Native toUnited States, Canada
RegionOntario, Quebec and northern New York
EthnicityMohawk people
Native speakers
3,875 (2011–2016)[1][2]
  • Northern
    • Lake Iroquoian
      • Five Nations
Language codes
ISO 639-2moh
ISO 639-3moh
Current distribution of Mohawk speakers in the United States.
Mohawk is classified as Definitely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Mohawk (/ˈmhɔːk/;[3] Kanienʼkéha, "[language] of the Flint Place") is an Iroquoian language currently spoken by around 3,500 people of the Mohawk nation, located primarily in current or former Haudenosaunee territories, predominately Canada (southern Ontario and Quebec), and to a lesser extent in the United States (western and northern New York). The word "Mohawk" is an exonym. In the Mohawk language, the people say that they are from Kanien:ke ('Mohawk Country' or "Flint Stone Place") and that they are Kanienʼkehá꞉ka "People of the Flint Stone Place" or "People of the Flint Nation".[4]

The Mohawks were extremely wealthy traders, as other nations in their confederacy needed their flint for tool-making. Their Algonquian-speaking neighbors (and competitors), the People of Muh-heck Heek Ing ("food-area place"), a people called by the Dutch "Mohicans" or "Mahicans", called the People of Ka-nee-en Ka "Maw Unk Lin" or Bear People. The Dutch heard and wrote that as "Mohawks" and so the People of Kan-ee-en Ka are often referred to as Mohawks. The Dutch also referred to the Mohawk as Egils or Maquas. The French adapted those terms as Aigniers or Maquis, or called them by the generic Iroquois.[citation needed]


The Mohawks were the largest and most powerful of the original Five Nations, controlling a vast area of land on the eastern frontier of the Iroquois Confederacy. The North Country and Adirondack region of present-day Upstate New York would have constituted the greater part of the Mohawk-speaking area lasting until the end of the 18th century.

Current status

Mohawk language stop sign.

The Mohawk language is currently classified as threatened, and the number of native speakers has continually declined over the past several years.[5]

Mohawk has the largest number of speakers among the Northern Iroquoian languages, and today it is the only one with more than a thousand remaining speakers. At Akwesasne, residents have founded a language immersion school (pre-K to grade 8) in Kanienʼkéha to revive the language. With their children learning it, parents and other family members are taking language classes, too.

A Mohawk language immersion school was established.[6] Mohawk parents, concerned with the lack of culture-based education in public and parochial schools, founded the Akwesasne Freedom School in 1979. Six years later, the school implemented a Mohawk language immersion curriculum based on a traditional cycle of fifteen seasonal ceremonies, and on the Mohawk Thanksgiving Address, or Ohén꞉ton Karihwatékwen, "The words before all else." Every morning, teachers and students gather in the hallway to recite the Thanksgiving Address in Mohawk.[7]

An adult immersion program was also created in 1985 to address the issue of intergenerational fluency decline of the Mohawk language.[8]

Kanatsiohareke (Gah-nah-jo-ha-lay-gay), meaning "Place of the clean pot", is a small Mohawk community on the north bank of the Mohawk River, west of Fonda, New York.[1] Kanatsiohareke was created to be a "Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Reverse", teaching Mohawk language and culture.[2] Located at the ancient homeland of the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk), it was re-established in September 1993 under the leadership of Thomas R. Porter (Sakokwenionkwas-"The One Who Wins").[3] The community must raise their own revenue and frequently hold cultural presentations, workshops, and academic events, including an annual Strawberry Festival.[4] A craft shop on site features genuine handmade Native crafts from all over North America.

The primary mission of the community is to try to preserve traditional values, culture, language and lifestyles in the guidance of the Kaienerekowa (Great Law of Peace).[5] Kanatsiohareke, Inc. is a non-profit organization under IRS code 501c3.

