Kiowa language

Cáuijògà / Cáuijò:gyà
Native to United States
Region western Oklahoma
Ethnicity Kiowa people
Native speakers
100 fluent speakers (2013)[1]
  • Kiowa–Towa?

    • Kiowa
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kio
Glottolog kiow1266[2]

Pre-contact distribution of the Kiowa language

Kiowa /ˈk.əwə/ or Cáuijògà / Cáuijò:gyà (″language of the Cáuigù (Kiowa)″) is a Tanoan language spoken by the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma in primarily Caddo, Kiowa, and Comanche counties. The Kiowa tribal center is located in Carnegie. Like most North American languages, Kiowa is an endangered language.


Colorado College anthropologist Laurel Watkins noted in 1984 based on Parker McKenzie's estimates that only about 400 people (mostly over the age of 50) could speak Kiowa and that only rarely were children learning language. A more recent figure from McKenzie is 300 adult speakers of "varying degrees of fluency" reported by Mithun (1999) out of a 12,242 Kiowa tribal membership (US Census 2000).

The Intertribal Wordpath Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving native languages of Oklahoma, estimates the maximum number of fluent Kiowa speakers as of 2006 to be 400.[3] A 2013 newspaper article estimated 100 fluent speakers.[1]

Classes and revitalization efforts

The Kiowa Tribe offers weekly language classes at the Jacobson House, a non-profit Native American center in Norman, Oklahoma. Dane Poolaw and Carol Williams teach the language using Parker McKenzie's method.[4]

The University of Tulsa, the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha offer Kiowa language classes.

Kiowa hymns are sung at Mount Scott Kiowa United Methodist Church.[5]

Alecia Gonzales (Kiowa-Apache, 1926–2011), who taught at USAO, created a Kiowa teaching grammar called Thaum khoiye tdoen gyah: beginning Kiowa language. A Kiowa language book of trickster stories, Saynday Kiowa Indian Children’s Stories, was published in 2013.[1][6]


Main article: Kiowa phonology

There are 23 consonants:

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
ejective tsʼ
Fricative voiceless
Approximant (w) l j

Kiowa distinguishes six vowel qualities, with three distinctive levels of height and a front-back contrast. All six vowels may be long or short, oral or nasal. Four of the vowels occurs as diphthongs with a high front off-glide of the form vowel + /j/.

There are 24 vowels:

  Front Back
short long short long
Close oral i u
nasal ĩ ĩː i
Mid oral e o
nasal ẽː õ õː
Open oral a ɔ ɔː
nasal ã ãː ɔ̃ ɔ̃ː

   Front   Back 
 High    uj
 Mid    oj
 Low  aj ɔj

Contrasts among the consonants are easily demonstrated with an abundance of minimal and near-minimal pairs. There is no contrast between the presence of an initial glottal stop and its absence.

IPA Example Meaning
/pʼ/ /pʼí/ 'female's sister'
/pʰ/ /pʰí/ 'fire; hill; heavy'
/p/ /pĩ/ 'food eating'
/b/ /bĩ/ 'foggy'
/tʼ/ /tʼáp/ 'deer'
/tʰ/ /tʰáp/ 'dry'
/t/ /tá/ 'eye'

The ejective and aspirated stops are articulated forcefully. The unaspirated voiceless stops are tense, while the voiced stops are lax.

The voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ is pronounced [ʃ] before /j/

Orthography Pronunciation Meaning
sét [sét] 'bear'
syân [ʃẽnˀ] 'be small'
sân [sânˀ] 'child'

The lateral /l/ is realized as [l] in syllable-initial position, as lightly affricated [ɫ] in syllable-final position, and slightly devoiced in utterance-final position. It occurs seldom in word-initial position.

célê [séːʲlêʲ] 'set'
gúldɔ [ɡúɫdɔ] 'be red, painted'
sál [sáɫ] 'be hot'

The dental resonants /l/ and /n/ are palatalized before /i/.

tʰàlí [tʰàlʲí] 'boy'
bõnî [bõʷnʲî] 'see'

All consonants may begin a syllable but /l/ may not occur word-initially. The only consonants which may terminate a syllable are /p, t, m, n, l, j/.

Certain sequences of consonant and vowel do not occur: dental and alveolar obstruents preceding /i/ (*tʼi, tʰi, ti, di, kʼi, ki, si, zi); velars and /j/ preceding /e/ (*kʼe, kʰe, ke, ɡe, je).

The glide /j/ automatically occurs between all velars and /a/.

Nasalization of voiced stops operates automatically only within the domain of the pronominal prefixes: voiced stops become the corresponding nasals either preceding or following a nasal. The velar nasal that is derived from /a/ is deleted; there is no /ŋ/ in Kiowa.

Underlying //ia// surfaces in alternating forms as /ja/ following velars, as /a/ following labials and as /iː/ if accompanied by falling tone.

Obstruents are devoiced in two environments: in syllable-final position and following a voiceless obsturent. Voiced stops are devoiced in syllable-final position without exception. In effect, the rule applies only to /b/ and /d/ since velars are prohibited in final position.

The palatal glide /j/ spreads across the laryngeals /h/ and /ʔ/, yielding a glide onset, a brief moment of coarticulation and a glide release. The laryngeals /h/ and /ʔ/ are variably deleted between sonorants, which also applies across a word boundary.


