Yaqui language

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Yoem Noki
Pronunciation [joʔem noki]
Native to Mexico, U.S.
Region Sonora, Arizona
Ethnicity Yaqui people
Native speakers
18,000 (2010 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 yaq
Glottolog yaqu1251[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Yaqui (or Hiaki), locally known as Yoeme or Yoem Noki, is a Native American language of the Uto-Aztecan family. It is spoken by about 20,000 Yaqui people, in the Mexican state of Sonora and across the border in Arizona in the United States.


The remarks below use the orthography used by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in the United States. There are also several orthographic systems used in Mexico differing slightly from this, mainly in using Spanish language values for several consonants and Spanish language spelling rules [e.g., "rohikte" would be written "rojicte"]. There are minor differences between Mexican and US dialects in inclusion or exclusion of sounds, most notably the US dialects tend to exclude an intervocalic "r" and final "k".


Yaqui vowels are pronounced very much like they are in standard Spanish:

"A" is pronounced similarly to that in (American English) "father" (International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) /ɑ/).

"E" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "get" (IPA /ɛ/).

"I" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "machine" (IPA /i/).

"O" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "go" (IPA /o/).

"U" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "rude" (IPA /u/).

Vowels may be either short or long in duration. Often, long vowels are reduced in length when the word they are used in is used constructively, e.g., 'maaso' ('deer') is shortened to 'maso' in 'maso bwikam' ('deer songs'). Long vowels are written by doubling the vowel. Long vowels may change tone, and this is not represented in the written language. Some writers have referred to Yaqui as being a tonal language, but the modern forms of the language do not show any widespread and significant use of tonemes.


The following consonantal sounds are present in Yaqui: b, ch, (d), (f), (g), h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, y, and one or two glottal stops (IPA /ʔ/), represented by an apostrophe. Except the glottal stops, most of them are pronounced nearly the same as they are in English, although "p", "t", and "k" are not aspirated. In the IPA, they are respectively /b t͡ʃ (d) (f) (ɡ) h k l m n p r s t β w j/. Many Yaqui speakers make no difference between b and v, pronouncing both as /β/, and this appears to be intrinsic to the language and not an influence of Spanish. Additionally, there are two consonants written as clusters: "bw" (IPA /bʷ/) and "kt" (IPA /k͡t/), "bw" being a rounded "b" ('bwikam') and "kt" a simultaneous articulation of "k" and "t" ('rohikte'). The "kt" sound is found in many other Uto-Aztecan languages. Pronunciation of the rounded "b" as "b"+"w" and the "kt" as "k"+"t" is acceptable, but non-native.

Note that "d", "f", and "g" are present only in English and Spanish loanwords. Often they are substituted with the native sounds "t"/"r"/"l", "p", and "w"/"k", respectively.

In Mexico, many speakers will often substitute "g" for syllable-initial "w". This is largely because the phoneme /w/ is not present in northern Mexican Spanish as an independent consonantal phoneme, but rather as either a variant of the vowel /u/ or as an adjunct to /g/ and /k/. Use of "g" in place of "w" is considered by Yaqui speakers as a Mexicanism and not as standard Yaqui usage even in Mexico.

Glottal Stops[edit]

There is at least one glottal stop, which is phonemic. There also appears to be a "fainter" glottal stop sometimes used between vowels but with apparently little predictability. Whether this is phonemic or not is still unclear.

Sound Symbolism[edit]

Sound symbolism is present in Yaqui[citation needed]. For example, a word with the letter “l” in it may either be pronounced normally, to denote approval from the speaker, or with an “r” in place of the “l” to denote disapproval or disfavor on the part of the speaker. Either variant form is correct.


Devoicing occurs at the ends of phrases. This is especially notable with the sound “m” and with vowels. Yaqui speech often has a “breathy” sound to English speakers.


One word, laute, has two contradictory meanings: “quickly” and “slowly.” (Similar to the problem encountered with the English word “mercurial,” which can mean either “unhesitating” or “scatter-brained.”) The word is often accompanied with a quick or slow open-handed movement to indicate the meaning. (Alternatively, laute could be translated as “at a different rate of speed” which requires a hand gesture to indicate the nature of the difference when needed for clarification.)



