Yaqui language

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Yoem Noki
Pronunciation [joʔem noki]
Native to Mexico, U.S.
Region Sonora, Arizona
Native speakers
18,000  (2010 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 yaq
Glottolog yaqu1251[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Yaqui (or Hiaki), locally known as Yoeme or Yoem Noki, is a Native American language of the Uto-Aztecan family. It is spoken by about 20,000 Yaqui people, in the Mexican state of Sonora and across the border in Arizona in the United States.


The remarks below use the orthography used by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in the United States. There are also several orthographic systems used in Mexico differing slightly from this, mainly in using Spanish language values for several consonants and Spanish language spelling rules [e.g., "rohikte" would be written "rojicte"]. There are minor differences between Mexican and US dialects in inclusion or exclusion of sounds, most notably the US dialects tend to exclude an intervocalic "r" and final "k".


Yaqui vowels are pronounced very much like they are in standard Spanish:

"A" is pronounced similarly to that in (American English) "father" (International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) /a/).

"E" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "get" (IPA /ɛ/).

"I" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "machine" (IPA /i/).

"O" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "go" (IPA /o/).

"U" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "rude" (IPA /u/).

Vowels may be either short or long in duration. Often, long vowels are reduced in length when the word they are used in is used constructively, e.g., 'maaso' ('deer') is shortened to 'maso' in 'maso bwikam' ('deer songs'). Long vowels are written by doubling the vowel. Long vowels may change tone, and this is not represented in the written language. Some writers have referred to Yaqui as being a tonal language, but the modern forms of the language do not show any widespread and significant use of tonemes.


The following consonantal sounds are present in Yaqui: b, ch, (d), (f), (g), h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, y, and one or two glottal stops (IPA /ʔ/), represented by an apostrophe. Except the glottal stops, most of them are pronounced nearly the same as they are in English, although "p", "t", and "k" are not aspirated. In the IPA, they are respectively /b t͡ʃ (d) (f) (ɡ) h k l m n p r s t β w j/. Many Yaqui speakers make no difference between b and v, pronouncing both as /β/, and this appears to be intrinsic to the language and not an influence of Spanish. Additionally, there are two consonants written as clusters: "bw" (IPA /bʷ/) and "kt" (IPA /k͡t/), "bw" being a rounded "b" ('bwikam') and "kt" a simultaneous articulation of "k" and "t" ('rohikte'). The "kt" sound is found in many other Uto-Aztecan languages. Pronunciation of the rounded "b" as "b"+"w" and the "kt" as "k"+"t" is acceptable, but non-native.

Note that "d", "f", and "g" are present only in English and Spanish loanwords. Often they are substituted with the native sounds "t"/"r"/"l", "p", and "w"/"k", respectively.

In Mexico, many speakers will often substitute "g" for syllable-initial "w". This is largely because the phoneme /w/ is not present in northern Mexican Spanish as an independent consonantal phoneme, but rather as either a variant of the vowel /u/ or as an adjunct to /g/ and /k/. Use of "g" in place of "w" is considered by Yaqui speakers as a Mexicanism and not as standard Yaqui usage even in Mexico.

Glottal Stops[edit]

There is at least one glottal stop, which is phonemic. There also appears to be a "fainter" glottal stop sometimes used between vowels but with apparently little predictability. Whether this is phonemic or not is still unclear.

Sound Symbolism[edit]

Sound symbolism is present in Yaqui[citation needed]. For example, a word with the letter “l” in it may either be pronounced normally, to denote approval from the speaker, or with an “r” in place of the “l” to denote disapproval or disfavor on the part of the speaker. Either variant form is correct.


Devoicing occurs at the ends of phrases. This is especially notable with the sound “m” and with vowels. Yaqui speech often has a “breathy” sound to English speakers.


One word, laute, has two contradictory meanings: “quickly” and “slowly.” (Similar to the problem encountered with the English word “mercurial,” which can mean either “unhesitating” or “scatter-brained.”) The word is often accompanied with a quick or slow open-handed movement to indicate the meaning. (Alternatively, laute could be translated as “at a different rate of speed” which requires a hand gesture to indicate the nature of the difference when needed for clarification.)



