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Navajo language

Diné bizaad
Native to United States
Region Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado
Native speakers
169,359  (2011)[1]
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

Navajo or Navaho (pronunciation: or ; Navajo: Diné bizaad or Naabeehó bizaad ) is a language of the Athabaskan branch 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 in the Navajo Nation political area. It is one of the most widely spoken Native American languages and is the most widely spoken north of the U.S.–Mexico 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 in the Navajo Nation.

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. The language's orthography, which was developed in the late 1930s after a series of unsuccessful 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.

Basic word order is subject–object–verb, though it is highly flexible to pragmatic factors. 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. 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.


  • History 1
    • Prior to European colonization 1.1
    • Colonization and decline 1.2
    • Revitalization and current status 1.3
  • Phonology 2
  • Vocabulary 3
  • Grammar 4
    • Typology 4.1
    • Verbs 4.2
    • Nouns 4.3
    • Other parts of speech 4.4
  • Orthography 5
  • Sample text 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
    • Educational 10.1
    • Linguistics and other reference 10.2
  • External links 11
    • Linguistics 11.1


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

Prior to European colonization

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.[3] The alternate spelling Navaho is considered antiquated; even anthropologist Berard Haile spelled it with a "j" in accordance with contemporary usage despite his personal objections.[4] The Navajo refer to themselves as the Diné ("people"), with their language known as Diné bizaad ("people's language").[5]

Most languages in the Athabaskan family have tone. However, this feature evolved independently in all subgroups; Proto-Athabaskan had no tones.[6] 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.[7] Proto-Athabaskan diverged fully into separate languages circa 500 BC.[8]

Navajo is most closely related to Western Apache, with which it shares a similar tonal scheme[9] 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.[10] As a member of the Western Apachean group, Navajo's next closest relatives are Mescalero and Chiricahua.[11] Navajo is generally considered mutually intelligible with all other Apachean languages.[12]

Colonization and decline

General Clayton B. 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 acquired these territories in 1848 following the Mexican-American War,[13] the English-speaking settlers allowed 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.[14]

  • Navajo reflections of a general theory of lexical argument structure (Ken Hale & Paul Platero),
  • Remarks on the syntax of the Navajo verb part I: Preliminary observations on the structure of the verb (Ken Hale),
  • The Navajo Prolongative and Lexical Structure (Carlotta Smith),
  • A Computational Analysis of Navajo Verb Stems (David Eddington & Jordan Lachler),
  • nt'ééGrammaticization of Tense in Navajo: The Evolution of (Chee, Ashworth, Buescher & Kubacki),
  • A methodology for the investigation of speaker's knowledge of structure in Athabaskan (Joyce McDonough & Rachel Sussman),
  • The Navajo LanguageHow to use Young and Morgan's (Joyce McDonough),
  • Time in Navajo: Direct and Indirect Interpretation (Carlota S. Smith, Ellavina T. Perkins, Theodore B. Fernald),
  • OLAC Resources in and about the Navajo language


  • Hózhǫ́ Náhásdlį́į́ʼ - Language of the Holy People (Navajo web site with flash and audio, helps with learning Navajo),
  • Navajo Swadesh vocabulary list of basic words (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list appendix)
  • Contrasts between Navajo consonants (sound files from Peter Ladefoged).
  • Navajo Language & Bilingual Links (from San Juan school district).
  • Navajo Language Academy,
  • Tuning in to Navajo: The Role of Radio in Native Language Maintenance,
  • An Initial Exploration of the Navajo Nation's Language and Culture Initiative,
  • Báʼóltaʼí Adoodleełgi Bínaʼniltingo Bił Hazʼą́ (Center for Diné Teacher Education) (Navajo),
  • Languagegeek Unicode fonts and Navajo keyboard layouts,
  • Navajo fonts,
  • The Navajo Language,
  • Reflections on Navajo Poetry,
  • How to count in Navajo,
  • Digital Public Library of America. Navajo-language items, various dates.

