Video Lecture

Language Lesson - The Basics

Beginning To Learn Potawatomi       Potawatomi Alphabet       Pronunciation       Vocabulary       Quiz

Beginning to Learn Potawatomi

By Jim Thunder, Sr.

Jim Thunder Picture

The Potawatomi language is basically simple in that it only has four vowel sounds that make up the entire vocabulary. Compare this to the English language that has five vowels (a e i o u), with each of them capable of several different sounds. The Potawatomi language uses only four (a e i o), and each has only one sound. These four vowels are used in conjunction with other letters of the alphabet to form the Potawatomi vocabulary. Bear in mind that the person who developed the written language also never went to school in his life, so had no knowledge of vowels and consonants. The fact that he was able to do it all is really an accomplishment.

Why then, is it so hard for a Potawatomi speaking person to be able to read the old documents? There are several reasons and I will outline them below:

• One of the main reasons is that there were no formalized standardized methods of instruction. That is, people learned the basic concept, then went on to develop their own style according to their own needs and limited knowledge of the English alphabet.

• Some of the Potawatomi words that were in use in the late 1800s have died out due to lack of use.

• When they described geographical locations it would most likely be the Indian name for that particular area. Sometimes it is the English name written in the Indian language.

• Pure Potawatomi as spoken in Kansas is harder to read than the dialect spoken in Wisconsin.

• A lot of Indian songs were written down and these are quite impossible to decipher.

• Finally, because each person developed their own style of writing, some documents are harder to read than others.

The "Beginning to Learn Potawatomi" section is an excerpt from
Old Potawatomi Language Book One by Jim Thunder, Sr.
Forest County Potawatomi, Wisconsin
Reprinted With Permission