Wichita language: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in United States
Region West-central Oklahoma
Total speakers 1 fluent, 9 non-fluent
Language family Caddoan
  • Northern Caddoan
    • Wichita
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 nai
ISO 639-3 wic

Wichita is a moribund Caddoan language spoken in Oklahoma by the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. Only one fluent speaker remains, Doris McLemore, [1] although nine other people are believed to speak it to some extent.[2] It is highly possible that Wichita will soon become extinct.



Wichita has been claimed to be unusually asymmetrical at a phonemic level, though this is less apparent at a phonetic level.


Wichita has 10 consonants. In the Americanist orthography generally used when describing Wichita, [ts] is spelled <c>, and [j] <y>.

  Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain labial
Plosive t k ʔ
Affricate ts
Fricative s
Sonorant ɾ ~ n
Approximant j w h
  • Labials are generally absent, occurring in only two roots: kammac to grind corn and camma:ci to hoe, to cultivate.
  • Apart from the /m/ in these two verbs, Nasals are allophonic. The allophones [ɾ] and [n] are in complementary distribution: It is [n] before alveolars (/t, ts, s/ and in geminate [nn]) and initially before a vowel, and [ɾ] elsewhere. Thus its initial consonant clusters are [n] and [ɾ̥h], and its medial & final clusters are [nts], [nt], [ns], [nn], [ɾʔ], [ɾh].
  • Final r and w are voiceless: [ɾ̥], [w̥]


Wichita has 4 clusters of vowel-quality allophones:

Front Back
High ɪ ~ i ~ e
Mid ɛ ~ æ (o)
Low ɒ ~ a

These are transcribed as i, e, a, o.

Word-final vowels are devoiced.

Rood argues that [o] is not phonemic, as it is often equivalent to any vowel + /w/ + any vowel. For example, [awa] is frequently contracted to [óː] (the high tone is an effect of the elided consonant). There are relatively few cases where speakers will not accept a substitution of vowel + /w/ + vowel for [o]; one of them is [kóːs] 'eagle'.

Rood also proposes that, with three vowels that are arguably high, mid, and low, the front-back distinction is not phonemic, and that one may therefore speak of a 'vertical' vowel inventory (see below). This also has been claimed for relatively few languages, such as the Northwest Caucasian languages and the Ndu languages of Papua New Guinea.

There is clearly at least a two-way contrast in vowel length. Rood proposes that there is a three-way contrast, which is quite rare among the world's languages, although well attested for Mixe, and probably present in Estonian. However, in Wichita, for each of the three to four vowels qualities, one of the three lengths is rare, and in addition the extra-long vowels frequently involve either an extra morpheme, or suggest that prosody may be at work. For example,

nɪːts.híːːʔɪh 'the strong one'
nɪːːts.híːːʔɪh 'the strong ones'
hɛːhɪɾʔíːɾas 'let him find you'
hɛːːhɪɾʔíːɾas 'let him find it for you'
háɾah 'there'
háːɾɪh 'here it is' (said when handing something over)
háːːɾɪh 'that one'

(Note that it is common in many languages to use prosodic lengthening with demonstratives such as 'there' or 'that'.)

This contrasts with Mixe, where it is easy to find a three-way length contrast without the addition of morphemes.

Under Rood's analysis, then, Wichita has 9 phonemic vowels:

Short Long Overlong
High ɪ ɪˑ ɪː
Mid ɛ ɛˑ ɛː
Low a


There is also a contrastive high tone, indicated here by an acute accent.


The perfective tense demonstrates that an act has been completed; on the other hand, the intentive tense indicates that a subject plans or planned to carry out a certain act. The habitual act indicates a habitual activity, for example “he smokes, and “not” he is smoking.” Durative tense describes an activity, which is “coextensive with something else.” ”

Syllable and phonotactics

While vowel clusters are uncommon (unless the extra-long vowels are clusters), consonant clusters are ubiquitous in Wichita. Words may begin with clusters such as [kskh] (kskhaːɾʔa) and [ɾ̥h] (ɾ̥hintsʔa). The longest cluster noted in Wichita is five consonants long, counting [ts] as a single consonant /c/: /nahiʔinckskih/ 'while sleeping'. However, Wichita syllables are more commonly CV or CVC.


It is agglutinative, but surface forms often differ to actual morphemic shapes due to the usage of a series of unusual phonological processes at morpheme boundaries.

Wichita utterances can include single words that would require a full sentence in English, for instance kiyaːkíriwaːcʔárasarikitaʔahíːriks means "he brought the big quantity of meat up to the top by means of many trips."

“Every vowel in the language is the nucleus of a syllable and the vowel can have from zero to four consonants that precede it: /rhinc?a/ ‘trousers’. One-word sentences are rare.”

Revitalization efforts

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes offers language classes, taught by Doris McLemore and Shirley Davilla.[3] The tribe has created an immersion class for children and a class for adults. Linguist David Rood has collaborated with Wichita speakers to create a dictionary and language CDs.[4]


  1. ^ "The Last Living Speaker of Wichita : NPR" (Audio interview). http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18532656.  
  2. ^ "World Languages", UNESCO
  3. ^ Wichita Language Class. Wichita and Affilied Tribes. 18 Feb 2009 (retrieved 3 Oct 2009)
  4. ^ Ruckman, S. E. "Tribal language fading away." Tulsa World. 26 Nov 2007 (retrieved 3 Oct 2009)


  • Curtis, Edward. (1907-1930). The North American Indian (pp. 230-237). Cambridge. (20 volumes; reprinted 1970).
  • Garvin, Paul. (1950). Wichita I: Phonemics. International Journal of American Linguistics, 16, 179-184.
  • Marcy. (1853). (pp. 307-308).
  • Rood, David S. (1971). Agent and object in Wichita. Lingua, 28, 100-107.
  • Rood, David S. (1971). Wichita: An unusual phonology system. Colorado Research in Linguistiscs, 1, R1-R24. (?)
  • Rood, David S. (1973). Aspects of subordination in Lakhota and Wichita. CLSs, 71-88.
  • Rood, David S. (1975). Implications of Wichita phonology. Language, 51, 315-337.
  • Rood, David S. (1975). Wichita verb structure: Inflectional categories. In Crawford (Ed.), (pp. 121-134).
  • Rood, David S. (1976). Wichita grammar. New York: Garland.
  • Rood, David S. (1977). Wichita texts. International Journal of American Linguistics-NATS 2.1, 91-128.
  • Rood, David S. (1996). Sketch of Wichita, a Caddoan language. In Handbook of North American Indians (Vol. 17, pp. 580-608).
  • Rood, David S. (1998). 'To be' in Wichita. In Hinton & Munro (Eds.), (pp. 190-196).
  • Schmitt. (1950).
  • Schmitt, Karl; & Schmitt, Iva Osanai. (1952). Wichita kinship past and present. Norman, OK: U. Book Exchange.
  • Schoolcraft, Henry. (1851-1857). Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the US. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo.
  • Schoolcraft, Henry. (1953). (pp. 709-711).
  • Spier, Leslie. (1924). Wichita and Caddo relationship terms. American Anthropologist, 26, 258-263.
  • Vincent, Nigel. (1978). A note on natural classes and the Wichita consonant system. International Journal of American Linguistics, 44, 230-232.
  • Whipple. (1856). Reports of explorations and surveys to ascertain the most practicable and economic route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean (pp. 65-68). Washington: War Department. [information on the Waco dialect].

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