Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

The Mohawk Language Standardisation Project

Conference Report, August 9-10, 1993

litlogoe[1]Submitted by Dorothy Karihwénhawe Lazore to the Mohawk Language Steering Committee. Edited and translated by Annette Kaia’titáhkhe Jacobs, Nancy Kahawinónkie Thompson, and Minnie Kaià:khons Leaf. Co-ordinated by Dan Rohkwáho Thompson. The Mohawk-language version of this document is also available online.


Executive Summary

In August 1993, the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference met at Tyendinaga to decide on a standard, written form of Mohawk. The conference was co-sponsored by the six Mohawk First Nations and supported by the Ontario ministries of Education and Training, of Citizenship, and of Culture, Tourism and Recreation.

The method followed for standardising the Mohawk language was to identify areas for standardisation, to establish consensus through consultation, and to hold a conference in order to reach a final decision. Prior to the conference, specific orthographic issues were identified through consultation meetings in all six Mohawk territories. Elders, teachers, linguists and fluent Mohawk speakers were invited to attend. The issues that were identified served as the topics for discussion, consultation, and decision-making at the conference.

The conference made five recommendations which form the basis for a standard, written form of Mohawk which can be used and understood wherever Mohawk is read and written.

Summary of Recommendations:

  1. The Roman alphabet consisting of twelve letters is to be used in writing the Mohawk language. In alphabetical order, this alphabet consists of:
    A, E, H, I, K, N, O, R, S, T, W, and Y(1)
  2. The diacritical marks used in writing the Mohawk language are:
    • falling tone with length (Kawennénhtha tánon teiotsistóhkwake) (`:);
    • rising tone with length (Kawennakará:tats tánon teiotsistóhkwake) (´:);
    • rising tone stress (Kawennakára:tats) (´);
    • glottal stop (Tekawénniaks) (‘).
  3. Capitals will be used in writing the Mohawk Language.
  4. In writing the Mohawk language, question marks, quotation marks, exclamation marks, periods, and commas are used.
  5. New words in the Mohawk language are to be formed by function, activity, or characteristic. Loan words may be taken from other languages. All agreed to the following new words:


The purpose of the report is to describe the process of preparing for the conference and to record the decisions made at the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference on the standards for the literary form of the Mohawk language. The Mohawk Language Standardisation Project, a joint effort of the six Mohawk nations of Tyendinaga, Ahkwesáhsne, Wáhta, Ohswé:ken (Six Nations), Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke, was supported by the ministries of Education and Training, of Citizenship, and of Culture, Tourism and Recreation. It has completed the task of standardising the orthography of the Mohawk language spoken on the six Mohawk territories.

The method followed for standardising the Mohawk language was to establish consensus through consultation and to reach final decisions at a conference. Prior to the conference, specific orthographic issues were identified through consultation meetings in all the Mohawk territories. Elders, teachers, linguists and fluent Mohawk speakers were invited to attend. The issues that were identified served as the topics for discussion, consultation and decision-making at the conference.

The representatives of the steering committee, the project co-ordinator, the ministries, and the Band Councils of the six Mohawk nations would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who accepted to participate in the consultation process, either by attending meetings, participating in the pre-conference workshop, or by advising the committee on the issues of orthography.

We would especially like to express our gratitude and appreciation to our Elders who responded to our request with such enthusiasm and to Kaia’titáhkhe Annette Jacobs for help with editing this report.


The Assembly of First Nations in its 1990 report “Towards Linguistic Justice for First Nations”, recommended:

“establishing standards for the written and oral languages by approving terminology, developing a dictionary, and approving standard orthographies”.

It is important that a literary standard be developed for the future delivery of Native education in the Mohawk language.

What is Standardisation?

Standardisation is a necessary and vital process in any language. A natural standardisation process occurs in healthy languages. Certain standard rules must be followed so that people can communicate effectively with one another.

However, there are differences in speech that occur among all speakers of a language. Sometimes the differences are so pronounced that one can identify from which community a speaker originates. One can also tell when the speaker is a child, a beginner, or an Elder. Furthermore, one can identify when a speaker is giving a formal speech, such as an opening address, or simply having a friendly chat at the corner restaurant. The task of the Mohawk Language Standardisation Project was to select a writing system which would accommodate these differences for each of the Mohawk-speaking territories.

Standardisation is particularly important when there are great differences between dialects. Dialects are not a big issue for the Iroquoian languages. There are some dialects in Mohawk but they are mutually comprehensible. Standardisation does not mean the elimination of dialects in favour of a new literary form. Dialects are preserved in the family and in the community of speakers.

Revitalizing any language requires modernizing the vocabulary, publishing a standard writing system, and developing methods to incorporate new words into the language. The existence of modern dictionaries and grammar makes the work of standardisation much easier.

The purpose of the Mohawk Language Standardisation Project was to come to a consensus on a writing system that could be used among the six Mohawk Communities and to establish rules for writing to reflect the differences for each Community and its dialect.

The method of standardisation involved selecting a process which would lead to a consensus on the alphabet and on the writing practices used among the six Mohawk-speaking Communities. The social and stylistic differences in speech among the Communities was to be respected.

During the consultations, it was highly recommended that the speech of Elders be selected as the basis for writing the Mohawk language.

Why Standardise the Writing System?

Standardising the writing system of the Mohawk language would be of great benefit to the retention, survival, and revitalization of the Mohawk language within the six territories. Solidifying a standard literary form that is and has been used by Native speakers will assist in the preservation of the older forms of speech, especially the speech of Elders.

If all Mohawk speakers were to utilise one standard written form, it would be easier to teach literacy in the native language. Mohawk curriculum materials could be developed which would be available to schools in communities speaking the same language.

Important documents, such as band legal documents or school board information, could be available in both languages to encourage community awareness on how important and vital it is to maintain the native language.

Standardising the Mohawk orthography will assist in the on-going promotion, development, and production of materials in the Mohawk language.

Mohawk Writing Systems

Historical Background on the Kanien’keha Writing System

Prior to European contact, the Mohawk language was recorded in pictographs. Messages, stories, and legends were all told in pictograph form. The history of our people, events, and treaties were recorded on wampum belts. Wampum belts were used as a mnemonic device.

In the early eighteenth century, the Jesuits, Sulpicians, and other religious groups who worked with the Native people transcribed the oral language. The Jesuit and Sulpician missionaries relied on French phonetics to write in Mohawk. They used twelve letters of the Roman alphabet to write the language in order to record hymns, prayers, and Church music. Almanacs, legal documents, band council resolutions, and wills were all written using the twelve-letter alphabet. A Mohawk-French, French-Mohawk dictionary was written in the early eighteenth century by the Jesuits, although not published.

The writing system developed by Jesuit missionaries in Ahkwesáhsne and Kahnawà:ke has been used for centuries. In 1970, the Mohawk language was introduced into the education system. In 1972, a group of educators, translators, and Elders developed an orthography for use in schools in Kahnawà:ke. For this orthography, the teachers added diacritical marks in order to make it easier for beginning speakers who were learning how to read. Over a period of twenty years, Kahnawà:ke developed and refined this writing system. Over the years, curriculum materials were also developed using this system. The materials designed were used in other Mohawk-speaking Communities interested in learning or teaching the Mohawk language.

The writing system that was agreed upon in 1972 is presently being used in all six Mohawk-speaking Communities of Tyendinaga, Ahkwesáhsne, Wáhta, Ohswé:ken, Kanehsatà:ke, and Kahnawà:ke.

In Kanehsatà:ke, the Sulpician missionaries recorded the language for use in the hymn books. Joseph Akwirente Onasakenrat translated the New Testament from French to Kanién’keha (Mohawk) between 1869 and 1880. In 1972, the Kanahsata:ke teachers joined Kahnawà:ke in their endeavour to write the language. Ahkwesáhsne also uses the same writing system.

The Wáhta Territory uses the same writing system as in Kanehsatà:ke. The early records – wills and band council speeches – were all written using the twelve letters of the Roman alphabet.

Ohswé:ken (Six Nations) has developed several writing systems over the past few decades. In the early eighteenth century, the language was written down by the Anglican missionaries introducing some letters not used elsewhere, such as the “d,” “g,” “y,” and “z.” The language was written exactly as it was pronounced, such as dagos for “cat,” gazere for “car,” yawekon for “it is good.” The Jamieson orthography was based on this orthography. The Ruth Isaac orthography was also developed at Ohswé:ken to assist teachers in learning the writing system of the language. Since 1988, Ohswé:ken has also adopted the writing system used in Kahnawà:ke for use in their Mohawk Immersion School.

In Tyendinaga, the Anglican missionaries also wrote the language using the letters “d,” “g,” “y,” and “z.” This writing system is used in the church hymnals and prayer books. In 1984, the language was introduced into the education system. Materials from other reserves were used. Today the writing system being used in the schools is similar to the writing system used in Ahkwesáhsne, Kahnawà:ke, Kanehsatà:ke, and Wáhta.

The Mohawk Alphabet

All Mohawk writing systems use the same Roman or Latin alphabet which is also used to write English. However, the Mohawk method is more systematic than the English writing system; you generally write a word exactly the way it sounds in Mohawk. It is therefore easy to learn the written Mohawk form: the written form reflects the spoken word.

Twelve letters of the Roman alphabet are used to write the Mohawk language. The vowels are “a,” “e,” “i,” “o,” “en,” and “on.” The consonants are “h,” “k,” “n,” “r,” “s,” “t,” “w,” and “y.”

Dialect differences do exist on the different reserves. Speakers may and do have different pronunciations for the same word. This difference is now reflected in the orthography used. For example:

Ahkwesahsne/ Ohswé:ken

Tyendinaga writes the “t” as a “d” because one of the rules in the language states that a “d” before a vowel sounds like a “t.”

Mohawk uses syllables made up of a combination of consonants and vowels, vowel combinations, consonant clusters, and consonant cluster vowel combinations to form words.

consonant-vowel ha, tha he, sha hi, wha
vowel combination ia ie io
consonant cluster khw hkhw
consonant combination th sh wh
cluster vowel combination khwa hkhwa

A complete chart can be developed using these combinations of sounds. Using this chart, any Mohawk word can be written. In all six Mohawk Communities, literate Mohawk speakers as well as beginning learners of the Mohawk language write words using this sound chart.

The Process for Standardising Mohawk Writing

Six Mohawk-speaking nations in the provinces of Ontario and Québec as well as in the United States participated in the consultation process for the Mohawk language standardisation project.

Three of the Mohawk-speaking nations – Tyendinaga, Wáhta, and Ohswé:ken – are located in Ontario. Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke are situated in the province of Quebec, near Montréal. Ahkwesáhsne is unique in that it straddles two provinces – Quebec and Ontario – as well as New York State.

The Aboriginal Standardisation Project

To address the Aboriginal people’s concern that many Aboriginal languages were becoming extinct, the Ontario Ministry of Education, through the Literacy Branch, developed a multi-year proposal for Aboriginal language standardisation as part of its mandate for Aboriginal literacy. The Literacy Branch(2) assists the Aboriginal people in Ontario to standardise their languages. The Ministry provides financial assistance to Aboriginal peoples in Ontario to develop standard literary forms and to prepare materials in their native languages for use in the school system. The objective is to ensure the revitalization, survival, and functional use of Ontario’s Aboriginal languages.

The Ministry of Education and Training (MET) is committed to delivering educational services in Aboriginal languages; the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board (OTAB) is also committed to providing literacy services to adults in Ontario’s thirteen Aboriginal languages. Mohawk, like other Aboriginal languages native to Ontario, did not have a standard writing system which was accepted by all Mohawk-speakers. Standardisation of a language is required to produce quality materials and to avoid fragmentation of a language, in this case, the fragmentation of the Mohawk language.

The Mohawk Standardisation Conference

The first proposal under the Aboriginal Language Standardisation Project – the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference – was initiated on January 22, 1993. It was conceived as a six-month project with the objective of making recommendations on standardising Mohawk orthography. This step would be vital in the development of written Mohawk educational texts and, in the long run, the revitalization of the Mohawk language.

