Chitimacha language

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Native toUSA
RegionSouthern Louisiana
with the death of Delphine Ducloux[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3ctm
Chitimacha lang.png

Chitimacha (/ˌɪtɪməˈʃɑː/ CHIT-i-mə-SHAH[3] or /ɪtɪˈmɑːʃə/ chit-i-MAH-shə[4]) is a language isolate historically spoken by the Chitimacha people of Louisiana, United States. It became extinct in 1940 with the death of the last fluent speaker, Delphine Ducloux.

Although no longer spoken, it is fairly extensively documented in the early 20th-century work (mostly unpublished) of linguists Morris Swadesh[5][6] and John R. Swanton. Swadesh in particular wrote a full grammar and dictionary, and collected numerous texts from the last two speakers, although none of this is published.

Language revitalization efforts are underway to teach the language to a new generation of speakers.[7][8][9] Tribal members have received Rosetta Stone software for learning the language. As of 2015, a new Chitimacha dictionary is in preparation, and classes are being taught on the Chitimacha reservation.[10]


Chitimacha has recently been proposed to be related to, or a member of, the hypothetical Totozoquean language family.[11] An automated computational analysis (ASJP 4) by Müller et al. (2013) found lexical similarities between Chitimacha, Huave, and Totozoquean.[12]

However, since the analysis was automatically generated, the grouping could be either due to mutual lexical borrowing or genetic inheritance.

An earlier, more speculative, proposal suggested an affinity with the also hypothetical group of Gulf languages.[11]


Brown, Wichmann, and Beck (2014) give the following phoneme inventory based on Morris Swadesh's 1939 analysis.[13]


Bilabial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive normal p t k ʔ
Nasal m n
Fricative s ʃ h
Affricate normal t͡s t͡ʃ
glottalized t͡sʼ t͡ʃʼ
Approximant w j


Front Central Back
Close i iː u uː
Mid e eː ə o oː
Open a aː


Chitimacha has a grammatical structure which is not dissimilar from modern Indo-European languages but it is still quite distinctive. Chitimacha distinguishes several word classes: verbs, nouns, adjectives (verbal and nominal), quantifiers, demonstratives. Swadesh (1946) states that the remaining word classes are hard to distinguish but may be divided "into proclitics, postclitics, and independent particles". Chitimacha has auxiliaries which are inflected for tense, aspect and mood, such as to be. Polar interrogatives may be marked with a final falling intonation and a clause final post-position.

Chitimacha does not appear to have adopted any grammatical features from their interactions with the French, Spanish or Americans.[14]


Verbs are inflected for person and number of the subject. Ambiguity may be avoided by the use of the personal pronouns (shown in the table below), but sentences without personal pronouns are common. There is no gender in the personal pronouns and verbal indexes. Subject and object personal pronouns are identical.

singular plural
1st person ʔiš ʔuš
2nd person himʔ was
3rd person hus hunks

Pronouns are more restricted than nouns when appearing in a possessive construction. Pronouns cannot be proceeded by a possessive unlike nouns.


There are definite articles[15] in Chitmacha. Nouns are mostly uninflected, there are only approximately 30 nouns (mostly kinship or referring to persons) which distinguish a singular or plural form through a plural suffix or other formations.

Nouns are free, or may be possessed by juxtaposing the possessor and the possessed noun.

ʔiš ʔinž̹i = my father ("I father")

was ʔasi ʔinž̹i = that man's father ("that man father")


  1. ^ Chitimacha at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Raymond Fogelson, William C. Sturtevant. Handbook of North American Indians, V. 14, Southeast. Government Printing Office. pp. 80–. ISBN 978-0-16-087616-5.
  3. ^ Robert A. Brightman, 2004, "Chitimacha", In: William Sturtevant (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 14: Southeast, p. 642
  4. ^ Carl Waldman, 2009, Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes
  5. ^ Swadesh, Morris (1948). "Sociologic Notes on Obsolescent Languages". International Journal of American Linguistics. 14 (4): 226–235. doi:10.1086/464009. JSTOR 1262876.
  6. ^ Swadesh, M. (1934). "The phonetics of Chitimacha". Language. 10 (4): 345–362. doi:10.2307/409490.
  7. ^ "YouTube – Chitimacha Language Episode – Finding Our Talk 3". Retrieved January 26, 2010.
  8. ^ "Press Release, Media Room, Rosetta Stone". Archived from the original on 2017-10-20. Retrieved 2012-08-26.
  9. ^ Larry Abramson (Director) (2010-02-02). "Software Company Helps Revive 'Sleeping' Language". All Things Considered - NPR. Retrieved 2012-08-26.
  10. ^ Heflin, Judy (August 2015). "The Successful Revival of the Chitimacha Language". Language Magazine. Retrieved 2015-10-03.
  11. ^ a b Brown, Cecil H.; Wichmann, Søren; Beck, David (2014). "Chitimacha: A Mesoamerican language in the Lower Mississippi valley". International Journal of American Linguistics. 80 (4): 425–474. doi:10.1086/677911.
  12. ^ Müller, André, Viveka Velupillai, Søren Wichmann, Cecil H. Brown, Eric W. Holman, Sebastian Sauppe, Pamela Brown, Harald Hammarström, Oleg Belyaev, Johann-Mattis List, Dik Bakker, Dmitri Egorov, Matthias Urban, Robert Mailhammer, Matthew S. Dryer, Evgenia Korovina, David Beck, Helen Geyer, Pattie Epps, Anthony Grant, and Pilar Valenzuela. 2013. ASJP World Language Trees of Lexical Similarity: Version 4 (October 2013).
  13. ^ Swadesh, Morris. 1939. Chitimacha grammar, texts and vocabulary. Franz Boas Collection of Materials for American Linguistics, Mss.497.3.B63c G6.5, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.
  14. ^ Morris Swadesh. 1946. Chitimacha. In Hoijer, Harry (ed.), Linguistic structures of native America, 312-336. New York: Viking Fund.
  15. ^ David V. Kaufman. 2014. The Lower Mississippi Valley as a Language Area. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas; 299pp.)

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