Maricopa language

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Piipaash chuukwer / Xalychidoma chuukwer
Native to USA
Region Maricopa County, Arizona
Ethnicity 800 Maricopa and Halchidhoma (2007)[1]
Native speakers
100 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 mrc
Glottolog mari1440[2]

Maricopa is spoken by the Native American Maricopa people on two reservations in Arizona: the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and the Gila River Indian Community. Most speakers live in Maricopa Colony, near Baseline Road and 83rd Avenue, or Lehi, near Mesa Drive and McDowell Road.

Although the Maricopa now live among the Pima,[3] their language is completely unrelated. It is a Yuman language, related to other languages such as Mohave, Cocopah, Havasupai, Yavapai and Kumeyaay.

According to the Ethnologue, the language is classified as "shifting" at Maricopa Colony, meaning “The child-bearing generation can use the language among themselves, but it is not being transmitted to children.” At Salt River, it is considered to be closer to "Nearly Extinct", meaning "The only remaining users of the language are members of the grandparent generation or older who have little opportunity to use the language."[4] There are about 100 speakers in total out of an ethnic population of 800. Salt River's cultural resources department estimates that there are around 15 fluent native speakers remaining in the Salt River community.[5] There are many more with varying degrees of fluency, including many who can understand but not speak Maricopa.

The modern Maricopa people are actually an amalgamation of five separate but related groups, which historically had different dialects. There are now two dialects of Maricopa, Piipaash and Xalychidom. Most Piipaash reside at Maricopa Colony on the Gila River Indian Community, while most Xalychidom reside at Salt River. However, all remaining dialect differences are fairly minor.[3] Xalychidom is the dialect spoken by the formerly-distinct Xalychidom people.

There is a language revitalization program at Salt River, the O'odham Piipaash Language Program, offering immersion classes, language-based cultural arts classes, community language-based social activities, as well as assistance with translation, cultural information and language learning.[4]


All claims and examples in this section come from Gordon (1986) unless otherwise noted.


Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain rounded plain rounded
Plosive p t ʈ k q ʔ
Affricate t͡ʃ
Voiceless fricative (f) s ʂ x
Voiced fricative v ð
Nasal m n ɲ (ŋ)
Liquid l, r
Glide j w

Phonemes /f/ and /ŋ/ occur only in borrowed words, e.g. kafe "coffee" and naraŋk "orange",[bad example, as that could be assimilation w the ŋ] both borrowed from Spanish. [ŋ] also occurs as an allophone of /ɲ/.


Maricopa has a typical five-vowel system:

Front Central Back
High i, iː u, uː
Mid e, eː o, oː
Low a, aː

Vowel length is phonemic and all vowels may occur either short or long, giving ten phonemic vowels.

The following diphthongs (with the second member represented by a glide) occur. Basically, they glide from one vowel sound into another.[6] Diphthongs also all occur long and short, for example /ej/ and /eːj/ are both found.

Diphthongs are

/aj aːj ej eːj oj oːj uj uːj aw aːw ew eːw/,

as in /kwiduj/ and /maxaj/.

Stress and intonation

Stress within a word falls on the final root vowel, e.g. (roots distinguished with capitals):


Declarative sentences exhibit falling intonation toward the end of the sentence.

Interrogative sentences exhibit rising intonation toward the end of the sentence.


Epenthesis of vowels to relieve consonant clusters is a major and complicated issue in Maricopa. It is not completely understood but some general statement can be made.

Epenthetic vowels can have the quality of any other vowel as well as some reduced vowel qualities. However the form is basically predictable from the local context:

Sequences of three non-syllabic consonants never surface without epenthesis. For sequences of two consonants epenthesis occurs in some cases but not always, depending on the consonants in question.

Nasals and liquids are least likely to accompany epenthesis, as they often syllabify instead, particularly in the following circumstances:

  • An initial nasal before a homorganic stop optionally becomes syllabic.
  • An initial liquid before a clitic boundary optionally becomes syllabic.
  • In /nn/ sequences, the first n syllabifies. (However, in /mm/ sequences, epenthesis occurs instead, yielding [məm].)

