Tonkawa language

Last updated
Native to United States
RegionWestern Oklahoma, South-central Texas and into New Mexico
Ethnicity Tonkawa
Extinct ca. 1940
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tqw
Glottolog tonk1249
Tonkawa lang.png
Pre-contact distribution of the Tonkawa language
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The Tonkawa language was spoken in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico by the Tonkawa people. A language isolate, with no known related languages, [1] Tonkawa has not had L1 speakers since the mid 1900s. [2] Most Tonkawa people now only speak English.[ citation needed ]




Tonkawa has 10 vowels:

Front Back
short long short long short long
Close iu
Mid eo
Open a


Tonkawa has 15 consonants:

Bilabial Coronal Dorsal Glottal
plain labial
Nasal mn
Plosive ptkʔ
Affricate t͡s
Fricative sxh
Approximant ljw

Consonant clusters

There are two environments in which consonant clusters occur in Tonkawa:

Repeated or identical consonants are treated as one unit. However, the condition that causes this repetition has not been fully analyzed.

There are cases where the glottal stop is not used in the cluster or combination

There are certain consonants that can either begin or end in a cluster. However, if the cluster begins the syllable, there can be no intervening vowel.

Phonological processes and morphophonemics

Initial stem syllables that begin with h-

Final stem syllables

An interesting feature of Tonkawan phonology is that the vowels in even-numbered syllables are reduced. That is, long vowels are shortened, while short vowels disappear. Analyses of this were given by Kisseberth (1970), Phelps (1973, 1975) and Noske (1993).

Syllable structure

The Tonkawa language is a syllabic language that bases its word and sentence prosody on even stressed syllables.

There are five types of syllable arrangements: (CL consonant, CC: consonant cluster, V: vowel)


The morphemes in Tonkawa can be divided as follows:

I. Themes

In Tonkawa the theme is composed of morphologic units. The basic unit is the stem. The stem is composed of two elements (the consonant and vowel) and modified by affixes. The theme, or stem, is functional, which means it changes as more affixation is added. This leads to the fusion of the stem and affix where it becomes difficult to isolate the word into its smaller units.

II. Affixes

III. Enclitics


In English, pronouns, nouns, verbs, etc., are individual words; Tonkawa forms the parts of speech differently, and the most important grammatical function is affixation. This process shows the subjects, objects, and pronouns of words and/or verbs. Within affixations, the suffix has more importance than the prefix.

The differentiation between subject and object is shown in the suffix. While the word order tends to be subject-object-verb (SOV), compounding words is very common in Tonkawa. Reduplication is very common in Tonkawa and affects only the verb themes. Usually, only one syllable undergoes reduplication, and it notes a repeated action, vigorous action, or a plural subject.


Nouns function as free themes, or stems, in Tonkawa. There is a limit of only two or three affixes that can compound with a noun. However, there are cases of a bound theme occurring in noun compounds, which occurs with the suffix -an is added. In English, pronouns and nouns are usually grouped together, but because pronouns in Tonkawa are bound themes, they will be discussed with the verb section.

Noun endings

CaseIndefinite (singular/plural)Definite (singular/plural)
Nominative-la/ -ka-ʔaːla/ -ʔaːka
Accusative-lak/ -kak-ʔaːlak/ -ʔaːkak
Dative (Arrival)-ʔaːyik
Dative (Approach)-ʔaːwʔan
Instrumental-es / -kas-aːlas/ -ʔaːkay
Vocative(bare stem)(bare stem)


Verbs are bound morphemes that have a limit of only two themes, the second theme being the modifying theme and usually serving as an adverbial theme. However, if the suffix -ʔe/-wa is added the verb functions as a free theme.


Pronouns are not used except for emphasis on the subject and are affixated as prefixes. Person and number are usually indicated by the affixation of the verb. Most pronouns are bound themes, especially the demonstrative pronouns.

