Caddo language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Native toUnited States
RegionCaddo County in western Oklahoma
Ethnicity45 Caddo people (2000 census)[1]
Native speakers
2 (2023)[2]
  • Caddo
Language codes
ISO 639-2cad
ISO 639-3cad
Map showing the distribution of Oklahoma Indian Languages
Caddo is classified as Critically 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.

Caddo is a Native American language, the traditional language of the Caddo Nation.[3] It is critically endangered, with no exclusively Caddo-speaking community and as of 2023 only two speakers who had acquired the language as children outside school instruction, down from 25 speakers in 1997.[1][2] Caddo has several mutually intelligible dialects. The most commonly used dialects are Hasinai and Hainai; others include Kadohadacho, Natchitoches and Yatasi.[4]

Linguistic connections[edit]

Caddo is a member of the Caddoan language family; this family includes the Pawnee-Kitsai (Keechi) languages (Arikara, Kitsai, and Pawnee) and the Wichita language. Kitsai and Wichita are now extinct, and Pawnee and Arikara each have fewer surviving speakers than Caddo does.[5]

Another language, Adai, is postulated to have been a Caddoan language while it was extant, but because of scarce resources and the language's extinct status, this connection is not conclusive, and Adai is generally considered a language isolate.[5]

Use and language revitalization efforts[edit]

The Caddo Nation is making a concentrated effort to save the Caddo language. The Kiwat Hasí꞉nay ('Caddo Home') foundation, located at the tribal home of Binger, Oklahoma, offers regular Caddo language classes, in addition to creating dictionaries, phrase books, and other Caddo language resources. They have also made a long-term project of trying to record and digitally archive Caddoan oral traditions, which are an important part of Caddo culture.[6]

As of 2010, a Caddo app is available for Android phones.[7] As of 2012, the Caddo Nation teaches weekly language classes; language CDs, a coloring book, and an online learning website are also available.[8][9]

There is a Caddo grammar, published August 2018,[10] and an in-depth examination of the Caddo verb, published in 2004.[11]

In August 2022 the Caddo Nation Language Preservation Program was launched. The program's goals are to archive resources in the language, share their resources through community events and programs, and develop a curriculum to teach the language.[12]



Caddo has 19 contrastive consonants, a normal-sized consonant inventory. It is somewhat unusual in that it lacks liquid consonants.[13] The IPA symbols for the consonants of Caddo are given below:

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d
Affricate plain ts
ejective tsʼ tʃʼ
Fricative s ʃ h
Glide j w

Caddo also features contrastive gemination of consonants, which is generally indicated in orthography by a double letter: /nɑ́ttih/ "woman."[5]


Caddo has three contrastive vowel qualities: /i/, /a/ and /u/, and two contrastive vowel lengths, long and short.

Front Central Back
High i   u  
Low a  

However, there is a great deal of phonetic variation in the short vowels. The high front vowel /i/ is generally realized as its lower counterpart /ɪ/, and the high back vowel /u/ is similarly often realized as its lower counterpart /ʊ/. The low central vowel /ä/ has a wider range of variation, pronounced (most commonly) as /ɐ/ when it is followed by any consonant except a semivowel or a laryngeal consonant, as a low central /ä/ at the end of an open syllable or when followed by a laryngeal consonant, and as /ə/ before a semivowel.

In general, the long vowels do not feature this kind of variation but are simply lengthened versions of the phonemes that are represented in the chart.[14]

Caddo also has four diphthongs, which can be written a number of different ways; the transcription below shows the typical Caddo Nation orthography (a vowel paired with a glide) and the IPA version, represented with vowels and offglides.[5]

  • ay /aj/ – like English eye
  • aw /aw/ – somewhat like British English out
  • iw /iw/ – like the English interjection ew!
  • uy /uj/ – somewhat like English boy


Caddo has three lexical tones: a low tone (e.g. /ù/), unmarked in the orthography ⟨u⟩; a high tone (e.g. /ú/), marked by an acute accent over the vowel ⟨ú⟩; and falling tone, which always occurs on long vowels (e.g. /ûː/) and is marked by a grave accent over the vowel ⟨ù꞉⟩.

Tone occurs both lexically (as a property of the word), non-lexically (as a result of tonological processes), and also as a marker of certain morphological features. For instance, the past tense marker is associated with high tone.[14]

Tonological processes[edit]

There are three processes that can create non-lexical high tone within a syllable nucleus.[14] See the section below for an explanation of other phonological changes which may occur in the following examples.

