Crow (native name: Apsáalooke[ə̀ˈpsáːɾòːɡè]) is a Missouri ValleySiouan language spoken primarily by the Crow Nation in present-day southeastern Montana. The word, Apsáalooke, translates to “children of the large beaked bird.” It is one of the larger populations of American Indian languages with 2,480 speakers according to the 1990 US Census.
Crow is closely related to Hidatsa spoken by the Hidatsa tribe of the Dakotas; the two languages are the only members of the Missouri Valley Siouan family. Despite their similarities, Crow and Hidatsa are not mutually intelligible.
According to Ethnologue with figures from 1998, 77% of Crow people over 66 years old speak the language; “some” parents and older adults, “few” high school students and “no pre-schoolers” speak Crow. 80% of the Crow Nation prefers to speak in English. The language was defined as “definitely endangered” by UNESCO as of 2012.
However, R. Graczyk claims in his A Grammar of Crow (2007) that “[u]nlike many other native languages of North America in general, and the northern plain in particular, the Crow language still exhibits considerable vitality: there are fluent speakers of all ages, and at least some children are still acquiring Crow as their first language.” Many of the younger population who do not speak Crow are able to understand it. Almost all of those who do speak Crow are also bilingual in English. Graczyk cites the reservation community as the reason for both the high level of bilingual Crow-English speakers and the continued use and prevalence of the Crow language. Daily contact with non-American Indians on the reservation for over one hundred years has led to high usage of English. Traditional culture within the community, however, has preserved the language via religious ceremonies and the traditional clan system.
Currently, most speakers of Crow are 30 and older but a few younger speakers are learning it. There are increased efforts for children to learn Crow as their first language and many do on the Crow Reservation of Montana, particularly through a Crow language immersion school that was sponsored in 2012. Development for the language includes a Crow language dictionary and portions of the Bible published from 1980-2007. The current literacy rate is around 1-5% for first language speakers and 75-100% for second language learners. Teens are immersed in Crow at the Apsaalooke language camp sponsored by the Crow Nation.
Crow is closely related to Hidatsa spoken by the Hidatsa tribe of the Dakotas; the two languages are the only members of the Missouri Valley Siouan family. The ancestor of Crow-Hidatsa may have constituted the initial split from Proto-Siouan. Crow and Hidatsa are not mutually intelligible, however the two languages share many phonological features, cognates and have similar morphologies and syntax. The split between Crow and Hidatsa may have occurred between 300 and 800 years ago.