In most other initial two-consonant cluster, epenthesis occurs, e.g.:


Some final clusters are allowed, while others are broken up. Interestingly, the distinction seems to rest partially on the number of syllables in the word as well as the particular sequence of consonants, e.g.:


Assimilation and other phonological changes

Non-initial sequences of identical oral consonants other than /ʂ/ geminate, e.g.:


The sequence /ʂʂ/ optionally surfaces as [tʂ]. Thus /ʔiːpaʂ-ʂ/ may surface either as [ʔiːpatʂ] or [ʔiːpaʂɪʂ].

When /t͡ʃ/ follows any segment except /ʂ/ and precedes any unstressed segment, it deaffricates to /ʂ/, e.g.: /t͡ʃmɲaː-k/ surfaces as [t͡ʃɪmɪɲaːk], but /m-t͡ʃmɲaː-k/ becomes [mɪʂɪmɪɲaːk].

Optionally for less conservative speakers, /t͡ʃ/ surfaces as /ʂ/ before any non-stressed segment other than /s/.

Unstressed high vowels optionally lower to the corresponding mid vowel.

[u] is inserted betwneen a rounded consonant and a round or labial consonant. A rounded consonant optionally delabializes before any other consonant.

/ɲ/ assimilates to [ŋ] before a velar or post-velar consonant. After a morpheme boundary, [ŋ] is preceded by [ɪ].

Between a back vowel and any following vowel, [w] is inserted, e.g.:


Between a front vowel and a back round vowel, /j/ is inserted, e.g.:



Case marking

Maricopa has a subject marker -sh and no marker for the direct object.

mat-v-sh 'or'or-m
"The world (near) is round".[7]
'iipaa-ny-sh qwaaq kyaa-m
"The man shot the deer".[8]

The language also has four additional cases: Comitative ("with, about"), adessive/allative ("at, towards"), inessive/illative ("in, on, into"), and general locative or directional ("to, from").

-m: Comitative ("with"), instrumental ("with, by means of"), and meanings similar to the Russian instrumental case ("with, accompanied by, by means of").

Grace-sh Bonnie-m uudav-k
"Grace is with Bonnie".[9]

-ii: Locative with adessive ("at") and allative ("to, toward") meanings.

h'a-sh ha-s-ii v'aw-m
"The tree is by the water (distant, out of sight)".[10]

-ly: Locative with inessive ("in, on") and illative ("into, to") meanings.

'iipaa-ny-sh Flagstaff-ly yem-k
"The man went to Flagstaff".[10]

-k: General locative and directional ("to, from").

Lynn-sh Yuma-k dii-k
"Lynn came from Yuma".[11]

Case markers can clitizice onto the verb as if they were applicative markers.

tdish mat ily-k-shvaw-k
"Plant the corn in the ground".[12]
'ii hat ny-m-'-aham-m
"I hit the dog with the stick".[12]


Verbs are negated by adding the circumfix (w)aly-...-ma.

chii-sh ha=han-ly aly-dik-ma-k
"(There) aren't (any) fish in the river".[13]
"I didn't kill him".[13]
Heather-sh va aly-k-di-ma-k
"Heather didn't come from the house".[14]

In copulative sentences (those with the verb "to be"), the negative element is placed on the predicate noun.

'iipaa-sh waly-'-do-ma-k
"I am not a man".[13]
aly-'iipaa-ma-sh (duu-m)
"She is not a man".[14]

The first element of the negative circumfix can be optional, in particular if the sentence involves nominalization.

nyip '-ny-kwr'ak pakyer-ma-sh
"My husband is not a cowboy".[14]
harav uusish-ma-sh hot-k
"Not drinking liquor is good".[15]

There are constructions where the placement of the negative morpheme is variable. In reflexives, for example, the reflexive morpheme mat- can precede or follow the first part of the negative circumfix.