  1. H-deletion
    VhCC → VHighCC
    An /h/ before two consonants is deleted and the preceding vowel gains high tone:
    /kiʃwɑhn-t-ʔuh/ → [kiʃwɑ́nːt'uh] "parched corn"
  2. Low tone-deletion
    VRVLowC → VHighRC
    A low tone vowel following a resonant (sonorant consonant) is deleted, and the preceding vowel gains a high tone.
    /sa-baka-nah-hah/ → [sawkɑ́nːhah] "does he mean it?"
  3. Backwards assimilation
    VRVHigh → VHighRVHigh
    A vowel preceding a resonant and a high tone vowel gains high tone.
    /nanɑ́/ → [nɑ́nɑ́ː] "that, that one"'

Phonological processes[edit]

Vowel syncope[edit]

There are two vowel syncope processes in Caddo, which both involve the loss of a low-tone vowel in certain environments.[14] The first syncope process was described above as low tone-deletion. The second syncope process is described below:

Interconsonantal syncope
A low-tone vowel in between a vowel-consonant sequence and a consonant-vowel sequence is deleted.
(Shown with intermediary form): /kak#(ʔi)t'us-jaʔah/ → kahʔit'uʃaʔah → [kahʔit'uʃʔah] "foam, suds"

Consonant cluster simplification[edit]

As a result of the syncope processes described above, several consonant clusters emerge that are then simplified by way of phonological process. At the present stage of research, the processes seem to be unrelated, but they represent a phonetic reduction in consonant clusters; therefore, they are listed below without much further explanation.[14]

  1. nw → mm
  2. tw → pp
  3. tk → kk
  4. n → m / __ [+labial]
  5. ʔʔ → ʔ
  6. hh → h
  7. ʔ+Resonant → Resonant+ʔ / syllable final

Syllable coda simplification[edit]

Similar to the consonant cluster simplification process, there are four processes by which a syllable-final consonant is altered:[14]

  1. b → w / syllable final
  2. d → t / syllable final
  3. k → h / syllable final (but not before k)
  4. tʃ → ʃ / syllable final

Word boundary processes[edit]

There are three word-boundary processes in Caddo, all of which occur word-initially:

  1. n → t / # __
  2. w → p / # __
  3. y → d / # __
ni-huhn-id-ah/ → [tihúndah] "she returned"

Such processes are generally not applicable in the case of proclitics (morphemes that behave like an affix and are phonologically dependent on the morpheme to which they are attached). An example is the English articles.[14]


Caddo has a glottalization process by which any voiceless stop or affricate (except p) becomes an ejective when it is followed by a glottal stop.[14]

[-sonorant, -continuant, -voice, -labial, -spread glottis] → [+constricted glottis] / ___ [+constricted glottis, -spread glottis]
A voiceless stop or affricate (except p) becomes an ejective when it is followed by a glottal stop.
/sik-ʔuh/ → [sik'uh] "rock"


Caddo has a palatalization process that affects certain consonants when they are followed by /j/, with simultaneous loss of the /j/.

  1. /kj/ → [tʃ]
  2. /sj/ → [ʃ]
/kak#ʔa-k'as-jaʔah/ → [kahʔak'a ʃʔah] " one's leg"

(Melnar includes a third palatization process, /tj/ → [ts]. However, /ts/ is not a palatal affricate so it has not been included here. Nevertheless, the third process probably occurs.)[14]


Caddo has three processes by which a syllable nucleus (vowel) may be lengthened:[14]

Syllable Lengthening Process One
VHigh(Resonant)CVC# → VHigh(Resonant)ːCVC#
When the second-to-last syllable in a word has a nucleus consisting of a high tone vowel (and, optionally, a resonant), and the last syllable has the form CVC, the high tone nucleus is then lengthened.
/bak-'ʔawɑ́waʔ/ → [bahʔwɑ́ːwaʔ] "they said"
Syllable Lengthening Process Two
V(Resonant)ʔ → V(Resonant) ː / in any prepenultimate syllable
In any syllable before the penultimate, a glottal stop coda is deleted, and the remaining nucleus is lengthened.
/hɑ́k#ci-(ʔi)bíhn-saʔ/ → [hɑ́hciːbíːsaʔ] " I have it on my back"
Syllable Lengthening Process Three
  1. ij → iː
  2. uw →uː
Any syllable nucleus with ij or uw must convert to a long vowel.


The Caddo word táy:sha’ [tə́jːʃaʔ], meaning "ally" or "friend," is the ultimate origin of the place name Texas.[2][10]


  1. ^ a b Caddo language at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009) Closed access icon
  2. ^ a b c "Only 2 people alive can speak the Caddo language fluently. They hope a new program can save it". KERA News. 2023-03-15. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  3. ^ The Linguist List
  4. ^ "Caddo Nation - Language". Caddo Nation. Archived from the original on 2008-05-15. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  5. ^ a b c d "Caddo Language and the Caddo Indian Tribe (Kadohidacho, Hasinai, Hasinay)". Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  6. ^ "Kiwat Hasinay Foundation". Archived from the original on 25 October 2005. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  7. ^ "Caddo Language App Now Available on Android Market". alterNative Media. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
  8. ^ "Caddo Nation - Language". The Caddo nation. Archived from the original on 2012-11-14. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
  9. ^ "The Caddo Language Learning Tool". Archived from the original on 2012-05-15. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
  10. ^ a b Chafe, Wallace L. (2018). The Caddo language: a grammar, texts and dictionary based on materials collected by the author in Oklahoma between 1960 and 1970. Petoskey, MI. ISBN 978-0-9903344-1-5. OCLC 1050714007.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  11. ^ Melnar, Lynette R. (2004). Caddo Verb Morphology. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 080322088X. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  12. ^ "Language Preservation". Caddo Nation. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  13. ^ "WALS Online - Language Caddo". Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Melnar, Lynette R. (2004). Caddo Verb Morphology. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-3220-9. OCLC 834704554.

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