Navajo language

Last updated
Diné bizaad
Native toUnited States
Region Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado
Ethnicity Navajo
Native speakers
169,359 (2011) [1]
Latin (Navajo alphabet)
Navajo Braille
Language codes
ISO 639-1 nv
ISO 639-2 nav
ISO 639-3 nav
Glottolog nava1243 [2]
The Navajo Nation, where the language is most spoken
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For a guide to IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Navajo or Navaho ( /ˈnævəh, ˈnɑː-/ ; [3] Navajo: Diné bizaad [tìnépìz̥ɑ̀ːt] or Naabeehó bizaad [nɑ̀ːpèːhópìz̥ɑ̀ːt] ) is a Southern Athabaskan language of the Na-Dené family, by which it is related to languages spoken across the western areas of North America. Navajo is spoken primarily in the Southwestern United States, especially on the Navajo Nation. It is one of the most widely spoken Native American languages and is the most widely spoken north of the Mexico–United States border, with almost 170,000 Americans speaking Navajo at home as of 2011. The language has struggled to keep a healthy speaker base, although this problem has been alleviated to some extent by extensive education programs on the Navajo Nation.

Southern Athabaskan languages subfamily of Athabaskan languages

Southern Athabaskan is a subfamily of Athabaskan languages spoken primarily in the Southwestern United States with two outliers in Oklahoma and Texas. The language is spoken to a much lesser degree in the northern Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila, and Nuevo León. Those languages are spoken by various groups of Apache and Navajo peoples. Elsewhere, Athabaskan is spoken by many indigenous groups of peoples in Alaska, Canada, Oregon and northern California.

Na-Dene languages Native American language family

Na-Dene is a family of Native American languages that includes at least the Athabaskan languages, Eyak, and Tlingit languages. An old inclusion of Haida is now considered doubtful.

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere; it is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.


The language has a fairly large phoneme inventory; it includes several uncommon consonants that are not found in English. Its four basic vowels are distinguished for nasality, length, and tone. It has both agglutinative and fusional elements: it relies on affixes to modify verbs, and nouns are typically created from multiple morphemes, but in both cases these morphemes are fused irregularly and beyond easy recognition. Basic word order is subject–object–verb, though it is highly flexible to pragmatic factors. Verbs are conjugated for aspect and mood, and given affixes for the person and number of both subjects and objects, as well as a host of other variables.

A nasal vowel is a vowel that is produced with a lowering of the soft palate so that the air flow escapes through the nose and the mouth simultaneously, as in the French vowel /ɑ̃/  or Amoy []. By contrast, oral vowels are produced without nasalization. In a stricter sense, nasal vowels shall not be confused with nasalised vowels.

In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. Often the chroneme, or the "longness", acts like a consonant, and may have arisen from one etymologically, such as in Australian English. While not distinctive in most other dialects of English, vowel length is an important phonemic factor in many other languages, for instance in Arabic, Finnish, Fijian, Kannada, Japanese, Old English, Scottish Gaelic and Vietnamese. It plays a phonetic role in the majority of dialects of British English and is said to be phonemic in a few other dialects, such as Australian English, South African English and New Zealand English. It also plays a lesser phonetic role in Cantonese, unlike other varieties of Chinese.

Tone is the use of pitch in language to distinguish lexical or grammatical meaning – that is, to distinguish or to inflect words. All verbal languages use pitch to express emotional and other paralinguistic information and to convey emphasis, contrast, and other such features in what is called intonation, but not all languages use tones to distinguish words or their inflections, analogously to consonants and vowels. Languages that do have this feature are called tonal languages; the distinctive tone patterns of such a language are sometimes called tonemes, by analogy with phoneme. Tonal languages are common in East and Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and the Americas; as many as seventy percent of world languages may be tonal.

The language's orthography, which was developed in the late 1930s after a series of prior attempts, is based on the Latin script. Most Navajo vocabulary is Athabaskan in origin, as the language has been conservative with loanwords since its early stages.

Latin script Writing system used to write most European languages

Latin or Roman script, is a set of graphic signs (script) based on the letters of the classical Latin alphabet. This is derived from a form of the Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet used by the Etruscans.