External links

  • Frishberg, Nancy. (1972). Navajo object markers and the great chain of being. In J. Kimball (Ed.), Syntax and semantics (Vol. 1, p. 259–266). New York: Seminar Press.
  • Hale, Kenneth L. (1973). A note on subject–object inversion in Navajo. In B. B. Kachru, R. B. Lees, Y. Malkiel, A. Pietrangeli, & S. Saporta (Eds.), Issues in linguistics: Papers in honor of Henry and Renée Kahane (p. 300–309). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Hardy, Frank. (1979). Navajo Aspectual Verb Stem Variation. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1945). Navaho phonology. University of New Mexico publications in anthropology, (No. 1).
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1945). Classificatory verb stems in the Apachean languages. International Journal of American Linguistics, 11 (1), 13–23.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1945). The Apachean verb, part I: Verb structure and pronominal prefixes. International Journal of American Linguistics, 11 (4), 193–203.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1946). The Apachean verb, part II: The prefixes for mode and tense. International Journal of American Linguistics, 12 (1), 1–13.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1946). The Apachean verb, part III: The classifiers. International Journal of American Linguistics, 12 (2), 51–59.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1948). The Apachean verb, part IV: Major form classes. International Journal of American Linguistics, 14 (4), 247–259.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1949). The Apachean verb, part V: The theme and prefix complex. International Journal of American Linguistics, 15 (1), 12–22.
  • Hoijer, Harry. (1970). A Navajo lexicon. University of California Publications in Linguistics (No. 78). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Kari, James. (1975). The disjunct boundary in the Navajo and Tanaina verb prefix complexes. International Journal of American Linguistics, 41, 330–345.
  • Kari, James. (1976). Navajo verb prefix phonology. Garland Publishing Co.
  • Reichard, Gladys A. (1951). Navaho grammar. Publications of the American Ethnological Society (Vol. 21). New York: J. J. Augustin.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1932). Two Navaho puns. Language, 8 (3), 217-220.
  • Sapir, Edward, & Hoijer, Harry. (1942). Navaho texts. William Dwight Whitney series, Linguistic Society of America.
  • Sapir, Edward, & Hoijer, Harry. (1967). Phonology and morphology of the Navaho language. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Speas, Margaret. (1990). Phrase structure in natural language. Kluwer Academic Publishers. ISBN 0-7923-0755-0
  • Wall, C. Leon, & Morgan, William. (1994). Navajo-English dictionary. New York: Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0-7818-0247-4. (Originally published [1958] by U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Branch of Education, Bureau of Indian Affairs).
  • Webster, Anthony K. (2004). Coyote Poems: Navajo Poetry, Intertextuality, and Language Choice. American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 28, 69-91.
  • Webster, Anthony K. (2006). "ALk'idaa' Ma'ii Jooldlosh, Jini": Poetic Devices in Navajo Oral and Written Poetry. Anthropological Linguistics, 48(3), 233-265.
  • Webster, Anthony K. (2009). Explorations in Navajo Poetry and Poetics. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  • Witherspoon, Gary. (1971). "Navajo Categories of Objects at Rest", American Anthropologist, 73, 110-127.
  • Witherspoon, Gary. (1977). Language and Art in the Navajo Universe. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08966-8; ISBN 0-472-08965-X
  • Young, Robert W. (2000). The Navajo Verb System: An Overview. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-2172-0 (hb); ISBN 0-8263-2176-3 (pbk)

