Oʼodham language

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ʼOʼodham ha-ñeʼokĭ, ʼOʼodham ñiʼokĭ, Oʼodham ñiok
Native toUnited States, Mexico
RegionPrimarily south-central Arizona and northern Sonora
EthnicityTohono Oʼodham, Akimel Oʼodham, Hia C-eḍ Oʼodham
Native speakers
15,000 (2007)[1]
180 monolinguals (1990 census);
1,240 (Mexico, 2020 census)[2]
Official status
Official language in
One of the national languages of Mexico[3]
Regulated bySecretariat of Public Education in Mexico; various tribal agencies in the United States
Language codes
ISO 639-3ood
Oʼodham is classified as Definitely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.[4]
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.

Oʼodham (pronounced [ˈʔɔʔɔðam]) or Papago-Pima is a Uto-Aztecan language of southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico, where the Tohono Oʼodham (formerly called the Papago) and Akimel Oʼodham (traditionally called Pima) reside.[5] In 2000 there were estimated to be approximately 9,750 speakers in the United States and Mexico combined, although there may be more due to underreporting.

It is the 10th most-spoken indigenous language in the United States, the 3rd most-spoken indigenous language in Arizona after Western Apache and Navajo. It is the third-most spoken language in Pinal County, Arizona, and the fourth-most spoken language in Pima County, Arizona.

Approximately 8% of Oʼodham speakers in the US speak English "not well" or "not at all", according to results of the 2000 Census. Approximately 13% of Oʼodham speakers in the US were between the ages of 5 and 17, and among the younger Oʼodham speakers, approximately 4% were reported as speaking English "not well" or "not at all".

Native names for the language, depending on the dialect and orthography, include Oʼodham ha-ñeʼokĭ, Oʼottham ha-neoki, and Oʼodham ñiok.


The Oʼodham language has a number of dialects.[6]

Due to the paucity of data on the linguistic varieties of the Hia C-eḍ Oʼodham, this section currently focuses on the Tohono Oʼodham and Akimel Oʼodham dialects only.

The greatest lexical and grammatical dialectal differences are between the Tohono Oʼodham (or Papago) and the Akimel Oʼodham (or Pima) dialect groupings. Some examples:

Tohono Oʼodham Akimel Oʼodham English
ʼaʼad hotṣ to send
nhenhida tamiam to wait for
s-hewhogĭ s-heubagĭ to be cool
sisiṣ hoʼiumi (but si꞉ṣpakuḍ, stapler) to fasten
pi꞉ haʼicug pi ʼac to be absent
wia ʼoʼoid hunt tr.

There are other major dialectal differences between northern and southern dialects, for example:

Early Oʼodham Southern Northern English
*ʼa꞉phi꞉m ʼa꞉ham ʼa꞉pim you
*cu꞉khug cu꞉hug cu꞉kug flesh
*ʼe꞉kheg ʼe꞉heg ʼe꞉keg to be shaded
*ʼu꞉pham ʼu꞉hum ʼu꞉pam (go) back

The Cukuḍ Kuk dialect has null in certain positions where other Tohono Oʼodham dialects have a bilabial:

Other TO dialects Chukuḍ Kuk English
jiwia, jiwa jiia to arrive
ʼuʼuwhig ʼuʼuhig bird
wabṣ haṣ only
wabṣaba, ṣaba haṣaba but


Oʼodham is an agglutinative language, where words use suffix complexes for a variety of purposes with several morphemes strung together.


Oʼodham phonology has a typical Uto-Aztecan inventory distinguishing 19 consonants and 5 vowels.[7]


Labial Dental Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
voiceless p t t͡ʃ k ʔ
voiced b d ɖ d͡ʒ g
Fricative ð s ʂ h
Approximant w j
Flap ɭ̆

The retroflex consonants are apical postalveolar.


Front Central Back
High i iː ɨ ɨː ʊ
Mid ə ɔ ɔː
Low a aː

Most vowels distinguish two degrees of length: long and short, and some vowels also show extra-short duration (voicelessness).

  • ṣe꞉l /ʂɨːɭ/ "Seri"
  • ṣel /ʂɨɭ/ "permission"
  • ʼa꞉pi /ʔaːpi/ "you"
  • da꞉pĭ /daːpɪ̥/ "I don't know", "who knows?"