A. Co-sponsorship Agreement

After identifying the issue of Aboriginal standardisation, Literacy Branch staff invited members from Ontario’s four Mohawk nations to attend a meeting on January 22, 1993. The Toronto meeting had a two-fold purpose:

  • to determine if the Mohawk People wished to develop a standard, literary form of their language; and
  • to establish which reserve or organization would be willing to administer the government funds available for this purpose.

The meeting was attended by the following official representatives:

Patti General Tyendinaga
Amos Key Ohswé:ken
Minnie Leaf Ahkwesáhsne
Donna Maracle Tyendinaga
Glenda “Sam” Maracle Tyendinaga
Chief Steve Stock Wáhta
Thomas Stock Wáhta
Chief Rose Marie Sunday Ahkwesáhsne
John Stanley Ministry of Education and Training
Priscilla George Ministry of Education and Training

All participants agreed that the language should be standardised in order to promote its use. The Tyendinaga Band Council offered to administer the project. Under the Aboriginal Language Standardisation Project, the Ministry drew up a draft co-sponsorship agreement between the Ministry and the Mohawk territories. At this same meeting, it was decided to present the language standardisation project to the territorial leaders.

On February 4, 1993, a second meeting was held at Ahkwesáhsne. The meeting was hosted by Chief Rose Marie Sunday. At the Ahkwesáhsne meeting, the four Chiefs signed the co-sponsorship agreement for a Mohawk language standardisation conference. This agreement was between MET and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, the Mohawk Council of Ahkwesáhsne, the Wáhta Mohawk First Nation and the Six Nations of the Grand River.

The agreement was signed by Chief Earl Hill (Tyendinaga), Chief Steve Williams (Ohswé:ken), Chief Steve Stock (Wáhta), and Grand Chief Mike Mitchell (Ahkwesáhsne). The Chiefs agreed that the funds and project would be administered through the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. (See Appendix for the Co-sponsorship Agreement between MET and the Mohawk territories in Ontario.)

The Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference was funded by the Ministry of Education and Training, the Ministry of Citizenship (CIT), and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation (CTR). (Separate grants were made by CIT and CTR.)

B. Consultation

On March 5, 1993, Glenda “Sam” Maracle, on behalf of the Tyendinaga Band Council, sent letters to the six territories inviting them to participate in the Conference Planning Committee, the conference, and in the hiring of a Conference Co-ordinator. Attached to this letter was a copy of the draft Terms of Reference for the conference and a job description for the co-ordinator. After discussion among the Band Councils of the six Mohawk-speaking nations, two representatives from each nation were selected to sit on the steering committee. Most members of the steering committee were native speakers. Most had also received training in Mohawk linguistics through teacher training programmes in Ontario and Quebec.

By March 17, 1993, names of representatives from each territory were submitted and a steering committee was established. On April 8, 1993, the newly-formed steering committee met to discuss terms of reference, mile posts, the community consultation process, the hiring of a project co-ordinator, the time frame for the consultation process, and the conference dates.

Steering Committee Terms of Reference

The following Terms of Reference were adopted for the Steering Committee:

  1. Participate actively in the conference on standardisation.
  2. Decide what needs to be standardised.
  3. Agree on a standard writing system
  4. Establish rules of spelling and grammar.
  5. Approve methods to coin new words.
  6. Record traditional words and their meaning.

On April 15, 1993, interviews were conducted to hire a project co-ordinator and Dorothy Lazore was contracted to co-ordinate the conference. The project co-ordinator was to:

  • chair the steering committee;
  • conduct the consultation on standardisation of the Mohawk language;
  • organize a conference within the six-month time frame of the project;
  • write the conference report;
  • have the report translated into Mohawk; and
  • send a copy of the report to the ministries as well as the Band Councils.

In collaboration with the steering committee, the project co-ordinator held local meetings on each territory in order to consult with Elders, teachers, linguists, and language specialists in developing a standard literary form for the Mohawk language. Two consultation meetings were held within each territory. To serve as a guide for discussion purposes, a questionnaire on standardisation was developed by the steering committee.

The consultation process was designed to ensure that the conference and its results were supported and accepted by the Mohawk-speaking communities. Its aim was to involve as many Mohawk-speaking people as possible in the process of standardising the Mohawk language and identifying language issues and concerns.

The co-ordinator’s responsibilities included:

  • developing a questionnaire in consultation with the steering committee;
  • establishing dates for consultation;
  • holding consultations on week-ends and evenings within local communities;
  • advertising for an open meeting;
  • identifying and contacting key participants in each community; and
  • writing a report on each consultation meeting.

The following questions on standardisation were used to facilitate the discussion within each community.

  1. What is the purpose for standardising a language?
  2. Why do people decide to standardise a language?
  3. Is it possible to establish one single standard writing system for the six Mohawk communities?
  4. What standards in our Mohawk language need to be developed and agreed upon?
  5. What aspects of our Mohawk language should be standardised?
  6. Should each community decide to standardise the dialect spoken within their own community?
  7. What would standardising the Mohawk language mean for our Mohawk Community?
  8. What are the benefits of standardisation of the Mohawk language?
  9. How do you feel about standardising the language?
  10. Do you feel our language should be standardised?
  11. Is standardisation the best hope to save the Mohawk language?
  12. If you standardise a language, do you lose your dialect?


On May 5, 1993, a consultation was held with the Parents Committee of the Mohawk Language Immersion Programme at Tyendinaga. On May 6, 1993, a meeting was held with Tyendinaga’s Language Committee. The project co-ordinator presented the standardisation project, explained the co-sponsorship agreement between the Ministry and the Band Councils, and distributed the consultation questionnaire for discussion.

Discussion focused on dialect differences in both their spoken and written forms. This group thought it was a good idea to standardise the language. The project co-ordinator gave a presentation on the standardisation project. The purpose of the consultation process and the conference was outlined. The group felt that it would be a good idea to standardise the alphabet. A consensus should be sought to write the language in the same way. Others felt strongly that a compromise should be sought. The Tyendinaga meetings resulted in the following recommendations:

  1. Standardise similar words among six communities.
  2. Consult with Elders on word meanings, vocabulary, and the meaning of verb root words.
  3. Keep the dialect.
  4. Set the standards according to the oldest form of the Mohawk language.
  5. Standardise the words that will be able to serve everyone.
  6. Contact Aboriginal peoples who have gone through the process of standardising their language.

The main concern expressed was to preserve the dialect. although the co-ordinator explained that standardising the written form would not necessarily affect the dialect, some community members continued to feel that it would.

Wáhta and Ohswé:ken

On Saturday, May 8, 1993, a consultation was held in Brantford with Mohawk peoples from the Wáhta and Ohswé:ken nations. On May 11 and 12, 1993, a second meeting was held with the parent and language committees to review what was happening with the consultation process and to seek further input.

On June 6, 1993, in Wáhta, a consultation meeting was held with Elders, teachers, fluent Mohawk speakers, and community members interested in Native language education. The project co-ordinator and steering committee members presented the background information on the standardisation project, the purpose of the consultation, meetings, and the goals of the conference. The questionnaire was then distributed for discussion.

On Monday, June 7, 1993, a meeting was held in Brantford for consulting with the Ohswé:ken nation. Along with two steering committee members, the project co-ordinator presented the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference to a group of Native teachers involved in teaching immersion. The questionnaire was presented for discussion.

The teachers felt that it was necessary to standardise the language and to establish solid rules for writing it. They believed that it was also necessary to establish a writing system that is the same throughout the Mohawk territories so that children would have access to similar written materials, no matter which territory they visited. The project co-ordinator and steering committee members also gave a presentation on the standardisation project which described the process of consultation with the Aboriginal peoples, organizing a conference, and selecting participants from the Native territories.

On June 11, 1993, in Ohswé:ken, a meeting was organized with the Elders from the community. The importance of the language and its revitalization as a living language within the community were discussed. The role of Elders in the standardisation project as consultants and conference participants was a vital concern. The language is still intact among the Elders; Elders possess an in-depth knowledge of the Mohawk language. Developing words for modern vocabulary was an easy process for our Elders. At one point, the Aboriginal people operated in a world where the Mohawk language was dominant.

Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke

On May 15, 1993, the project co-ordinator and the four steering committee members from the Kahnawà:ke and Kanehsatà:ke territories held a joint presentation for Mohawk language teachers, Elders, curriculum writers, artists, and native speakers on the standardisation project. The four steering committee members discussed the agreement and the transactions between MET and the Band Councils. The project co-ordinator provided information on the purpose of the consultation process and the goals of the conference. The questionnaire on the consultation process was distributed for discussion.

The group worked on the questionnaire privately and in groups. In every question, the word “language” was replaced with the words “written form”. The general consensus was to standardise the orthography rather than the language. Respecting each community’s dialect was also recommended. It was of utmost importance to respect each community’s dialect. The dialects make the language unique.

On June 16, 1993, the project co-ordinator and steering committee members met with community members from Kanehsatà:ke. Elders, fluent language specialists, teachers, and curriculum writers participated in the meeting. The day-long meeting was conducted totally in the Mohawk language, an experience that can occur when fluent speakers make a conscious effort to speak in their native tongue.

The project co-ordinator presented the Mohawk language standardisation project including an update on the consultation process among the six Mohawk communities within Ontario and Québec. The purpose for the conference was also outlined. Reports were provided on the status of the Mohawk language in each territory. It was explained that the main goal was to have one writing system that would benefit all the six Mohawk-speaking territories so that written materials could be shared among the six Mohawk territories.

The participants all agreed that standardising the language was necessary. The group felt that the language had survived a series of changes since the early 1800’s and that standardisation would solidify its importance and cultural value. The group also agreed that the Mohawk language should be spoken throughout the conference and that simultaneous translation be provided for non-speakers. They agreed that the final report should be available in Mohawk and English. Everyone at the meeting showed interest in attending the conference on standardisation.

The meetings resulted in the following recommendations:

  1. Standardise the orthography with the Mohawk Community with the assistance of a linguist to help explain the historical background and dialect.
  2. Explain the changes in the written form of the language and the introduction of diacritical marks, their importance, and meaning.


On May 28, 1993, in Ahkwesáhsne, a consultation was held which involved Elders, Mohawk language teachers, and Mohawk speakers. The discussion focused on reusing old or traditional terms for modern vocabulary.

The project co-ordinator gave a presentation on the agreement signed between MET and the six Mohawk bands. The presentation explained the Aboriginal Language Standardisation Project, the purpose for the consultation process, and the Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference.

Following the presentation, a discussion on the questionnaire was held. The group felt that standardising the orthography was an excellent idea. Some felt that more materials and Mohawk literature could be produced and that eventually a curriculum centre for producing materials would be a result of the standardisation process. The Ahkwesáhsne meetings resulted in the following recommendations:

  1. Decide on the alphabet.
  2. Decide on the writing system.
  3. Decide on what diacritical marks will be used.
  4. Outline the differences in pronunciation.
  5. Include the grammar.
  6. Write down the spelling rules in the language.
  7. Keep the original usage of the language.
  8. Select similar words.
  9. Standardise the language for the sake of the kids.

On June 11, 1993, another consultation was held on the Ahkwesáhsne territory. The project co-ordinator and steering committee members met with school board members, band councillors, school committee members, curriculum personnel, and Native language teachers.

Consultation Results

On May 26, the Steering Committee re-convened to review the consultation process. The co-ordinator reported that in the discussions to date the Mohawk people were in favour of having a standard form of writing their language. The steering committee, the project co-ordinator, and the MET representative reviewed the consultation process results and identified issues for standardisation. The committee agreed to continue the consultations on the remaining territories.

By May’s end, the consultation with off-reserve organizations, Ahkwesáhsne, Kanehsatà:ke, and Kahnawà:ke was completed. The consultation process continued within the remaining three territories: Ohswé:ken, Tyendinaga and Wáhta First Nation. The consultation process was completed by the end of June. After each meeting, a report summarizing the results of the community level discussions and a list of participants was submitted to the Steering Committee.

In Wáhta, only one writing system is used but in Tyendinaga and Ohswé:ken four systems were in use. Writing systems identified during the consultation include the Jamieson, Isaacs, Brant, David Maracle, Pictograph, Sulpician, and Swan systems. All groups were positive about the concept of standardisation.