Yaqui word order is generally subject–object–verb.

The object of a sentence is suffixed with “-ta"

Here is a simple sentence: “Inepo hamutta vichu”, or “I am looking at the woman.”

Inepo hamutta vichu
I woman look at


Word Order Structures[edit]

Subject Object[3][edit]

The following sentences display a variation of the language’s structure and the forms allowed. In the following example, we can see an S and an O. This structure of SO is allowable due to a common feature among languages— the verb/ copula to be. ‘He’ is the subject in this example and since ‘he’ shows no variation in positioning in the sentence, there will not be further explanation for it. The object in this example ‘child’ has the possessor ‘him’ preceding to show ownership, but what is being possessed by ‘him’ is the child. Therefore ‘child’ has a nominalizer for being the object of the sentence and a possession marker on it for being possessed. Having the nominalizer on the ‘child’ allows the subject ‘he’ to imply a state of being on the ‘child’. This structure SO uses the to be verb/ copula, when information is being stated that x is y.

Example sentence

ʹáapo ʹáʹa Yoém-ia-k
He (S) Him Child-NZR-POS (O)
He is his child.

Subject Verb Object[3][edit]

In the following example, we can see an example of where the primary word order SOV, deviates to become SVO. Note the pronoun ‘I’ doesn’t have any case marking active and is in pronoun form (see Cases on Pronouns). Next, on the first or main verb ‘able’, there isn’t any specification for the type of verb. When the main verb is followed by another verb, it seems the second verb becomes intransitivized. On the object of the sentence ‘axe’, there are multiple cases active: accusative case (the direct object of the verb), a plural suffix, and an instrumental case (the means by how or with what something gets done) on the noun.

Example sentence

née ʹáa Hi-máʹako Tépwa-m-mea
I(S) able IZR-chop Axe-ACC:PL-INST(O)
I am able to chop with an axe.

Object Subject Verb[3][edit]

The following is an additional example that shows variant in word order than previously seen— OSV. In this structure, a suffix called connective is used to show that two constituents are being connected; simply, they function as a conjunction. Although this is a simple function, it is worth mentioning in understanding the way Yaqui functions as a system. The subject comes after the object in the correct subject pronoun form. Following is the verb ‘remember’, which may be a trigger to the word order. Perhaps this word order implies the topic should be who/what is being remembered.

Example sentence

ʹin malá-be-u ne wáate
My mother-CON-to(O) I(S) remember(V)
I remember my mother.


Yaqui is a "noun-heavy" agglutinative language.

For example, the first person singular pronoun "in" or "ne" (which varies by dialect), is more often used in the form "inepo", which can be translated "within me". The "-(e)po" ending is quite common and seems to denote much more than simple physical inclusion.

Cases are marked on the nouns with suffixes. The following is a list of all the cases that are marked in the language.[3]

Case Function
Ablative Movement away/ out of the noun it’s attached to.
Absolutive Core argument of the verb in the sentence; with intransitive verbs it acts as the subject of the verb, in transitive verbs it acts as the object of the verb.
Dative The noun of which something is given, used with ditransitive verbs as the indirect object of the verb.
Instrumental Conveys the means of accomplishment of the action expressed by the verb.
Locative Attaches to the noun to indicate the location of the phrase.
Nominative Used for the subjects in clauses, or when there is only one noun in the clause. It is marked on the subject when in clauses with Absolutive case marking on the object.
Possessor (part of Genitive function) Used to show possession on nouns.


Plural nouns are formed by adding the suffix "-im", or "-m" if the noun ends in a vowel. If the noun ends in a "t", it changes to "ch" when "-im" is added.

  • Tekil - Job
  • Tekilim - Jobs

If a plural noun is the object of a sentence, the suffixation of "-t" or "-ta" is not used.

Inepo haamuchim vichu
I women look at


Usually, adding the suffix "-k" to a verb indicates past tense, though there are many exceptions. If a verb ends in a diphthong, "-kan" is added. If a verb ends in "-i", "-akan" is added. If a verb ends in "-o" or "-u", "-ekan" is added, and if a verb ends in "-a", "-ikan" is added. If a verb ends in "-k", "-an" is added.