Papago /ɨ/ is pronounced [ʌ] in Pima.

Additionally, in common with many northern Uto-Aztecan languages, vowels and nasals at end of words are devoiced. Also, a short schwa sound, either voiced or unvoiced depending on position, is often interpolated between consonants and at the ends of words.

Allophony and distribution[edit]

  • Extra short ⟨ĭ⟩ is realized as voiceless [i̥] and devoices preceding obstruents: cuwĭ /tʃʊwi̥/[tʃʊʍi̥]~[tʃʊʍʲ] "jackrabbit".
  • /w/ is a fricative [β] before unrounded vowels: wisilo [βisiɭɔ].
  • [ŋ] appears before /k/ and /ɡ/ in Spanish loanwords, but native words do not have nasal assimilation: to꞉nk [toːnk] "hill", namk [namk] "meet", ca꞉ŋgo [tʃaːŋɡo] "monkey". /p/, /ɭ/, and /ɖ/ rarely occur initially in native words, and /ɖ/ does not occur before /i/.
  • [ɲ] and [n] are largely in complementary distribution, [ɲ] appearing before high vowels /i/ /ɨ/ /ʊ/, [n] appearing before low vowels /a/ /ɔ/: ñeʼe "sing". They contrast finally (ʼañ (1st imperfective auxiliary) vs. an "next to speaker"), though Saxton analyzes these as /ani/ and /an/, respectively, and final [ɲi] as in ʼa꞉ñi as /niː/. However, there are several Spanish loanwords where [nu] occurs: nu꞉milo "number". Similarly, for the most part [t] and [d] appear before low vowels while [tʃ] and [dʒ] before high vowels, but there are exceptions to both, often in Spanish loanwords: tiki꞉la ("tequila") "wine", TO weco / AO veco ("[de]bajo") "under".


There are two orthographies commonly used for the Oʼodham language: Alvarez–Hale and Saxton. The Alvarez–Hale orthography is officially used by the Tohono Oʼodham Nation and the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community, and is used in this article, but the Saxton orthography is also common and is official in the Gila River Indian Community. It is relatively easy to convert between the two, the differences between them being largely no more than different graphemes for the same phoneme, but there are distinctions made by Alvarez–Hale not made by Saxton.

Phoneme Alvarez–Hale Saxton Meaning
/a/ a ʼaʼal a a'al baby
/b/ b ban b ban coyote
/tʃ/ c cehia ch chehia girl
/ð/ d daak th thahk nose
/ɖ/ meḍ d med run
/d/ juḏum d judum bear
TO /ɨ/, AO /ʌ/ e ʼeʼeb e e'eb stop crying
/ɡ/ g gogs g gogs dog
/h/ h haʼicu h ha'ichu something
TO /i/, AO /ɨ/ i ʼiibhai i ihbhai prickly pear cactus
/dʒ/ j juukĭ j juhki rain
/k/ k keek k kehk stand
/ɭ/ l luulsi l luhlsi candy
/m/ m muunh m muhni bean(s)
/n/ n naak n nahk ear
/ɲ/ nh nheʼe, mu꞉nh n, ni ne'e, muhni sing, bean(s)
/ŋ/ ng anghil, wa꞉nggo ng, n anghil, wahngo angel, bank
/ɔ/ o ʼoʼohan o oʼohan write
/p/ p pi p pi not
/s/ s sitol s sitol syrup
/ʂ/ ṣoiga sh shoiga pet
/t/ t toobĭ t tohbi cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii)
/u/ u ʼuus u uhs tree, wood
/v/ v vainom v vainom knife
/w/ w wuai w wuai male deer
/j/ y payaso y pa-yaso clown
/ʔ/ ʼ ʼaʼan ' a'an feather
/ː/ doubled vowel juukĭ (see colon (letter)) h juhki rain

The Saxton orthography does not mark word-initial /ʔ/ or extra-short vowels. Final ⟨i⟩ generally corresponds to Hale–Alvarez ⟨ĭ⟩ and final ⟨ih⟩ to Hale–Alvarez ⟨i⟩:

  • Hale–Alvarez toobĭ vs. Saxton tohbi /toːbĭ/ "cottontail rabbit"
  • Hale–Alvarez ʼaapi vs. Saxton ahpih /ʔaːpi/ "I"

Disputed spellings[edit]

There is some disagreement among speakers as to whether the spelling of words should be only phonetic or whether etymological principles should be considered as well.