In 2006, over 600 people were reported to speak the language in Canada, many of them elderly.[9]

Kahnawake is located at a metropolitan location, near central Montreal, Quebec, Canada. As Kahnawake is located near Montreal, many individuals speak both English and French, and this has contributed to a decline in the use of Mohawk language over the past century. The Mohawk Survival School, the first immersion program was established in 1979. The school's mission was to revitalize Mohawk language. To examine how successful the program had been, questionnaire was given to the Kahnawake residents following the first year. The results indicated that teaching towards younger generation have been successful and showed an increase in the ability to speak the language in private settings, as well as an increase in the mixing of Mohawk in English conversations were found.[10]

Current number of speakers

In 2011, there were approximately 3,500 speakers of Mohawk, primarily in Quebec, Ontario and western New York.[11][12] Immersion (monolingual) classes for young children at Akwesasne and other reserves are helping to train new first-language speakers. The importance of immersion classes among parents grew after the passage of Bill 101, and in 1979 the Mohawk Survival School was established to facilitate language training at the high school level.[13] [14] Kahnawake and Kanatsiohareke offer immersion classes for adults.[15][16] In the 2016 Canadian census, 875 people said Mohawk was their only mother tongue.[2]

Usage in popular culture

Mohawk dialogue features prominently in Ubisoft Montreal's 2012 action-adventure open world video game Assassin's Creed III, through the game's main character, the half-Mohawk, half-Welsh Ratonhnhaké꞉ton, also called Connor, and members of his native Kanièn꞉ke village around the times of the American Revolution. Ratonhnhaké꞉ton was voiced and modelled by Crow actor Noah Bulaagawish Watts. Hiawatha, the leader of the Iroquoian civilization in Sid Meier's Civilization V, voiced by Kanentokon Hemlock, speaks modern Mohawk.

The stories of Mohawk language learners are also chronicled in 'Raising The Words', a short documentary film released in 2016 that explores personal experiences with Mohawk language revitalization in Tyendinaga, a Mohawk community roughly 200 kilometres east of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.[17] The film was set to be shown at the 4th annual Ethnografilm festival in Paris, France.

The Mohawk language is used in the 2017 film Mohawk, the 1991 film Black Robe, and the 2020 television series Barkskins.

The language was used throughout in the Marvel Studios animated series What If...?, in the season 2 episode "What If... Kahhori Reshaped the World?", where they introduce an original Mohawk superhero named Kahhori.[18]


Mohawk has three major dialects: Western (Ohswé:ken and Kenhté:ke), Central (Ahkwesáhsne), and Eastern (Kahnawà꞉ke and Kanehsatà꞉ke); the differences between them are largely phonological. These are related to the major Mohawk territories since the eighteenth century. The pronunciation of /r/ and several consonant clusters may differ in the dialects.

  Underlying phonology Western Central Eastern
seven /tsjáːta/ [ˈd͡ʒaːda] [ˈd͡ʒaːda] [ˈd͡zaːda]
nine /tjóhton/ [ˈdjɔhdũ] [ˈɡjɔhdũ] [ˈd͡ʒɔhdũ]
I fall /kjaʔtʌʔs/ [ˈɡjàːdʌ̃ʔs] [ˈɡjàːdʌ̃ʔs] [ˈd͡ʒàːdʌ̃ʔs]
dog /érhar/ [ˈɛrhar] [ˈɛlhal] [ˈɛːɽhaɽ]


The phoneme inventory of Mohawk is as follows (using the International Phonetic Alphabet).


An interesting feature of Mohawk (and Iroquoian) phonology is that there are no labials (m, p, b, f, v), except in a few adoptions from French and English, where [m] and [p] appear (e.g., mátsis "matches" and aplám "Abraham"); these sounds are late additions to Mohawk phonology and were introduced after widespread European contact.

Mohawk Consonants
Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal n
Plosive t (d) k (ɡ) ʔ
Affricate d͡ʒ
Fricative s (z) h
Approximant l j w
Rhotic r

Consonant clusters

The Central (Ahkwesáhsne) dialect has the following consonant clusters. All clusters can occur word-medially; those on a tinted background can also occur word-initially.

