|Native to||United States|
|Region||Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado|
The Navajo Nation, where the language is mostly spoken
Navajo or Navaho (//; Navajo: Diné bizaad IPA: [di˩ne˥bi˩zaː˩d] or Naabeehó bizaad) is a language of the Athabaskan branch of the Na-Dené family, by which it is related to languages spoken across the western areas of North America. Navajo is spoken primarily in the Southwestern United States, especially in the Navajo Nation political area. It is one of the most widely spoken Native American languages and is the most widely spoken north of the U.S.–Mexico border, with almost 170,000 Americans speaking Navajo at home as of 2011. The language has struggled to keep a healthy speaker base, although this problem has been alleviated to some extent by pervasive education programs in the Navajo Nation.
The language has a fairly large phoneme inventory; it includes several uncommon consonants that are not found in English. Its four basic vowels are distinguished for nasality, length, and tone. The language's orthography, which was developed in the late 1930s after a series of unsuccessful attempts, is based on the Latin script. Most Navajo vocabulary is Athabaskan in origin, as the language has been conservative with loanwords since its early stages.
Basic word order is subject–object–verb, though it is highly flexible to pragmatic factors. It has both agglutinative and fusional elements: it relies on affixes to modify verbs, and nouns are typically created from multiple morphemes, but in both cases these morphemes are fused irregularly and beyond easy recognition. Verbs are conjugated for aspect and mood, and given affixes for the person and number of both subjects and objects, as well as a host of other variables.
- 1 History
- 2 Phonology
- 3 Vocabulary
- 4 Grammar
- 5 Orthography
- 6 Sample text
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Prior to European colonization
The word Navajo is an exonym: it comes from the Tewa word Navahu, which combines the roots nava ("field") and hu ("valley") to mean "large field". It was borrowed into Spanish to refer to an area of present-day northwestern New Mexico, and later into English for the Navajo tribe and their language. The alternate spelling Navaho is considered antiquated; even anthropologist Berard Haile spelled it with a "j" in accordance with contemporary usage despite his personal objections. The Navajo refer to themselves as the Diné ("people"), with their language known as Diné bizaad ("people's language").
Most languages in the Athabaskan family have tone. However, this feature evolved independently in all subgroups; Proto-Athabaskan had no tones. In each case, tone evolved from glottalic consonants at the ends of morphemes; however, the progression of these consonants into tones has not been consistent, with some related morphemes being pronounced with high tones in some Athabaskan languages and low tones in others. It has been posited that Navajo and Chipewyan, which have no common ancestor more recent than Proto-Athabaskan and possess many pairs of corresponding but opposite tones, evolved from different dialects of Proto-Athabaskan that pronounced these glottalic consonants differently. Proto-Athabaskan diverged fully into separate languages circa 500 BC.
Navajo is most closely related to Western Apache, with which it shares a similar tonal scheme and more than 92 percent of its vocabulary. It is estimated that the Apacheean linguistic groups separated and became established as distinct societies, of which the Navajo were one, somewhere between 1300 and 1525. As a member of the Western Apachean group, Navajo's next closest relatives are Mescalero and Chiricahua. Navajo is generally considered mutually intelligible with all other Apachean languages.
Colonization and decline
The Navajo's land was initially colonized by the Spaniards in the early nineteenth century, shortly becoming part of the Spanish colony of Mexico. When the United States acquired these territories in 1848, the English-speaking settlers allowed Navajo children to attend their schools and even built separate schools for them in some cases. However, these children were not allowed to speak their own language in school due to a belief that this would keep them from functioning in English-speaking society; students routinely had their mouths washed out with lye soap as a punishment. Consequently, when these students grew up and had children of their own, they often did not teach them Navajo to prevent the children from being punished as well.
In World War II, the United States government hired speakers of Navajo to be code talkers – to transmit top-secret military messages over telephone and radio in a code based on Navajo. The language was considered ideal because of its grammar, which differs strongly from that of German and Japanese, and because no published Navajo dictionaries existed at the time. The government's efforts succeeded; Navajo is the only spoken military code used by the United States that was never deciphered during its associated war.