Kiowa orthography was developed by native speaker Parker McKenzie, who had worked with J. P. Harrington and later with other linguists. The development of the orthography is detailed in Meadows & McKenzie (2001). The tables below show each orthographic symbol used in the Kiowa writing system and its corresponding phonetic value (written IPA).

Orthography Pronunciation Orthography Pronunciation
a a ai aj
au ɔ aui ɔj
e e
i i
o o oi oj
u u ui uj

The mid-back vowel /ɔ/ is indicated by a digraph au. The four diphthongs indicate the offglide /j/ with the letter i following the main vowel. Nasal vowels are indicated by underlining the vowel letter: nasal o is thus o̲. Long vowels are indicated with macron diacritics: long o is thus ō. Short vowels are unmarked. Tone is indicated with diacritics. The acute accent ´ represents high tone, the grave accent ` indicates low tone, and the circumflex ˆ indicates falling tone, exemplified on the vowel o as ó (high), ò (low), ô (falling). Since long vowels also have tones, the vowel symbols can have both a macron and a tone diacritic above the macron: (long high), (long low), ō̂ (long falling).

Orthography Pronunciation Orthography Pronunciation
b b ch ts
f p x tsʼ
p s s
v z z
d d l l
j t y j
t w w
th h h
g a m m
c k n n

The palatal glide [j] that is pronounced after velar consonants g, c, k, q (which are phonetically /ɡ, k, kʰ, kʼ/, respectively) is not normally written.[7] There are, however, a few exceptions where [ɡ] is not followed by a [j] glide, in which case an apostrophe is written after the g as g’. Thus, there is, for example, ga which is pronounced [ɡja] and g’a which is pronounced [ɡa]. The glottal stop /ʔ/ is also not written as it is often deleted and its presence is predictable. A final convention is that pronominal prefixes are written as separate words instead of being attached to verbs.

Like many scripts of India, such as Devanagari, the Kiowa alphabet is ordered according to mostly phonetic principles. The alphabetical order is shown in the tables above: Vowels first, then consonants, reading down the columns, left column then right.



Number inflection

Kiowa, like other Tanoan languages, is characterized by an inverse number system. Kiowa has four noun classes. Class I nouns are inherently singular/dual, Class II nouns are inherently dual/plural, Class III nouns are inherently dual, and Class IV nouns are mass or noncount nouns. If the number of a noun is different from its class's inherent value, the noun takes the suffix -gau (or a variant).

class singular dual plural
I -gau
II -gau
III -gau -gau
IV (n/a) (n/a) (n/a)

Mithun (1999:445) gives as an example chē̲̂ "horse/two horses" (Class I) made plural with the addition of -gau: chē̲̂gau "horses". On the other hand, the Class II noun tṓ̲ "bones/two bones" is made singular by suffixing -gau: tṓ̲sègau "bone."


Kiowa verbs consist of verb stems that can be preceded by prefixes, followed by suffixes, and incorporate other lexical stems into the verb complex. Kiowa verbs have a complex active–stative pronominal system expressed via prefixes, which can be followed by incorporated nouns, verbs, or adverbs. Following the main verb stem are suffixes that indicate tense/aspect and mode. A final group of suffixes that pertain to clausal relations can follow the tense-aspect-modal suffixes. These syntactic suffixes include relativizers, subordinating conjunctions, and switch-reference indicators. A skeletal representation of the Kiowa verb structure can be represented as the following:

- incorporated elements
(adverb + noun + verb)
- VERB STEM - tense/aspect-modal
- syntactic

The pronominal prefixes and tense/aspect-modal suffixes are inflectional and required to be present on every verb.

Pronominal inflection

Kiowa verb stems are inflected with prefixes that indicate:

  1. grammatical person
  2. grammatical number
  3. semantic roles of animate participants

All these of the categories are indicated for only the primary animate participant. If there is also a second participant (such as in transitive sentences), the number of the second participant is also indicated. A participant is primary in the following cases:

The term non-agent here refers to semantic roles including involitional agents, patients, beneficiaries, recipients, experiencers, and possessors.

Intransitive verbs
Person Singular Dual Plural
1st à- è-
2nd èm- mà- bà-
3rd è̲- á-
Inverse è-
Agent transitive verbs
Volitional Agent Primary Person-Number
1st-Sg. 2nd-Sg. 2nd-Dual 2nd-Pl. 3rd-Sg. 3rd-Dual 1st-Sg./Dual
Sg. gà- à-  má-`- bá-`- é̲-`- á-`-  é-`-
Dual nèn- mèn- mén-  bèj-  è̲-  én-  èj-   èj- 
Pl. gàj- bàj- mán-`- báj-`- gà- én-`- gá-`- éj-`-
Inverse dé- bé-  mén-`- béj-  é-  én-  è-   éj- 


  1. 1 2 3 Cruz, Hannah. "Modina Waters using children's story book to keep Kiowa language alive". The Norman Transcript. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kiowa". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Anderton, Alice, Phd. "Status of Indian Languages in Oklahoma." Intertribal Wordpath Society. (retrieved 24 April 2011)
  4. "Kiowa Language Class." Kiowa Tribe. 16 May 2011 (retrieved 26 Aug 2011)
  5. "Kiowa United Methodists share culture". The United Methodist Church. 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2014-10-26.
  6. "Kiowa language children's book published". Native American Times, Today's Independent Indian News. Norman, OK. 2013-04-13. Retrieved 2013-04-13.
  7. This glide is written in Harrington's vocabulary.


Kiowa language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 8/26/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.