1st↓ · 2nd→ t k s h l n d͡ʒ j w
t tt tk ts th
k kt kk ks kh kw
ʔ ʔt ʔk ʔs ʔl ʔn ʔd͡ʒ ʔj ʔw
s st sk ss sh sl sn sj sw
h ht hk hs hl hn hd͡ʒ hj hw
l lh lj
n nh nl nj
d͡ʒ d͡ʒj
w wh

⟨th⟩ and ⟨sh⟩ are pronounced as consonant clusters, not single sounds like in English thing and she.

Consonant voicing

The consonants /k/, /t/ and the clusters /ts kw/ are pronounced voiced before any voiced sound (i.e. a vowel or /j/). They are voiceless at the end of a word or before a voiceless sound. /s/ is voiced word initially and between vowels.

kà꞉sere [ˈɡǎːzɛrɛ] "car"
thí꞉ken [ˈthǐːɡʌ̃] "that"
shé꞉kon [ˈshɛ̌ːɡũ] "still"


Front Central Back
High i ũ ũː
Mid e ʌ̃ ʌ̃ː o
Low a

Mohawk has oral and nasalized vowels; four vowel qualities occur in oral phonemes /i e a o/, and two only occur as nasalized vowels (/ʌ̃ ũ/). Vowels can be long or short.


Stress, length, and tone

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Mohawk words have both stress and tone, and it can be classified as a restricted tone system (aka pitch-accent system). Stressed vowels carry one of four tonal configurations, two of which are contour tones: high, low, rising and falling tones. Contour tones only occur in syllables with long vowels.

Stress, vowel length and tone are connected in Mohawk phonology.

In the standard spelling, a colon is placed after a vowel to lengthen it. There are 4 tones: mid, high, mid-low falling and mid-high rising, the latter two appear on long vowels (marked as V:).


Plaque in English, Mohawk, and French describing the Grand River. Plaque located in Galt, Cambridge, Ontario

Mohawk orthography uses the following letters: ⟨a e h i k n o r s t w y⟩ along with ⟨’⟩ and ⟨꞉⟩. The orthography was standardized in 1993.[19] The standard allows for some variation of how the language is represented, and the clusters /ts(i)/, /tj/, and /ky/ are written as pronounced in each community. The orthography matches the phonological analysis as above except:

The low-macron accent is not a part of standard orthography and is not used in the Central or Eastern dialects. In standard orthography, ⟨h⟩ is written before ⟨n⟩ to create the [en] or [on]: kehnhó꞉tons 'I am closing it'.


A warning sign in Mohawk

Mohawk words tend to be longer on average than words in English, primarily because they consist of a large number of morphemes.

Mohawk expresses a number of distinctions on its pronominal elements: person (1st, 2nd, 3rd), number (singular, dual, plural), gender (masculine, feminine/indefinite, feminine/neuter) and inclusivity/exclusivity on the first person dual and plural. Pronominal information is encoded in prefixes on the verbs; separate pronoun words are used for emphasis. There are three main paradigms of pronominal prefixes: subjective (with dynamic verbs), objective (with stative verbs), and transitive.

There are three core components to the Mohawk proposition: the noun, the predicate, and the particle.[21]

Mohawk words can be composed of many morphemes. What is expressed in English in many words can often be expressed by just one Mohawk word, a phenomenon known as polysynthesis.


Nouns are given the following form in Mohawk:[21][22][23]

Nominal Prefix Noun Stem Nominal Suffix

Noun prefixes give information relating to gender, animacy, number and person, and identify the word as a noun.

For example:

1) nenste "corn"

2) oienʼkwa "tobacco"

Here, the prefix o- is generally found on nouns found in natural environments. Another prefix exists which marks objects that are made by humans.

3) kanhoha "door"

4) kaʼkhare "slip, skirt"

Here, the prefix ka- is generally found on human-made things. Phonological variation amongst the Mohawk dialects also gives rise to the prefix ga-.