Linguistics and other reference

  • Blair, Robert W.; Simmons, Leon; & Witherspoon, Gary. (1969). Navaho Basic Course. Brigham Young University Printing Services.
  • "E-books for children with narration in Navajo". Unite for Literacy library. Retrieved 2014-06-21. 
  • Goossen, Irvy W. (1967). Navajo made easier: A course in conversational Navajo. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press.
  • Goossen, Irvy W. (1995). Diné bizaad: Speak, read, write Navajo. Flagstaff, AZ: Salina Bookshelf. ISBN 0-9644189-1-6
  • Goossen, Irvy W. (1997). Diné bizaad: Sprechen, Lesen und Schreiben Sie Navajo. Loder, P. B. (transl.). Flagstaff, AZ: Salina Bookshelf.
  • Haile, Berard. (1941–1948). Learning Navaho, (Vols. 1–4). St. Michaels, AZ: St. Michael's Mission.
  • Platero, Paul R. (1986). Diné bizaad bee naadzo: A conversational Navajo text for secondary schools, colleges and adults. Farmington, NM: Navajo Preparatory School.
  • Platero, Paul R.; Legah, Lorene; & Platero, Linda S. (1985). Diné bizaad bee naʼadzo: A Navajo language literacy and grammar text. Farmington, NM: Navajo Language Institute.
  • Tapahonso, Luci, & Schick, Eleanor. (1995). Navajo ABC: A Diné alphabet book. New York: Macmillan Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0-689-80316-8
  • Witherspoon, Gary. (1985). Diné Bizaad Bóhooʼaah for secondary schools, colleges, and adults. Farmington, NM: Navajo Language Institute.
  • Witherspoon, Gary. (1986). Diné Bizaad Bóhooʼaah I: A conversational Navajo text for secondary schools, colleges and adults. Farmington, NM: Navajo Language Institute.
  • Wilson, Alan. (1969). Breakthrough Navajo: An introductory course. Gallup, NM: The University of New Mexico, Gallup Branch.
  • Wilson, Alan. (1970). Laughter, the Navajo way. Gallup, NM: The University of New Mexico at Gallup.
  • Wilson, Alan. (1978). Speak Navajo: An intermediate text in communication. Gallup, NM: University of New Mexico, Gallup Branch.
  • Wilson, Garth A. (1995). Conversational Navajo workbook: An introductory course for non-native speakers. Blanding, UT: Conversational Navajo Publications. ISBN 0-938717-54-5.
  • Yazzie, Sheldon A. (2005). Navajo for Beginners and Elementary Students. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Press.
  • Yazzie, Evangeline Parsons, and Margaret Speas (2008). Diné Bizaad Bínáhoo'aah: Rediscovering the Navajo Language. Flagstaff, AZ: Salina Bookshelf, Inc. ISBN 978-1-893354-73-9


Further reading

  • Bahr, Howard M. (2004). The Navajo as Seen by the Franciscans, 1898–1921: A Sourcebook. Scarecrow Press.  
  • Beck, David (2006). Aspects of the Theory of Morphology 10. Walter De Gruyter. 
  • Bowerman, Melissa; Levinson, Stephen (2001). Language Acquisition and Conceptual Development.  
  • Christiansen, Morten H. (2009). Language Universals. Oxford University Press.  
  • Cutler, Charles L. (2000). O Brave New Words: Native American Loanwords in Current English.  
  • Faltz, Leonard M. (1998). The Navajo Verb: A Grammar for Students and Scholars. University of New Mexico Press.  
  • Fernald, Paul; Platero (2000). The Athabaskan Languages: Perspectives on a Native American Language Family.  
  • Mueller-Gathercole, Virginia C. (2008). Routes to Language: Studies in Honor of Melissa Bowerman. Psychology Press.  
  • Hargus, Sharon; Rice, Keren (2005). Athabaskan Prosody. John Benjamins Publishing Company.  
  • Johansen, Bruce; Ritzker, Barry (2007). Encyclopedia of American Indian History. ABC-CLIO.  
  • Koenig, Harriet (2005). Acculturation in the Navajo Eden: New Mexico, 1550–1750: Archaeology, Language, Religion of the Peoples of the Southwest. YBK Publishers, Inc.  
  • Kroskrity, Paul V.; Field, Margaret C. (2009). Native American Language Ideologies: Beliefs, Practices, and Struggles in Indian Country.  
  • Levy, Jerrold E. (1998). In the Beginning: The Navajo Genesis.  
  • McDonough, J.M. (2003). The Navajo Sound System.  
  • Kozak, David L. (2013). Inside Dazzling Mountains: Southwest Native Verbal Arts.  
  • Minahan, James (2013). Ethnic Groups of the Americas: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO.  
  • Mithun, Marianne (2001). The Languages of Native North America.  
  • Platero, Paul (author of this section); Hinton, Leanne (2001). The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. Academic Press.  
  • Sloane, Thomas O. (2001). Encyclopedia of Rhetoric.  
  • Speas, Margaret (1990). Phrase Structure in Natural Language. Springer.  
  • Spolsky, Bernard (2009). Language Management.  
  • Wurm, Stephen A.; Mühlhäusler, Peter; Tyron, Darrell T. (1996). Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas. Walter de Gruyter.  
  • Yip, Moira (2002). Tone. Cambridge University Press.  
  • Young, Robert; Morgan, William, Sr. (1987). The Navajo Language: A Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary. University of New Mexico Press.  
  • Young, Robert; Morgan, William, Sr. (1992). Analytical Lexicon of Navajo. University of New Mexico Press.  
  • Young, Robert M.; Elinek, Eloise (1996). Athabaskan Language Studies (in English/Navajo).  


