Yuchi language

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Native to United States
Region East central Oklahoma
Ethnicity Yuchi people
Native speakers
5  (2012)[1]
Nearly extinct;[2] revitalization project
Language codes
ISO 639-3 yuc
Glottolog yuch1247[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Yuchi (Euchee) is the language of the Yuchi people living in the southeastern United States, including eastern Tennessee, western Carolinas, northern Georgia and Alabama, in the period of early European colonization. However, speakers of the Yuchi language were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma in the early 19th century.


Yuchi is classified as a language isolate because it is not known to be related to any other language. Various linguists have made claims, however, that the language has a distant relationship with the Siouan family: Sapir in 1921 and 1929, Haas in 1951, and 1964, Elmendorf in 1964, Rudus in 1974, and Crawford in 1979.[4]

In 1997, the Euchees United Cultural Historical Educational Efforts (EUCHEE) claimed that there were currently two spoken dialects: the Duck Creek/Polecat and the Bigpond variations.[5]

Geographic distribution[edit]

Yuchi is primarily spoken in the northeastern Oklahoma region. In 1997 there were 12-19 elderly speakers out of an estimated population of 1500. In 2009 there remained only 5 fluent speakers whose first language was not English.


Yuchi people were originally native to Tennessee and later Georgia in the southeastern United States. However, speakers of the Yuchi language were forcibly relocated with the Muscogee people to Indian Territory prior to the Trail of Tears.

Contradiction in linguistic study and linguistic history[edit]

Because of the language's past of removal and state of being forbidden, there have been several changes which have changed the way the language is spoken. In 1885, Swiss linguist Albert S. Gatschet wrote an article in the publication Science, which indicated various linguistic idiosyncrasies. He claimed that adjectives are not expressed with number, but nouns are with the addition of the particle ha (coming from the original term wahále, meaning many) which made the word essentially plural. He also claimed that the language was no longer in an archaic state due to the lack of a "dual," and that the language had temporal and personal inflection.[6] Gatschet also did lots of field study and documentation regarding the language, many of his original vocabulary lists can be found at the National Anthropological Archives or on their website.

Later on, Frank G. Speck published Ethnology of Yuchi Indians in 1907. This publication provided slightly different information. It claimed that there was only one dialect, that inflection was not a characteristic, and that there was no true plural. This information contradicts the study made by Albert S. Gatschet in the century beforehand. Speck also claimed that there was only one dialect of the language. There was, however, one linguistic idiosyncrasy upon which they agreed, which was the case of the third person.[7]

In 1997, the Euchees United Cultural Historical Educational Efforts (E.U.C.H.E.E.) published a work entitled Euchees: Past and Present, which provided more modern information regarding the language. The organization claims that today there are two dialects, differentiating between the Duckcreek/Polecat and Bigpond areas. This contradicts the study done by Speck, in which he claimed there was only one dialect.[5]

Current status[edit]

Sisters Maxine Wildcat Barnett (left) and Josephine Wildcat Bigler; two of the final surviving elderly speakers of Yuchi, visiting their grandmother’s grave in a cemetery behind Pickett Chapel in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. According to the sisters, their grandmother had insisted that Yuchi be their native language.

Due to assimilation into Muscogee and English-speaking culture, only a few elderly speakers of the Yuchi language remain. In 2000 the estimated number of fluent Yuchi speakers was 15, but this number dwindled to 7 by 2006[8] 5 by 2010,[9] and 4 by 2013.[10] The Euchee Language Project teaches Yuchi classes in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, free of charge.[11]

Presence in popular literature[edit]

The Yuchi people and language are the subject of a chapter in Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, a book on endangered languages by Mark Abley.[12]


The language originally had no alphabet until the 1970s, when James Crawford and Addie George created a phonetic transliteration which is now used by the Yuchi people to write the language. It is considered a "morpheme agglomerative," in which words are pieced together out of pre-existing morphemes to make new words entirely. The word order of the language is subject–object–verb.[13]

The language uses clitics and phonemes known as "particles" in order to express a variety of things, including possessives, cases, affixes, ideas, locatives, instrumentals, simulatives, ablatives, and demonstratives.[This needs to be seriously expanded upon. Does anyone have more information?][14]


The language has 49 sounds, 38 of which are consonants, and the remaining 11 are vowels. This number is more than twice the number of most Southeastern Native American Languages.[15]


Yuchi has Oral and Nasal vowels. Oral vowels are defined as being created by the raising of the soft palate to the nasopharyngeal wall, creating a velopharyngeal space within the oral cavity; nasal vowels, on the other hand, are typically defined as being created by the lowering of the soft palate, allowing air to escape through the nasal cavity.[16]

Two vowel charts appears below.[17] Note that the vowels below represent the phonetic inventory, meaning the set of all (or most) sounds in the language; the phonemic inventory, those sounds which contrastively mark differences in meaning, are highlighted in the list below the vowel charts. (Please note that the Nasal Vowel chart is incomplete.)