Noun roots are similar to nouns in English in that the noun root in Mohawk and the noun in English have similar meanings.


5) –eri- "heart"

6) –hi- "river"

7) –itshat- "cloud"

These noun roots are bare. There is no information other than the noun root itself. Morphemes cannot occur individually. That is, to be well-formed and grammatical, -eri- needs pronominal prefixes, or the root can be incorporated into a predicate phrase.

Nominal suffixes are not necessary for a well-formed noun phrase. The suffixes give information relating to location and attributes. For example:

Locative Suffix:

8) i. onuʼtaʼ "hill"

ii. onutaʼke "on the hill"

9) i. onekwvhsaʼ "blood"

ii. onekwvhsaʼke "in the blood"

Here the suffix < -ke > denotes location.

Attributive Suffix:

10) kvjyʼ "fish"

11) kvjaʼkoʼwa "sturgeon" or "big fish"

Here, the suffix -koʼwa denotes an augmentative suffix, which increases the attribute of the noun in question.


Mohawk verbs are one of the more complex parts of the language, composed of many morphemes that describe grammatical relations. The verb takes the following structure:[21][22]

Pre-Pronominal Prefix Pronominal Prefix Reflexive And Reciprocal Particle Incorporated Noun Root Verb Root Suffixes

Mohawk grammar allows for whole prepositions to be expressed by one word, which we classify as a verb. The other core elements (subjects, objects, etc.) can be incorporated into the verb. Well-formed verb phrases contain at the bare minimum a verb root and a pronominal prefix. The rest of the elements are not necessary.

Tense, aspect and modality are expressed via suffixes on the verb phrase as well.

Some examples:








k- atorat- s

1SG- hunt HAB

"I hunt"

This is composed of three parts; the pronominal prefix, the verb root and a suffix which marks aspect. Mohawk seems to prefer aspect markers to tense to express grammaticalisation in time.
















root suffix

n- yaʼ- t- v- s- ha- yahyaʼk- eʼ

PTV TRLOC DU- FUT- ITER- noun- verb- {root suffix}

"…where he will cross over again from here to there…"

This example shows multiple prefixes that can be affixed to the verb root, but certain affixes are forbidden from coexisting together. For example, the aorist and the future tense affix will not be found on the same well-formed sentence.








momentary ASP suffix

v- se- natahr- aʼ

FUT NOM-PRO VB-ROOT {momentary ASP suffix}

"You will make a visit"








momentary suffix

a- se- natahr- aʼ

COND NOM-PRO VB-ROOT {momentary suffix}

"You should make a visit"









momentary suffix

sa- natahr- u- hneʼ

ACC-PRO VB-ROOT STAT {momentary suffix}

"You were visiting"

Here, different prefixes and suffixes are used that mark tense, aspect and modality.

Most grammatical relations in Mohawk are expressed through various different affixes onto a verb. Subjects, objects, and relationships between subjects and objects are given their own affixes. In Mohawk, each transitive relationship between subjects and objects are given their own prefix. For example:






ku- noruhkwa

I-you love

"I love you"






ri- noruhkwa

I-him love

"I love him"






ke- noruhkwa

I-it/her love

"I love it/her"

Each of these affixes are denoting a transitive relationship between two things. There are more affixes for denoting transitive relationships like "we-they", they-us (inclusive/exclusive), etc.

Noun incorporation

One of the features of Mohawk called noun incorporation allows a verb to absorb a noun into it. When incorporation happens, an epenthetic a can appear between the noun root and the verb root.[21][22] For example:










Owiraʼa wahrakeʼ ne oʼwahru

Baby ate the meat

With noun incorporation:






Owiraʼa wahaʼwahrakeʼ

Baby meat-ate








waʼe -ks -ohareʼ

{} dish wash

"She dish-washed"










waʼke -nakt -a -hninuʼ

{} bed increment buy

"I bed-bought"










waha -naʼtar -a -kwetareʼ

{} bread increment -cut

"He bread-cut"

Most of these examples take the epenthetic vowel a; it can be omitted if the incorporated noun does not give rise a complex consonant cluster in the middle of the word.