For instance, oamajda vs. wuamajda ("frybread"; the spellings oamacda and wuamacda are also seen) derives from oam (a warm color roughly equivalent to yellow or brown). Some believe it should be spelled phonetically as wuamajda, reflecting the fact that it begins with /ʊa/, while others think its spelling should reflect the fact that it is derived from oam (oam is itself a form of s-oam, so while it could be spelled wuam, it is not since it is just a different declension of the same word).[citation needed]



Oʼodham has relatively free word order within clauses; for example, all of the following sentences mean "the boy brands the pig":[8]

  • ceoj ʼo g ko꞉jĭ ceposid
  • ko꞉jĭ ʼo g ceoj ceposid
  • ceoj ʼo ceposid g ko꞉jĭ
  • ko꞉jĭ ʼo ceposid g ceoj
  • ceposid ʼo g ceoj g ko꞉jĭ
  • ceposid ʼo g ko꞉jĭ g ceoj

In principle, these could also mean "the pig brands the boy", but such an interpretation would require an unusual context.

Despite the general freedom of sentence word order, Oʼodham is fairly strictly verb-second in its placement of the auxiliary verb (in the above sentences, it is ʼo):

  • cipkan ʼañ "I am working"
  • but pi ʼañ cipkan "I am not working", not **pi cipkan ʼañ


Verbs are inflected for aspect (imperfective cipkan, perfective cipk), tense (future imperfective cipkanad), and number (plural cicpkan). Number agreement displays absolutive behavior: verbs agree with the number of the subject in intransitive sentences, but with that of the object in transitive sentences:

  • ceoj ʼo cipkan "the boy is working"
  • cecoj ʼo cicpkan "the boys are working"
  • ceoj ʼo g ko꞉ji ceposid "the boy is branding the pig"
  • cecoj ʼo g ko꞉ji ceposid "the boys are branding the pig"
  • ceoj ʼo g kokji ha-cecposid "the boy is branding the pigs"

The main verb agrees with the object for person (ha- in the above example), but the auxiliary agrees with the subject: ʼa꞉ñi ʼañ g kokji ha-cecposid "I am branding the pigs".


Three numbers are distinguished in nouns: singular, plural, and distributive, though not all nouns have distinct forms for each. Most distinct plurals are formed by reduplication and often vowel loss plus other occasional morphophonemic changes, and distributives are formed from these by gemination of the reduplicated consonant:[9]

  • gogs "dog", gogogs "dogs", goggogs "dogs (all over)"
  • ma꞉gina "car", mamgina "cars", mammagina "cars (all over)"
  • mi꞉stol "cat", mimstol "cats"


Oʼodham adjectives can act both attributively modifying nouns and predicatively as verbs, with no change in form.

  • ʼi꞉da ṣu꞉dagĭ ʼo s-he꞉pid "This water is cold"
  • ʼs-he꞉pid ṣu꞉dagĭ ʼañ hohoʼid "I like cold water"

Sample text[edit]

The following is an excerpt from Oʼodham Piipaash Language Program: Taḏai ("Roadrunner").[10] It exemplifies the Salt River dialect.

Na꞉nse ʼe꞉da, mo꞉ hek jeweḍ ʼu꞉d si we꞉coc, ma꞉ṣ hek Taḏai siskeg ʼu꞉d ʼuʼuhig. Hek ʼaʼanac c wopo꞉c si wo skegac c ʼep si cecwac. Kuṣ ʼam hebai hai ki g ʼOʼodham ṣam ʼoʼoidam k ʼam ʼupam da꞉da k ʼam ce꞉ ma꞉ṣ he꞉kai cu hek ha na꞉da. ʼI꞉dam ʼOʼodham ṣam ʼeh he꞉mapa k ʼam aʼaga ma꞉ṣ has ma꞉sma vo bei hek na꞉da ʼab ʼamjeḍ hek Tatañki Jioṣ. Ṣa biʼi ʼa ma꞉ṣ mo ka꞉ke hek Taḏai ma꞉ṣ mo me꞉tk ʼamo ta꞉i hek na꞉da ha we꞉hejeḍ ʼi꞉dam ʼOʼodham. Taḏai ṣa꞉ ma so꞉hi ma꞉ṣ mo me꞉ḍk ʼamo ta꞉i g na꞉da hek Tatañki Jioṣ. Tho ṣud me꞉tkam, ʼam "si ʼi nai꞉ṣ hek wo꞉gk" k gau mel ma꞉ṣ ʼam ki g Tatañki Jioṣ.

