Beginning to Understand Potawatomi

The very simplicity of the Potawatomi language is probably why it seems so formidable to learn. The best way is to learn the more common phrases such as in greeting a person, and words that you might hear in the course of a given day. Also, I believe that the old method of writing is far better for learning the language than any other method. For one thing, it will prepare you for reading some of the old documents at some point in your future.

I cannot over emphasize one cardinal rule. Remember the four vowel sounds: A – Ah, E – Eh, I – Ee, O – Oh, and that the “EE” sound, as in eek, is always written as “I.” Also, reading Potawatomi is not like reading English, that is, you cannot just pick it up and start reading away. Even at the best of times it is a slow process.

Now remember the four vowel sounds as we say a word of greeting.

Say: bosho, nitthena?
You are saying: Hello, how are you? or Hello, how is everything?

The correct way to pronounce the Indian words are as follows:
bo sho, nee che nah?

Notice in this one sentence that all four vowel sounds are present. Also, you will notice that we have uncovered one of the puzzles to the written Potawatomi language. That is the ch sound, as in check, is written in this manner – tth. I have not seen the letter C in any of the writings that I have.  Tth is used to create the ch or j sounds. Also, the old Indian writings do not have any punctuation marks of any kind. So it is left entirely up to you to determine the ending of the sentences.

We will expand on the sentence a little further.

bosho nitthena? nipitthe wetth byayen? – Traditional Writing

bo sho nee che na? nee pee che wetch bya yen? – Pronunciation

Hello, how is everything? Where are you from? – Translation

The response you may get might go like this:

i she anwe. Stone Lake ndotthbya. – Traditional Writing

ee zhe ahn we. Stone Lake ndotch bya. – Pronunciation

Everything is o.k. I come from Stone Lake. – Translation

The same sentences appear below without any explanation, so pay particular attention to vowels and method of writing.

bosho nitthena? nipitthe wetth byayen?

i she anwe. Stone Lake ntotth bya.

Literal translations of Indian sentences into English are usually not possible, so you have to structure the English language around the Indian sentence to come up with a viable translation.

Now we will proceed and start using sentences that would be part of any dialogue that you might encounter on any given day. You have already been introduced to some general phrases of greeting.