Oklahoma, Southwest (SOK)
Geographic location: Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico
Number of Languages: 43
Number of Genetic Units: 16
Genetic Index: .372 (very high)
Mean Level of Endangerment: 2.15 (very high)
Mean Documentation Status:
Threat Level: high
map of SOK

Description:

Oklahoma holds highest density of indigenous languages in the United States. This Hotspot includes languages originally spoken in the area as well as the languages of tribes from farther east that were forcibly relocated onto reservations in Oklahoma during the 1800s. Many of these languages are highly endangered as the younger generations shift to speaking English.

One moribund language of this area is Yuchi, which is a language isolate, unrelated to any other language in the world. In 2005, only five elderly members of the Yuchi tribe were fluent in the language. The Yuchi were forced by the U.S. government to move from Tennessee to Oklahoma in the early 1800s. Until the beginning of the 1900s, most Yuchi tribe members spoke the language fluently. After that, government boarding schools severely punished American Indian students heard speaking their own language in school. To avoid beatings and other punishments, Yuchi children abandoned their parent's language in favor of English. The only remaining speakers spoke Yuchi fluently before they went to school and have maintained the language despite strong pressure to abandon it.

Genetic Units found in Hotspot (14):

  1. Algonquian
  2. Athabaskan
  3. Caddoan
  4. Germanic
  5. Iroquoian
  6. Keresan
  7. Kiowa
  8. Muskogean
  9. Romance
  10. Siouan
  11. Tanoan
  12. Uto-Aztecan
  13. Yuchi
  14. Yuman
  15. Zuni
  16. Creole/Mixed Language

Hotspots Formula:

List of Languages:

  1. Afro-Seminole Creole
  2. Arapaho
  3. Caddo
  4. Cherokee
  5. Chickasaw
  6. Choctaw
  7. Cocopa
  8. Comanche
  9. Eastern Keres
  10. Havasupai-Walapai-Yavapai
  11. Hopi
  12. Jemez
  13. Jicarilla Apache
  14. Kansa
  15. Kickapoo
  16. Kiowa
  17. Kiowa Apache
  18. Lipan Apache
  19. Maricopa
  20. Mescalero-Chiricahua Apache
  21. Mesquakie
  22. Mohave
  23. Muskogee
  24. Navajo
  25. Northern Tiwa
  26. Omaha-Ponca
  27. Osage
  28. Pawnee
  29. Quapaw
  30. Quechan
  31. Sac/Sauk
  32. Seneca
  33. Shawnee
  34. Tewa
  35. Tohono 'O'odham
  36. Ute-Southern Paiute
  37. Western Apache
  38. Western Keres
  39. Yaqui
  40. Yuchi
  41. Zuni
  42. English
  43. Spanish

Endangered Languages include:

  • Kansa ( < 20 speakers, Siouan)
  • Mohave ( < 75 speakers, Yuman)
  • Sac/Sauk ( < 20 speakers, Algonquian)
  • Wichita ( < 3 speakers, Caddoan)

Some Features of Languages in Hotspot include:

  • Extreme polysynthetic structure
  • complex verbal systems

Trivia:

  • Kwëtamálsi means 'now you know how it feels!' in Lenape (recently extinct)

  • Di'nisbaas means 'I'm in the process of driving a vehicle into something and getting stuck' in Navajo (178,000 speakers)

Media:

Caddo elder

Caddo elder Lyman Kionute. From http://www.caddonation-nsn.gov

Caddo potter

Jeri Redcorn, a Caddo potter, puts the finishing touches on some of her pottery. From http://www.caddonation-nsn.gov

David Daniel Worcester

David Daniel Worcester, a Chickasaw bladesmith. From http://www.chickasaw.net/

Sources:

Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Leutwyler, Kristin. Preserving the Yuchi Language. Scientific American, 12/12/2000. Online at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00010F54-2F56-1C68-B882809EC588ED9F.