Yavapai language

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RegionArizona, United States
Ethnicity1,420 Yavapai people (2004)[1]
Native speakers
245 (2015 census)[2]
  • Core Yuman
    • Pai
      • Yavapai
Language codes
ISO 639-3yuf Havasupai‑Walapai‑Yavapai
Glottologhava1248  Havasupai‑Walapai‑Yavapai[3]
yava1252  Yavapai[4]

Yavapai is an Upland Yuman language, spoken by Yavapai people in central and western Arizona. There are four dialects: Kwevkepaya, Wipukpaya, Tolkepaya, and Yavepe. Linguistic studies of the Kwevkepaya (Southern), Tolkepaya (Western), Wipukepa (Verde Valley), and Yavepe (Prescott) dialects have been published (Mithun 1999:578).

Yavapai was once spoken across much of north-central and western Arizona, but is now mostly spoken on the Yavapai reservations at Fort McDowell, the Verde Valley and Prescott.

Geographic distribution

The rate of mutual comprehension between Yavapai and Havasupai–Hualapai is similar to that between Mohave and Maricopa (Biggs 1957).

Warren Gazzam, a Tolkapaya speaker, reported that "you know they (Hualapais) speak the same language as we do, some words or accents are a little different".[5]

Due to extensive cultural interchange, many Yavapai were once bilingual in Apache, and some Apache were bilingual in Yavapai.[6]

Unlike in Havasupai and Hualapai, postaspirated stops cannot appear in word-initial position (Shaterian 1983:215).


Yavapai has a large number of consonant phonemes.[7]

Consonants in Yavapai
Bilabial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
nor. lab. pal. nor. lab. nor. lab.
Plosive plain p t k q ʔ
aspirated kʰʷ
Affricate plain
aspirated tʃʰ
Fricative β θ s ʃ h
Nasal m n ɲ
Trill r
Lateral l ʎ
Approximant w j

Vowels are /a/, /æ/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/.


Yavapai is a subject-verb-object language.[8]

/-k/ and /-m/ Problem

According to Martha Kendall, the morphemes /k/ and /m/ are "semantically contrastable," but are pronounced the same. She writes that homophony is present in Yavapai, and /k/ and /m/ are similar in phonological situations, but are syntactically different.[9]


Some sample words given in Yavapai translation:[10]

English Yavapai
Hello Mhamka
Home Wah yoh woh
Land Mat
Rivers Ahakhela
Fire O'o
Grand Caynon Mat K'i:la or Wika'ilaha
Thank you 'ara'ye:km

Preservation efforts

There have been recordings of Yavapai (as well as other Yuman languages) done in 1974, relating to phonology, syntax, and grammar. This was meant to understand the three topics better and to hear them.[11]

There is an effort to revitalize the language. There is a Yavapai language program for adults to learn the language and pass on to future generations.[12]

There have been attempts to save the language in Yavapai community.[13]

Poetry and stories have been published in Yavapai on several different occasions. Yavapai poems are featured in Gigyayk Vo'jka, the anthology of poetry in Yuman languages edited by Hualapai linguist Lucille Watahomigie. Yavapai stories also appear in Spirit Mountain: An Anthology of Yuman Story and Song. Both works are accompanied by English translations, and the poems in Gigyayk Vo'jka also feature a morphological analysis.

Alan Shaterian has published a dictionary of Northeastern Yavapai. Pamela Munro is working[when?] on a dictionary and grammar for Tolkepaya.


  1. ^ Havasupai‑Walapai‑Yavapai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Yavapai at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Havasupai‑Walapai‑Yavapai". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Yavapai". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. ^ http://cla.berkeley.edu/item/16506
  6. ^ Mierau, Eric (January 1963). "Concerning Yavapai-Apache Bilingualism". International Journal of American Linguistics. 29 (1): 1–3. doi:10.1086/464706.
  7. ^ Shaterian, Alan (1983). Phonology and Dictionary of Yavapai.
  8. ^ Kendall, Martha. "Relative Clause Formation and Topicalization in Yavapai". International Journal of American Linguistics. doi:10.1086/465291.
  9. ^ Kendall, Martha (1975). "The /-k/, /-m/ Problem in Yavapai Syntax". International Journal of American Linguistics. doi:10.1086/465333.
  10. ^ "Yavapai Apache Language".
  11. ^ Kendall, Martha Oaks (Burnett); Sine, Harold (2017-03-09). "Yavapai linguistic material". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  12. ^ House, Deborah. "Yavapai Language Programs". Stabilizing Indigenous Languages.
  13. ^ "Museum honors Yavapai elder for language work - USATODAY.com". usatoday30.usatoday.com. Retrieved 2017-03-09.


  • Biggs, Bruce. 1957. Testing Intelligibility among Yuman Languages. In International Journal of American Linguistics. Vol. 23, No. 2. (April 1957), pp. 57–62. University of Chicago Press.
  • Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge University Press.
  • Shaterian, Alan William. 1983. Phonology and Dictionary of Yavapai. University of California, Berkeley.

External links

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