Yaqui word order is generally subject–object–verb.

The object of a sentence is suffixed with “-ta"

Here is a simple sentence: “Inepo hamutta vichu”, or “I am looking at the woman.”

Inepo hamutta vichu
I woman look at


Yaqui is a "noun-heavy" agglutinative language.

For example, the first person singular pronoun "in" or "ne" (which varies by dialect), is more often used in the form "inepo", which can be translated "within me". The "-(e)po" ending is quite common and seems to denote much more than simple physical inclusion.


Plural nouns are formed by adding the suffix "-im", or "-m" if the noun ends in a vowel. If the noun ends in a "t", it changes to "ch" when "-im" is added.

  • Tekil - Job
  • Tekilim - Jobs

If a plural noun is the object of a sentence, the suffixation of "-t" or "-ta" is not used.

Inepo haamuchim vichu
I women look at


Usually, adding the suffix "-k" to a verb indicates past tense, though there are many exceptions. If a verb ends in a diphthong, "-kan" is added. If a verb ends in "-i", "-akan" is added. If a verb ends in "-o" or "-u", "-ekan" is added, and if a verb ends in "-a", "-ikan" is added. If a verb ends in "-k", "-an" is added.

Regularly, "-ne" indicates the future.


In Yaqui, adjectives very often act as verbs (in Afro-Asiatic linguistics, they would be called stative verbs). For instance, "vemela" or "new", would most often be used to mean "is new". Adjectives have tenses, the same as verbs.


Reduplication is present in Yaqui. Reduplicating the first syllable of a verb indicates habitual action:

  • eta - shuts
  • e'eta - usually shuts

Primary reduplication is also used to pluralize adjectives.

Reduplicating the second consonant of a verb is used to show that an action is performed rarely.

Sample Words and Phrases[edit]

  • o'ow - man
  • hamut - woman
  • tu'i hiapsek - kind (lit. "good hearted")
  • halla'i - friend
  • maaso - deer
  • aamu - to hunt
  • aman ne tevote em yevihnewi - "I extend my greetings"

Greetings often are very formal. The following formula of four phrases is often used even among close friends:

  • Lios em chania - "Greetings!" (to one person, to more than one: Lios em chaniavu) (lit. "God preserves you!", Lios [sometimes pronounced Lioh] is a very early borrowing of the Spanish "Dios")
  • Lios em chiokoe - (the reply to the above, lit. "God pardons you!")
  • Empo allea - "May you rejoice!" (lit. "In you happy", 'allea' is said to be from the Spanish 'alegre', meaning 'happy')
  • Kettu'i - "How kind!"

Kinship Terminology[edit]

Immediate family Male Female
Mother Malam Ae
Father Achai Hapchi
Older Brother Sai Avachi
Younger Brother Saila Wai
Older Sister Ako Ako
Younger Sister Wai Wai
Extended family Father's Mother's
Grandmother Namuli Namuli
Grandfather Hamuli Hamuli
Mother Haaka Asu
Father Havoi Apa
Older Brother Haavi Kumui
Younger Brother Samai Taata
Older Sister Ne'esa Chi'ila
Younger Sister Nana Mamai


Language revitalization and teaching[edit]

In 2009, the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council and the University of Arizona collaborated on a program in which tribal elders teach the Yaqui language to families.[4] As of 2010, a revitalization project was underway at the University, "using 30 year old audio tapes recorded by tribal member Maria Leyva."[5] As of 2012, "Any teaching materials, tools, lessons, audio lessons, etc.," on the website of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe were "restricted to 'Tribally enrolled Members' only."[3]


  1. ^ INALI (2012) México: Lenguas indígenas nacionales
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Yaqui". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b "Language". Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  4. ^ Corey Schubert (2009-02-27). "Tribal council selects ASU project for use in schools - ICTMN.com". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  5. ^ "Saving the Yaqui language". KVOA.com (Tucson, Arizona). 2010-06-15. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 


External links[edit]