Regularly, "-ne" indicates the future.

Tense and Aspect[3]

Yaqui possess a “prior state” or ‘used to be, now deceased’ suffix. It is -tu-káꞋu. This specific suffix attaches to a nominal noun to indicate a prior existence, but can also attach as a verb to reflect the state of a human noun (not only animate). For example (suffixed as a verb) to the right.

The following is a table on the various tense markers that act more as aspectual values and epistemic states.

Tense/ Aspect Suffix Meaning/ Use
Future tense marker -nee To convey some future effect of an action, probability or possibility
Future passive -naa Communicating a temporary future possibility relative to the time of being spoken.
Perfective aspect -k; –ka as an allomorph with a specific set of words. An action is happening at a point of time, NOT continuation or procession (unmarked form).
Imperfect particle -ka Emphasizing an action of duration and progressing, and when backgrounding another action in main clause.
Remote stative -i; -ka + -i Emphasizes a preceding action when accompanying another verb in a complex sentence. Can be paired with imperfective particle -ka.
Past continuative -n; -ka + -n General past continuative, used with –ka.
Inceptive aspect -taite (SG); -hapte (PL) To begin doing something or commence doing something
Cessative aspect -yaáte Means ‘to cease’ or ‘to stop’ as a stand-alone verb but combines as a Verb + Verb compound to indicate a completed action.


In Yaqui, adjectives very often act as verbs (in Afro-Asiatic linguistics, they would be called stative verbs). For instance, "vemela" or "new", would most often be used to mean "is new". Adjectives have tenses, the same as verbs.


Reduplication is present in Yaqui. Reduplicating the first syllable of a verb indicates habitual action:

  • eta - shuts
  • e'eta - usually shuts

Primary reduplication is also used to pluralize adjectives.

Reduplicating the second consonant of a verb is used to show that an action is performed rarely.

Sample Words and Phrases[edit]

  • o'ow - man
  • hamut - woman
  • tu'i hiapsek - kind (lit. "good hearted")
  • halla'i - friend
  • maaso - deer
  • aamu - to hunt
  • aman ne tevote em yevihnewi - "I extend my greetings"

Greetings often are very formal. The following formula of four phrases is often used even among close friends:

  • Lios em chania - "Greetings!" (to one person, to more than one: Lios em chaniavu) (lit. "God preserves you!", Lios [sometimes pronounced Lioh] is a very early borrowing of the Spanish "Dios")
  • Lios em chiokoe - (the reply to the above, lit. "God pardons you!")
  • Empo allea - "May you rejoice!" (lit. "In you happy", 'allea' is said to be from the Spanish 'alegre', meaning 'happy')
  • Kettu'i - "How kind!"

Kinship Terminology[edit]

Immediate family Male Female
Mother Malam Ae
Father Achai Hapchi
Older Brother Sai Avachi
Younger Brother Saila Wai
Older Sister Ako Ako
Younger Sister Wai Wai
Extended family Father's Mother's
Grandmother Namuli Namuli
Grandfather Hamuli Hamuli
Mother Haaka Asu
Father Havoi Apa
Older Brother Haavi Kumui
Younger Brother Samai Taata
Older Sister Ne'esa Chi'ila
Younger Sister Nana Mamai


Language revitalization and teaching[edit]

In 2009, the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council and the University of Arizona collaborated on a program in which tribal elders teach the Yaqui language to families.[5] As of 2010, a revitalization project was underway at the University, "using 30 year old audio tapes recorded by tribal member Maria Leyva."[6] As of 2012, "Any teaching materials, tools, lessons, audio lessons, etc.," on the website of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe were "restricted to 'Tribally enrolled Members' only."[4]


  1. ^ INALI (2012) México: Lenguas indígenas nacionales
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Yaqui". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b c d e John M. Dedrick, Eugene H. Casad (1999). Sonora Yaqui Language Structures. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
  4. ^ a b "Language". Pascua Yaqui Tribe. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  5. ^ Corey Schubert (2009-02-27). "Tribal council selects ASU project for use in schools - ICTMN.com". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  6. ^ "Saving the Yaqui language". KVOA.com (Tucson, Arizona). 2010-06-15. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 


External links[edit]