Muskogean languages

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Southeastern North America
Linguistic classification: One of the world's primary language families
Glottolog: musk1252[1]
Pre-contact distribution of Muskogean languages

Muskogean (also Muskhogean, Muskogee) is an indigenous language family of the Southeastern United States. Though there is an ongoing debate concerning their interrelationships, the Muskogean languages are generally divided into two branches, Eastern Muskogean and Western Muskogean. They are agglutinative languages.

Genetic relationships

Family division

The Muskogean family consists of six languages which are still spoken: Alabama, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek-Seminole, Koasati, and Mikasuki, as well as the now-extinct Apalachee, Houma, and Hitchiti (the latter generally considered a dialect of Mikasuki).[2] "Seminole" is listed as one of the Muskogean languages in Hardy's list, but it is generally considered a dialect of Creek, rather than a separate language (as she comments: Hardy 2005:70; see also Mithun 2005:462, Crawford).

The major subdivisions of the family have long been controversial, though the following lower-level groups are universally accepted: Choctaw–Chickasaw, Alabama–Koasati, Hitchiti–Mikasuki, and Creek–Seminole.[3][4][5] Because Apalachee is extinct, its precise relationship to the other languages is uncertain; Mary Haas and Pamela Munro both classify it with the Alabama–Koasati group.[6]

Haas' classification

For connections among these groupings, the traditional classification is that of Mary Haas and her students, such as Karen Booker, in which "Western Muskogean" (Choctaw-Chickasaw) is seen as one major branch, and "Eastern Muskogean" (Alabama-Koasati, Hitchiti-Mikasuki, and Creek-Seminole) as another. Within Eastern Muskogean, Alabama-Koasati and Hitchiti-Mikasuki are generally thought to be more closely related to one another than either are to Creek-Seminole.[7] This classification is reflected in the list below:[8][9]

Munro's classification

A more recent and controversial classification has been proposed by Pamela Munro. In this classification, the languages are divided into a "Southern Muskogean" branch (Choctaw-Chickasaw, Alabama-Koasati, and Hitchiti-Mikasuki) and a "Northern Muskogean" one (Creek-Seminole). Southern Muskogean is the subdivided into Hitchiti-Mikasuki and a "Southwestern Muskogean" branch containing Alabama-Koasati and "Western Muskogean" (Choctaw-Chickasaw).[7] This classification is reflected in the list below:[10]

Northern Muskogean:

Southern Muskogean:

Kimball's classification

A third proposed classification is that of Geoffrey Kimball, who envisions a three-way split among the languages, between "Western Muskogean" (Choctaw-Chickasaw), "Eastern Muskogean" (Creek-Seminole), and "Central Muskogean" (Alabama-Koasati and Hitchiti-Mikasuki).[11] However, Kimball's classification has not received as much support as either Haas' or Munro's.[12]

Broader relationships

Possible Muskogean languages

Several sparsely attested languages have been claimed to be Muskogean languages. George Broadwell suggested that the languages of the Yamasee and Guale were Muskogean.[13][14] However, William Sturtevant argued that the "Yamasee" and "Guale" data was Creek, and that the language(s) spoken by the Yamasee and Guale people remain unknown.[15] It is possible that the Yamasee were an amalgamation of several different ethnic groups and did not speak a single language. Chester B. DePratter describes the Yamasee as consisting mainly of speakers of Hitchiti and Guale.[16] The historian Steven Oatis also describes the Yamasee as an ethnically mixed group that included people from Muskogean-speaking regions, such as the early colonial-era native towns of Hitchiti, Coweta, and Cussita.[17]

The Pensacola and Chatot (or Chacato) people are reported to have spoken the same Muskogean language, which may have been closely related to Choctaw.[18][19][20]

Sparse evidence indicates that a Muskogean language was spoken by at least some of the people of the paramount chiefdom of Cofitachequi in northeastern South Carolina. If so, this would be the most eastern outpost of Muskogean. The people of Cofitichequi were probably absorbed by nearby Siouan and Iroquoian speakers in the late 17th century.[21]

A vocabulary of the Houma may be another under-documented Western Muskogean language or a version of Mobilian Jargon. Mobilian Jargon is a pidgin based on Western Muskogean.


The best-known connection proposed between Muskogean and other languages is Mary Haas' Gulf hypothesis, in which she conceived of a macro-family comprising Muskogean and a number of language isolates of the southeastern US: Atakapa, Chitimacha, Tunica, and Natchez. While well-known, the Gulf grouping is now generally rejected by historical linguists.[13][22] A number of Muskogean scholars continue to believe that Muskogean is related to Natchez.[23]

Family features


Proto-Muskogean is reconstructed as having the consonants (given in IPA transcription):[24]

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Central Lateral Plain Labialized
Stops *p *t *k *kʷ
Affricates *ts *tʃ
Fricatives *s *x *xʷ
Nasals *m *n
Approximants *l *j *w

The phonemes reconstructed by Mary Haas as */x/ and */xʷ/ show up as /h/ and /f/ (or /ɸ/[25]), respectively, in all Muskogean languages;[26] they are therefore reconstructed by some as */h/ and */ɸ/.[10][27] */kʷ/ appears as /b/ in all the daughter languages except Creek, where it is /k/ initially and /p/ medially. The value of the proto-phoneme conventionally written ⟨θ⟩ (or ⟨N⟩) is unknown;[28] it appears as /n/ in Western Muskogean languages and as /ɬ/ in Eastern Muskogean languages. Mary Haas reconstructed it as a voiceless /n/ (that is, */n̥/), based partly on presumed cognates in Natchez.[10][29]


Most family languages display lexical accent on nouns, as well as grammatical case which distinguishes the nominative from the oblique. Nouns do not obligatorially inflect for gender or number.