  1. ^ a b Ryan, Camille (August 2013). "Language Use" (PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Navajo". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Navajo". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 
  4. ^ Bahr 2004, p. xxxv
  5. ^ Minahan 2013, p. 260
  6. ^ Hargus & Rice 2005, p. 139
  7. ^ Hargus & Rice 2005, p. 138
  8. ^ Johansen & Ritzker 2007, p. 333
  9. ^ Hargus & Rice 2005, p. 209
  10. ^ Levy 1998, p. 25
  11. ^ Johansen & Ritzker 2007, p. 334
  12. ^ Koenig 2005, p. 9
  13. ^ a b Minahan 2013, p. 261
  14. ^ a b Johansen & Ritzker 2007, p. 421
  15. ^ a b Minahan 2013, p. 262
  16. ^ a b c d by Robert W. Young; William Morgan; Sally Midgette"Analytical Lexicon of NavajoSharon Hargus, "Review: , Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 38, No. 2, Summer, 1996, JSTOR, accessed 2 October 2014  – via JSTOR (subscription required)
  17. ^ Fox, Margalit (June 5, 2014). "Chester Nez, 93, Dies; Navajo Words Washed From Mouth Helped Win War".  
  18. ^ a b c Johansen & Ritzker 2007, p. 422
  19. ^ a b Kroskrity & Field 2009, p. 38
  20. ^ Koenig 2005, p. 8
  21. ^ by Robert W. Young; William MorganThe Navajo Language: A Grammar and Colloquial DictionaryJames Kari and Jeff Leer, "Review: , International Journal of American Linguistics, Vol. 50, No. 1, Jan., 1984, accessed 2 October 2014  – via JSTOR (subscription required)
  22. ^ Johansen & Ritzker 2007, pp. 423–424
  23. ^ Young & Elinek 1996, p. 376
  24. ^ Young & Elinek 1996, pp. 377–385
  25. ^ Arizona State University News (May 3, 2014). "Learning Navajo Helps Students Connect to Their Culture". Indian Country (Today Media Network). Retrieved August 14, 2014. 
  26. ^ Platero & Hinton 2001, pp. 87–97
  27. ^ "Navajo in the Language Cloud".  
  28. ^ Fonseca, Felicia (September 11, 2014). "Language factors into race for Navajo president".  
  29. ^ "Raiders vs Lions to be Broadcast in Navajo".  
  30. ^ a b Kane, Jenny (January 28, 2013). "Watching the ancient Navajo language develop in a modern culture".  
  31. ^ "Super Bowl carried in Navajo language".  
  32. ^ Trudeau, Christine (June 20, 2013). "Translated Into Navajo, 'Star Wars' Will Be".  
  33. ^ Silversmith, Shondiin (July 4, 2013). "Navajo Star Wars a crowd pleaser".  
  34. ^ McDonough 2003, p. 3
  35. ^ a b Kozak 2013, p. 162
  36. ^ a b Faltz 1998, p. 3
  37. ^ a b McDonough 2003, p. 5
  38. ^ McDonough 2003, pp. 6–7
  39. ^ Yip 2002, p. 239
  40. ^ a b Wurm, Mühlhäusler & Tyron 1996, p. 1134
  41. ^ a b Mueller-Gathercole 2008, p. 12
  42. ^ Kroskrity & Field 2009, p. 39
  43. ^ Harper, Douglas. "hogan". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  44. ^ Cutler 2000, p. 165
  45. ^ Cutler 2000, p. 177
  46. ^ Cutler 2000, p. 211
  47. ^ Cutler 2000, p. 110
  48. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, p. 841
  49. ^ a b Mithun 2001, p. 323
  50. ^ Bowerman & Levinson 2001, p. 239
  51. ^ Sloane 2001, p. 442
  52. ^ Bowerman & Levinson 2001, p. 238
  53. ^ "Datapoint Navajo / Order of Subject, Object and Verb". WALS. Retrieved September 1, 2014. 
  54. ^ Tomlin, Russell S. (2014). "Basic Word Order: Functional Principles". Routledge Library Editions Linguistics B: Grammar: 115. 
  55. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, pp. 902–903
  56. ^ Fernald & Platero 2000, pp. 252–287
  57. ^ Eddington, David; Lachler, Jordan. "A Computational Analysis of Navajo Verb Stems" (PDF).  
  58. ^ a b McDonough 2003, pp. 21–22
  59. ^ a b c d Young & Morgan 1992, p. 868
  60. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, p. 863
  61. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, p. 864
  62. ^ a b Young & Morgan 1992, p. 865
  63. ^ a b c Young & Morgan 1992, p. 866
  64. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, p. 869
  65. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, pp. 869–870
  66. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, p. 870
  67. ^ a b Young & Morgan 1992, p. 871
  68. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, p. 872
  69. ^ a b c Young & Morgan 1992, p. 873
  70. ^ Faltz 1998, p. 18
  71. ^ Faltz 1998, pp. 21–22
  72. ^ Faltz 1998, pp. 12–13
  73. ^ Faltz 1998, p. 21
  74. ^ Akmajian, Stephen; Anderson (January 1970). "On the use of the fourth person in Navajo, or Navajo made harder". International Journal of American Linguistics 36 (1): 1–8. 
  75. ^ a b Young & Morgan 1992, p. 882
  76. ^ a b Christiansen 2009, pp. 185–186
  77. ^ Beck 2006, pp. 374–375
  78. ^ Faltz 1998, pp. 40–41
  79. ^ Kozak 2013, p. 161
  80. ^ Speas 1990, p. 203
  81. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, pp. 934–943
  82. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, pp. 944–945
  83. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, pp. 932–933
  84. ^ Young & Morgan 1992, p. 934
  85. ^ Bahr 2004, pp. 33–34
  86. ^ a b Spolsky 2009, p. 86
  87. ^ ICTMN Staff (September 12, 2013). "Navajo Keyboard Now Available on Android Devices!". Indian Country (Today Media Network). Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  88. ^ a b Faltz 1998, p. 5
  89. ^ McDonough 2003, p. 85
  90. ^ McDonough 2003, p. 160
  91. ^ Young & Morgan 1987, pp. 205a–205b


