Caddoan languages

Last updated
Great Plains, North America
Linguistic classification One of the world's primary language families
ISO 639-5 cdd
Linguasphere 64-B
Glottolog cadd1255 [1]

Caddoan langs.png

Pre-contact distribution of Caddoan languages

The Caddoan languages are a family of languages native to the Great Plains. They were spoken by tribal groups of the central United States, from present-day North Dakota south to Oklahoma. In the 21st century, they are critically endangered, as the number of native speakers has declined markedly.

Language family group of languages related through descent from a common ancestor

A language family is a group of languages related through descent from a common ancestral language or parental language, called the proto-language of that family. The term "family" reflects the tree model of language origination in historical linguistics, which makes use of a metaphor comparing languages to people in a biological family tree, or in a subsequent modification, to species in a phylogenetic tree of evolutionary taxonomy. Linguists therefore describe the daughter languages within a language family as being genetically related.

Great Plains broad expanse of flat land west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada

The Great Plains is the broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, that lies west of the Mississippi River tallgrass prairie in the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. It embraces:

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.


Family division

Five languages belong to the Caddoan language family:

Caddoan languages


Northern Caddoan




Pawnee languages



Kitsai and Wichita are both extinct. Kitsai went extinct in the 19th century as its members were absorbed into the Wichita tribe. Wichita went extinct in 2016 when the last native speaker of Wichita, Doris McLemore (who left recordings and language materials), died.

Wichita language language

Wichita is an extinct Caddoan language once spoken in Oklahoma by the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. The last fluent heritage speaker, Doris Lamar-McLemore, died in 2016, although in 2007 there were three first-language speakers alive. This has rendered Wichita functionally extinct; however, the tribe offers classes to revitalize the language and works in partnership with the Wichita Documentation Project of the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Doris McLemore Last speaker of the Wichita language

Doris Jean Lamar-McLemore was an American teacher who was the last fluent speaker of the Wichita language, a Caddoan language spoken by the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, indigenous to the U.S. states of Oklahoma and Texas.

All of the other Caddoan languages are nearly extinct; as of 2007, Caddo is spoken by only 25 people, Pawnee by 10, and Arikara by 10. Caddo and Pawnee are spoken in Oklahoma by small numbers of tribal elders. Arikara is spoken on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota.

Caddo language Native American language

Caddo is a Native American language, the traditional language of the Caddo Nation. It is critically endangered, with no exclusively Caddo-speaking community and only 25 speakers as of 2009 who acquired the language as children outside school instruction. Caddo has several mutually intelligible dialects. The most commonly used dialects are Hasinai and Hainai; others include Kadohadacho, Natchitoches and Yatasi.

Pawnee language language

The Pawnee language is a Caddoan language spoken by some Pawnee Native Americans who now live in north-central Oklahoma. Their traditional historic lands were along the Platte River in what is now Nebraska.

Arikara language language

Arikara is a Caddoan language spoken by the Arikara Native Americans who reside primarily at Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Arikara is close to the Pawnee language, but they are not mutually intelligible.

Speakers of some of the languages were formerly more widespread; the Caddo, for example, used to live in northeastern Texas, southwestern Arkansas, and northwestern Louisiana, as well as southeastern Oklahoma. The Pawnee formerly lived along the Platte River in what is now Nebraska.

Texas State of the United States of America

Texas is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population. Geographically located in the South Central region of the country, Texas shares borders with the U.S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, while the Gulf of Mexico is to the southeast.

Arkansas State of the United States of America

Arkansas is a state in the southern region of the United States, home to over 3 million people as of 2018. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta.

Louisiana State of the United States of America

Louisiana is a state in the Deep South region of the South Central United States. It is the 31st most extensive and the 25th most populous of the 50 United States. Louisiana is bordered by the state of Texas to the west, Arkansas to the north, Mississippi to the east, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. A large part of its eastern boundary is demarcated by the Mississippi River. Louisiana is the only U.S. state with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are equivalent to counties. The state's capital is Baton Rouge, and its largest city is New Orleans.

Pre-history of Caddoan

Glottochronology is a controversial method of reconstructing, in broad detail, the history of a language and its relationships. In the case of proto-Caddoan, it appeared to have divided into two branches, Northern and Southern, more than 3,000 years ago. (The division of the language implies also a geographic and/or political separation.) South Caddoan or Caddo proper evolved in north-eastern Texas and adjacent Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Other than Caddo, no daughter languages are known, although some likely existed in the 16th and 17th centuries but were not recorded.

Glottochronology is the part of lexicostatistics dealing with the chronological relationship between languages.