Ahkwesásne and Kahnawàke/Kahnesatàke were the nations which had the highest level of participation. However, the most meetings – five – were held in Tyendinaga. There were 32 participants (Elders, teacher, parents) at Kahnawàke/Kahnesatàke’s consultation, 31 participants (Elders, teachers, 1 parent) at Ahkwesásne, 17 participants at Tyendinaga (parents, Elders, teacher), and 21 at Ohswé:ken/Wáhta.

The following is a summary list of the suggestions made during the consultations.


  1. Consult with the Elders/native speakers
  2. Write the common orthography
  3. Standardise the language
  4. Standardise the orthography (Sha’tekahiatonhseró:ten)
  5. List similarities
  6. List differences
  7. List meanings
  8. List old words – keep the original
  9. Establish spelling rules
  10. Grammar rules
  11. Pronunciation – list the differences
  12. Coin new words
  13. Word list of the most common words
  14. Present history of how it became written
  15. Standardise – leave room for change
  16. Represent both ways
  17. Present the variation
  18. Standardise the Mohawk language for the children’s sake
  19. Mutual respect (Tetewataterihwakweniénhsthak)
  20. Make everybody feel better
  21. Select one way of writing their language

Through this initial consultation, the Project Co-ordinator identified forty-eight possible conference participants to be invited to attend the conference in Tyendinaga. It was understood that Elders, linguists, teachers, Mohawk speakers, Aboriginal language specialists, and band councillors or council representatives should be present at the conference.

At the final meeting, on June 30, 1993, the steering committee members, the project co-ordinator, and the MET representative met in Ahkwesáhsne to review the results of the consultation process, identify specific orthography issues for discussion at the conference, select nine participants from each nation to participate in the Mohawk language standardisation conference, and organize an agenda and format for group discussions. It was decided to hold the conference at Tyendinaga from August 17 to 20, 1993.

The co-ordinator reported that the consultation participants supported the standardisation project. Excellent suggestions were provided. One of the suggestions was to consult with the Elders and mother tongue speakers and to base the standardisation of the Mohawk language on the speech of Elders. This strategy would use the most conservative, traditional form as the foundation for standardisation. It would also respect the dialect of each territory and choose a standard writing system with an established orthography.

Three issues were identified for decision-making: the alphabet (how many letters and which letters for which sounds), new word formation; and orthography. The thirteen orthography issues which were identified by the steering committee for decision at the conference were:

  • j versus d versus t
  • nasalizers (on, en)
  • sh
  • f versus wh
  • d versus t and th
  • y versus i
  • ti versus ki (dialect)
  • h
  • i (example tso versus tsio)
  • glottal stop
  • epenthetic vowels
  • z versus k
  • long vowels

Forming new words would be discussed with Elders from each territory. In preparation for this conference discussion, the project co-ordinator and a steering committee representative consulted with the Elders prior to the conference to discuss methods and principles of new word formation, such as derivatives from Mohawk roots, the revival of archaic words with new meanings, and loan words.

North West Territories

At a conference in Honolulu, the Project Co-ordinator learned that the orthography of five Dene languages had been standardised in the North West Territories (NWT). With the assistance of the National Literacy Secretariat, the Co-ordinator and MET staff went to Yellowknife in order to learn from the NWT experience in standardising orthography.

From July 2 to 7, 1993, the project co-ordinator and MET staff were in Yellowknife, to meet with the people who had been directly involved in co-ordinating the Dene standardisation project for the Athapaskan and Inuit languages spoken in the North West Territories.

Standardising the writing systems used by the speakers of the five Athapaskan or Dene languages of the North West Territories was first identified in the 1970s. In the fall of 1985, the territorial government instituted the task force on Aboriginal language which tabled its report in 1986. This task force recommended that the writing systems used for the Dene languages be standardised within ten years. As a result, the Dene standardisation project was initiated in 1987. It was conceived as a one-year project. Its mandate was to formulate recommendations on orthographic standardisation, to establish rules for grammar, spelling, and pronunciation for the five languages.

These were seen as the initial steps in the process of encouraging widespread Native language literacy, the publication of native language materials, and, ultimately, the preservation of the Dene languages.

Working committees were organized. The membership of the Planning Committee was comprised of one representative from each of the five language groups. Elders, teachers, and fluent speakers formed the committee. The Roman alphabet was adopted and standardised for all five Dene languages.

A major result of this orthographic standardisation was that the Dene peoples have produced and published materials in their own languages for use in their schools and communities.


Pre-conference workshop

Prior to the conference, there was a preparatory meeting on August 5 as well as a two-day workshop at Tyendinaga on August 9 and 10, 1993. At the work shop, the steering committee and project co-ordinator met with Prof. Marianne Mithune, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley, to obtain background information on the orthography issues identified at the June 30 meeting.

On the first day of the workshop, the project co-ordinator and steering committee members met with Professor Mithune to review orthography and to discuss the goals established for the conference. Professor Mithune raised the issues involved in standardisation, gave a presentation on orthography, the use and importance of using diacritical marks in the Mohawk language. She also discussed pronunciation and dialect differences, former writing systems, and methods for coining new words in the Mohawk language.

The second day of the workshop was an open forum. Other participants from the Mohawk territories were invited to attend. The orthography issues were reviewed and discussed with the participants.

The issues that are involved in standardising a language are orthography, grammar, spelling, and methods to coin new words. Questions were posed: “Do we really want standardisation?” “If so, why?” “Standardise what?”

Standardisation focuses on the orthography, standardising the letters that will be used within the system. It also deals purely with the writing system and its spelling. A decision needed to be made on which letters and how many were to be used. Diacritical marks – length with falling or rising tone, glottal stop and an accent to indicate stress – were introduced into the writing system in 1972. These diacritical marks assist in the reading of the Mohawk language.

1. Nasalizers
The two forms of nasalizers – the “en” and “on” forms – were discussed.
2. Glottal Stop
The glottal stop is an important sound in the Mohawk language. It is an abrupt stop in the language. An apostrophe (‘) is used to indicate a glottal stop. The glottal stop is found at the end of a syllable in words such as a’én:na (bow), onenon’ónsera (cucumber), and óksa’ (hurry up). The glottal stop changes to a long vowel with falling tone (`:) whenever affixes are removed to form the base word, as for example when “kanon’tí:io” (good milk, not sour) changes to “onòn:ta”The reverse also happens. When affixes are added to a root word, a length with falling tone (`:) changes to a glottal (‘), as when the word “à:there” (basket) changes to “wa’therí:io” (nice basket).The glottal stop alternates with length with falling tone. When stress is on the syllable, there is length with falling tone, as in kà:sere (car). When stress is not on a syllable, the glottal stop is used, as in ka’serehtí:io (nice car).
3. “h”
The letter “h” had been omitted from certain syllables. In some syllables, the letter “h” appears as a pronounced letter. Older, literate speakers of the language use the letter “h” in their writings. Writing the letter “h” shortens the vowel sound and can change the meaning of the word. For example, note the difference between “wahsé:ton” (it is counted) and “wahséhton” (it is hidden).The letter “h” has a distinctive role. When the letter “h” is used, it becomes easier to read and understand the Mohawk language.
4. Epenthetic Vowels
An explanation of the epenthetic vowel was provided. Epenthetic vowels are used to make pronunication easier. Three vowels in Mohawk are sometimes used as epenthetic vowels – the letters “a,” “e,” and “i.” “A” occurs between an incorporated noun root that ends in a consonant and a verb root that begins in a consonant.The letter “a” at the same time functions as a nominilizer: Kaná:takon (in town); a’thé:rakon (in the basket), wa’kahtahkwahni:non (I bought shoes).The letter “e” separates a consonant and a glottal stop (‘) at the end of a word: éntene'(we two will go). It occurs between an obstruant “t,” “k,” or “s” and a resonant “n,” “r,” “w,” or “y” and moves the accented syllable up: éntene’,ién:kewe.The letter “i” is added to the beginning of a verb of one syllable: ì:keks, ì:raks.It is possible to have more than one epenthetic vowel in a word: ènteneke.
5. Dialect Differences
On the issue of dialect differences, Prof. Mithune recommended that the writing system should reflect the way people speak: Have the people write the Mohawk language the way they speak it in order to preserve the community differences. There was a strong desire to respect each other’s dialects in order to maintain the particular identity of each territory.A difference in speech found among speakers is the “w” sound at the end of certain Mohawk words.

té:sek – té:sekw to to pick up
sén:ta – sén:tawh sleep
tesenónniahk – tesenónniahkw dance

Other differences in speech are “ti” versus “ki” and “tsia” versus “tsa”.

ohton ohton nine
Tiohtià:ke Kiohkià:ke Montréal
tsá:ta tsiá:ta seven
otsì:tsa otsì:tsia flower
atià:tawi akià:tawi dress

It is really important to let everyone know that these differences are also correct. Variety in the language keeps it alive.

More differences were found in words such as:

onhwéntsia earth
ohontsia earth (Ahkwesáhsne dialect)
ohontsa earth (Kahnawà:ke dialect)
í:ions long
i:iens long (Kahnawà:ke dialect)
skennen’kó:wa you have great peace
skenen’kó:wa you have great peace (dialect difference)

The next presentation focused on the basic principles for coining new words. Three methods were identified for creating new words. First, words are formed according to the subject, characteristics, function or habitual activity.

1. Description
The great majority of words are found in the category of description. They describe the new item’s characteristic quality or function.

tekakonhwhará:ron peaches (It has fur.)
teiotahià:kton banana (a bent fruit)

The names of animals are given describing their noises:

tekáhskiaks parrot
raónraon humming bird

Other animals are given names describing their peculiarities, for example:

kaia’tákeras goat (It has a smelly body.)
teiotina’karontón:’a sheep (It has short horns.)
2. Function
Words are also formed describing the function of the object:

iekarenià:tha shovel (it carries)
anitskwà:ra chair (you put your hips on)
atekhwà:ra table (you put your food on)
ieksaráhkhwa cupboard (you put dishes in)
3. Activity
Other words are formed describing habitual activity:

ratétsen’s doctor (he cures)
tehanonniáhkhwa dancer (he dances)
iekhón:nis cook (she cooks)
ka’níkhons sewing maching (it sews)
4. Usage
Words are also described by man’s usage:

iakohsá:tens horse (one rides it)
kaneniakárenies truck (It carries rock.)

This two-day workshop provided background information on the issues to be discussed at the August conference. Professor Mithune also recommended deferring the process of establishing grammar rules to another session. She felt that a longer time frame would be needed to accomplish the task of establishing the rules.

On August 10, 1993, the workshop was opened to other participants from the six Mohawk territories.

Mohawk Language Standardisation Conference

A four-day conference on the standardisation of the Mohawk language was held on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory from August 17 to 20, 1993. Representatives from the six Mohawk-speaking nations of Tyendinaga, Wáhta, Ohswé:ken, Ahkwesáhsne, Kahnawà:ke, and Kanehsatà:ke attended the standardisation conference. The participants included Elders, teachers, curriculum writers, fluent native Mohawk speakers and linguists. The conference consisted of a plenary as well as group meetings. Only the plenary could make a binding decision. All decisions were reached through consensus.

At the conference, information on the issues was presented to the participants. The conference participants were divided into six groups. Two steering committee members facilitated the discussion in each discussion. The groups were given the task of discussing the issue, arriving at a consensus, and reporting their findings at the plenary session.


Registration took place on August 17, 1993. On August 18, Chief Earl Hill of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory welcomed the participants from the six Mohawk Territories to the conference. Following the Chief’s words of welcome, the Keynote Speaker, Timote Karetu, a member of the Maori Language Commission in New Zealand, addressed the conference.

Keynote Speaker

Timote Karetu explained that the Maoris standardised the writing of the language in 1958, when the New Zealand government decided that all Maori publications should be written in a standard orthography. While dialect should not be the victim of standardisation, a language must be understood. If the Mohawk language is going to be comprehended, it needs to be in a form that any Mohawk anywhere can understand.