In Saxton orthography:

Nahnse ehtha, moh hek jeved uhth sih vehchoch, mahsh hek Tadai siskeg uhth uʼuhig. Hek aʼanach ch vopohch sih vo skegach ch ep sih chechvach. Kush am hebai hai kih g Oʼottham sham oʼoitham k am upam thahtha k am cheh mahsh hehkai chu hek ha nahtha. Ihtham Oʼothham sham eh hehmapa k am aʼaga mahsh has mahsma vo bei hek nahtha ab amjeth hek Tatanigi Jiosh. Sha biʼih a mahsh mo kahke hek Tadai mahsh mo mehtk amo tahʼih hek nahtha ha vehhejed ihtham Oʼottham. Tadai shah ma sohhih mahsh mo mehdk amo tahʼih g nahtha hek Tatanigi Jiosh. Tho shuth mehtkam, am "sih ih naihsh hek vohgk" k gau mel mahsh am kih g Tatanigi Jiosh.

The following is a song from O'odham Hoho'ok A'agida (O'odham Legends and Lore) by Susanne Ignacio Enos, and Dean and Lucille Saxton.[11] It exemplifies the "Storyteller dialect".

In Saxton orthography:

Ali s-kohmangi chemamangi wiapo'oge'eli, hemu aichu mahch k e ahnga. Wahsh ng uwi chechenga ch mu'ikko ia melopa, oi wa pi e nako. Wahshana memenada ch gahghai chum a neinahim.


Little gray horned toad youth, he just now learned something and is telling about himself. Over there he visits a girl repeatedly. And comes many times, yet he can't make it. Over there he keeps running, trying to look across at her.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oʼodham at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Hablantes de lengua indígena" [Speakers of Indigenous Languages]. Cuéntame (in Spanish). INEGI. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  3. ^ "Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas" [General Law of Indigenous Peoples' Linguistic Rights]. Ley General of 13 March 2003 (in Spanish). Congreso de la Unión.
  4. ^ Moseley, Christopher; Nicolas, Alexandre. "Atlas of the world's languages in danger". unesdoc.unesco.org. Retrieved 2022-07-11.
  5. ^ Estrada Fernández, Zarina; Oseguera Montiel, Andrés (2015). "La documentación de la tradición oral entre los pima: el diablo pelea con la luna" [Pima's oral tradition record: the devil fights the moon]. Indiana (in Spanish). Berlin: Ibero-American Institute. 32: 125–152. doi:10.18441/ind.v32i0.125-152. ISSN 2365-2225. p. 126: El pima bajo es una lengua yutoazteca (yutonahua) de la rama tepimana. Otras tres lenguas de esta rama son el tepehuano del norte, el tepehuano del sur o sureste y el antiguo pápago, actualmente denominado o'otam en Sonora y tohono o'odham y akimel o'odham (pima) en Arizona.
  6. ^ Saxton, Dean; Saxton, Lucille; Enos, Susie (1983). Tohono O'odham/Pima to English, English to Tohono O'odham/Pima Dictionary. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press. ISBN 9780816519422.
  7. ^ Saxton, Dean (January 1963). "Papago Phonemes". International Journal of American Linguistics. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. 29 (1): 29–35. doi:10.1086/464708. ISSN 1545-7001. JSTOR 1264104. S2CID 224808393.
  8. ^ Zepeda, Ofelia (2016). A Tohono O'odham Grammar. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press. ISBN 9780816507924.
  9. ^ Callahan, Rick (2016). A comprehensive introduction to grammar in linguistics. University Publications. ISBN 978-1-283-49963-7.
  10. ^ Oʼodham Piipaash Language Program. Taḏai. Salt River, AZ: Oʼodham Piipaash Language Program
  11. ^ Saxton, Dean; Ignacio, Enos (1969). O'odham Hoho'ok A'agida [O'odham Legends and Lore] (PDF). p. 236.

External links[edit]