The word Navajo is an exonym: it comes from the Tewa word Navahu, which combines the roots nava ("field") and hu ("valley") to mean "large field". It was borrowed into Spanish to refer to an area of present-day northwestern New Mexico, and later into English for the Navajo tribe and their language. [4] The alternative spelling Navaho is considered antiquated; even anthropologist Berard Haile spelled it with a "j" in accordance with contemporary usage despite his personal objections. [5] The Navajo refer to themselves as the Diné ("People"), with their language known as Diné bizaad ("People's language") [6] or Naabeehó bizaad.

Tewa is a Tanoan language spoken by Pueblo people, mostly in the Rio Grande valley in New Mexico north of Santa Fe, and in Arizona. It is also known as Tano, or (archaic) Tée-wah.

Spanish language Romance language

Spanish or Castilian is a Romance language that originated in the Castile region of Spain and today has hundreds of millions of native speakers in the Americas and Spain. It is a global language and the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.

New Mexico State of the United States of America

New Mexico is a state in the Southwestern region of the United States of America; its capital and cultural center is Santa Fe, which was founded in 1610 as capital of Nuevo México, while its largest city is Albuquerque with its accompanying metropolitan area. It is one of the Mountain States and shares the Four Corners region with Utah, Colorado, and Arizona; its other neighboring states are Oklahoma to the northeast, Texas to the east-southeast, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua to the south and Sonora to the southwest. With a population around two million, New Mexico is the 36th state by population. With a total area of 121,592 sq mi (314,920 km2), it is the fifth-largest and sixth-least densely populated of the 50 states. Due to their geographic locations, northern and eastern New Mexico exhibit a colder, alpine climate, while western and southern New Mexico exhibit a warmer, arid climate.


Navajo is an Athabaskan language, and along with Apache languages, make up the southernmost branch of the family. Most of the other Athabaskan languages are located in Alaska and along the North American Pacific coast.

Athabaskan languages large group of indigenous languages of North America

Athabaskan is a large family of indigenous languages of North America, located in western North America in three groups of contiguous languages: Northern, Pacific Coast and Southern. Kari and Potter 2010:10 place the total territory of the 53 Athabaskan languages at 4,022,000 square kilometres (1,553,000 sq mi).

Most languages in the Athabaskan family have tone. However, this feature evolved independently in all subgroups; Proto-Athabaskan had no tones. [7] In each case, tone evolved from glottalic consonants at the ends of morphemes; however, the progression of these consonants into tones has not been consistent, with some related morphemes being pronounced with high tones in some Athabaskan languages and low tones in others. It has been posited that Navajo and Chipewyan, which have no common ancestor more recent than Proto-Athabaskan and possess many pairs of corresponding but opposite tones, evolved from different dialects of Proto-Athabaskan that pronounced these glottalic consonants differently. [8] Proto-Athabaskan diverged fully into separate languages circa 500 BC. [9]

A glottalic consonant is a consonant produced with some important contribution of the glottis.

Chipewyan, ethnonym DënesųłinéIPA: [tènɛ̀sũ̀ɬìnɛ́], is the language spoken by the Chipewyan people of northwestern Canada. It is categorized as part of the Northern Athabaskan language family. Dënesųłiné has nearly 12,000 speakers in Canada, mostly in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. It has official status only in the Northwest Territories, alongside 8 other aboriginal languages: Cree, Dogrib, Gwich'in, Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey and South Slavey.

Navajo is most closely related to Western Apache, with which it shares a similar tonal scheme [10] and more than 92 percent of its vocabulary. It is estimated that the Apacheean linguistic groups separated and became established as distinct societies, of which the Navajo were one, somewhere between 1300 and 1525. [11] As a member of the Western Apachean group, Navajo's next closest relatives is the Mescalero-Chiricahua language. [12] Navajo is generally considered mutually intelligible with all other Apachean languages. [13]