Similarly, written Maori can now be understood by any tribe regardless of dialect or region. Mr. Karetu spoke about the written form, not the spoken form. Each tribe has its own dialect and all dialects are mutually comprehensible, though they are not different languages. He noted that if you want the written language to be understood everywhere, particularly among people who are learning the language, you have to start looking seriously at standardised writing. He also spoke about dialects where the innovation, stress, and words are different. Anybody who understands the language can tell from the context what the word means. If people understand the language well, the dialect will make no difference because the context will tell them what the word is. However, learners whose first language is English may not be able to understand only from context.

In discussing standardisation, we therefore need to consider the learners of the language. They need help in learning the language. Native speakers have no difficulties because they will know what the word is and where the stress is. However, a student of the language has no help at all if there is no indication in the word itself. Due to their limited language skills, the context would not be able to help them either. As teachers and experts in the field, we need to be looking to our students’ needs rather than only to those of fluent speakers.

Terms of Reference

Following the keynote speakers’ presentation, representatives from the steering committee formed a panel to outline the purpose of the conference.

The terms of reference for the conference were to:

  • establish a standard writing system;
  • establish rules of spelling, including diacritical marks; and
  • approve methods to coin new words.


The first issue for the plenary was to decide which alphabet was to be used in Mohawk. As all Mohawk writing systems use the Latin alphabet, this decision was easily reached. A presentation on the writing systems of Mohawk was made by steering committee members in order to start the discussion on choosing a standard writing system at the conference. This panel of six, one representative from each Mohawk territory, discussed the orthography used on each territory.

For example, the following diacritical marks are now used:

´: length with rising tone tó:kwahre (cranberry)
`: length with falling toneià:ia’k (six)
an apostrophe to indicate glottal stop sha’té:kon (eight)
´ accent to mark stress ohwísta (money)

Following this presentation, the participants formed six groups of 10. The six groups were asked to: decide on a writing system, letters, and diacritical marks; reach a consensus; and report back the plenary session.

By consensus, the participants agreed that the Mohawk alphabet would consist of the following letters:


Aa Ee Ii Oo EN en ON on


Hh Kk Nn Rr Ss Tt Ww Yy

Diacritical Marks:

The Mohawk names for the diacritical marks are:

  • (‘:) Kawennakará:tats tánon teiotsistóhkwake (Rising tone with length)
  • (‘) Tekawénniaks (Glottal stop)
  • (´) Kawennakará:tats (Rising tone)
  • (`:) Kawennénhtha tánon teiotsistóhkwake (Falling tone with length)


  • ? Question Mark
  • ” ” Quotation Marks
  • (.) Period
  • (,) Comma
  • (!) Exclamation Mark

New Word Formation:

On August 19, 1993, Mohawk words were developed for “vowel”, “consonant,” “alphabet,” and “syllable.” These terms would be used as standard terminology within the Mohawk language. The participants brainstormed, recorded their word creations, and reported their findings to the plenary session. At the plenary session, a list of the new proposed words was compiled. Most of the terms which were proposed described the function of the word.

The following is a list of the Mohawk words that were created for “vowel” and “vowels”.

Group 1 Kawennón:ni alphabet (It makes words.)
Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io vowel (main letter)
Group 2 Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:ios vowels (main letters)
Kawennisá’as vowels (It completes a word.)
Kahiatonhkwisá’as vowels (It completes a letter.)
Group 3 kontihiatonhkwakwe’ní:ios
vowels (They are main letters.)
vowels (They work together.)
Group 4 Kaha’takwe’ní:io vowel (main core)
Group 5 Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:ios vowels (main letters)
Group 6 Kawennónnis Alphabet
Tewahsontéhrha Consonant (It adds on.)

The list was made available to the participants at the plenary session to discuss and to arrive at a consensus. It was recommended that the term “Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io” be used as the standard form for the English word “vowel” and that “Kontihiatonhkwakwe’ní:io” be the plural form.

The following is a list of the Mohawk words that were created for the terms “consonant” and “consonants”.

Group 1 Kawennahsontéhrha It combines words.
Group 2 Tekontihiatonhkwakháhsions It separates letters.
Group 3 Iotihiatonhkwawénhte extra letters
Group 4 Kawennó:raraks It presses words.
Kawennakwe’ní:io It is the main word.
Owennakwe’ní:io main word
tkahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io It is the main letter there.
Group 5 tekonthiatonhkwanekhánion letters side by side
Group 6 iewennonnià:tha It makes words.
Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io It is the main letter.

At the plenary session, a second list of words for “consonant” was developed.

Kontihiatonhkwakwe’ní:ios It is the main letter.
tkiaten:ros It accompanies.
iohiatonhkwaienawá:se It helps the letter.
iewennonniá:tha It makes words.
iewennahsontéhrha It combines words.
kawennisa’á:nhon Completed words
iehiatonhkwahsontéhrha It combines letters.
kawennísa’as It completes a word.
kahiatonhkwísa’as It completes letters.

Three Mohawk words – Kawennón:nis, Kawennonniá:tha and tekawennákhas – were provided for the term “syllable.” “Tekawennákhas” was the Mohawk word selected for “syllable.”

In summary, the conference decided the Mohawk words for these grammatical terms:

Kawennísa’as vowel (it completes a word)
Kontiwennísa’as vowels (they complete a word)
Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io consonant (main letter)
Kontihiatonhkwakwe’ní:ios consonants (main letters)
Iewennonnià:tha alphabet (it makes words)
Tekawennákhas (combines words)syllable

On August 20, 1993, the fourth day of the conference, the recommendations were reviewed and finalized. The participants felt that a great deal had been accomplished at this conference. The orthography of the Mohawk language had been standardised, although “y” would continue to be used in Tyendinaga and Ohswé:ken. Methods to coin new words were approved.

Guest Speaker

A final speech on adult literacy programs and Aboriginal language developments was presented by Mr. Gary Wilson, M.P.P., Kingston and the Islands. As the Parlimentary Assistant to the Minister of Education and Training, Mr. Wilson described the Aboriginal literacy programs which MET supports and funds. Programs are also available after school for youth who are experiencing difficulty with their work.

The ministry also encourages the development of Aboriginal language courses at Ontario colleges and universities. Institutions like Lakehead University and Mohawk College have shown their commitment to this important task. The Aboriginal Education and Training Strategy represents another initiative being taken by the Ontario Government to address the needs of Aboriginal People. These initiatives take on a greater significance this year, the International Year for the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Follow-up to the Conference

A final meeting of the steering committee, project co-ordinator, and OTAB staff was held on November 26, 1993, to review the draft conference report and to consolidate the recommendations made at the conference.

As noted during the consultation and during the conference itself, the Mohawk people from the six Mohawk territories of Tyendinaga, Ahkwesáhsne, Wáhta, Ohswé:ken, Kahnawà:ke, and Kanehsatà:ke were in favour of establishing a standard literary writing system and orthography for their language. The importance of standardising the Mohawk orthography was emphasised throughout the consultation process, the pre-conference workshop, and the standardisation conference held in August 1993. The participation of the six Mohawk Communities throughout the consultation process and during the conference certainly contributed to the successful results of the entire process of standardising the language. The consultation process educated the Mohawk speakers on the role of standardisation. Standardising the writing system of the Mohawk language will be of great benefit to the retention, the survival, and the revitalization of the Mohawk language for the Mohawk Territories. As a result, the participants achieved the goals set out for the conference by the Steering Committee.

After the steering committee approves the Project Co-ordinator’s report, it will be sent to the Band Office of each Mohawk Nation. The Chiefs and Band Councils will review the report and communicate their approval through Band Resolutions endorsing its recommendations and requiring the use of the approved standard orthography of Mohawk on each territory.

Recommendations of The Mohawk Standardisation Conference

There are five recommendations which the conference made to standardise the Mohawk writing system. There was unanimity on the use of the Roman alphabet and, after much discussion, on the twelve letters which are to be used in the Mohawk written language. The conference also made recommendations regarding diacritical marks, capitalisation, punctuation marks, and new word formation. Taken together, these five recommendations are the basis for a standard, written form of the Mohawk language.

Summary of Recommendations

  1. The Roman alphabet consisting of twelve letters is to be used in writing the Mohawk language. In alphabetical order, this alphabet consists of:
    A, E, H, I, K, N, O, R, S, T, W, Y(3)
  2. The diacritical marks used in writing the Mohawk language are:
    • falling tone with length (Kawennénhtha tánon teiotsistóhkwake) (`:);
    • rising tone with length (Kawennakará:tats tánon teiotsistóhkwake) (´:);
    • rising tone stress (Kawennakára:tats) (´);
    • glottal stop (Tekawénniaks) (‘).
  3. Capitals will be used in writing the Mohawk Language.
  4. In writing the Mohawk language, question marks, quotation marks, exclamation marks, periods, and commas are used.
  5. New words in the Mohawk language are to be formed according to function, activity, or characteristic. Loan words may be taken from other languages. All agreed to the following new words:
    Vowel Kawennísa’as
    Vowels Kontiwennísa’as
    Consonant Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io
    Consonants Kontihiatonhkwakwe’ní:io
    Alphabet Iewennonnià:tha
    Syllable Tekawennákhas
    Letters Ohiatonhkwa’shón:’a

Alphabet (Iewennonnià:tha)

The Roman alphabet consisting of twelve letters is to be used in writing the Mohawk language. It is listed below in alphabetical order.

Kontihiatonhkowa:nen’s Upper Case A, E, H, I, K, N, O, R, S, T, W, Y
Ken’nikontihiatonhkwá:sa’s Lower case a, e, h, i, k, n, o, r, s, t, w, y
Kontiwennísa’as Vowels a, e, i, o, en, on
Kontihiatonhkwakwe’ní:io Consonants h, k, n, r, s, t, w, y

Vowels (Kontiwennisa’as)

As in English, Mohawk vowels are defined as long and short. However, vowels also occur as nasal vowels, as stressed vowels with falling or rising tone, and as stressed vowels.

Long vowels: a: e: i: o: en: on:
Long vowels with rising tone: á: é: í: ó: én: ón:
Long vowels with falling tone: à: è: ì: ò: èn: òn:
Short vowel (a)
áhta shoe
wáhta sugar maple
Short vowel (e)
éhsa black ash
ehtà:ke below
Short vowel (i)
ísi over there
ísta mother
Short vowel (o)
óksa hurry up
óhonte green
Short vowel (en)
éntene I will go with you.
énska one
Short vowel (on)
ónhka who
onon’ónsera pumpkin
Long vowel á: with rising tone
akwá:wen mine
kaná:ta town
Long vowel é: with rising tone
é:neken above
é:so alot
Long vowel í: with rising tone
í:i I
í:se you
Long vowel ó: with rising tone
ó:iente wood
ó:kwire tree
Long vowel én with rising tone
én:keke I will eat it.
skén:nen peace
Long vowel ón with rising tone.
ón:ta pail
onón:tsi head
Long vowel à: with falling tone
à:there basket
akià:tawi dress
Long vowel è: with falling tone
è:rhar dog
osahè:ta beans
Long vowel ì: with falling tone
ohì:kta thorn
anì:tas skunk
orì:wa business, fault, matter
Long vowel ò: with falling tone
takò:s cat
oh nahò:ten what
Long vowel èn: with falling tone
aten’èn:ra fence
kanèn:nawen pipe
thèn:teron He is at home.
Long vowel òn: with falling tone
onòn:ta milk


Below is a list of the consonants and the contexts in which they appear.

The letter “h”
hen yes
hanio come on
kahi fruit

The letter “h” is phonemic. Its absence or presence changes a word’s meaning: okà:ra (eye), ohká:ra (splinter). The letter “h” completes a word, a thought, an idea. The letter “h” allows for a flowing pronounciation and facilitates the reading of Mohawk.

Following this recommendation, the following instances have been cited where the letter “h” is used and required.