Muskogean verbs have a complex ablaut system whereby the verbal stem changes depending on aspect (almost always), and less commonly depending on tense or modality. In Muskogean linguistics, the different forms are known as "grades".

Verbs mark for first and second person, as well as agent and patient (Choctaw also marks for dative). Third-persons (he, she, it) have a null-marker.

Plurality of a noun agent is marked by either 1) affixation on the verb or 2) an innately plural verbal stem.

Example (pluralization via affixation, Choctaw):

"you [sg.] eat"
"you [pl.] eat"

Example (innately-numbered verbal stems, Mikasuki):

run. SG
"to run (singular)"
"to run (several)"
run. PL
"to run (many)"


  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. Hardy 2005, pg. 69
  3. Broadwell 1992, pg. 1
  4. Hardy 2005, pg. 70
  5. Martin & Munro 2005, pg. 299
  6. Broadwell 1992, pp. 3; 41-2, fn. 2
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hardy 2005, pp. 70-71
  8. Mithun 2005, pg. 461
  9. Campbell 1997, pg. 147
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Campbell 1997, pg. 148
  11. Mithun 1999, pg. 462
  12. Broadwell 1992
  13. 13.0 13.1 Campbell 1997, pg. 149
  14. Broadwell 1992, pp. 41–42, fn. 2
  15. Sturtevant 1994, referenced in Campbell 1997, pg. 149
  16. Dr. Chester B. DePratter, "The Foundation, Occupation, and Abandonment of Yamasee Indian Towns in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1684-1715", National Register Multiple Property Submission
  17. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  18. Milanich:96
  19. Coker:6
  20. Swanton:136
  21. Hudson, Charles The Juan Pardo Expeditions Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990, pp. 68-73, 75
  22. Campbell 1997, pp. 305-9
  23. Campbell 1997, pg. 305
  24. Booker 2005
  25. Booker 2005, pg. 254
  26. Booker 2005, pp. 248, 252, 254
  27. Martin & Munro 2005, pg. 318, fn. 2
  28. Booker 2005, pg. 286, fn. 7
  29. Booker 2005, pp. 251-2

External links


  • Booker, Karen. (2005). "Muskogean Historical Phonology." In Hardy & Scancarelli 2005, pp. 246–298.
  • Broadwell, George Aaron. (1992). Reconstructing Proto-Muskogean Language and Prehistory: Preliminary Results (PDF). Paper presented at the Southern Anthropological Society, St. Augustine, FL. Retrieved on 2009-05-03.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Coker, William S. (1999) "Pensacola, 1686-1821." in Judith Anne Bense. (1999) Editor. Archaeology of colonial Pensacola. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1661-4 Found at Google Books
  • Crawford, James M. (Ed.). (1975a). Studies in Southeastern Indian Languages. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
  • Crawford, James M. (1975b). "Southeastern Indian Languages". In Crawford (ed.) 1975, pp. 1–120.
  • Goddard, Ives (Ed.). (1996). Languages. Handbook of North American Indians (W. C. Sturtevant, General Ed.) (Vol. 17). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-048774-9.
  • Haas, Mary (1951). "The Proto-Gulf word for water (with notes on Siouan–Yuchi)". International Journal of American Linguistics 17: 71–79.
  • Haas, Mary. (1952). "The Proto-Gulf word for 'land' (with notes on Proto-Siouan)". International Journal of American Linguistics 18:238–240.
  • Haas, Mary. (1973). "The Southeast". In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), Linguistics in North America (part 2, pp. 1210–1249). The Hague: Mouton.
  • Hardy, Heather. (2005). "Introduction". In Hardy & Scancarelli 2005, pp. 69–74.
  • Hardy, Heather & Janine Scancarelli. (2005). Native Languages of the Southeastern United States. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Hopkins, Nicholas A. The Native Languages of the Southeastern United States (PDF). Report for the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. Retrieved on 2009-05-03.
  • Martin, Jack B. & Pamela Munro. (2005). "Proto-Muskogean Morphology". in Hardy & Scancarelli eds., pp. 299–320
  • Milanich, Jerald T. (1995). Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1360-7
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Sebeok, Thomas A. (Ed.). (1973). Linguistics in North America (parts 1 & 2). Current trends in linguistics (Vol. 10). The Hague: Mouton. (Reprinted as Sebeok 1976).
  • Sturtevant, William C. (Ed.). (1978–present). Handbook of North American Indians (Vol. 1–20). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. (Vols. 1–3, 16, 18–20 not yet published).
  • Sturtevant, William C. (1994). "The Misconnection of Guale and Yamasee with Muskogean". International Journal of American Linguistics 60:139–148.
  • Swanton, John Reed. (1952) The Indian Tribes of North America. Found at Google Books