Examples of written Navajo on public signs. Clockwise from top left: Student Services Building, Dine College; cougar exhibit, Navajo Nation Zoo; shopping center near Navajo, New Mexico; notice of reserved parking, Window Rock NavajoSigns.png
Examples of written Navajo on public signs. Clockwise from top left: Student Services Building, Diné College; cougar exhibit, Navajo Nation Zoo; shopping center near Navajo, New Mexico; notice of reserved parking, Window Rock

The Apachean languages, of which Navajo is one, are thought to have arrived in the American Southwest from the north by 1500 CE, probably passing through Alberta and Wyoming. [14] [15] Archaeological finds considered to be proto-Navajo have been located in the far northern New Mexico around the La Plata, Animas and Pine rivers, dating to around 1500. In 1936, linguist Edward Sapir showed how the arrival of the Navajo people in the new arid climate among the corn agriculturalists of the Pueblo area was reflected in their language by tracing the changing meanings of words from Proto-Athabaskan to Navajo. For example, the word *dè:, which in Proto-Athabaskan meant "horn" and "dipper made from animal horn", in Navajo came to mean "gourd" or "dipper made from gourd". Likewise, the Proto-Athabaskan word *ɫ-yáxs "snow lies on the ground" in Navajo became sàs "corn lies on the ground". Similarly, the Navajo word for "corn" is nà:-dą:, derived from two Proto-Athabaskan roots meaning "enemy" and "food", suggesting that the Navajo originally considered corn to be "food of the enemy" when they first arrived among the Pueblo people. [16] [17]

Colonization and decline

General Clayton Barney Vogel's recommendation letter for Navajo to be used by code talkers during World War II Navaho-enlistment-letter-page01.jpg
General Clayton Barney Vogel's recommendation letter for Navajo to be used by code talkers during World War II

Navajo lands were initially colonized by the Spanish in the early nineteenth century, shortly after this area was "annexed" as part of the Spanish colony of Mexico. When the United States annexed these territories in 1848 following the Mexican–American War, [18] the English-speaking settlers allowed[ citation needed ] Navajo children to attend their schools. In some cases, the United States established separate schools for Navajo and other Native American children. In the late 19th century, it founded boarding schools, often operated by religious missionary groups. In efforts to acculturate the children, school authorities insisted that they learn to speak English and practice Christianity. Students routinely had their mouths washed out with lye soap as a punishment if they did speak Navajo. Consequently, when these students grew up and had children of their own, they often did not teach them Navajo, in order to prevent them from being punished. [19]

Robert W. Young and William Morgan (Navajo), who both worked for the Navajo Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, developed and published a practical orthography in 1937. It helped spread education among Navajo speakers. [20] In 1943 the men collaborated on The Navajo Language, a dictionary organized by the roots of the language. [21] In World War II, the United States military used speakers of Navajo as code talkers  – to transmit top-secret military messages over telephone and radio in a code based on Navajo. The language was considered ideal because of its grammar, which differs strongly from that of German and Japanese, and because no published Navajo dictionaries existed at the time. [22]

Despite gaining new scholarly attention and being documented, the language declined in use. By the 1960s, indigenous languages of the United States had been declining in use for some time. Native American language use began to decline more quickly in this decade as paved roads were built and English-language radio was broadcast to tribal areas. Navajo was no exception, although its large speaker pool—larger than that of any other Native language in the United States—gave it more staying power than most. [23] Adding to the language's decline, federal acts passed in the 1950s to increase educational opportunities for Navajo children had resulted in pervasive use of English in their schools. [24]

Revitalization and current status

In 1968, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Bilingual Education Act, which provided funds for educating young students who are not native English speakers. The Act had mainly been intended for Spanish-speaking children—particularly Mexican Americans—but it applied to all recognized linguistic minorities. Many Native American tribes seized the chance to establish their own bilingual education programs. However, qualified teachers who were fluent in Native languages were scarce, and these programs were largely unsuccessful. [23]