Northern Caddoan evolved into several different languages. The language that became Wichita (with several different dialects) branched off about 2,000 years ago. Kitsai separated from the Northern Caddoan stem about 12 centuries ago, and Pawnee and Arikara separated 300 to 500 years ago. [2]

External relations

Adai, a language isolate known only from a 275-word list collected in 1804, may be a Caddoan language. The documentation is too scanty to determine with certainty. The Adai lived in Louisiana. [3] The language of the Eyeish or Ais, who lived adjacent to the Caddo, was a distinct language, but was probably related to Caddoan. [4] (An unrelated people, also called the Ais, lived in Florida.)

Some linguists believe that the Caddoan, Iroquoian, and Siouan languages may be connected in a Macro-Siouan language family, but their work is suggestive and the theory remains hypothetical. Similar attempts to find a connection with the Algonquian languages have been inconclusive. There is insufficient evidence for linguists to propose a hypothetical Macro-Algonquian/Iroquoian language family. [5]


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Caddoan". Glottolog 3.0 . Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. "Caddoan Tree", Texas Beyond History website, accessed 30 May 2011; Schleser, Karl H. Plains Indians, A.D. 500 to 1500: The Archaeological Past of Historic Groups. Norman: U of OK Press, 1994, pp. 147-148
  3. "Adai." Native Languages, accessed 1 Jun 2011
  4. "Who were the Ais." Texas Beyond History, accessed 1 Jun 2011
  5. Mithun, Marianne. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 305

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Indigenous languages of the Americas languages spoken by Indigenous peoples from Alaska and Greenland to the southern tip of South America, encompassing the land masses which constitute the Americas

Indigenous languages of the Americas are spoken by indigenous peoples from Alaska, Nunavut, and Greenland to the southern tip of South America, encompassing the land masses that constitute the Americas. These indigenous languages consist of dozens of distinct language families, as well as many language isolates and unclassified languages.


The Hasinai Confederacy was a large confederation of Caddo-speaking Native Americans located between the Sabine and Trinity rivers in eastern Texas. Today they are enrolled in the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.

Iroquoian languages language family

The Iroquoian languages are a language family of indigenous peoples of North America. They are known for their general lack of labial consonants. The Iroquoian languages are polysynthetic and head-marking.

Mandan is an extinct Siouan language of North Dakota in the United States.

Macro-Siouan languages

The Macro-Siouan languages are a proposed language family that would include the Siouan, Iroquoian, and Caddoan families. Most linguists remain unconvinced that these languages share a genetic relationship, and the existence of a Macro-Siouan language family remains a subject of debate.

An active–stative language, also commonly called a split intransitive language, is a language in which the sole argument ("subject") of an intransitive clause is sometimes marked in the same way as an agent of a transitive verb but other times in the same way as a direct object.

Muskogean languages language family

Muskogean is language family spoken in different areas of the Southeastern United States. Though there is an ongoing debate concerning their interrelationships, the Muskogean languages are generally divided into two branches, Eastern Muskogean and Western Muskogean. Typologically, Muskogean languages are agglutinative. One language, Apalachee, is extinct and the remaining languages are critically endangered.

Classification schemes for indigenous languages of the Americas

This article is a list of different language classification proposals developed for indigenous languages of the Americas. The article is divided into North, Central, and South America sections; however, the classifications do not always neatly correspond to these continent divisions.

Adai is the name of a Native American people of northwestern Louisiana and northeastern Texas with a Southeastern culture. The name Adai is derived from the Caddo word hadai meaning 'brushwood'.

Adai language language

Adai is an extinct Native American language that was spoken in northwestern Louisiana.

Siouan languages language family

Siouan or Siouan–Catawban is a language family of North America that is located primarily in the Great Plains, Ohio and Mississippi valleys and southeastern North America with a few other languages in the east.

Kichai people

The Kichai tribe was a Native American Southern Plains tribe that lived in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Their name for themselves was K'itaish.

The Kitsai language is an extinct member of the Caddoan language family. It was spoken in Oklahoma by the Kichai tribe and became extinct in the 1930s. It is thought to be most closely related to Pawnee. The Kichai people today are enrolled in the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, Waco and Tawakonie), headquartered in Anadarko, Oklahoma.

Wallace Chafe was an American linguist. He was Professor Emeritus and research professor at The University of California, Santa Barbara.

The Eyeish were a Native American tribe from present-day eastern Texas.

Caddoan Mississippian culture prehistoric Native American culture in south-eastern United States

The Caddoan Mississippian culture was a prehistoric Native American culture considered by archaeologists as a variant of the Mississippian culture. The Caddoan Mississippians covered a large territory, including what is now Eastern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Northeast Texas, and Northwest Louisiana. Archaeological evidence that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present; that the direct ancestors of the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma included the speakers of the Caddo and related Caddo language in prehistoric times and at first European contact, is unquestioned today.