The development of an orthography in the late 1930s helped spread education among Navajos. However, the language was still dwindling in use: by the 1960s, indigenous languages of the United States had been declining in use for some time. Despite the 1960s' cultural climate of tolerance and acceptance for minority ethnic groups and cultures, Native American language use began to decline more quickly in this decade as paved roads were built and English-language radio was broadcast to tribal areas. Navajo was no exception, although its large speaker pool—larger than that of any other Native language in the United States—made it better off than most. Adding to the language's decline, federal acts passed in the 1950s to increase educational opportunities for Navajo children had resulted in pervasive use of English in their schools.
Revitalization and current status
In 1968, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Bilingual Education Act, which provided funds for educating young students who are not native English speakers. The Act had mainly been intended for Spanish-speaking children—particularly Mexican Americans—but it applied to all recognized linguistic minorities, and many Native American tribes seized the chance to establish their own bilingual education programs. However, qualified teachers who were fluent in Native languages were scarce, and these programs were largely unsuccessful.
Data collected in 1980, however, showed that 85 percent of Navajo first-graders were bilingual, compared to only 62 percent of Navajos of all ages – early evidence of a resurgence. In 1984, to further counteract the language's historical decline, the Navajo Tribal Council decreed that the Navajo language would be available and comprehensive for students of all grade levels in schools of the Navajo Nation. Still, a 1991 survey of 682 preschoolers in the Navajo Reservation Head Start program found that 54 percent were monolingual English speakers, 28 percent were bilingual in English and Navajo, and 18 percent spoke only Navajo. This study noted that while the preschool staff knew both languages, they spoke English to the children most of the time. In addition, most of the children's parents spoke to the children in English more often than in Navajo. The study concluded that the preschoolers were in "almost total immersion in English".
The Native American language education movement has been met with adversity, such as by English-only campaigns in the late 1990s, but Navajo-immersion programs have cropped up across the Navajo Nation. Statistical evidence shows that Navajo-immersion students generally do better on standardized tests than their counterparts educated only in English, and some educators have remarked that students who know their native languages feel a sense of pride and identity validation. Since 1989, Diné College, a Navajo tribal community college, has offered an associate's degree in the subject of Navajo. This program includes language, literature, culture, medical terminology, and teaching courses; includes about 600 students per semester; and is the most prolific producer of Navajo teachers in the United States. One major university that teaches classes in the Navajo language is Arizona State University.
An American Community Survey taken in 2011 found that 169,369 Americans spoke Navajo at home – 0.3 percent of Americans whose primary home language was not English. Of primary Navajo speakers, 78.8 percent reported they spoke English "very well", a fairly high percentage overall but less than among Americans speaking a different Native American language (85.4 percent). Navajo was the only Native American language afforded its own category in the survey; as the dominant home language of only 195,407 Americans was a different Native one, domestic Navajo speakers represented 46.4 percent of all domestic Native language speakers. As of July 2014, Ethnologue classes Navajo as "6b" (In Trouble), signifying that few, but some, parents teach the language to their offspring and that concerted efforts at revitalization could easily protect the language. Navajo had a high population for a language in this category. About half of all Navajo people live in the Navajo Nation, an area spanning parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah; others are dispersed throughout the United States.
Both original and translated media have been produced in Navajo. An AM radio station, KTNN, broadcasts in Navajo and English, with programming including music and NFL games; AM station KNDN broadcasts only in Navajo. When Super Bowl XXX was broadcast in Navajo in 1996, it was the first time a Super Bowl had been carried in a Native American language. In 2013, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) was translated into Navajo, making it the first major motion picture translated into any Native American language.
Navajo has a fairly large consonant inventory. Its stop consonants exist in three laryngeal forms: aspirated, unaspirated, and ejective – for example, /tʃʰ/, /tʃ/, and /tʃʼ/ (all close to the "ch" sound in English). Ejective consonants are pronounced glottally; Navajo also has a simple glottal stop used after vowels, and every word that would otherwise begin with a vowel is pronounced with an initial glottal stop. Consonant clusters are uncommon, aside from frequent placing /d/ or /t/ before fricatives.