However, data collected in 1980 showed that 85 percent of Navajo first-graders were bilingual, compared to 62 percent of Navajo of all ages – early evidence of a resurgence of use of their traditional language among younger people. [25] In 1984, to counteract the language's historical decline, the Navajo Nation Council decreed that the Navajo language would be available and comprehensive for students of all grade levels in schools of the Navajo Nation. [23] This effort was aided by the fact that, largely due to the work of Young and Morgan, Navajo is one of the best-documented Native American languages. In 1980 they published a monumental expansion of their work on the language, organized by word (first initial of vowel or consonant) in the pattern of English dictionaries, as requested by Navajo students. The Navajo Language: A Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary also included a 400-page grammar, making it invaluable for both native speakers and students of the language. Particularly in its organization of verbs, it was oriented to Navajo speakers. [26] They expanded this work again in 1987, with several significant additions, and this edition continues to be used as an important text. [21]

The Native American language education movement has been met with adversity, such as by English-only campaigns in some areas in the late 1990s. However, Navajo-immersion programs have cropped up across the Navajo Nation. Statistical evidence shows that Navajo-immersion students generally do better on standardized tests than their counterparts educated only in English. Some educators have remarked that students who know their native languages feel a sense of pride and identity validation. [27] Since 1989, Diné College, a Navajo tribal community college, has offered an associate degree in the subject of Navajo. [28] This program includes language, literature, culture, medical terminology, and teaching courses and produces the highest number of Navajo teachers of any institution in the United States. About 600 students attend per semester. [29] One major university that teaches classes in the Navajo language is Arizona State University. [30] In 1992, Young and Morgan published another major work on Navajo: Analytical Lexicon of Navajo, with the assistance of Sally Midgette (Navajo). This work is organized by root, the basis of Athabaskan languages. [21]

A 1991 survey of 682 preschoolers in the Navajo Reservation Head Start program found that 54 percent were monolingual English speakers, 28 percent were bilingual in English and Navajo, and 18 percent spoke only Navajo. This study noted that while the preschool staff knew both languages, they spoke English to the children most of the time. In addition, most of the children's parents spoke to the children in English more often than in Navajo. The study concluded that the preschoolers were in "almost total immersion in English". [31] An American Community Survey taken in 2011 found that 169,369 Americans spoke Navajo at home – 0.3 percent of Americans whose primary home language was not English. Of primary Navajo speakers, 78.8 percent reported they spoke English "very well", a fairly high percentage overall but less than among other Americans speaking a different Native American language (85.4 percent). Navajo was the only Native American language afforded its own category in the survey; domestic Navajo speakers represented 46.4 percent of all domestic Native language speakers (only 195,407 Americans have a different home Native language). [1] As of July 2014, Ethnologue classes Navajo as "6b" (In Trouble), signifying that few, but some, parents teach the language to their offspring and that concerted efforts at revitalization could easily protect the language. Navajo had a high population for a language in this category. [32] About half of all Navajo people live on the Navajo Nation, an area spanning parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah; others are dispersed throughout the United States. [18] Under tribal law, fluency in Navajo is mandatory for candidates to the office of the President of the Navajo Nation. [33]

Both original and translated media have been produced in Navajo. The first works tended to be religious texts translated by missionaries, including the Bible. From 1943 to about 1957, the Navajo Agency of the BIA published Ádahooníłígíí ("Events" [34] ), the first newspaper in Navajo and the only one to be written entirely in Navajo. It was edited by Robert W. Young and William Morgan, Sr. (Navajo). They had collaborated on The Navajo Language, a major language dictionary published that same year, and continued to work on studying and documenting the language in major works for the next few decades. [21] Today an AM radio station, KTNN, broadcasts in Navajo and English, with programming including music and NFL games; [35] AM station KNDN broadcasts only in Navajo. [36] When Super Bowl XXX was broadcast in Navajo in 1996, it was the first time a Super Bowl had been carried in a Native American language. [37] In 2013, the 1977 film Star Wars was translated into Navajo. It was the first major motion picture translated into any Native American language. [38] [39]

On October 5, 2018, an early beta of a Navajo course was released on Duolingo. [40]


The Navajo Nation operates Tséhootsooí Diné Bi'ólta', a Navajo language immersion school for grades K-8 in Fort Defiance, Arizona. Located on the Arizona-New Mexico border in the southeastern quarter of the Navajo Reservation, the school strives to revitalize Navajo among children of the Window Rock Unified School District. Tséhootsooí Diné Bi'ólta' has thirteen Navajo language teachers who instruct only in the Navajo language, and no English, while five English language teachers instruct in the English language. Kindergarten and first grade are taught completely in the Navajo language, while English is incorporated into the program during third grade, when it is used for about 10% of instruction. [41]


