Tewa language

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Native toUnited States
RegionNew Mexico
EthnicityTewa people
Native speakers
1,600 (2007)[1]
  • Tewa
Language codes
ISO 639-3tew
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Tewa is a Tanoan language spoken by Pueblo people, mostly in the Rio Grande valley in New Mexico north of Santa Fe, and in Arizona. It is also known as Tano,[2] or (archaic) Tée-wah.

Dialects and usage[edit]

The 1980 census counted 1,298 speakers, almost all of whom are bilingual in English. Each pueblo or reservation where it is spoken has a dialect:

As of 2012, Tewa is defined as "severely endangered" in New Mexico by UNESCO.[4]

In the names "Pojoaque" and "Tesuque", the element spelled "que" (pronounced something like [ɡe] in Tewa, or /ki/ in English) is Tewa for "place".

Tewa can be written with the Latin script; this is occasionally used for such purposes as signs (Be-pu-wa-ve, "Welcome", or sen-ge-de-ho, "Bye"). Because alphabet systems have been developed in the different pueblos, Tewa has a variety of orthographies rather than a single standardized alphabet.[5] The written form of the language is not as ubiquitous as in languages such as Cherokee or Navajo, because some Tewa speakers feel that the language should be passed on through the oral tradition.[2] The Tewa language was a spoken language through the 1960s; digital language documentation efforts were underway as of 1995.[6]


The phonemes of Rio Grande Tewa are as follows:[7]


Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
nor. lab.
Plosive voiceless p t ts k ʔ
ejective tsʼ tʃʼ kʷʼ
voiced b d ɡ
Fricative voiceless f θ s ʃ x h
voiced v
Nasal m n ɲ
Tap/Flap ɾ
Approximant j w


Front Back
Close i ĩ u ũ
Close-mid e ẽ o õ
Open æ æ̃ a ã

Language revitalization[edit]

Esther Martinez, who lived to be 94 years old, was nationally known for her commitment to preserving the Tewa language.[8] Her San Juan Pueblo Tewa Dictionary was published in 1982. The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act is named for her, and as of Sept. 15, 2012, members of the New Mexico congressional delegation have introduced legislation to extend the program for another five years.[9][needs update]

Tewa language programs are available for children in most of the Tewa-speaking pueblos.[2][10] The Santa Clara Pueblo Tewa Language Revitalization Program also sponsors cultural activities, such as visiting Crow Canyon.[11][12]

Children's stories in Tewa have been digitized by the University of New Mexico, and are available online.[13][14]

A 2012 documentary film, "The Young Ancestors", follows a group of teenagers from Santa Fe Preparatory School as they learn the Tewa language in a self-study program with the help of a mentor, seventh grade literature teacher Laura Kaye Jagles.[15]


  1. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". www.unesco.org. Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  2. ^ a b c "Tewa (Tano) Language and the Tewa Indian Tribes (Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Clara, and Tesuque Pueblos)". Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  3. ^ "University of New Mexico Rewards Red Lodge Graduate". 2004-06-21. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  4. ^ "UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in danger". Retrieved 2012-09-29.
  5. ^ Evan Ashworth. "On Nanbé Tewa Language Ideologies" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-04-12. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  6. ^ "Saving the Tewa Stories: A Model for Preserving Native Languages". Archived from the original on 2012-09-30. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  7. ^ Randall Hannaford Speirs, "Some Aspects of the Structure of Rio Grande Tewa". 1966. State University of New York at Buffalo PhD dissertation.
  8. ^ Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb (2006-09-19). "Esther Martinez, 94; Preserved Language". Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  9. ^ "Legislation aims to preserve native languages". The Santa Fe New Mexican. 2012-09-15. Archived from the original on 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  10. ^ "Poeh Center". Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  11. ^ "American Indian Student Education Project : Language preservation educators, students, and staff visit Crow Canyon". Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. 4 (9). 2009-09-25. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  12. ^ Jacobs, Sue - Ellen; Tuttle, Siri G.; Martinez, Esther (August 29, 1998). "Multimedia Technology in Language and Culture Restoration Efforts at San Juan Pueblo: A Brief History of the Development of the Tewa Language Project". Wíčazo Ša Review. 13 (2): 45–58. doi:10.2307/1409145. JSTOR 1409145 – via JSTOR.
  13. ^ "American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL): Pueblo Stories--in Tewa--Digitized at the University of New Mexico". 6 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-27.
  14. ^ "Tewa". Lake Forest College.
  15. ^ "Santa Fean's film captures Native teens' effort to help preserve language". Santa Fe New Mexican. July 10, 2015.
  • Harrington, John P. (1910). A brief description of the Tewa language. American Anthropologist, 12, 497-504.
  • Speirs, Randall. (1966). Some aspects of the structure of Rio Grande Tewa. (Doctoral dissertation, SUNY Buffalo).
  • Martinez, Esther. (1982). San Juan Pueblo Tewa Dictionary. San Juan Pueblo Bilingual Program, San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]