  1. Write the letter “h” when heard within the root of a Mohawk word.
    ahthén:no ball
    ohiatónhkwa pencil
    kahnhóha door
  2. When affixes are removed from a root word, a length with falling tone (`:) changes to an “h,” as when “o’wà:ron” (meat) changes to “ka’wahrí:io” (good meat) or “ka’wahráksen” (bad meat). The reverse also happens. When affixes are removed to form a root word, an “h” changes to length with falling tone (`:) as when “tekakahrí:io’s (it has nice eyes) changes to “okà:ra” (eye).Incorporating a noun or adding suffxes can change the position of stress and “h” can alternate with length and falling tone. When stress is on the syllable, you get (`:) (okà:ra). When stress is not on the syllable, you get “h” (tekakahrí:io’s).
    Base word o’wà:ron meat
    ka’wahrí:io It is nice meat.
    ka’wahráksen It is rotten meat.
    ka’wahrowá:nen It is a big piece of meat.
    Base word okà:ra eyes
    tekakahrí:io’s It has nice eyes.
    kakahráksen It has bad eyesight.
    tekakahrowá:nen’s It has big eyes.
  3. The letter “h” is written when it is part of the partitve prefix, as for example when it precedes the following pronouns: -ia-, -ra-, -ni-, -ron-.
    iató:rats They (two) hunt.
    Ka’non:we nihiató:rats? Where are they (two) hunting?
    Ka’non:we iehiató:rats? Where (over there) are they (two) hunting?
    Thiató:rats ken? Are they hunting (over there)?
    Ken’nihrá:’a He is small.
    Tehníkhen They are twins.
    Oh nihrohnhò:ten? What is he like?
  4. The letter “h” replaces the “r” in the masculine pronoun (he) when a prefix is added.
    ró:ta’s He sleeps.
    iah tehó:ta’s He doesn’t sleep.
    iah tehonorón:se He is not losing strength.
    rén:teron He’s home.
    then:teron ken? Is he at home (over there)?

    The letter “h” replaces the “r” in the masculine plural pronoun when a prefix is added.

    rotinonkwáktani They are sick.
    thotinonhwáktani They are sick (over there).
    ronatehiá:ron They are grown up.
    nihonatehiá:ron They have grown!
    oh nihotiié:ren? What did they do?
  5. The letter “h” replacs the “r” in the masculine pronounc when the partitive prefix is added.
    Oh nihaia’tó:ten? What does he look like?
    Oh nihatiéhrha? What is he doing?
    Oh nihonhnhò:ten? What is he like?
    Oh nihonkwehonwehseró:ten? What Native group is she part of?
    Oh nihotaró:ten? What clan is he?
    Eh tho nihaia’tò:ten That is his type.
    Eh tho nihaiéhrha That is what he is doing.
  6. Write the letter “h” where its sound is present. The letter “h” is a distinctive phoneme and represents a different sound. Its absence indicates a different word with a different meaning.
    Kahnawà:ke on the rapids
    kanawà:ke on the swamp
    wahsé:ton it is hidden
    wahséhton it is counted
    tóka maybe
    hka several
    tehokahnerátie He is looking along at him.
    tahoká:nerake He looks at him. (maybe)

    Its absence sometimes indicates a word with no meaning.

    hsa don’t
    tosa no meaning
    kanehsatà:ke on the swamp
    kanesatà:ke no meaning
    ohká:ra splinter
    okà:ra eye
  7. Write the letter “h” heard at the end of syllables. Writing the letter “h” will ensure correct pronounciation.
    iohrèn:ton It is hanging.
    áhta shoe
    ahthén:no ball
    iohrèn:ton It is hanging.
    kahsén:na name
    kanónhsa house
    iakonorónhkwahkwe She used to love her.
    iehnekíhrhahkwe She used to drink.
  8. Write the letter “h” which occurs within a syllable to form the “f” sound in words. The digraph (wh) is pronounced “f” in Mohawk words.
    o’wháhsa o’fahsa skirt
    ohwhará:ne ohfara:ne caterpillar
    saten’kéhwhen saten’kehfen You are jealous.
  9. “Niha:ti” means “that many of them.” It is used as a numeralized term for counting people.
    Tó: nihá:ti? How many of them?
  10. The letter “h” can appear in a series or in a cluster of letters. The letter “h” is written at the end of a syllable and at the beginning of the next syllable. In most cases, the letter “h” is separated by the letter “n.” This is shown in the following examples:
    Kah n hóha door
    Kah n hotonkwa keys
    akia’tah nha belt
    atenentshah nha watch
    iónhnhe It lives.
    sehnhó:ton Open the door.
    konwahnhá’skwe They used to hire her.
  11. Transitive verbs (double pronouns). In the following examples of transitive verbs, the letter “h” is the masculine agent (subject) pronoun.
    shakotirihonnién:ni They teach her (or them).
    shakotiienawá:se They help her.
    shakorihonnién:ni He teaches her (or them).
    shakohró:ri He told her (or them).
    shakotihró:ri They told her (or them).
    shonkeninón:we’s He likes us (two).
    shonkwanón:we’s He likes us.

    In the following examples of future transitive verbs, the letter “h” replaces the “r” in the masculine agent (subject) pronoun.

    enhanonwenhserário He will beat her.
    enhá:ken He will see her.

    In the following examples of transitive verbs, the “h” is the feminine patient (object) pronoun.

    khenorónhkhwa I love her.
    khenón:we’s I like her.
    kherihonnién:ni I teach her.

    In the following examples of transitive verbs, the “h” is the masculine agent (subject) pronoun.

    shonkeninón:we’s He likes us. (dual form)
    shonkwanón:we’s He likes us. (plural form)
    shakonón:we’s He likes her.
  12. Write the letter “h” as part of a particle that completes a word or a thought. It is used in phrases.
    ehtsien:’a your son
    ehnón:we there (the specific place)
    ehtshenorónhkhwa You love him.
    ehtshiató:ri you
    ehken thèn:teron He lives there.
    ehtshró:ri Tell him.
    ehtshateré:’a your grandson
  13. Stresses. Write the letter “h” heard when adding a suffix. The letter “h” would be written as shown in the following Mohawk words.
    Kahnawa’kehró:non people from Kahnawà:ke
    Wahtahró:non people from Wáhta
    Kanehsata’kehro:non people from Oka
    serihsi Take it off.
    stakwaríhsi Straighten it.
    se’horókhsi Uncover it.
    tewatekhahsions It separates.
    ra’rhorokhsions He removes the cover/blanket.
    ranontekhsions He removes the cover of a jar.
    ionterihwaienhstáhkhwa school (Kahnawà:ke dialect)
    ionteweienhstáhkhwa school (Ahkwesáhsne dialect)
    ionte’nientenhstáhkhwa a ruler/an instrument for measuring
    atekhwahráhne on the table
    anitskwahráhne on the chair
    sakatatehiahrahkwen I reminded myself.
    ohiatonhkwa pencil
  14. Write the letter “h” heard when incorporating suffixes with a nominalizer. The letter “h” would be written as shown in the following Mohawk words.
    watokwahtsheri:io It is a nice spoon.
    watokwahtsheraksen It is ugly.
    ken’niwatokwahtsherá:’a It is a small spoon.
    watokwahtsherowá:nen It is a big spoon.
    ken’niwatokwahtsherésha It is a short spoon.
    ka’serehti:io It is a nice car.
    ka’serehtaksen It is an ugly car.
    ken’ nika’serehta:’a It is a small car.
    ka’serehtowa:nen It is a big car.
    kaia’tonnihseri:io It is a nice doll.
  15. In the following examples, the “h” is added to the second person and third person pronouns. “Hs” is also used when any prefix is added to a transitive pronoun.
    enhshonwenhnónksa They will go back and get him.
    tenhshonwaterahtá:na You write it.
    enhshia:ton You write it.
    ahshia:ton You ought to write it.
    oh nihsakiehrha? What are you doing.
    enhshahten:ti He will go home.
    ensehsahten:ti You will go back home.
  16. In the following examples, the letter “h” appears as a consonant vowel combination:
    oháha road
    ohónte grass
    kahonwé:ia boat
    ahthén:no ball
    kákhwa food
The letter “k”
The letter “k” written before a vowel is pronounced like the English “g” as in “good.”

kén:tho here
kén:ton it means
kátke when

The letter “k” written with a consonant is pronounced like the English “k” as in “key.”

khiá:tons I write.
atekhwà:ra table
The letter “n”
nà:kon under
niá:wen thank you
The letter “r”
The letter “r” sounds between English “r” and “l.”

érhar dog
&okár:a story
The letter “s”
The letter “s” written before a vowel is pronounced “z” as in “zoo.”

só:ra duck
sén:ta sleep

The letter “s” written with a consonant is pronounced like the English “s” as in “step.”

shiá:ton write
stáhko take out
The letter “t”
The letter “t” written before a vowel is pronounced like the English “d” as in “dog.”

takò:s cat
tásha Bring it to me.

The letter “t” written with a consonant is pronounced “t” as in “Tom.”

thí:ken that
thó there
thetén:re yesterday
The letter “w”
“W” written before the letter “h” is pronounced “f” as in “fat.”

óhwhare fur
o’wháhsa skirt

“W” written before a vowel is pronounced “w” as in “will.”

ón:wa now
watá:wens It swims.
The letter “y”
“Y” is a sound in Mohawk and is symbolized by the letter “y” at Six Nations and Tyendinaga.
The letter “i”
“Y” is a sound in Mohawk and is symbolized by the letter “i” at Ahkwesásne, Kahnawà:ke, Kanehsatà:ke and Wáhta.

kakwí:yo kakwí:io good food
ohyatónhkwa ohiatónhkwa pencil or letter
yatá:wens iatá:wens They (two) are swimming.

The present writing system also has vowel combinations, consonant combinations, and vowel-consonant combinations.

  1. The vowel combinations are: ia ie io ien ionThe context in which they appear:
    iaó:te It is windy.
    ie‘níkhons She is sewing.
    ioió’te It works./She is working.
    oie`n:kwa tobacco
    iontá:wens She is swimming.
  2. The consonant combinations are: kh kw th ts wh
    khiá:tons I write.
    tesenónniahkw You dance.
    then:teron He is at home.
    tsiénthos You are planting.
    o’wháhsa skirt

Three charts follow. They show the combination of sounds used to write Mohawk words. The first chart shows the combination of vowel and consonant sounds, vowel, and consonant clusters. In the second chart, the letter “h” is written at the end of each syllable. Historically, the letter “h” has been left out of certain words. However, older, literate speakers of the language write the “h” wherever they hear it. Re-introducing the phoneme “h” at the end of syllables brings out the meaning of the word and gives a softer flow to the language. The third chart of Mohawk sounds includes the glottal stop at the end of each syllable.

One example of each is provided:

Chart 1) ohaha ha road
2) ohahsera hah light
3) sha‘te:kon ha’ eight
4) iata:wens ia Two of them are swimming.
5) iah the:nen iah nothing
6) ia‘teso:ia’k ia’ Aim it.
Kanien’keha tsi nikontiwenno:tens
1. Mohawk Sound Chart
enhien on
i ia ie —- io ien ion
y ya ye —- yo yen yon
Kanien’keha tsi nikontiwenno:tens
2. Mohawk Sound Chart
w wah weh wih —- wenh —-
i iah ieh —- ioh ienh ionh
Kanien’keha tsi nikontiwenno:tens
3. Mohawk Sound Chart
r ra’ re’ ri’ ro’ ren’ ron’
w wa’ we’ wi’ wen’
i ia’ ie’ —- io’ ien’ ion’

Diacritical Marks and the Glottal Stop

The diacritical marks used in writing the Mohawk language are:

  • falling tone with length; (`:)
  • rising tone with length; (´:)
  • rising tone; (´) and
  • glottal stop. (‘)

Diacritical marks make easier the reading and writing of the Mohawk language. However, learners of the language require some guidelines to use diacritical marks. Native speakers of the Mohawk language automatically know and recognize where the stress and accents appear in the oral form but, in its written form, even fluent native speakers sometimes require practice in using the diacritical marks. Learners of the Mohawk language would be at a loss if there were no marks in a Mohawk word. Having limited knowledge of the language, the context would be of little assistance to a learner; learners are only beginning to build their Mohawk vocabulary.

The introduction of diacritical marks into the Mohawk language’s orthography assists learners and native speakers to recognize:

  • a stressed syllable,
  • a stressed syllable with length and falling tone,
  • a stressed syllable with length and rising tone, and
  • the glottal stop.

