Takelma language

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Native to United States
Region Oregon, Rogue Valley along the middle course of the Rogue River
Ethnicity Takelma, Latgawa
Extinct 1934, with the death of Frances Johnson
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tkm
Glottolog take1257[1]
Takelma (south), with the Kalapuyan languages to the north
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Takelma /təˈkɛlmə/[2] was the language spoken by the Latgawa and Takelma people. It was first extensively described by Edward Sapir in his graduate thesis, The Takelma Language of Southwestern Oregon.[3] The last fluent speaker of Takelma, with whom Sapir worked while writing about the language, was Frances Johnson (Gwísgwashãn).


There was possibly a Cow Creek dialect spoken in southwestern Oregon along the South Umpqua River, Myrtle Creek, and Cow Creek.[4]

Genealogical relations[edit]

Takelma is a language isolate.

Takelma was once considered part of a Takelma-Kalapuyan language family together with the Kalapuyan languages (Swadesh 1965).[citation needed] However, a paper by Tarpent & Kendall (1998)[citation needed] finds this relationship to be unfounded because of the extremely different morphological structures of Takelma and Kalapuyan. DeLancey follows this position.[citation needed] However, Takelma is commonly proposed as part of the Penutian super-family, as first suggested by Edward Sapir.[5]



Bilabial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
central lateral
Nasal m n
Plosive plain p t k ʔ
Affricate tsʼ tʃʼ
Fricative voiceless s ɬ ʃ x h
Approximant ʍ
voiced l j w


Takelma like many Native American languages is polysynthetic meaning that you can link together many different morphemes to form a word. Therefor one single word can often contain a lot of information that in English would be portrayed in a full sentence. This is mainly done by adding affixes to verbs.


Takelma has 6 different tenses listed below with the first (aorist) being the basic tense which is equivalent to the immediate future, present, and past.

 1) Aorist
 2) Potential 
 3) Future 
 4) Inferential
 5) Present Imperative
 6) Future Imperative

Person and possession[edit]

In Takelma, possession is marked by a set of affixes. Most of them are suffixes but there is one prefix. Below is a table of the four declensional sets.

1 sg. 2 sg. 3 sg/pl 1 pl. 2 Pl. reflexive 3 sg. reflexive 3 pl.
I wi- `-ʔth -(x) -tam -ʔthpan -(x)akwa -(x)akwan
II -t/thekh -t/theʔ -t/th -tam -t/thapaʔn -t/thakwa -t/thakwan
III ´-thkh `-ʔth `-(th) -tam `-ʔthpan `-thkwa `-thkwan
IV -té: -taʔ `-ta -tam tapaʔn or `-ʔthpan `-thkwa or `-takwa `-takwan or `-thkwan
  • Note that in all of these, the h should be upper subscript as well as w except for in the prefix wi-

Set I is only ever used with terms of kinship. For example:

Wi-wá: wà:-ʔth wi:-xa
‘my younger brother’ ‘your younger brother’ ‘his younger brother’

Set II is used with bare stems or stems having the formant. For example:

-x:hè:l hè:l-thekh hè:l-tha
‘song’ ‘my song’ ‘his song’

tàkax-tekh tàkax-ta
‘my head’ ‘his head’

Alternations between –t and –th in set II and set IV is regular and predictable.

Set III is used with stems having other formants. For example:

xá:n xa:lám-thkh xa:lám
‘urine’ ‘my urine’ ‘his urine’
tán taná-thkh taná
‘rock’ ‘my rock’ ‘his rock’
p’á:-n p’á:n-thkh p’á:n-th
‘liver’ ‘my liver’ ‘his liver’

Set IV is used in locative constructions. For example:

‘in my house’
‘my house’
‘between my legs’
‘my legs’

wa-té ‘to me’



Object Markers[edit]

Takelma has a complex system of verbal pronominal suffixes and is also accompanied by the loss of case markers on nouns. This represents a complete shift to full head marking. So far the only actually examples I have found are in the 3rd person object marker in Takelma, which is the suffix –khwa which is realized on the verb. However the distribution of –khwa is very restricted.

Here is the full set of object markers:

Object Markers Singular Plural
1st -xi -am
2nd -pi -amph
3rd ∅/ -khwa ∅/ -khwa

For the 1st and 2nd person objects overt marking is required with clear difference between singular and plural. For 3rd person there is no difference between singular and plural and there is also alternation between the suffix –khwa and zero O.

The O variant occurs with animates as well as inanimate, covert pronouns, and overt nominals.

However –khwa occurs in three distinct environments. First, when the subject is also 3rd person. Second, it is always used when the object is higher in animacy than the subject. This means that the object refers to a human also a mythic animal that is thought of as a human being. The third situation is when the subject and object are of equal animacy but the object outranks the subject in topicality.



  • [mìːʔskaʔ] – one
  • [kàːʔm] – two
  • [xìpiní] – three
  • [kamkàm] – four
  • [déːhal] – five
  • [haʔiːmìʔs] – six
  • [haʔiːkàːʔm] – seven
  • [haʔiːxín] – eight
  • [haʔiːkó] – nine
  • [ìxtiːl] – ten


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Takelma". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  3. ^ Sapir, Edward (1922). "II". The Takelma Language of Southwestern Oregon. Handbook of American Indian Languages. Bulletin 40. Bureau of American Ethnology. pp. 1–296. 
  4. ^ Don Macnaughtan. "American Indian Languages of Western Oregon". Lane Community College Library. Retrieved 2012-09-04. 
  5. ^ Sapir, Edward (1909). "Takelma Texts". University of Pennsylvania Anthropological Publications (University of Pennsylvania) 2 (1): 1–263. 
  6. ^ Golla, Victor. California Indian Languages. Berkeley: U of California, 2011. 132-33. Print
  7. ^ Sapir, Edward, Victor Golla, and Edward Sapir. Takelma Texts and Grammar. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter, 1990. 110. Print
  8. ^ Aissen, Judith. Diferential Coding, Partial Blocking, and Bidirectional OT. UC Santa Cruz, n.d. Web. 5 May 2015.

Further reading[edit]