"I didn't hurt myself".[14]
"I didn't hurt myself".[14]

Maricopa doesn't have a unique word for "never". To express this meaning, the language uses the verb aly-'aa-ma-k (NEGATIVE-hear-NEGATIVE-REAL) and the event which didn't occur as a subordinate clause.

man-sh m-shmaa-m aly-m-'aa-ma-k
"You never sleep".[16]
Bonnie '-yuu-k waly-'aa-ma-k
"I never see Bonnie".[16]

There is a special verb kuvar, meaning "to be none", that expresses the meaning of "there isn't".

mash-sh kuvar-k
food-SUBJECT none-REAL
"There is no food".[16]
man-sh shyaal m-kuvar-k
"You have no money".[16]

Negative adverbs vary in scope depending on their position relative to the negative circumfix. For example, the adverb -haay "still, yet" is outside of the scope of the negation when the order of the morphemes is ma-haay. On the other hand, "still" is inside of the scope of the negation if the order of the morphemes is haay-ma.[17]

'iikway dany aly-shveesh-ma-haay-k
"They haven't milked the cow yet".[17]
'ayuu waly-m-evsh-haay-ma-k
"They are not still working".[17]


Maricopa is a subject–object–verb language. It makes no grammatical gender distinction.

David Gil reports that the Maricopa have no equivalent for and, but that they are managing quite well. The various relevant relations are solved using different linguistic structures. However, whether the absence of a lexeme constitutes a lexical gap depends not on some theory but on the shared verbal habits of the people employing the relevant conceptualization. Accordingly, it is not valid to say that speakers of Maricopa are lacking the lexeme and. Rather, it is speakers of, for example, English who would experience the lack.[18]

Word Order

The basic word order for transitive sentences is subject–object–verb language. Intransitive sentences are subject-verb. Ditransitive sentences are Subject-Dative-Object-Verb.

mhay-ny-sh qwaaq tpuy-m
"The boy killed a deer".[19]
sny'ak-sh ashvar-k
woman-SUBJECT sing-REAL
"The/A woman sang".[7]
Heather-sh Pam kwnho aay-m
Heather-SUBJECT Pam basket give-REAL
"Heather gave a basket to Pam".[20]

Possessive words precede nouns. There are inalienable nouns, for example clothing items, which must bear possessive markers.

Bonnie s'aw ime
Bonnie offspring leg
"Bonnie's baby's leg".[21]
"Your hat".[21]
Bonnie avhay
Bonnie dress
"Bonnie's dress".[21]

Determiners are expressed as suffixes or as independent words following the noun.

posh-v-sh ii'ily-k
"This cat (near, at hand) has fleas".[21]
chyer vany-a shviily-sh hmaaly-m
"That bird's feathers are white".[21]

The language doesn't have an independent adjective category: Intransitive verbs in their unmarked forms (with no nominalizing morphemes) can be used as attributive adjectives with an NP.[22] Furthermore, it appears that there is no difference between the attributive and the predicative form of adjectival forms.

'iipaa hmii sper-sh ny-wik-k
"A tall, strong man helped me".[22]
'iipaa-ny-sh hmii-k
"The man is tall".[23]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Maricopa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Maricopa". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Antone, Caroline (2000). Piipayk M'iim (PDF). Salt River, Arizona: O'odham Piipaash Language Program. Retrieved 2015-10-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 O'odham Piipaash Language Program. Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community Retrieved 2015-10-12. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Piipaash Elders Determined to Keep Language Alive. Au-Authm Action News Retrieved 2015-10-13. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. OPLP, 2012
  7. 7.0 7.1 Gordon 1986, p. 37
  8. Gordon 1986, p. 41
  9. Gordon 1986, p. 43
  10. 10.0 10.1 Gordon 1986, p. 45
  11. Gordon 1986, p. 46
  12. 12.0 12.1 Gordon 1986, p. 50
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Gordon 1986, p. 72
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Gordon 1986, p. 73
  15. Gordon 1986, p. 74
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Gordon 1986, p. 81
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Gordon 1986, p. 142
  18. Gil (1991)
  19. Gordon 1986, p. 15
  20. Gordon 1986, pg. 42
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 Gordon 1986, pg. 31
  22. 22.0 22.1 Gordon 1986, pg. 51
  23. Gordon 1986, pg. 53


  • Gil, David (1991). "Aristotle goes to Arizona, and finds a language without 'and'". In Zaefferer, D (ed.). Semantic universals and universal semantics. Berlin: Foris. pp. 96–130.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gordon, Lynn (1986). Maricopa Morphology and Syntax. Berkeley: University of California Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also

External links