The language has four basic vowels: /a/, /e/, /i/, and /o/. Each exists in both oral and nasalized forms, and can be either short or long. Navajo also distinguishes for tone between high and low, with the low tone typically regarded as the default. However, some linguists have suggested that Navajo does not possess true tones, but only a pitch accent system similar to that of Japanese. In general, Navajo speech has a slower cadence than English does.
|High||i ~ ɪ||ĩ|
The vast majority of Navajo vocabulary is of Athabaskan origin. Prior to the European colonization of the Americas, Navajo did not borrow much from other languages, including from other Athabaskan and even Apachean languages; the Athabaskan family is fairly diverse in both phonology and morphology due to its languages' prolonged relative isolation. Even the Pueblo peoples, with whom the Navajo interacted with for centuries and borrowed cultural customs from, have lent few words to the Navajo language. After Spain and Mexico took over Navajo lands, the language did not incorporate many Spanish words, either. This resistance to word absorption extended to English, at least until the mid-twentieth century. Around this point, the Navajo language began importing some, though still not many, English words, mainly by young schoolchildren exposed to English.
Navajo has expanded its vocabulary to include Western technological and cultural terms through calques and Navajo descriptive terms. For example, the phrase for tank is chidi naa na'i bee 'eldǫǫh tsoh, bikaa' dah naazniligii ("vehicle that crawls around, by means of which big explosions are made, and that one sits on at an elevation"). Some concepts, such as mobile phones, have no standard Navajo translation, instead being expressed by ad hoc coinages.
Only one Navajo word has been fully absorbed into the English language: hogan (from Navajo hooghan) – a term referring to the Navajo's traditional houses. Others with limited English recognition include chindi (an evil spirit of the deceased), and Kayenta (a place name, from tééʼndééh, "game pit where wild animals fall into deep water"). The taxonomic genus name Uta may be of Navajo origin. It has been speculated that English-speaking settlers were reluctant to take on more Navajo loanwords compared to many other Native American languages, including the language of the nearby Hopi tribe, because the Navajo were among the most violent resisters to colonialism.
Navajo is difficult to classify in terms of broad morphological typology: it relies heavily on affixes—mainly prefixes—like agglutinative languages, but these affixes are joined in unpredictable, overlapping ways that make them difficult to segment, a trait of fusional languages. In general, Navajo verbs contain more morphemes than do nouns (on average, 11 for verbs compared to 4–5 for nouns), but noun morphology is less transparent. Navajo is sometimes classified as a fusional language and sometimes as agglutinative or even polysynthetic.
In terms of basic word order, Navajo has been classified as a subject–object–verb language. However, some speakers order the subject and object based on "noun ranking". In this system, nouns are ranked in three categories—humans, animals, and inanimate objects—and within these categories, nouns are ranked by strength, size, and intelligence. Whichever of the subject and object has a higher rank comes first. As a result, the agent of an action may be syntactically ambiguous. Other linguists such as Eloise Jelinek consider Navajo to be a discourse configurational language, in which word order is not fixed by syntactic rules, but determined by pragmatic factors in the communicative context.
In Navajo, verbs are the main elements of their sentences, imparting a large amount of information. The verb is based on a stem, which is made of a root to identify the action and the semblance of a suffix to convey mode and aspect; however, this suffix is fused beyond separability. The stem is given somewhat more transparent prefixes to indicate, in this order, the following information: postpositional object, postposition, adverb-state, iterativity, number, direct object, deictic information, another adverb-state, mode and aspect, subject, and classifier. Some of these prefixes may be null; for example, there is only a plural marker (da/daa) and no readily identifiable marker for the other grammatical numbers.
For any verb, the usitative and repetitive modes share the same stem, as do the progressive and future modes; these modes are distinguished with prefixes. However, pairs of modes other than these may also share the same stem, as illustrated in the following example, where the verb "to play" is conjugated into each of the five mode paradigms:
- Imperfective: né – is playing, was playing, will be playing
- Perfective: ne’ – played, had played, will have played
- Progressive/future: neeł – is playing / will play/be playing
- Usitative/repetitive: neeh – usually plays, frequently plays, repetitively plays
- Optative: ne’ – would play
The basic set of subject prefixes for the imperfective mode, as well as the actual conjugation of the verb into these person and number categories, are as follows.