Front Central Back Round
High i u, ʊ
Mid e, ɛ ə, ʌ o, ɔ
Low æ a
Front Central Back Round
High ĩ, ɪ̃
Mid , ɛ̃ ə̃ õ, ɔ̃
Low æ̃ ã

The phonemic vowels of Yuchi are /i, u, e, o, æ, a, ĩ, ẽ, õ, æ̃, ã/; some levels of phonological or morphological variation must therefore be occurring in order for all of the sounds above to be possible.

Phonological variation[edit]

Phonological variation often occurs in different kinds of morphological environments. For example, the phoneme /ʊ/[but we just said this is not a phoneme] is often pronounced in 1st-person singular and impersonal 3rd-person pronouns in the place of /o/ by Big Pond speakers. Also, the phonemes /a/ and /o/ can become [ə] in unstressed environments.[18]


Vowel length indicates grammatical function, such as superlative or comparative adjective forms or emphasis. It may also indicate contracted morphemes, and thus is not a phonological process but rather a morphological one.[19]


Yuchi has been analyzed as having from 19 to 40 consonants, chiefly depending on whether the glottalized and labialized consonants are counted, or considered to be sequences with /ʔ/ and /w/, respectively. Some of the latter are included in the table in parentheses:

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain sibilant
Stop tenuis p [p] t [t] ts [ts] ch [tʃ] k [k] ' [ʔ]
aspirated [pʰ] [tʰ] tsʰ [tsʰ] chʰ [tʃʰ] [kʰ]
voiced b [b] d [d] dz [dz] j [dʒ] g [ɡ]
ejective (p' [pʼ]) (t' [tʼ]) (ts' [tsʼ]) (ch' [tʃʼ]) (k' [kʼ])
Fricative f [f] ł [ɬ] s [s] sh [ʃ] h [h]
Approximant w [w] l [l] y [j]
Nasal m [m] n [n]

Stress and intonation[edit]


Stress in Yuchi is fairly regular. All major parts of speech have syllable-final stress, and syllable-initial secondary stress[does this mean word-final stress, and word-initial secondary stress?]; also, particles (one-syllable words) are stressed. There are some minimal pairs to be found due to stress; some representative samples include:

[ˈɡopʼa] – “Creek person, tribe” [20] [ɡoˈpʼa] – “go see someone” [20] [ˈsɛt ˀne] – he sees [21] [sɛt ˈˀne] – she sees [22] [ʃaˈja] – “weeds” [20] [ˈʃaja] – “squirrel” [20]

As mentioned above, most nouns have syllable-final primary stress[again, by syllable does this mean word or morphological unit?]; there are, however, some regularized exceptions to this rule, the most common of which are nouns with lexicalized suffixes in the stem, which have stress on the penultimate syllable. Also, contractions within compounded nouns have primary stress on the contraction. There are various other exceptions, but the two mentioned above are the most frequent and the most important in helping us to understand why Yuchi nouns often appear to have irregular stress patterns.[23]

Both regular and non-regular stress patterns are exemplified below, all glossed. All data come from Wagner, 1974, unless otherwise noted.

[ɡojalinɛʔ] – young man [jacɛsiʔ][clarification needed][what is "c"?] – sparks of fire [tsɛʔ] – water [saʔ] – earth [tsoonɔʔ] – the sun [ʔaˈɡale] ~ [aɡæle] – today, morning[24] [tsɛˈkʰale] – misty rain[24] [kʼɔndi] – meat

Verb stems typically have primary stress on the ultimate syllable, as well. The two major exceptions are reduplicated verbs, which have equal stress on both the last and reduplicated syllables of the stem, and verb compounds with the head root /ju/, in which primary stress is syllable-initial. Some examples include:

[ɡetaʔ] – to hold it up[25] [taʔtaʔ] – light [22]


Intonation varies depending upon the kinds of sentences being uttered. Declarative, negative, and command speech acts have falling intonation, while information questions and yes/no questions have rising pitch.[26] Morphologically, intonation can also change the reception of a word and its intended meaning, as we see in the following example of three different intonation patterns for the word “What”:[27]

[wikæ] – “What?” (requesting information) [wíkæ ↘] – “What?” (didn't hear) [wikæ ↘] – “What?” (frightened/surprised)


One of the most significant aspects of Yuchi morphophonology is the prevalence of contractions. Contraction should not here be taken to mean only a shortening of words; rather, it is more useful to think of contraction as a deletion of sounds that in turn affects surrounding vowels.[28]

