World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Caddo language

Native to United States
Region Caddo County in western Oklahoma
Ethnicity 5,290 Caddo people (2010 census)[1]
Native speakers
25 (2007)[2]
  • Caddo
Language codes
ISO 639-2 cad
ISO 639-3 cad
Glottolog cadd1256[3]
Map showing the distribution of Oklahoma Indian Languages

Caddo is the only surviving Southern Caddoan language of the Caddo language family. It is spoken by the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.[4] By 2009, only 25 elderly speakers were estimated to remain, none of whom were monolingual Caddo speakers, which made Caddo a critically endangered language.[5] Caddo has several mutually intelligible dialects; some of the more prominent dialects include Kadohadacho, Hasinai, Hainai, Natchitoches, and Yatasi. Today, the most commonly used dialects are Hasinai and Hainai.[6] Caddo is linguistically related to the members of the Northern Caddoan language family; these include the Pawnee-Kitsai (Keechi) languages (Arikara, Kitsai, and Pawnee) and the Wichita language. Kitsai is now extinct, and Pawnee, Arikara, and Wichita each have fewer surviving speakers than Caddo does.[7] Another language, Adai, is postulated to have been a Caddoan language while it was extant, but because of scarce resources and the language’s extinct status, this connection is not conclusive, and Adai is generally considered a language isolate.[7]


  • Use and language revitalization efforts 1
  • Phonology 2
    • Consonants 2.1
    • Vowels 2.2
    • Tone 2.3
    • Tonological processes 2.4
    • Phonological processes 2.5
      • Vowel syncope 2.5.1
      • Consonant cluster simplification 2.5.2
      • Syllable coda simplification 2.5.3
      • Word boundary processes 2.5.4
      • Glottalization 2.5.5
      • Palatalization 2.5.6
      • Lengthening 2.5.7
  • Education and preservation attempts 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Use and language revitalization efforts

As of 2012, the Caddo Nation teaches weekly language classes; language CDs, a coloring book, and an online learning website are also available.[8][9] As of 2010, a Caddo app is available for Android phones.[10]



Caddo has nineteen contrastive consonants, which is a normal-sized consonant inventory. It is somewhat unusual in that it lacks lateral consonants.[11] The IPA symbols for the consonants of Caddo are given below:

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d
Affricate plain ts
ejective tsʼ tʃʼ
Fricative s ʃ h
Approximant j w

Caddo also features contrastive gemination (lengthening) of consonants, which is generally indicated in orthography by a double letter; e.g. /nɑ́ttih/ ‘woman’.[7]


Caddo has three contrastive vowel qualities, /i/, /ɑ/, and /u/, and two contrastive vowel lengths, long and short, for a total of 6 vowel phonemes.

Front Central Back
High i   u  
Low a  

However, there is a great deal of phonetic variation amongst the short vowels. The high front vowel /i/ is generally (but not always) realized as its lower counterpart /ɪ/, and the high back vowel /u/ is similarly often realized as its lower counterpart /ʊ/. The low central vowel /a/ has a wider range of variation, pronounced (most commonly) as /ɐ/ when followed by any consonant except a semivowel or a laryngeal consonant, as a low central vowel (for which IPA lacks a symbol) at the end of an open syllable or when followed by a laryngeal consonant, and as /ə/ before a semivowel.

In general, the long vowels do not feature this kind of variation, but are simply lengthened versions of the phonemes represented in the chart.[12]

Caddo also has four diphthongs, which can be written a number of different ways; the transcription below shows the typical Caddo Nation orthography (a vowel paired with a glide) and the IPA version, represented with vowels and offglides.[7]

  • ay /aj/ – Pronounced like English ‘eye’
  • aw /aw/ – Pronounced like ‘’ou’’ in English ‘out’
  • iw /iw/ – Pronounced like English ‘ew’
  • uy /uj/ – Pronounced like ‘’uoy’’ in English ‘buoy’


Caddo is a tone language. There are three tones in Caddo: low tone, which is unmarked (a); high tone, which is marked by an acute accent over the vowel (á); and falling tone, which is always long, and marked by a grave accent over the vowel (àː).

Tone occurs both lexically (as a property of the word), non-lexically (as a result of tonological processes), and also as a marker of certain morphological features; for instance, the past tense marker is associated with high tone.[12]

Tonological processes

There are three processes that can create non-lexical high tone within a syllable nucleus.[12] (Note: see the section below for an explanation of other phonological changes which may occur in the following examples.)

1. H-deletion
VhCC → VHighCC
An /h/ before two consonants is deleted and the preceding vowel gains high tone.
Ex: /kiʃwɑhn-t-ʔuh/ → [kiʃwɑ́nːt’uh] ‘parched corn’
2. Low tone-deletion
A low tone vowel following a resonant (sonorant consonant) is deleted and the preceding vowel gains high tone.
Ex: /sa-baka-nah-hah/ → [sawkɑ́nːhah] ‘does he mean it?’
3. Backwards assimilation
VRVHigh → VHighRVHigh
A vowel preceding a resonant and a high tone vowel gains high tone.
Ex: /nanɑ́/ → [nɑ́nɑ́ː] ‘that, that one’

Phonological processes

Vowel syncope

There are two vowel syncope processes in Caddo, which both involve the loss of a low-tone vowel in certain environments.[12] The first syncope process is already described as Low tone-deletion (above). The second syncope process is described below:

Interconsonantal Syncope
A low-tone vowel in between a vowel-consonant sequence and a consonant-vowel sequence is deleted.
Example (shown with intermediary form): /kak#(ʔi)t’us-jaʔah/ → kahʔit’uʃaʔah → [kahʔit’uʃʔah] ‘foam, suds’

Consonant cluster simplification

As a result of the syncope processes described above, several consonant clusters emerge which are then invariably simplified by way of phonological process. At the present stage of research, these processes seem to be unrelated, except that they represent a phonetic reduction in consonant clusters; therefore, they are listed below without much further explanation.[12]

1. nw → mm
2. tw → pp
3. tk → kk
4. n → m / __ [+labial]
5. ʔʔ → ʔ
6. hh → h
7. ʔ+Resonant → Resonant+ʔ / syllable final

Syllable coda simplification

Similar to the consonant cluster simplification process, there are four processes by which a syllable-final consonant is altered.[12]

1. b → w / syllable final
2. d → t / syllable final
3. k → h / syllable final (but not before k)
4. tʃ → ʃ / syllable final

Word boundary processes

There are three word-boundary processes in Caddo, all of which occur word-initially:

1. n → t / # __
2. w → p / # __
3. y → d / # __
Ex. /ni-huhn-id-ah/ → [tihúndah] ‘she returned it’

These processes are generally not applicable in the case of proclitics (morphemes which behave like an affix and are phonologically dependent on the morpheme they are attached to, e.g. an apple in English).[12]


Caddo has a glottalization process by which any voiceless stop or affricate (except p) becomes an ejective when followed by a glottal stop.[12]

[-sonorant, -continuant, -voice, -labial, -spread glottis] → [+constricted glottis] / ___ [+constricted glottis, -spread glottis]
A voiceless stop or affricate (except p) becomes an ejective when followed by a glottal stop.
Ex. /sik-ʔuh/ → [sik’uh] ‘rock’


Caddo has a palatalization process which affects certain consonants when followed by /j/, with simultaneous loss of the /j/.

a) /kj/ → [tʃ]
b) /sj/ → [ʃ]
Ex. /kak#ʔa-k’as-jaʔah/ → [kahʔak’a ʃʔah] ‘one’s leg’

(Melnar includes a third palatization process, /tj/ → [ts]. However, /ts/ is not a palatal affricate, so this process has not been included here. Nevertheless, it is probably the case that this third process does occur.)[12]


Caddo has three processes by which a syllable nucleus (vowel) may be lengthened.[12]

Syllable Lengthening Process One
VHigh(Resonant)CVC# → VHigh(Resonant)ːCVC#
When the second-to-last syllable in a word has a nucleus consisting of a high tone vowel (and, optionally, a resonant), and the last syllable has the form CVC, then the high tone nucleus is lengthened.
Ex. /bak-‘ʔawɑ́waʔ/ → [bahʔwɑ́ːwaʔ] ‘they said’
Syllable Lengthening Process Two
V(Resonant)ʔ → V(Resonant) ː / in any prepenultimate syllable
In any syllable before the penultimate, a glottal stop coda is deleted, and the remaining nucleus is lengthened.
Ex. /hɑ́k#ci-(ʔi)bíhn-saʔ/ → [hɑ́hciːbíːsaʔ] ‘I have it on my back’
Syllable Lengthening Process Three
a) ij → iː
b) uw →uː
Any syllable nucleus consisting of ij or uw must convert to a long vowel.

Education and preservation attempts

The Caddo Nation is making a concentrated effort to save the Caddo language. The Kiwat Hasinay ('Caddo Home') foundation, located at the tribal home of Binger, Oklahoma, offers regular Caddo language classes, in addition to creating dictionaries, phrase books, and other Caddo language resources. They have also made a long-term project of trying to record and digitally archive Caddoan oral traditions, which are an important part of Caddo culture.[13]


  1. ^ "2010 Census CPH-T-6. American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes in the United States and Puerto Rico: 2010" (PDF). 
  2. ^ Caddo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Caddo".  
  4. ^ The Linguist List
  5. ^ SIL International, 2009
  6. ^ Caddo Nation, 2007
  7. ^ a b c d Native Languages of the Americas, 2011
  8. ^ "Caddo Nation - Language". The Caddo nation. Retrieved 2012-10-30. 
  9. ^ "The Caddo Language Learning Tool". Retrieved 2012-10-30. 
  10. ^ "Caddo Language App Now Available on Android Market". alterNative Media. Retrieved 2012-10-30. 
  11. ^ World Atlas of Language Structures Online
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Melnar, 2004
  13. ^ Kiwat Hasinay Foundation, 2005


  • Caddo Nation. 2007. Caddo Nation – Language. (October 20, 2011).
  • Kiwat Hasinay Foundation. 2005. Kiwat Hasinay Foundation. (October 20, 2011).
  • Melnar, Lynette R. 2004. Caddo Verb Morphology. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Native Languages of the Americas. 2011. Caddo Language and the Caddo Indian Tribe (Kadohidacho, Hasinai, Hasinay). (October 20, 2011).
  • World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Caddo. (October 20, 2011).

External links

  • Kiwat Hasinay Foundation
  • Caddo Alphabet (PDF)
  • Kúhaʔahat Oklahoma! - How to say "hello" in Caddo
  • Caddo Indian Language (Hatsinai)
  • Search-able Caddo Language Dictionary on Socrata, created by Michael Sheyahshe (replaces Caddo WebLEX)
  • OLAC resources in and about the Caddo language
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.