Personal PronounTonkawa Personal PronounEnglish Personal Pronoun
1st person singularsaː-me
2nd person singularnaː-you
3rd person singularʔa-him/her
1st person pluralkew-saː-we/us
2nd person pluralwe-naː-you pl./them

Demonstrative pronouns

Demonstrative adverbs can be formed by adding -ca 'place', -l 'direction', -c 'manner' to the demonstrative pronouns below. Example: waː 'that one aforementioned' + ca 'place = 'waː-ca 'that place aforementioned'

Interrogative pronouns can be formed by adding the prefix he- to the demonstrative pronouns as well by using the same format for the demonstrative adverbs. Example: he 'interrogative' + teː 'this' + l 'direction' = he-teː-l 'where'

Indefinite pronouns can also be formed with affixation. (Interrogative + ʔax) Example: hecuː 'what' + ʔax = hecuː-ʔax 'anything, something, anyone, someone'

Tonkawa DemonstrativeEnglish Demonstrative
waː-the one aforementioned
heʔe/ heʔeː/ heːthat
weː(that) one yonder

Also within the verbal-prefix category are the causatives ya- and nec-, where ya- is the older form.

Verb suffixes

Verb suffixes are important in Tonkawa because they usually indicate the tense, negativity, and manner (outside of what is conveyed in the aforementioned prefixes) of the action performed.

-ape/-apNegation suffixfollows the theme but follows a second-person plural object pronoun, if present
-nesʔe/ -nesʔDual subject suffixfollows the negation suffix, future tense suffix, and second-person plural object pronoun
-wesʔe/ -weʔPlural subject suffixsame position as the dual subject; occurs in the first and second persons in all modes
-aːtew/ -aːtoFuture tense suffixafter the stem/theme (present tense: -ʔe or just -ʔ; past tense: -ʔej or -ʔeːje)
-no/ -nContinuative suffixafter the stem
-we/ -/ -odeclarative mode suffixafter the present or past tense
-kʷaExclamatory suffixafter the 3rd person singular or at the end of the word
-wImperative modeonly in the singular, dual, or second-person plural


Enclitics are bound morphemes that are suffixed to verbs, nouns, and demonstratives that end with -k. Enclitics often express modal concepts in Tonkawa, which occur in the declarative, interrogative, and quotative/narrative clauses or statements.

ClauseSuffixSpecial Circumstances
Declarative-aw or -aːwe
Interrogative-je or -jelkʷaboth take the ʔ suffix unless there is an interrogative pronoun
Quotative/ Narrative-noʔo/ -laknoʔoonly added to verb forms with –k suffix and if the verb is used in telling a mythical story

Writing system

The orthography used on the Tonkawa Tribe's website is similar to Americanist phonetic notation.

'  or ?/ʔ/  

Long vowels are indicated with a following middle dot ·. The affricate /ts/ is written c. The glottal stop /ʔ/ is written as either an apostrophe ' or as a superscript question mark ?. The palatal glide /j/ is written y.

The phonemic orthography used in Hoijer's Tonkawa Texts is a later version of Americanist transcription. It uses a colon for long vowels : and the traditional glottal stop symbol ʔ. Examples are mummun 'salt' and mummunchicew 'pepper'.


The following text is the first four sentences of Coyote and Jackrabbit, from Hoijer's Tonkawa Texts .

ha·csokonayla ha·nanoklaknoˀo xamˀalˀa·yˀik. ˀe·kʷa tanmaslakʷa·low hecne·laklaknoˀo lak. ha·csokonayla "ˀo·c!" noklaknoˀo. "ˀekʷanesxaw sa·ken nenxales!" noklaknoˀo. ˀe·ta tanmaslakʷa·lowa·ˀa·lak hewleklaknoˀo.


Coyote / he was going along, S / on the prairie. When he did so / Jackrabbit / he was lying, S / (accus.). Coyote / "Oho!" / he said, S. "Horse /my / I have found it!" / he said, S. And then / that Jackrabbit afm / he caught him, S.

In this gloss, S is an abbreviation for "it is said", and afm for "the aforementioned".

Vocabulary [3]


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  1. Campbell, Lyle (2000). American Indian Languages The Historical Linguistics Of Native America. Oxford University Press. pp.  143. ISBN   9780195140507.
  2. International encyclopedia of linguistics. Frawley, William, 1953- (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2003. ISBN   9780195307450. OCLC   66910002.CS1 maint: others (link)