Navajo has a fairly large consonant inventory. Its stop consonants exist in three laryngeal forms: aspirated, unaspirated, and ejective  – for example, /tʃʰ/, /tʃ/, and /tʃʼ/ (all close to the "ch" sound in English). [42] Ejective consonants are pronounced glottally;[ clarification needed ][ does that mean they're not ejective? ] Navajo also has a simple glottal stop used after vowels, [43] and every word that would otherwise begin with a vowel is pronounced with an initial glottal stop. [44] Consonant clusters are uncommon, aside from frequent placing /d/ or /t/ before fricatives. [45]

The language has four vowel qualities: /a/, /e/, /i/, and /o/. [45] Each exists in both oral and nasalized forms, and can be either short or long. [46] Navajo also distinguishes for tone between high and low, with the low tone typically regarded as the default. However, some linguists have suggested that Navajo does not possess true tones, but only a pitch accent system similar to that of Japanese. [47] In general, Navajo speech also has a slower speech tempo than English does. [43]

Bilabial Alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lateral fricated plain lab. plain lab.
Obstruent Stop unaspirated pttskʔ
aspirated tɬʰtsʰtʃʰ(kʷʰ)
ejective tɬʼtsʼtʃʼ
Continuant fortis ɬsʃx()(h)()
lenis lzʒɣ(ɣʷ)
Sonorant Nasal plainmn
glottalized ()()
Glide plainj(w)
glottalized ()()
Vowel height Front Back
High i ~ ɪĩ
Mid eoõ
Low ɑɑ̃



Navajo is difficult to classify in terms of broad morphological typology: it relies heavily on affixes—mainly prefixes—like agglutinative languages, [48] but these affixes are joined in unpredictable, overlapping ways that make them difficult to segment, a trait of fusional languages. [49] In general, Navajo verbs contain more morphemes than do nouns (on average, 11 for verbs compared to 4–5 for nouns), but noun morphology is less transparent. [50] Navajo is sometimes classified as a fusional language [49] [51] and sometimes as agglutinative or even polysynthetic. [19] [52]

In terms of basic word order, Navajo has been classified as a subject–object–verb language. [53] [54] However, some speakers order the subject and object based on "noun ranking". In this system, nouns are ranked in three categories—humans, animals, and inanimate objects—and within these categories, nouns are ranked by strength, size, and intelligence. Whichever of the subject and object has a higher rank comes first. As a result, the agent of an action may be syntactically ambiguous. [55] Other linguists such as Eloise Jelinek consider Navajo to be a discourse configurational language, in which word order is not fixed by syntactic rules, but determined by pragmatic factors in the communicative context. [56]


In Navajo, verbs are the main elements of their sentences, imparting a large amount of information. The verb is based on a stem, which is made of a root to identify the action and the semblance of a suffix to convey mode and aspect; however, this suffix is fused beyond separability. [57] The stem is given somewhat more transparent prefixes to indicate, in this order, the following information: postpositional object, postposition, adverb-state, iterativity, number, direct object, deictic information, another adverb-state, mode and aspect, subject, classifier (see later on), mirativity and two-tier evidentiality. Some of these prefixes may be null; for example, there is only a plural marker (da/daa) and no readily identifiable marker for the other grammatical numbers. [58]

Navajo does not distinguish strict tense per se; instead, an action's position in time is conveyed through mode, aspect, but also time adverbials or context. Each verb has an inherent aspect and can be conjugated in up to seven modes. [59] These forms are as follows:

For any verb, the usitative and repetitive modes share the same stem, as do the progressive and future modes; these modes are distinguished with prefixes. However, pairs of modes other than these may also share the same stem, [70] as illustrated in the following example, where the verb "to play" is conjugated into each of the five mode paradigms:

The basic set of subject prefixes for the imperfective mode, as well as the actual conjugation of the verb into these person and number categories, are as follows. [71]

