker: UND to honor Mandan, last to speak Nu'eta as 1st language". The Missoulian.
  3. ^ "Last known fluent Mandan speaker honored". News From Indian Country. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
  4. ^ "Man known as last fluent speaker of the Mandan language dies". Associated Press. 16 December 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  5. ^ "To Save a Language". Lübeck Nordic Film Days. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  6. ^ 9 "Rancher, linguist working to preserve Mandan language". News From Indian Country. 7 August 2007. Retrieved 27 September 2012. {{cite news}}: Check |url= value (help)
  7. ^ "Home". MHA Language Project - Mandan. Retrieved 5 January 2019.
  8. ^ Personal communication from Mauricio Mixco in 1999, reported in Parks & Rankin. 2001. p. 112.
  9. ^ Skurzewski, Joe (9 December 2016). "Edwin Benson, last-known fluent speaker of Mandan, passes away at 85". Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  10. ^ Chafe. 1976b. pp. 37–38.
  11. ^ Catlin, G. Die Indianer Nordamerikas Verlag Lothar Borowsky
  12. ^ Wood & Irwin 2001, p. 349
  13. ^ Hollow. 1970. p. 457 (in Mithun 1999. p. 280).
  14. ^ Mithun, Marianne (2001). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 115–116. ISBN 978-0-521-29875-9.
  15. ^ Hollow & Parks 1980. p. 82.


  • Carter, Richard T. (1991a). Old Man Coyote and the wild potato: A Mandan trickster tale. In H. C. Wolfart & J. L. Finlay (Ed.), Linguistic studies presented to John L. Finlay (pp. 27–43). Memoir (No. 8). Winnipeg: Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics. ISBN 0-921064-08-X.
  • Carter, Richard T. (1991b). Maximilian's Ruptare vocabulary: Phililogical evidence and Mandan phonology. In F. Ingemann (Ed.), 1990 Mid-America Linguistics Conference: Papers (pp. 479–489). Lawrence, KS: Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas.
  • Chafe, Wallace. (1973). Siouan, Iroquoian, and Caddoan. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Current trends in linguistics (Vol. 10, pp. 1164–1209). The Hague: Mouton. (Republished as Chafe 1976a).
  • Chafe, Wallace. (1976a). Siouan, Iroquoian, and Caddoan. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Native languages of the Americas (pp. 527–572). New York: Plenum Press. ISBN 0-306-37157-X. (Originally published as Chafe 1973).
  • Chafe, Wallace. (1976b). The Caddoan, Iroquoian, and Siouan languages. Trends in linguistics: State-of-the-art report (No. 3). The Hague: Mouton. ISBN 90-279-3443-6.
  • Coberly, Mary. (1979). A text analysis and brief grammatical sketch based on 'Trickster challenges the buffalo': A Mandan text collected by Edward Kennard. Colorado Research in Linguistics, 8, 19–94.
  • Hollow, Robert C. (1970). A Mandan dictionary. (Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley).
  • Hollow, Robert C.; & Parks, Douglas. (1980). Studies in plains linguistics: A review. In W. R. Wood & M. P. Liberty (Eds.), Anthropology on the Great Plains (pp. 68–97). Lincoln: University of Nebraska. ISBN 0-8032-4708-7.
  • Kennard, Edward. (1936). Mandan grammar. International Journal of American Linguistics, 9, 1–43.
  • Lowie, Robert H. (1913). Societies of the Hidatsa and Mandan Indians. In R. H. Lowie, Societies of the Crow, Hidatsa, and Mandan Indians (pp. 219–358). Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History (Vol. 11, Part 3). New York: The Trustees. (Texts are on pp. 355–358).
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Mixco, Mauricio C. (1997a). Mandan. Languages of the world series: Materials 159. Münich: LINCOM Europa. ISBN 3-89586-213-4.
  • Mixco, Mauricio C. (1997b). Mandan switch reference: A preliminary view. Anthropological Linguistics, 39, 220–298.
  • Parks, Douglas R.; Jones, A. Wesley; Hollow, Robert C; & Ripley, David J. (1978). Earth lodge tales from the upper Missouri. Bismarck, ND: Mary College.
  • Parks, Douglas R.; & Rankin, Robert L. (2001). The Siouan languages. In R. J. DeMallie (Ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Plains (Vol. 13, Part 1, pp. 94–114). W. C. Sturtevant (Gen. Ed.). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-050400-7.
  • Will, George; & Spinden, H. J. (1906). The Mandans: A study of their culture, archaeology and language. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University (Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 81–219). Cambridge, MA: The Museum. (Reprinted 1976, New York: Kraus Reprint Corporation).
  • Wolvengrey, Arok. (1991). A marker of focus in Mandan discourse. In F. Ingemann (Ed.), 1990 Mid-America Linguistics Conference: Papers (pp. 584–598). Lawrence, KS: Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas.
  • Wood, Raymond W.; & Irwin, Lee. (2001). "Mandan". In "Plains", ed. Raymond J. DeMaille. Vol. 13 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.