Learners benefit from the usage of diacritics when learning pronunciation with the aid of the written form.

The diacritical marks are falling tone with length (`:), rising tone with length (‘:), rising tone(‘) and glottal stop (’). Diacritical marks, appear on stressed syllables, and are written with the vowels. Glottal stops can occur at the end of any syllable.

  1. Kawennenhtha tanon teiotsistóhkwake” is the Mohawk term to be used for falling tone with length. Falling tone will be marked with a down accent (`). Falling tone will never appear in isolation. It is accompanied with the length mark. Length will be marked with a colon (:).Vowel length always carries an accent. Falling tone with length will be marked as follows. (`:).Vowel length:
    à:there basket
    kà:sere car
    oròn:ia blue
  2. Kawennakará:tats tánon teiotsistóhkwáke” is the Mohawk term to be used for rising tone with length. Rising tone will be marked with an up-stress accent (‘). Length will be marked with a colon (:). Rising tone and length will be marked as in the following examples (´:).
    ó:kwire tree
    karón:to bureau
    istén:’a mother
    enkahtén:ti I shall go.
  3. Kawennakara:tats” is the Mohawk term to be used for rising tone appearing by itself on a Mohawk vowel. The rising tone will be marked with an up stress accent (´). This diacritical mark indicates which syllable is pronounced with added stress or intonation.
    kéntskare rug
    ónerahte leaf
    oháhsera light
    káhi fruit
  4. Tekawénnia’ks” is the Mohawk term for glottal stop. Glottal stops are written at the end of a Mohawk syllable and can occur at the end of any syllable. The glottal stop is heard as an abrupt cut-off sound, similar to the English expression ’oh, oh’ (o’o’). This sound is signalled by an apostrophe (’).The glottal stop functions as a consonant rather than as a diacritical mark and can appear more than once in a word.
    a’én:na’ bow
    Kanien’kéha’ Mohawk
    istén:’a mother
    ià:ia’’k six
    sha’tewenhniserò:ten It is the same kind of day.
    watia’tawi’tsherí:io It is a nice dress.
    atià:tawi dress

    The glottal stop also replaces falling tone with length (`:) when incorporating base words with suffixes and nominalizers to form new words.

    • Write the glottal stop heard within the root of a Mohawk word.According to this rule, the glottal stop is written as shown in the following Mohawk examples:
      a’én:na bow
      a’nó:wara turtle
      o’nón:na splint
      o’nónhkwa bottom of an item
      o’wà:ron meat
      o’tá:ra chimney
      o’kèn:ra dirt
    • Write a glottal stop when the base word has a length with falling tone ( 🙂 and is incorporated with other suffixes and prefixes. The glottal stop will replace length with falling tone when the base word is incorporated.
      katsi’tsí:io It is a nice flower.
      otsì:tsia flower
      wa’arí:io It is a nice curtain.
      à:are curtain/net
      ka’serehtí:io It is a nice car.
      kà:sere car
      wakia’tawi’tsherí:io It is a nice dress.
      akià:tawi dress
      kastaro’kwí:io It is a nice necklace.
      ostarò:kwa necklace
    • Write the glottal stop as part of an ending that indicates the punctual verb form. The punctual aspect indicates that the action took place, will take place, ought to take place, or is taking place at a particular point.
      wá:keke I ate it.
      én:keke I shall eat it.
      á:keke I ought to eat it.
      wa’kenóhare I did wash it.
      enkenénhsko I shall steal it.
      wakhní:non I bought it.
      enkhní:non I shall buy it.
    • Write the glottal stop heard when adding a suffix. The glottal stop would be written as shown in the following Mohawk words.
      atekhwahra’shón:’a tables (a variety of tables)
      kahiatonhserashón:’a papers
      o’tarashón:’a chimneys
      ratiksaokón:’a children
      kheiatereokón:’a my grandchildren
      rotikstenokon:’a old people
      iakotehreónhskon She is a widow.
      akitshenenkénha my horse that I had
      akwakia’tawi’tsherakénha my dress that I had
      akenonhsakénha my house that I had
    • Write the glottal stop heard when incorporating suffixes with a nominalizer. The glottal stop is written as shown
      wakia’tawitsherí:io It is a nice dress.
      wakia’tawitsheráksen It is an ugly dress.
      ken’niwakia’tawitsherá’a It is a small dress.
      wakia’tawitsherowá:nen It is a big dress.
      ken’niwakia’tawitsherésha It is a short dress.
      kanehsiotí:io It is a nice cabbage.
      kanehsiotáksen It is a rotten cabbage.
      ken’nikanehsiotá:’a It is a small cabbage.
      kanehsiotowá:nen It is a big cabbage.
    • Write the glottal stop found within the suffix. The glottal stop appears in the following examples.
      ase’tsi It is new.
      wa’arasétsi It is a new curtain.
      waten’enhrásetsi It is a new fence./td>
      kahiatonhkwasétsi It is a new pencil.
      iokaion:’on It is old.
      io’arakaión:on It is an old curtain.
      ioten’enhrakaión:on It is an old fence.
      iohiatonhkwakaión:on It is an old pencil.
      ken’niwa’ará:a It is a small curtain.
      ken’niwaten’enhrá:a It is a small fence.
      ken’nikahiatonhkwá:a It is a small pencil.
    • Write the glottal stop when heard at the end of a syllable anywhere in the word. The glottal stop would be written as shown in the following Mohawk examples.
      a’én:na bow
      o’wháhsa skirt
      o’karahsnéha evening
      onon’ónsera pumpkin
      iakaon’wéskwani She likes it.
      ionte’nientenhstáhkhwa rules
      tewata’sharí:sas scissors
      wakia’torókstha cover
      rotisken’rakéhte boys
      tekonwaren’kénnion They tricked her.
      skária’k pay for it
      ià:ia’k six
      sanó:wen’t lier
      tasatáweia’t come in
      sén:ta’s bYou are sleeping.
      iakwáhsa’s We finish it.
      kón:ne’s They are here.
      kanonhsí:io’s nice houses
    • Write the glottal stop after a length with up stress occuring between two vowels. The glottal stop is written as shown in the following Mohawk words.
      raksá:’a boy
      eksá:’a girl
      riién:’a my son
      istén:’a my mother
      Tó: niiohwistá:’e What time is it?
      iokaión:’on It is old.
      Tó: nenkahwistá:’eke What time will it be?
    • Write the glottal stop when adding a suffix to another suffix to form a new word. The glottal stop replaces falling tone with length when adding a suffix to another suffix. The glottal stop would be written as shown in the following Mohawk examples:
      à:share knife
      Oh niwa’sharò:ten What type of knife is it?
      Oh niwa’sharo’ténhne What type of knife was it?
    • Write the glottal stop at the end of short words. Glottal stops are heard at the end of short Mohawk words. Some native speakers pronounce the glottals at the end of words very clearly in free variation. The glottal stop is written as shown:
      tánon’ and
      káti’ then
      é:so a lot
      tó:ka’ I don’t know.
      ó:ni’ also
      ísi’ over there
      tóka’ or
      kí’ though
      kháre’ again

    However, the usage of glottal stop at the end of words is becoming less frequent. Some feel that the glottal stop should not be used at the end of words and thus Ahthén:no’ would be written Athén:no.


Capitals will be used in writing the Mohawk language.

Capitalization follows usage in English. “Kahiatonhkowá:nens” is the Mohawk term for capitalization.

  1. Capitalize the first letter at the beginning of a sentence.
    Ka’wáhse? Where are you going?
    Ka’ne áhta? Where is the shoe?
    Watá:wens ne takò:s? The cat is swimming.
    Ká:ts kén:’en saió’ten Come work here.
    Rakenonhá:’a, ka’nón:we nihsès? My uncle, where are you?
  2. Capitalize the first letter of a word found at the beginning of a sentence. In the Mohawk language, the particle “ken” is often added at the end of a sentence, phrase, noun or verb to form a question
    Áhta ken? Is it a shoe?
    Istén:’a ken? Is it my mother?
    Í:’i ken? Is it me?
    Í:se ken? Is it you?
    Iontá:wens ken? Does she swim?
    Tehsahthénnoks ken? Do you play ball?
    Sahsótha ken? Is it your grandmother?
  3. Capitalize the first letter in proper names, such as those of people and places.
    Ahkwesáhsne St. Regis
    Wáhta Gibson
    Kanién:ke Tyendinaga
    Ohswé:ken Brantford
    Kanehsatà:ke Oka
    Kahnawà:ke Caughnawaga
    Kiohkià:ke/Tiohtià:ke Montreal
    Kenhtà:ke Laprairie
    Skaniatará:ti Lachine
    Sahré:’on Chateauguay
    Tsiohná:wate Belleville
    Tsikaná:taien Cornwall
    Terónto Toronto
    Kanón:no New York
    Á:nen Ann
    Karonhiakóhe (woman’s name) She’s coming to get the sky.
    Karonhienhá:wi (woman’s name) She’s carrying the sky.
    Ohsennen’á:wi (woman’s name) The name is floating by.
  4. Capitalize days of the week, months of the year, and holidays.
    Awentatokenhtì:ke Sunday (the holy day)
    Tsiothor’kó:wa/Tsothor’kó:wa January
    Ohséhrhon Midwinter Festival
    Shotonhnhé:ton Easter
  5. Capitalize the first letter in proper names of buildings, institutions and government.
    Tsi iontenhninón:tha store
    Tsi iehiatonhseratahkwáhtha post office
    Tsi ionteweienstáhkhwa school
    Tsi ionterennaientáhkhwa church
    Tsi ratihiatónhkwa band office
    Tsi teiontska’hónhkhwa restaurant
    Kanonhsésne Long house
    Tsi iakenheion’taientáhkhwa hospital
  6. Capitalize the first letter in terms relating to positions when it is part of a proper name
    Roiá:neh Chief
    Rakó:ra Governor
    Raia’takwe’ní:io Director
    Ratsiénhaiens Councillor

    Punctuation Marks

    In writing the Mohawk language, question marks, quotation marks, exclamation marks, periods, and commas are used.

    1. The question mark (?) indicates a question.
      Oh nahò:ten iesá:iats? What is your name?
      Tó:ní:kon sá:ien? How many do you have?
      Ka’wáhse nón:wa? Where are you going now?
      Ka’non:we nisaio’te? Where do you work?
    2. “Ken” is a particle used to form a question. “Ken” simply means question. Place the word to be questioned at the beginning of a sentence, then add the particle “ken”.
      Saió’te’ ken? Do you work?
      Satonhkária’ks ken? Are you hungry?
      Atekhwà:ra ken? Is it a table?
      Kákhwa ken? It it food?
      Ieksá:’a ken? Is it a girl?
      Takò:s ken? Is it a cat?
      Iokennó:ron ken natste? Is it raining out?
    3. Use the quotation marks ” ” when someone is directly citing a statement spoken by another person.
      Wa’ì:ron ne Wá:ri,
      “Hen, tho wá:re ne Só:se”.
      Mary said, “Yes, Joseph is going”.
      Wa’ì:ron ne Akhsó’tha, “Wakenonhwáktani”. My grandmother said, “I’m sick”.
      Wahèn:ron ne ro’níha, “Ká:ts tesewatská:hon”. His father said, “Come, eat”.
    4. Use the exclamation mark (!) to indicate surprise.
      Á:ke! For goodness sake!
      Hánio! Come on!
      Nio! My gosh!
    5. Use the comma in a list of nouns.
      • Akohsá:tens, só:ra, takò:s tánon è:rhar iotihnekì:ren.
      • Á:nen, Sosá:n, Teré:s tánon Wá:ri iotiió’te.
      • Kahnawà:ke, Kanehsatà:ke tánon, Ahkwesáhsne ieionkwenónhne.

    New Word Formation

    New words in the Mohawk language are to be formed according to function, characteristics, or activity. Loan words may be taken from other languages.

    The process of finding new Mohawk words equivalent to English terminology involves strategies which are second nature to fluent speakers of the language. Forming new words can be a creative and imaginative process. New words are also made by using a process called “affixation”. Affixation means combining root words with suffixes and prefixes to create a new word which describes its specific characteristic or function. Traditional Mohawk words which have become obsolescent, forgotten, or archaic in day-to-day conversation can also be revived.