Navajo distinguishes between the first, second, third, and fourth persons in the singular, dual, and plural numbers. The fourth person is similar to the third person, but is generally used for indefinite, theoretical actors rather than defined ones. Despite the potential for extreme verb complexity, only the mode/aspect, subject, classifier, and stem are absolutely necessary. Furthermore, Navajo negates clauses simply by framing the verb with doo and da (e.g. mósí doo nitsaa da – "the cat is not big"). Dooda, as a single word, signifies the interjection "no".
Nouns are not required to form a complete Navajo sentence. Besides the extensive information that can be communicated with a verb, Navajo speakers may alternate between the third and fourth person to distinguish between two already specified actors, similarly to how speakers of languages with grammatical gender may repeatedly use pronouns. They may also use paralinguistic techniques to convey noun information, such as speaking in a consistently nasal voice to represent coyotes (as they are portrayed in Navajo folklore). Because so much information is conveyed in the verb, nouns are relatively immutable; for example, they are not inflected for number.
Other parts of speech
Other parts of speech in Navajo are also relatively immutable, and tend to be short. These parts of speech include question particles, demonstrative adjectives, relative pronouns, interjections, conjunctions, and adverbs (both unique ones and those based on verbs). The Navajo numeral system is decimal, and some example numbers follow.
1 – t’ááłá’í
6 – hastą́ą́
11 – ła’ts’áadah
16 – hastą́’áadah
Navajo does not contain a single part of speech analogous to adjectives; rather, some verbs describe static qualitative attributes (e.g. nitsaa – he/she/it is large), and demonstrative adjectives (e.g. díí – this, these) are their own part of speech. However, these verbs, known as "neuter verbs", are distinguished by only having the imperfective mode, as they describe continuous states of being.
Early attempts at a Navajo orthography were made in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One such attempt was based on the Latin alphabet, particularly the English variety, with some Arabic letters. Anthropologists were frustrated by Navajo's having several sounds that are not found in English and lack of other sounds that are. Finally, the current Navajo orthography was developed between 1935 and 1940. The first Navajo-capable typewriter was developed in preparation for a Navajo newspaper and dictionary created in the 1940s. The advent of early computers in the 1960s necessitated special fonts to input Navajo text, and the first Navajo font was created in the 1970s. Navajo virtual keyboards were made available for iOS devices in November 2012 and Android devices in August 2013.
An apostrophe (') is used to mark ejective consonants (e.g. ch', tł') as well as mid-word or final glottal stops. However, initial glottal stops are usually not marked. The voiceless glottal fricative (/h/) is normally written as h, but appears as x after the consonants s, z, and digraphs ending in h to avoid phonological ambiguity. The voiced velar fricative is written as y before i and e (where it is palatalized /ʝ/), as w before o (where it is labialized /ɣʷ/), and as gh before a.
Navajo represents nasalized vowels with an ogonek ( ˛ ), sometimes described as a reverse cedilla; and represents the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative (/ɬ/) with a barred L (capital Ł, lowercase ł). The ogonek and the barred L were imported from Polish, while the use of an acute accent for vowels with a high tone was taken from French.
This is the first paragraph of a Navajo short story.
Navajo original: Ashiiké tʼóó diigis léiʼ tółikaní łaʼ ádiilnííł dóó nihaa nahidoonih níigo yee hodeezʼą́ jiní. Áko tʼáá ałʼąą chʼil naʼatłʼoʼii kʼiidiilá dóó hááhgóóshį́į́ yinaalnishgo tʼáá áłah chʼil naʼatłʼoʼii néineestʼą́ jiní. Áádóó tółikaní áyiilaago tʼáá bíhígíí tʼáá ałʼąą tłʼízíkágí yiiʼ haidééłbįįd jiní. "Háadida díí tółikaní yígíí doo łaʼ ahaʼdiidził da," níigo ahaʼdeetʼą́ jiníʼ. Áádóó baa nahidoonih biniiyé kintahgóó dah yidiiłjid jiníʼ ...
English translation: Some crazy boys decided to make some wine to sell, so they each planted grapevines and, working hard on them, they raised them to maturity. Then, having made wine, they each filled a goatskin with it. They agreed that at no time would they give each other a drink of it, and they then set out for town lugging the goatskins on their backs ...
