Chitimacha language

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Pronunciation Sitimaša
Native to USA
Region Southern Louisiana
Extinct 1940[1]
with the death of Delphine Ducloux[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ctm
Glottolog chit1248[3]
Chitimacha lang.png

Chitimacha (/ˌɪtɪməˈʃɑː/ CHIT-i-mə-SHAH[4] or /ɪtɪˈmɑːʃə/, chit-i-MAH-shə[5]) 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Although no longer spoken, it is fairly extensively documented in the early 20th-century work (mostly unpublished) of linguists Morris Swadesh[6][7] and John R. Swanton.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.[8][9][10] 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.[11]

Chitimacha has recently been proposed to be related to, or a member of, the hypothetical Totozoquean language family. An earlier, more speculative, proposal suggested an affinity with the also hypothetical group of Gulf languages. [12]


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


  1. ^ Chitimacha at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  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. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Chitimacha". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  4. ^ Robert A. Brightman, 2004, "Chitimacha", In: William Sturtevant (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 14: Southeast, p. 642
  5. ^ Carl Waldman, 2009, Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes
  6. ^ Swadesh, Morris (1948). "Sociologic Notes on Obsolescent Languages". International Journal of American Linguistics. 14 (4): 226–235. doi:10.1086/464009. JSTOR 1262876. 
  7. ^ Swadesh, M. (1934). "The phonetics of Chitimacha". Language. 10 (4): 345–362. doi:10.2307/409490. 
  8. ^ "YouTube – Chitimacha Language Episode – Finding Our Talk 3". Retrieved January 26, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Press Release, Media Room, Rosetta Stone". Retrieved 2012-08-26. 
  10. ^ Larry Abramson (Director) (2010-02-02). "Software Company Helps Revive 'Sleeping' Language". All Things Considered - NPR. Retrieved 2012-08-26. 
  11. ^ Heflin, Judy (August 2015). "The Successful Revival of the Chitimacha Language". Language Magazine. Retrieved 2015-10-03. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  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.

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