    During the consultation meetings, Elders and fluent speakers were consulted as to the methods used to coin new words. Fluent speakers of the Mohwawk language can automatically work through the process of forming a new Mohawk word for the English term. In most instances, most of the terms were created by describing the item’s function, characteristic, or activity.

    At the conference, the participants solicited information on methods to coin new words through consultation and discussion with the Elders who were present. The participants divided into two groups. The Elders formed one group. The second group included the remaining participants, teachers, language consultants, fluent speakers and linguists.

    The steering committee members facilitated this discussion on word formation. The two groups were given the task of finding out what process is used by fluent Mohawk speakers to create new words in the Mohawk language. The two groups were asked to reach a consensus, to record their information, and to report their findings at the plenary session on the methods used to develop new words.

    The first group reported the following information.

    1) Tsi nahò:ten ioió’tens what it does
    2) Tsi nikaia’tò:ten what it looks like
    3) Tsi niwakiéhrha what it does
    4) Tsi niiaonkon’tsherò:ten what it tastes like
    5) Tsi niionehrákwa It is amazing.
    6) Tsi niionekhé:rent It is strange.
    7) Tsi ní:ioht how it is
    8) Tsi nikaieron’tò:ten its shape
    9) Tsi nikiakawé:non where she came from
    10) Tsi niwenserò:ten what it smells like
    11) Tsi nikaweiennò:ten the way it acts

    The second group reported the following information.

    1) Tsi nahò:ten ioteríhonte its function
    2) Tsi nikaia’tò:ten what it looks like
    3) Tsi niwakiéhrha what it is doing
    4) Tenhsewennaté:ni translate the word
    5) Ionkwatewennarákwen loan words
    6) Tsi niiaonkon’tsherò:ten what it tastes like
    7) Tsi nikawennò:ten what it sounds like

    The following list is a summary of the recommendations on methods for coining new words. It resulted from the consultation with the two groups present at the conference.

    Tsi ní:ioht ne á:se entewawennón:ni
    (Methods to form new words)

    1) Tsi nahò:ten ioteríhonte. its function
    2) Tsi nahò:ten ioió’tens what is its function
    3) Tsi nikaia’tò:ten what it looks like
    4) Tsi niwakiéhrha what it is doing
    5) Tsi niiaonkon’tsherò:ten what it tastes like
    6) Tsi niionehrákwa It is amazing.
    7) Tsi niionekhé:rent It is strange.
    8) Tsi ní:ioht how it is
    9) Tsi nikaieron’tò:ten its shape
    10) Tsi nikawennò:ten the sound it makes
    11) Tsi nikiawé:non where she came from
    12) Tsi niwenserò:ten what it smells like
    13) Tsi niwahsohkò:ten its color
    14) Owennaká:ions i:satst Use old tradition word.
    15) Tenhsewennaté:ni Translate the word.
    16) Ionkwatewennarákwen loan words

    Within this process of creating new words, root words are combined with affixes to form the word under the categories mentioned above.

    Tsi ní:ioht ne á:se entewawennón:ni
    Recommendations on Methods to form New Words

    1. Tsi nahò:ten ioteríhonte.
      Following this recommendation words are formed according to its function.

      anitskwà:ra chair (a place to put your hips on)
      atekhwà:ra table (a place to put your food on)
      teionrahsi’tahráhkhwa footstool (a place to put your feet on)
    2. Tsi nahò:ten ioió’tens
      Words for various occupations are created from verb forms.

      tewataheion’tátshnie nurse (someone who takes care of a dying body)
      iena’tarón:nis baker (She makes bread).
      rahskwahéhrha steelworker (He places a bridge on).
    3. Tsi nikaia’tò:ten
      Words are developed according to what it looks like.

      taonhtané:ken rabbit (two ears side by side)
      iohna’táhtsheronte kangaroo (an animal with pockets)
      tako’skò:wa tiger (a big cat)
    4. Tsi niwakiéhrha
      Words are created according to what it does.

      iakohsá:tens horse (she is riding a horse)
      kà:sere car (something one can pull or drag)
    5. Tsi niiaonkon’tsherò:ten
      Words are formed according to its taste. Two words are incorporated to form a new word.

      teiohiahió:tsis lemon (a sour/salty fruit)
      teiohnekahió:tsis vinegar (a sour/salty liquid)
      teiohnekatsikhè:tare soft drink (a sweet liquid)
    6. Tsi niionehràkwa
      Words are created using expressions or feelings of amazement.

      It has an amazing body.
      miracle (It is amazing news.)
    7. Tsi niionekhé:rent
      Words are formed according to its strangeness.

      ioia’tanekhé:rent stranger (It has a strange body.)
      iorihwanekhé:rent strange news (It is strange business.)
      io’serehtanekhé:rent strange car (It is a strange car.)
    8. Tsi niiakonhnhò:ten
      Words are formed according to people’s emotions.

      wakatshennón:ni I am happy. (I make happy.)
      iakota’karí:te She is well. (Her body is well.)
      ro’nikonhráksens He is sad. (His mind is bad.)
    9. Tsi ní:ioht
      Most Mohawk words are formed from a description. It describes the specific characteristic, quality or function of the object.

      tekaristó:raraks typewriter (It presses steel.)
      karonwaráia’ks telegraph (It hits wire.)
      teióiak’ks movies (It is projected.)
      iohnatiróntha rubber (It stretches.)
      tekakonhwhará:ron peaches (It has fur.)
      sewahió:wane apple (one big fruit)
      skanaie’kó:wa peacock (It shows off.)
      kanonhsowá:nen A big house (It is a big house.)
      ken’nikanonhsá:’a A small house (It is a small house.)
      wakia’tawi;tsherasé’tsi It is a new dress.
      iotia’tawi’tsherakaión:’on It is an old dress.
      teionà:kares It has long horns.
      kakarénies freight train (It carries)
      iohiatská:ra grapefruit (bitter fruit)
      iohná:wate fast current (fast flowing water)
      ohtiio’kéha train (It goes on land.)
    10. Tsi nikaieron’tò:ten
      Words are created by describing the shape or form of the object.

      oweró:kwa jug (It is shaped like a bubble.)
      teiote’nahkwakwe’nón:ni A round barrel (It is a round barrel.)
      Ka’seréhtes limosine (It is a long car.)
      ken’nikiotenonhsátte bungalow (It is a short house.)
      o’nó:wa guitar (It is shaped like a turtle’s shell.)
    11. Tsi nikawennò:ten
      Words or names for animals are created according to the sounds or noises they make.

      káhon’k Canada goose
      raón raon humming bird
      tekáhskiaks parrot
      tio:ka’we crow
    12. Tsi nikiawé:non
      Words are formed according to where things originate.

      Ohkwè:sen Partridge
      Ahkwesáhsne the place where the partridge drums
      Wáhta maple
      Wahtahró:non a person from Wáhta
      Kahnawà:ke on the rapids
      Kahnawa’kehró:non a person from Kahnawà:ke
      Kanehsatà:ke on the crusty sands
      Kanehsata’kehró:non a person from Kanehsatà:ke
      a person from Ohswé:ken
      Tyendinaga (anglicised spelling) two logs side by side
      Tyientané:ken (Mohawk spelling) two logs side by side
      Tyendinakahró:non a person from Tyendinaga
    13. Tsi nikaia’tó:ten
      Words or animal names are given describing their pecularities.

      ska’niónhsa moose (It has a large nose.)
      kaia’tákeras goat (It has a smelly body.)
      katsi’nónhtaks monkey (It eats lice.)
    14. Tsi niwahsohkò:ten
      Words are formed using the colour of an animal or object.

      otsì:nekwahr yellow
      otsi’nekwáhrha canary
      onekwénhsa blood
      onekwénhtara red
      atiaren’tá:’a/akiaren’tá:’a Baltimore Oriole (It is small and orangy.)
      otsì:nekwahr niwahiò:ten orange (It is a yellow type of fruit.)
      oròn:ia blue
      karonhià:ke sky (in the sky)
    15. Owennaká:ions í:satst
      Words are formed by adopting a traditional Mohawk word for modern terminology.

      tekaristó:raraks typewriter (it presses steel.)
      karonwaráia’ks telegraph (it hits wire.)
      a’én:na bow for violin (as in bow and arrow)
      onón:tsi motor, engine (head)
    16. Tesewennaté:ni
      Words are formed through direct translation.

      otsinó:wen mouse used for a computer (mouse)
    17. Stems play a major role in the formation of new words. Mohawk stems could be combined or recombined to stand for a composite meaning, as found in the following example.
      Kanonhskónhshon along inside of the house
    18. Ionkwatewennarákwen
      Loan Words are words adopted from other languages. Sometimes loan words are modified to fit Mohwak phonetics. Proper names have been transferred into Mohawk.

      Wíshe Michael
      Só:se Joseph
      Onwá:ri Mary

      Other borrowed words are given a Mohawk pronunciation.

      tsís cheese
      rasó:s sauce
      akarè:t cookie

      Some borrowed words are given a Mohawk pronunication by introducing other letters or sounds, such as “m,” “b,” or “f.”

      mátsis matches
      tamétoes tomatoes
      barawét wheelborrow
      káhwhe (kahfe) coffee

      Words which have no Mohawk equivalent are generally of recent introduction.

      másin machine
      bátari battery
      mástet mustard

      It should be noted that all Mohawk loan words are nouns. Verbs have never been borrowed because suffixes for existing Mohawk verbs are quite extensive and flexible. An English noun, such as “job,” could be formed into a verb using suffixes to create the Mohawk verb “sajobtsherá:ien ken” (Do you have a job?). Please note that this example would seldom be used in proper Mohawk.

      Most of the loan words have been adopted into Mohawk with substantial phonetic alteration in order to maintain consistency with the native phonemic system. Words borrowed from French and English are modified to conform to the Mohawk phonetic system.


    It was recommended to use the Mohawk word “Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io” as the standard Mohawk word for the English term for “consonant” and “Kawennisá’as” for “vowel.”

    It was unanimously decided to use the Mohawk word “Iewennonnià:tha” for the English term for “alphabet.”

    Three Mohawk words “Kawennon:nis,” “Kawennonnia:tha,” and “tekawennakhas” were provided for the term “syllable.” “Tekawennákhas” was the Mohawk word that was recommended for “syllable.”

    1. Kawennisá’as (Vowel)

    It was recommended that “kawennisá’as” be used as the standard Mohawk (Kanién’keha) form for “vowel.”

    2. Kontiwennisa’as (Vowels)

    It was recommended that “kontiwennisa’as” be used as the standard Mohawk (Kanién’keha) form for the plural, “vowels.”

    3. Kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io (Consonant)

    It was recommended that the term “kahiatonhkwakwe’ní:io” be used as the standard Mohawk term for “consonant.”

    4. Kontihiatonhkwakwe’ni:io (Consonants)

    It was recommended that the term “kontihiatonhkwakwe’ni:io” be used as the standard Mohawk for the plural “consonants.”

    5. Iewennonnià:tha (Alphabet)

    It was recommended that “Iewennoniá:tha” be used as the standard Mohawk form for “alphabet.”

    6. Tekawennákhas (Syllable)

    It was recommended that “tekawennákhas” be used as the standard Mohawk form for “syllable.”


    Bonvillain, Nancy. “Linguistic Change in Ahkwesáhsne Mohawk: French and English Influences,” International Journal of American Linguistics, 44 (1978)

    Huot, Martha Champion. “Some Mohawk Words of Acculturation, Ohswé:ken, Ontario”,International Journal of American Linguistics, 14 (1948)

    New Zealand. Maori Language Commission. Maori Orthographic Conventions, “Kia ita!” Te Taura Whiri te Reo Maori.

    Northwest Territories. Department of Culture and Communication. The Dene Standardisation Project, Yellowknife, N.W.T., April 1990.

    Northwest Territories. Department of Culture and Communication. Language Bureau.Linguistic Skills, Bank Inuktilut, Yellowknife, NWT, 1992.