Six Nations Polytechnic in Ohsweken, Ontario, offers Ogwehoweh language diploma and degree programs in Mohawk or Cayuga.[24]

Since September 2017, the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Offers a credit course in Mohawk; the classes are given at Renison University College in collaboration with the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre, St. Paul's University College.[25]

Resources are available for self-study of Mohawk by a person with no or limited access to native speakers of Mohawk. Here is a collection of some resources currently [as of when?] available:


There are software packages available for both the Microsoft Windows and Mac operating systems to enable typing of the Mohawk language electronically. Both packages are available through FirstVoices, a web-based project to support Aboriginal peoples' teaching and archiving of language and culture.[26]

See also


  1. ^ "Mohawk". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-06-09.
  2. ^ a b Canada, Government of Canada, Statistics (28 March 2018). "Aboriginal Mother Tongue (90), Single and Multiple Mother Tongue Responses (3), Aboriginal Identity (9), Registered or Treaty Indian Status (3) and Age (12) for the Population in Private Households of Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census - 25% Sample Data". Retrieved 2018-06-09.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student's Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^ a b "FirstVoices". Retrieved Sep 3, 2020.
  5. ^ "Redirected". 19 November 2019.
  6. ^ "Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community". Retrieved Sep 3, 2020.
  7. ^ Tongues, Our Mother. "Our Mother Tongues | Mohawk". Retrieved Sep 3, 2020.
  8. ^ Archived 2017-12-01 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 97-558-XCB2006015
  10. ^ Archived 2017-01-06 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Moseley, Christopher and R. E. Asher, ed. Atlas of World Languages (New York: Routelege, 1994) p. 7
  12. ^ "Mohawk". Ethnologue. Retrieved Jan 26, 2016.
  13. ^ Michael Hoover. The Revival of the Mohawk Language in Kahnawake (PDF) (Report).
  14. ^ Tanya Lee (2012-07-29). "Ambitious and Controversial School Attempts to Save the Mohawk Language and Culture". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
  15. ^ Sam Slotnick. "Learning More Than a Language : Intensive Kanienʼkéha Course a Powerful Link for Mohawk Community". The Link: Concordia's Independent Newspaper Sonce 1980. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
  16. ^ Kay Olan (2011-06-16). "Kanatsiohareke, Language and Survival". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
  17. ^ "About — Raising the Words". Archived from the original on 2017-01-08. Retrieved 2017-01-07.
  18. ^ Graves, Sabina (March 9, 2023). "Marvel's What If? Season 2 Will Introduce a Brand New Mohawk Hero". Gizmodo. Archived from the original on March 9, 2023. Retrieved December 27, 2023.
  19. ^ ""Mohawk Language Standardization Project", Kanienkehaka". Archived from the original on 2013-12-02. Retrieved 2006-11-05.
  20. ^ "Mohawk Language - Ohwejagehka Hadegaenage". Retrieved Sep 3, 2020.
  21. ^ a b c d Bonvillain, Nancy (1973). A Grammar Of Awkwesasne Mohawk. National Museum of Man, National Museums of Canada.
  22. ^ a b c Michelson, Günther (1973). A Thousand Words Of Mohawk. National Museum of Man, National Museums Of Canada.
  23. ^ Maracle, David. One thousand useful Mohawk words. Guilford, Conn: Audio-Forum.
  24. ^ "University Program". Six Nations Polytechnic. 21 December 2016. Retrieved December 3, 2021.
  25. ^ Bueckert, Kate (17 Aug 2017). "Mohawk language course to be offered for 1st time at UW". CBC News. Retrieved 17 Aug 2017.
  26. ^ "FirstVoices". Retrieved Sep 3, 2020.

Further reading