See also

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 ...

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 ...

This is the first paragraph of a Navajo short story.[91]

Sample text

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). The ogonek and the barred L were imported from Polish, while the use of an acute accent for vowels with a high tone was taken from French.[86]

An apostrophe (') is used to mark ejective consonants (e.g. ch '​, tł '​)[88] as well as mid-word or final glottal stops. However, initial glottal stops are usually not marked.[36] 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.[88][89] 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.[90]

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 Arabic letters. Anthropologists were frustrated by Navajo's having several sounds that are not found in English and lack of other sounds that are.[85] Finally, the current Navajo orthography was developed between 1935 and 1940.[15] 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.[86] Navajo virtual keyboards were made available for iOS devices in November 2012 and Android devices in August 2013.[87]

Standard ASCII (top) and Unicode (bottom) keyboards for Navajo


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.[84]

[83], and some example numbers follow.decimal The Navajo numeral system is [82] (both unique ones and those based on verbs).adverbs and [81],conjunctions, interjections, relative pronounsOther parts of speech in Navajo are also relatively immutable, and tend to be short. These parts of speech include question particles, demonstrative adjectives,

Other parts of speech

[80], this traditionally being covered by word order.caseNouns are also not marked for

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.[41]

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

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]


For example, Navajo has no single verb that corresponds to the English to 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 to mark whether a verb is transitive in the first place. There are four classifiers: -Ø-, -ł-, -d-, and -l-. The -ł- classifier indicates causation, e.g. yibéézh "it's boiling" (yi-Ø-béézh) vs. yiłbéézh "he's boiling it" (yi-ł-béézh). The -d- and -l- classifiers indicate transitivity, e.g. yizéés "he's singeing it" (yi-Ø-zéés) vs. yidéés "it's being singed" (yi-d-zéés). The -d- classifier is used to transitivize verbs with -Ø-, while -l- is used for verbs with -l-.[78]

[76] These particles are listed here with their standard names.[77] used for transitive verbs to mark the object being acted on.[76] are a set of eleven particlesClassificatory verbs

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 simply by framing the verb with doo and da (e.g. mósí doo nitsaa da – "the cat is not big"). Dooda, as a single word, signifies the interjection "no".[75]