What can be contracted is dependent upon two major factors, the sound which begins the contracted syllable, and the stress of the syllable. In order for a syllable to be contracted, it must begin with a [+sonorant] consonant, that is, a voiced sound with a relatively free passage of air. In Yuchi, this includes sounds such as /n/, /ˀn/, /w/, /ˀw/, /j/, /ˀj/ (where /ˀ/ indicates a glottallized sound),[why are these not listed among the consonants?] the fricative /ˀh/,[clarification needed] and /Ɂ/. A syllable must also be unstressed in order to contract.[29]

Contraction causes phonetic changes in the vowels directly preceding the deleted syllable. In order for Yuchi speakers to understand the grammatical features of the words being used in contracted forms, vowel features alternate to match the deleted sounds.[29] So, for example, if the morpheme /ne/ was contracted, the vowel preceding it would become nasalized to indicate that a nasal sound has been lost.

Contraction must necessarily come before the phonetic change in vowels. For example, consider the following word:[30]

[di ˀlɛ nɛp ʔá jɛ] – 'Did you look in the box?'

/nɛ/ can contract here because it is an unstressed syllable beginning with a sonorant: [di ˀlɛ mp ʔá jɛ]. CCC clusters are relatively rare, occurring in only six variations as noted by Wolff,[31] four of them beginning with fricatives; such a construction as above would therefore likely be odd to speakers of Yuchi.

Contractions take on several forms and occur in many other environments. Those seeking additional information about the many kinds of contraction in Yuchi are advised to seek out Dr. Mary Linn's “A Grammar of Euchee.”

A list of the most commonly contracted morphemes is below, along with their grammatical function.[32]

ne- : 2nd-person singular actor

we-: 3rd-person non-Yuchi actor or patient, singular or plural

'o-: 3rd-person plural Yuchi actor or patient (women's speech)

hi-: 3rd-person inanimate patient, singular or plural

ho-: 3rd-person inanimate patient and participant, singular or plural

'yu-: verb root

-ne-: habitual aspect

-e: active verbalizer


  1. ^ "Yuchi (Euchee) Language Project, Sapulpa, OK". Cultural Survival. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  2. ^ http://www.ethnologue.com/language/cad
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Yuchi". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Mithun, Marianne. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  5. ^ a b Euchees: Past and Present. Sapulpa, OK: E.U.C.H.E.E., 1997. Print.
  6. ^ Gatschet, Albert S. "The Yuchi Tribe and its Language." Science 5.112 (1885): 253. Print.
  7. ^ Speck, Frank G. Ethnology of Yuchi Indians. Philadelphia: University Museum – UPenn, 1909. Print.
  8. ^ Anderton, Alice, PhD. Status of Indian Languages in Oklahoma. Intertribal Wordpath Society. 2006-2009 (retrieved 7 Feb 2009)
  9. ^ "Our partners and advisors: The Euchee Language Project". Cultural Survival. Retrieved February 17, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Our partners and advisors: The Euchee Language Project". Cultural Survival. Retrieved April 6, 2013. 
  11. ^ Classes. The Euchee Language Project. (retrieved 7 Feb 2009)
  12. ^ Abley, Mark. Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages. Boston:Mariner Books, 2005.
  13. ^ "Euchee Language Project." EucheeLP.org. Euchee Language Project. Web. 12 Sept. 2009.
  14. ^ Wolff, Hans. “Yuchi Phonemes and Morphemes, with Special Reference to Person Markers.” International Journal of American Linguistics. 14.4 (1948): 240-43. JSTOR. Library of Congress. Web. 12 September 2009.
  15. ^ Hackett (Woktela), David. "The Yuchi Language Primer; a Brief, Introductory Grammar." www.yuchi.org. Woktela. Web. 12 Sept. 2009
  16. ^ Crystal, David. “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, Third Edition.” UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010, p.136
  17. ^ Linn, Mary Sarah. “A Grammar of Euchee (Yuchi).” Kansas City, Kansas: University of Kansas, 2001., p. 55
  18. ^ Linn, 2001, p. 43
  19. ^ Linn, 2001, 52
  20. ^ a b c d Linn, 2001, p. 85
  21. ^ Edmondson, Jerold. “Yuchi.” Arlington, Texas: University of Texas at Arlington, 2011. Sound recording.
  22. ^ a b Edmondson, 2011 (recording)
  23. ^ Linn, 2001, pp. 86-87
  24. ^ a b Linn, 2001, p. 87
  25. ^ Wagner, 1974
  26. ^ Linn, 2001, pp. 101-103
  27. ^ Linn, 2001, p.103
  28. ^ Linn, 2001, p. 58
  29. ^ a b Linn, 2001, p. 60
  30. ^ Linn, 2001, p. 62
  31. ^ Wolff, 1948, p. 241
  32. ^ Linn, 2001, p. 59

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