Plains Apache language

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Plains Apache
Kiowa Apache
Native toUnited States
RegionCaddo County, Oklahoma
EthnicityPlains Apache
Language codes
ISO 639-3apk
Southern Athabaskan languages.svg
Historical distribution of Southern Athabaskan languages
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.

The Plains Apache language (or Kiowa Apache language) is a Southern Athabaskan language formerly spoken by the Plains Apache, organized as the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, living primarily around Anadarko in southwest Oklahoma.[2]

Plains Apache is most closely related to other Southern Athabaskan languages like Navajo, Chiricahua Apache, Mescalero Apache, Lipan Apache, Western Apache, and Jicarilla Apache. Plains Apache is the most divergent member of the subfamily. The language is extinct as of 2008, when Alfred Chalepah, Jr., the last native speaker, died.


This article follows the orthography of Bittle (1963); where this differs from the IPA, IPA is given on the left, and Bittle's transcription is given on the right in italics.


Plains Apache has a large consonant inventory resembling that of its close relatives Navajo and Western Apache.

Bilabial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lateral fricated
Stop unaspirated p b t d dl ts dz k g
aspirated tɬʰ tsʰ ts tʃʰ k
glottalized tɬʼ tłʼ tsʼ tʃʼ tšʼ ʔ
Continuant voiceless ɬ ł s ʃ š x h
voiced l z ʒ ž ɣ
Nasal stop ⁿd
continuant m n
Glide j y

The phoneme ⁿd is only found in prefixes and does not occur before o. h is in free variation with x preceding a and also does not occur before o. The fricated alveolar and postalveolar series are tend to be realized as slightly retroflex preceding i and e, though these variants are in free variation with the unretroflexed realizations. The plain alveolar and velar series are slightly fronted preceding i and e, and slightly backed and rounded preceding o.


Plains Apache distinguishes four vowel qualities, much like the other Southern Athabaskan languages.

Front Back
High i~ɪ i u~o o
Mid ɛ e
Low a

Additionally, all vowels may be either short or long and nasal or oral. Length is indicated in the orthography by writing the vowel twice (e.g. kóó, "water"); nasalization is indicated with an ogonek (e.g. nǫ̀ǫ̀, "earth"). When long, the realization of i tends to be closer to [i], and when short, closer to [ɪ]. An analogous alternation is true of o [u~o], although this variation is more free, and is lexicalized by some speakers in certain words.

Syllable Structure[edit]

The Plains Apache syllable is maximally (C)(C)V(:)(C), though initial clusters are rare and must co-occur with a long vowel, making most syllables (C)V(:)(C). All consonants may appear in the syllable onset, although l and a null onset are not permitted word-initially; only d, g, ʔ, s, z, š, ž, h, l, and ł may appear in the syllable coda, whether word-final or not.


Plains Apache has a register tone system with two levels, low and high. Low is written with a grave accent (e.g. bìs, "bank"), and high is written with an acute accent (e.g. šéł, "kindness"). Syllables with short vowels bear a single toneme, but those with long vowels have one toneme for each mora of the vowel, making for a total of four contours: high-high (e.g. tʼǫ́ǫ́š, "bark"), high-low (e.g. béè-lą̀ą̀ʔ, "point"), low-high (e.g. gòóʔ, "snake"), and low-low (e.g. gààd, "spread of cedars").

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kiowa Apache". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Everett, Dianna. "Apache Tribe of Oklahoma". The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved 20 January 2020.


  • Bittle, William E. (n.d.). Plains Apache field notes. (Unpublished manuscript).
  • Bittle, William E. (1956). The position of Kiowa-Apache in the Apachean group. (Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles).
  • Bittle, William E. (1963). Kiowa-Apache. In H. Hoijer (Ed.), Studies in the Athapaskan languages (pp. 76–101). University of California publications in linguistics (No. 29). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Bittle, William E. (1967). Kiowa-Apache. In H. Hoijer (Ed.), Studies in Southwestern ethnolinguistics: meaning and history in the languages of the American Southwest. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Bittle, William E. (1971). A brief history of the Kiowa-Apache. Oklahoma Papers in Anthropology 12(1): 1-34.
  • Bittle, William E. (1979). Kiowa Apache Raiding Behavior. Oklahoma Papers in Anthropology 20(2): 33-47.
  • Collins, Melanie Ruth. (1983). Plains Apache: Strength Relations Among the Phonological Elements in a Dying Language. MA thesis, University of Oklahoma.
  • Gatschet, Albert S. (1884). Na-isha Band, Apache (Kiowa Apache). Vocabulary and brief texts with interlinear translation November - December, 1884. Manuscript 62, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC.
  • Goddard, Pliny Earle. (1911). Field notes in California Athabascan languages. American Council of Learned Societies Committee on Native American Languages, American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia, PA.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1971). The Position of the Apachean Languages in the Athapaskan Stock. Apachean Culture History and Ethnology, ed. by Keith H. Basso and Morris E. Opler. Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona 21.3-6.