The remaining piece of these conjugated verbs—the prefix na—is called an "outer prefix". It adds no additional meaning; rather, it simply corresponds to the verb base to separate the personal prefixes from previous ones.[72]

[71]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.
  • Imperfective: – is playing, was playing, will be playing
  • Perfective: ne’ – played, had played, will have played
  • Progressive/future: neeł – is playing / will play/be playing
  • Usitative/repetitive: neeh – usually plays, frequently plays, repetitively plays
  • Optative: ne’ – would play

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:

and these forms are as follows: [59]Navajo does not distinguish strict

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, and classifier (see later on). 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]


In terms of basic [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]

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.[14][52]



Only one Navajo word has been fully absorbed into the English language: hogan (from Navajo hooghan) – a term referring to the traditional houses.[43] Others with limited English recognition include chindi (an evil spirit of the deceased),[44] and Kayenta (a place name, from tééʼndééh, "game pit where wild animals fall into deep water").[45] The taxonomic genus name Uta may be of Navajo origin.[46] 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 language of the nearby Hopi tribe, because the Navajo were among the most violent resisters to colonialism.[47]

Navajo has expanded its vocabulary to include Western technological and cultural terms through calques and Navajo descriptive terms. For example, the phrase for 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"). Some concepts, such as mobile phones, have no standard Navajo translation, instead being expressed by ad hoc coinages.[30]

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.[19]

The vast majority of Navajo vocabulary is of Athabaskan origin.[40] 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.[41] 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.[40] 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.[42]


Front Back
oral nasal oral nasal
High i ~ ɪ ĩ
Mid e o õ
Low ɑ ɑ̃
Bilabial Alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lateral fricated plain lab. plain lab.
Obstruent Stop unaspirated p t ts k ʔ
aspirated tɬʰ tsʰ tʃʰ (kʷʰ)
ejective tɬʼ tsʼ tʃʼ
Continuant fortis ɬ s ʃ x () (h) ()
lenis l z ʒ ɣ (ɣʷ)
Sonorant Nasal plain m n
glottalized () ()
Glide plain j (w)
glottalized () ()
[35] than English does.cadence In general, Navajo speech has a slower [39].Japanese system similar to that of pitch accent 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 tone Navajo also distinguishes for [38] forms, and can be either short or long.nasalized Each exists in both oral and [37]/.o/, and /i/, /e/, /aThe language has four vowel qualities: /

Navajo has a fairly large consonant inventory. Its stop consonants exist in three laryngeal forms: aspirated, unaspirated, and ejective – for example, /tʃʰ/, //, and /tʃʼ/ (all close to the "ch" sound in English).[34] Ejective consonants are pronounced glottally; Navajo also has a simple glottal stop used after vowels,[35] and every word that would otherwise begin with a vowel is pronounced with an initial glottal stop.[36] Consonant clusters are uncommon, aside from frequent placing /d/ or /t/ before fricatives.[37]

The second syllable of the word nishłį́ (I am) involves the phoneme /ɬ/, a high tone, and nasalization.

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[33][32] (1977) was translated into Navajo. It was the first major motion picture translated into any Native American language.Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope In 2013, the film [31] had been carried in a Native American language.Super Bowl was broadcast in Navajo in 1996, it was the first time a Super Bowl XXX When [30] broadcasts only in Navajo.KNDN AM station [29] games;NFL, broadcasts in Navajo and English, with programming including music and KTNN radio station, AM Today an [16] the first newspaper in Navajo and the only one to be written entirely in Navajo. It was edited by Ádahooníłígíí, 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

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".[26] 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.[27] About half of all Navajo people live in the Navajo Nation, an area spanning parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah; others are dispersed throughout the United States.[13] Under tribal law, fluency in Navajo is mandatory for candidates to the office of the President of the Navajo Nation.[28]

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 root, the basis of Athabaskan languages. [16]

[16] They expanded this work again in 1987, with several significant additions, and this edition continues to be used as an important text.[21] In 1984, to counteract the language's historical decline, the [20] 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.

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.[18]

Revitalization and current status

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.[18] 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.[19]

[17], and because no published Navajo dictionaries existed at the time. The government's efforts succeeded; Navajo is the only spoken military code used by the United States that was never deciphered during its associated war.Japanese and German – 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 code talkers, the United States government hired speakers of Navajo to be World War II In [16]

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