The remaining piece of these conjugated verbs—the prefix na-—is called an "outer" or "disjunct" prefix. It is the marker of the Continuative aspect (to play about). [72]

Navajo distinguishes between the first, second, third, and fourth persons in the singular, dual, and plural numbers. [73] The fourth person is similar to the third person, but is generally used for indefinite, theoretical actors rather than defined ones. [74] Despite the potential for extreme verb complexity, only the mode/aspect, subject, classifier, and stem are absolutely necessary. [58] Furthermore, Navajo negates clauses by surrounding the verb with the circumclitic doo= ... =da (e.g. mósí doo nitsaa da 'the cat is not big'). Dooda, as a single word, corresponds to English no. [75]

Classificatory verbs are a set of verbal roots distinguishing eleven shapes and three classes of motion for each shape. [76] [77] The motion classes are:

The shapes are listed here with their standard names and their corresponding handle root. [76]

For example, Navajo has no single verb that corresponds to the English 'give'. To say 'give me some hay', the Navajo verb níłjool (Non-Compact Matter) must be used, while for 'give me a cigarette' the verb nítįįh (SSO) must be used. Navajo also contains a separate system of classifiers that generally marks for voice. There are four classifiers: Ø-, ł- , d- , and l- , placed between the personal prefixes and the verbal stem. The ł- classifier indicates causation (transitivity increase), e.g. yibéézh (yi-Ø-béézh) 'it's boiling' vs. yiłbéézh (yi-ł-béézh) 'he's boiling it'. The d- and l- classifiers indicate passive voice (transitivity reduction), e.g. yizéés (yi-Ø-zéés) 'he's singeing it' vs. yidéés (yi-d-zéés) 'it's being singed' . The d- classifier is used to detransitivize verbs with Ø-, while l- is used for verbs with ł-. [78]


Nouns are not required to form a complete Navajo sentence. Besides the extensive information that can be communicated with a verb, Navajo speakers may alternate between the third and fourth person to distinguish between two already specified actors, similarly to how speakers of languages with grammatical gender may repeatedly use pronouns. [79]

Because so much information is conveyed in the verb, nouns are relatively immutable; for example, most nouns are not inflected for number. [75]

Number marking on nouns occurs only for terms of kinship and age-sex groupings. Other prefixes that can be added to nouns include possessive markers (e.g. chidí 'car' - shichidí 'my car') and a few adjectival enclitics. Generally, an upper limit for prefixes on a noun is about four or five. [80]

Nouns are also not marked for case, this traditionally being covered by word order. [81]

Other parts of speech

Other parts of speech in Navajo are also relatively immutable, and tend to be short. These parts of speech include question particles, demonstrative adjectives, relative pronouns, interjections, conjunctions, [82] and adverbs (both unique ones and those based on verbs). [83] The Navajo numeral system is decimal, and some example numbers follow. [84]

Navajo does not contain a single part of speech analogous to adjectives; rather, some verbs describe static qualitative attributes (e.g. nitsaa 'he/she/it is large'), and demonstrative adjectives (e.g. díí 'this/these') are their own part of speech. However, these verbs, known as "neuter verbs", are distinguished by only having the imperfective mode, as they describe continuous states of being. [85]


The vast majority of Navajo vocabulary is of Athabaskan origin. [86] However, the vocabulary size is still fairly small; one estimate counted 6,245 noun bases and 9,000 verb bases, with most of these nouns being derived from verbs. [80] Prior to the European colonization of the Americas, Navajo did not borrow much from other languages, including from other Athabaskan and even Apachean languages. The Athabaskan family is fairly diverse in both phonology and morphology due to its languages' prolonged relative isolation. [86] Even the Pueblo peoples, with whom the Navajo interacted with for centuries and borrowed cultural customs, have lent few words to the Navajo language. After Spain and Mexico took over Navajo lands, the language did not incorporate many Spanish words, either. [87]

This resistance to word absorption extended to English, at least until the mid-twentieth century. Around this point, the Navajo language began importing some, though still not many, English words, mainly by young schoolchildren exposed to English. [24]

Navajo has expanded its vocabulary to include Western technological and cultural terms through calques and Navajo descriptive terms. For example, the phrase for English tank is chidi naa naʼi bee ʼeldǫǫh tsoh, bikaaʼ dah naazniligii 'vehicle that crawls around, by means of which big explosions are made, and that one sits on at an elevation'. This language purism also extends to proper nouns, such as the names of U.S. states (e.g. Hoozdo 'Arizona' and Yootó 'New Mexico'; see also hahoodzo 'state') and languages (naakaii 'Spanish').