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Linguistics and other reference
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- Hoijer, Harry. (1946). The Apachean verb, part II: The prefixes for mode and tense. International Journal of American Linguistics, 12 (1), 1–13.
- Hoijer, Harry. (1946). The Apachean verb, part III: The classifiers. International Journal of American Linguistics, 12 (2), 51–59.
- Hoijer, Harry. (1948). The Apachean verb, part IV: Major form classes. International Journal of American Linguistics, 14 (4), 247–259.
- Hoijer, Harry. (1949). The Apachean verb, part V: The theme and prefix complex. International Journal of American Linguistics, 15 (1), 12–22.
- Hoijer, Harry. (1970). A Navajo lexicon. University of California Publications in Linguistics (No. 78). Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Kari, James. (1975). The disjunct boundary in the Navajo and Tanaina verb prefix complexes. International Journal of American Linguistics, 41, 330–345.
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- Reichard, Gladys A. (1951). Navaho grammar. Publications of the American Ethnological Society (Vol. 21). New York: J. J. Augustin.
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- Wall, C. Leon, & Morgan, William. (1994). Navajo-English dictionary. New York: Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0-7818-0247-4. (Originally published  by U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Branch of Education, Bureau of Indian Affairs).
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- Webster, Anthony K. (2009). Explorations in Navajo Poetry and Poetics. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
- Witherspoon, Gary. (1971). "Navajo Categories of Objects at Rest", American Anthropologist, 73, 110-127.
- Witherspoon, Gary. (1977). Language and Art in the Navajo Universe. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08966-8; ISBN 0-472-08965-X
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|Navajo edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Navajo language.|
|Navajo language repository of Wikisource, the free library|
- Hózhǫ́ Náhásdlį́į́ʼ - Language of the Holy People (Navajo web site with flash and audio, helps with learning Navajo), gomyson.com
- Navajo Swadesh vocabulary list of basic words (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list appendix)
- Contrasts between Navajo consonants (sound files from Peter Ladefoged). humnet.ucla.edu
- Navajo Language & Bilingual Links (from San Juan school district). sanjuan.k12.ut.us
- Navajo Language Academy, navajolanguageacademy.org
- Tuning in to Navajo: The Role of Radio in Native Language Maintenance, jan.ucc.nau.edu
- An Initial Exploration of the Navajo Nation's Language and Culture Initiative, jan.ucc.nau.edu
- Báʼóltaʼí Adoodleełgi Bínaʼniltingo Bił Hazʼą́ (Center for Diné Teacher Education) (Navajo), dinecollege.edu
- Languagegeek Unicode fonts and Navajo keyboard layouts, languagegeek.com
- Navajo fonts, dinecollege.edu
- The Navajo Language, library.thinkquest.org
- Inventory of the Robert W. Young Papers, 1850–2003 (bulk 1823–1980), rmoa.unm.edu
- Reflections on Navajo Poetry, ou.edu
- How to count in Navajo, languagesandnumbers.com
- Digital Public Library of America. Navajo-language items, various dates.
- Navajo reflections of a general theory of lexical argument structure (Ken Hale & Paul Platero), museunacional.ufrj.br
- Remarks on the syntax of the Navajo verb part I: Preliminary observations on the structure of the verb (Ken Hale), museunacional.ufrj.br
- The Navajo Prolongative and Lexical Structure (Carlotta Smith), cc.utexas.edu
- A Computational Analysis of Navajo Verb Stems (David Eddington & Jordan Lachler), linguistics.byu.edu
- Grammaticization of Tense in Navajo: The Evolution of nt'éé (Chee, Ashworth, Buescher & Kubacki), linguistics.ucsb.edu
- A methodology for the investigation of speaker's knowledge of structure in Athabaskan (Joyce McDonough & Rachel Sussman), urresearch.rochester.edu
- How to use Young and Morgan's The Navajo Language (Joyce McDonough), bcs.rochester.edu
- Time in Navajo: Direct and Indirect Interpretation (Carlota S. Smith, Ellavina T. Perkins, Theodore B. Fernald), cc.utexas.edu
- OLAC Resources in and about the Navajo language