Maricopa language

Maricopa or Piipaash 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. The language is considered severely endangered by UNESCO.[3]

Although the Maricopa now live among the Pima,[4] their language is completely unrelated. It is a Yuman language, related to other languages such as Mohave, Cocopah, Havasupai, Yavapai and Kumeyaay, while the Pima speak a Uto-Aztecan language.

According to the Ethnologue, language shift is occurring at Maricopa Colony: "The child-bearing generation can use the language among themselves, but it is not being transmitted to children." At Salt River, it is nearly extinct: "The only remaining users of the language are members of the grandparent generation or older who have little opportunity to use the language.[5]

There are about 100 speakers 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.[6] 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, with different dialects. There are now two dialects of Maricopa: Piipaash and Xalychidom. Most Piipaash reside at Maricopa Colony on the Gila River Indian Community, and most Xalychidom reside at Salt River. However, all remaining dialect differences are fairly minor.[4] 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, and assistance with translation, cultural information and language learning.[7]

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

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

Maricopa has 10 phonemic vowels made up of 5 pairs of corresponding long and short vowels with the cross-linguistically common five-way quality contrast:

There are falling diphthongs that glide from one vowel sound into another.[8] Diphthongs can also be long or short: /ej/ and /eːj/ are both found.

Stress within a word falls on the final root vowel (they are capitalized):

Declarative sentences have a falling intonation toward the end of the sentence.

Interrogative sentences have a 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. Sequences of two consonants sometimes causes epenthesis, 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:

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

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

The sequence /ʂʂ/ can surface as [tʂ]. Thus, /ʔiːpaʂ-ʂ/ may surface as [ʔiːpatʂ] or [ʔiːpaʂɪʂ].

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

For less conservative speakers, /t͡ʃ/ can surface as /ʂ/ before any unstressed segment other than /s/.

[u] is inserted between a rounded consonant and a round or labial consonant. A rounded consonant can delabialize before any other consonant.

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

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

There are four other cases: comitative ("with, about"), adessive/allative ("at, towards"), inessive/illative ("in, on, into"), and general locative or directional ("to, from").

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

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

Case markers can be clitics in verbs as if they were applicative markers.

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

The first element of the negative circumfix is sometimes omitted, such as a sentence with nominalization.

There are constructions with a variable placement of the negative morpheme. In reflexives, the reflexive morpheme mat- can precede or follow the first part of the negative circumfix.

Maricopa has no unique word for "never." The language uses the verb aly-'aa-ma-k (NEGATIVE-hear-NEGATIVE-REAL) and the event that did not occur as a subordinate clause.


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

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 if 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.[19]

David Gil reports that the Maricopa managed quite well despite having no equivalent for and. The various relevant relations are solved by using different linguistic structures. However, whether the absence of a lexeme constitutes a lexical gap depends on not a theory but the shared verbal habits of the people using the relevant conceptualization.

Accordingly, it is not valid to say that speakers of Maricopa lack the lexeme and. Rather, it is speakers of, for example, English who would experience the lack.[23]

The basic word order for transitive sentences is subject–object–verb. Intransitive sentences are subject-verb. Ditransitive sentences are subject-dative-object-verb.

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

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

The language has no independent adjective category: "Intransitive verbs in their unmarked forms (with no nominalizing morphemes) can be used as attributive adjectives with an NP."[27] Furthermore, it appears that there is no difference between the attributive and the predicative form of adjectival forms.

Questions are marked by "rising intonation and by the structure of the verb"[29][30] For most verbs, the question suffix is -m or a zero morpheme.

If a zero morpheme is used to mark the question and the root of the verb is consonant-final, an epenthetic -ii is added.

To form a question in the second person ("you"), some verbs can have a -k or -m for questions.