    Archaic Words

    During the conference, participants were asked to collect ten old words. At the end of the brainstorming session, a list of old words was compiled. The following is a list of the archaic words:

    ioha’karien spoiled butter
    kén:seri donkey
    otsíkera clouds
    aiesahswaténien an “attack” coming from the back
    onon’onserí:ta pumpkin/squash
    teiakowennahrhó:ton She speaks politely.
    teionónhkeri Matters have gone wrong.
    kanonhsó:kon under the house
    ononhsó:kon empty house
    aietíha more than half
    iorón:rote northern lights
    ióhniote rainbow
    otsienhénhsera fence
    entkatahkarò:ten guide (for measurement)
    ohénhsa ear wax
    tahonshá:kaienhte They gave war cries.
    tehoharawí:tonte He has side burns.
    iohthsikwaténion fine snowfall
    tehokonhén:tons He is close to death.
    watonhniserá:ra very light breeze
    iakohskarakén:ra blond
    wa’katonhnhí:sake I look for food.
    tehotahónhtote listening
    kahwé:tsiaks choppy waters
    iehrhí:iaks short cut through the woods
    enkani’ko’shénha to go to sleep/to nap
    io’áweien dew
    iaonhawí:non drizzle
    iowerénhton wind from the east
    eniontónhnhaien to save food for the future
    tentiáthnhaken kiss me
    sasesérahwh to refill
    sewatsiá:ken to encourage
    oniskerò:ta slime

    Conference Elders Group

    1. Cecilia Cree
    2. Kahentorehtha Marie Cross
    3. Paul G. Deer
    4. Ada Doreen
    5. Tessie Goodleaf
    6. Erwin Harris
    7. Jean Herne
    8. Harry Hill
    9. Josie S. Horne
    10. Phyllis Keogh
    11. Harriet Lafrance
    12. Bessie Lazore
    13. Margaret Lazore
    14. Andrew C. Maracle
    15. Raymond Miller
    16. Phyllis Montour
    17. Ruth Papineau
    18. Rita Phillips
    19. Gordon Sahanatien
    20 Violet Sahanatien.
    21. Audrey Scero
    22. Annie Simon
    23. Leona Strength
    24. Agnes Sunday
    25. Mae Thompson
    26. Verna White

    We would also like to thank the following individuals:

    John Stanley Ontario Training and Adjustment Board
    Priscilla George Ontario Training and Adjustment Board
    Juanita Renee Ministry of Citizenship
    Diane Koechlin Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Recreation

    Mohawk Standardisation Conference Steering Committee

    Andrew Maracle Tyendinaga
    R. Donald Maracle Tyendinaga
    Ruth Isaac Ohswé:ken
    Frank Miller Ohswé:ken
    Thomas Stock Wáhta
    Grace Franks Wáhta
    Rose Marie Sunday Ahkwesáhsne
    Minnie Leaf Ahkwesáhsne
    Kanahstatsi Nancy Howard Kahnawa:ke
    Kaia’titáhkhe Annette Jacobs Kahnawa:ke
    Kanerahtenhá:wi Hilda Nicholas Kanehsata’:ke
    Skawén:nati Montour Kanehsata’:ke

    Project Co-ordinator

    Karihwénhawe Dorothy Lazore

    Initial Meetings

    Sam Maracle Tyendinaga
    Patti General Tyendinaga
    Becky Jamieson Ohswé:ken

    Consultation Participants


    1. Joan Brant
    2. Shirley Brant
    3. Ada Doreen
    4. Dorothy Green
    5. Ron Green
    6. Jan Hill
    7. Karen Lewis
    8. Susie Lynch
    9. Blaine Loft
    10. Greg Loft
    11. Andrew Maracle
    12. Carol Ann Maracle
    13. David Maracle
    14. Donald Maracle
    15. Lori Maracle
    16. Ruby Maracle
    17. Audrey Scero


    1. Deneen Hill
    2. Ruth Isaac
    3. Ima Johnson
    4. Sandra Loft
    5. Frank Miller
    6. Candy Squire


    1. Marie Bayles
    2. V. Decaire
    3. Beverley Franks
    4. Peter Franks
    5. Philip Franks
    6. Carol Holmes
    7. Sho’enrí:se Gordon Sahanatien
    8. Kwe’tshito Lucia Sahanatien
    9. Kanerhaken:iate Terry Sahanatien
    10. Katsi’tsiakwas Violet Sahanatien
    11. Dennis Stock
    12. Leona Strength
    13. Sylvia Thompson
    14. Brian White
    15. Verna White


    1. Konwaronhia:wi Annie Deer
    2. Kawennaro:roks Donna Deer
    3. Skahonhi:io Gary Delaronde
    4. Wahiake:ron George Gilbert
    5. Tiorahkwathe Jimmy Gilbert
    6. Onwa:ri Goodleaf
    7. Agnes Hemlock
    8. Tewa’kerahkhwa Audrey Herne
    9. Josie Horne
    10. Kanahstatsi Nancy Howard
    11. Kara’titahkhe Annette Jacobs
    12. Louise Laborgne
    13. Wahienha:wi McGregor
    14. Geraldine Standup

    1. Christie Arquette
    2. Sheree Bonaporte
    3. Susan Caldwell
    4. Cecilia Cree
    5. Rosemary Delormier
    6. Elizabeth Francis
    7. Ann King
    8. Alice King
    9. Hilda King
    10. Agath Lafrance
    11. Eleanor Lazore
    12. Josephine Lazore
    13. Margaret Lazore
    14. Minnie Leaf
    15. Martha Montour Lickers
    16. Diane Mitchell
    17. Sarah Mitchell
    18. Cecilia Peters
    19. Kase:waien Marsha Peters
    20. Konwakeri Margaret Peters
    21. Theodore Peters
    22. Carole Ross
    23. Vivian Smoke
    24. Rose Sunday
    25. Daniel Thompson
    26. Gloria Thompson
    27. Marie Thomspon
    28. Nancy Thompson
    29. Mabel White
    30. Mildred White
    31. Rosemarie White


    1. Jane Etienne
    2. Tewatawen:ron Selina Etienne
    3. Wariso:se Josie Gabriel
    4. Kanatase Gabriel
    5. Lypso Di Gibson
    6. Agnes McDonald
    7. Alice McDonald
    8. Charlotte Montour
    9. Konwahawen:se Phyllis Montour
    10. Skawen:nati Montour
    11. Anna Nelson
    12. Elizabeth Nelson
    13. Hattie Nelson
    14. Kanerahtenha:wi Hilda Nicholas
    15. Linda Nicholas
    16. Wathahi:ne Mary Lynn Nicholas
    17. Agnes Sharrow
    18. Helen Simon
    19. Eleanor Vandenhende

    Pre-Conference Workshop Participants

    Steering Committee Members

    1. Kanáhstatsi Nancy Howard
    2. Kaia’titahkhe Annette Jacobs
    3. Andrew Maracle
    4. Donald Maracle
    5. Ruth Isaac
    6. Frank Miller
    7. Kanerahtenhá:wi Hilda Nicholas
    8. Skawén:nati Montour
    9. Rose Sunday
    10. Minnie Leaf
    11. Grace Franks
    12. Thomas Stock


    1. Konwaronhiá:wi Annie Deer
    2. Ada Doreen
    3. Arísawe Francis
    4. Blaine Loft
    5. Don Maracle
    6. Alice McDonald
    7. Charlotte Montour
    8. Phyllis Montour
    9. Mary Nicholas
    10. Audrey Scero
    11. Mabel White
    12. Marie Cross
    13. Katsi’tsoronkwas Judy Jacobs


    1. Prof. Marianne Mithun
      University of California at Santa Barbara

    Conference Participants

    1. Ada Doreen
    2. Blaine Loft
    3. Susie Lynch
    4. Audrey Scero
    1. Harry A. Hill
    2. Amos Key
    3. Raymond Miller
    4. Cam Martin
    5. Dwayne Martin
    1. Phyllis Keogh
    2. Gordon Sahanatien
    3. Terry Sahanatien
    4. Violet Sahanatien
    5. Dennis Stock
    6. Leona Strength
    7. Tim Thompson
    8. Verna White
    1. Kahentinéhtha Beverley Beauvais
    2. Kahentoréhtha Marie Cross
    3. Paul G. Deer
    4. Tiorahkwáthe Gilbert
    5. Tessie Goodleaf
    6. Josie S. Horne
    7. Tekaronhió:ken Frank Jacobs
    8. Katsi’tsohrónkwas Judy Jacobs
    9. Konwákeri Joan Nolan
    10. Kwatién:se Edna Norton
    11. Konwatsi’tsaién:ni Rita Phillips
    1. Cecilia Cree
    2. Rob Cree
    3. Kahentanó:ron Elizabeth Francis
    4. Jean Herne
    5. Akat Harriet Lafrance
    6. Bessie Lazore
    7. Margaret Lazore
    8. Ruth Papineau
    9. Theodore Peters
    10. Carole Ross
    11. Agnes Sunday
    12. Mae Thomson
    13. Nancy Thompson
    14. Mildred White
    1. Selina Etienne
    2. Nikawenna:a Adeline Gabriel
    3. Wariso:se Josephine Gabriel
    4. Alice McDonald
    5. Konwahawén:se Phyllis Montour
    6. Marylene Nicholas
    7. Annie Simon

    1. Merle Richards

    Meeting Dates

    1. May 5, 1993 7:00 p.m. Tyendinaga Parents Committee
    Language Immersion
    2. May 6, 1993 7:00 p.m. Tyendinaga Language Committee
    3. May 8, 1993 10:00 a.m. Brantford
    Wáhta (Gibson)
    Language Co-ordinator
    4. May 11, 1993 7:00 p.m. Tyendinaga Parent Committee
    5. May 12, 1993 7:00 p.m. Tyendinaga Language Committee
    6. May 15, 1993 10:00 a.m. Kahnawà:ke
    Teachers Co-ordinator
    7. May 16, 1993 7:00 p.m. Ahkwesáhsne Elders
    8. May 28, 1993 7:30 p.m. Ahkwesáhsne Elders
    Mohawk Speakers
    9. June 6, 1993 1:00 p.m. Wáhta Elders
    Mohawk Speakers
    10. June 7, 1993 6:30 p.m. Brantford Elders
    11. June 11, 1993 1:30 p.m. Ahkwesáhsne Elders
    12. June 11, 1993 7:00 p.m. Ahkwesáhsne Elders
    13. June 16, 1993 Kanehsatà:ke Elders
    Language Specialist
    Curriculum Workers
    14. June 28, 1993 9:00 a.m. Kahnawà:ke Elders
    Language Speacialist
    15. June 29, 1993 Tyendinaga Elders Language
    Committee Teachers
    16. June 30, 1993 Ahkwesáhsne Steering Committee
    Policy Co-ordinator
    Project Co-ordinator

    Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte
    Statement of Earnings
    12 Periods Ended March 31, 1994


    Revenue: Current YTD
    Ministry of Education – Language 103,000.00
    Ministry of Tourism and Recreation – Elders 4,000.00
    Ministry of Citizenship – Language 8,000.00
    Total Revenue 115,000.00
    Costs and Expenses:
    Language – Salary 22,765.74
    Language – Travel and Comm. 3,369.54
    Language – Administration 8,420.00
    Language – Honoraria (Conference) 2,600.00
    Language – Translation – Conference 5,001.25
    Language – Meeting Expenses 9,325.18
    Language – Participants Travel 21,818.95
    Language – Accommodation 5,782.72
    Language – Meals 306.35
    Language – Interpreters 0.00
    Language – Honoraria for Elders 2,400.00
    Language – External Audit 2,000.00
    Language – Administration Fee 4,000.00
    Total Expenses 87,789.73
    Net Earnings (Loss) for Period 27,210.27

    End Notes

    1. Some communities use the “i” and others use the “y.” It is not acceptable in any community to use both letters for the consonant sound.
    2. The Literacy Branch was transferred to the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board (OTAB) on October 1, 1993. OTAB is an agency of the Ministry of Education and Training. Responsibility for administering the Aboriginal Standardisation Project now lies with the Literacy Section, Learning and Employment Preparation Branch, OTAB.
    3. Some communities use the “i” and others use the “y.” It is not acceptable in any community to use both letters for the consonant sound.