Only one Navajo word has been fully absorbed into the English language: hogan (from Navajo hooghan) – a term referring to the traditional houses. [88] Others with limited English recognition include chindi (an evil spirit of the deceased), [89] and Kayenta (a place name, from tééʼndééh 'game pit where wild animals fall into deep water'). [90] The taxonomic genus name Uta may be of Navajo origin. [91] It has been speculated that English-speaking settlers were reluctant to take on more Navajo loanwords compared to many other Native American languages, including the Hopi language, because the Navajo were among the most violent resisters to colonialism. [92]


Standard ASCII (top) and Unicode (bottom) keyboards for Navajo KB USA-Navajo.svg
Standard ASCII (top) and Unicode (bottom) keyboards for Navajo

Early attempts at a Navajo orthography were made in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One such attempt was based on the Latin alphabet, particularly the English variety, with some additional letters and diacritics. Anthropologists were frustrated by Navajo's having several sounds that are not found in English and lack of other sounds that are. [93] Finally, the current Navajo orthography was developed between 1935 and 1940 [20] by Young and Morgan. The first Navajo-capable typewriter was developed in preparation for a Navajo newspaper and dictionary created in the 1940s. The advent of early computers in the 1960s necessitated special fonts to input Navajo text, and the first Navajo font was created in the 1970s. [94] Navajo virtual keyboards were made available for iOS devices in November 2012 and Android devices in August 2013. [95]

An apostrophe (ʼ) is used to mark ejective consonants (e.g. chʼ, tłʼ) [96] as well as mid-word or final glottal stops. However, initial glottal stops are usually not marked. [44] The voiceless glottal fricative (/h/) is normally written as h, but appears as x after the consonants s, z, and digraphs ending in h to avoid phonological ambiguity. [96] [97] The voiced velar fricative is written as y before i and e (where it is palatalized /ʝ/), as w before o (where it is labialized /ɣʷ/), and as gh before a. [98]

Navajo represents nasalized vowels with an ogonek ( ˛ ), sometimes described as a reverse cedilla; and represents the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative (/ɬ/) with a barred L (capital Ł, lowercase ł). [94] The ogonek is placed centrally under a vowel, but it was imported from Polish and Lithuanian, which do not use it under certain vowels such as o or any vowels with accent marks; as of 2017, no Unicode font has been developed to properly accommodate Navajo typography. Google is working to correct this oversight with Noto fonts.

Navajo orthography

Sample text

This is the first paragraph of a Navajo short story. [99]

Navajo original:Ashiiké tʼóó diigis léiʼ tółikaní łaʼ ádiilnííł dóó nihaa nahidoonih níigo yee hodeezʼą́ jiní. Áko tʼáá ałʼąą chʼil naʼatłʼoʼii kʼiidiilá dóó hááhgóóshį́į́ yinaalnishgo tʼáá áłah chʼil naʼatłʼoʼii néineestʼą́ jiní. Áádóó tółikaní áyiilaago tʼáá bíhígíí tʼáá ałʼąą tłʼízíkágí yiiʼ haidééłbįįd jiní. "Háadida díí tółikaní yígíí doo łaʼ ahaʼdiidził da," níigo ahaʼdeetʼą́ jiníʼ. Áádóó baa nahidoonih biniiyé kintahgóó dah yidiiłjid jiníʼ ...

English translation: Some crazy boys decided to make some wine to sell, so they each planted grapevines and, working hard on them, they raised them to maturity. Then, having made wine, they each filled a goatskin with it. They agreed that at no time would they give each other a drink of it, and they then set out for town lugging the goatskins on their backs ...

See also


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