LING 447/747: American Indian Languages

TR 11:00-12:15 PM, 108 Blake

Instructor: Clifton Pye (pyersqr (at) ku (dot) edu)

with guest appearances by Robert L. Rankin

Office Hours Tuesday 1-3 pm or by appointment

This course provides students with an introduction to the Native American languages spoken in North and Meso America. We will present several topics during the semester, including:

• Genetic classification, original and present-day geographical location of American Indian languages.

• The history of the study of American Indian languages.

• Overviews of major language families including phonology, morphology and syntax:

      - Algonquian

      - Muskogean

      - Siouan

      - Salish

      - Mixe-Zoquean

      - Mayan

      - Uto-Aztecan

• Historical/Comparative studies of Native American language families

• Areal/typological study of Native American languages

• Language documentation and maintenance

Course textbook:



Boas, Franz. 1911. Introduction to Handbook of American Indian Languages and Powell J. W. 1891. Indian Linguistic Families of America North of Mexico. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press. 1966.

There is no satisfactory general textbook so readings will be assigned from a variety of different books and journals. We will be discussing readings from the following sources:

Campbell, Lyle and Marianne Mithun. 1979. The Languages of Native America. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Edmonson, Munro S. 1984. Handbook of Middle American Indians, Supplement 2: Linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Goddard, Ives (ed.). 1996. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 17: Languages. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Harry Hoijer, ed. 1946. Linguistic Structures of Native America. New York: Viking Fund.

Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge University Press.

Sebeok, Thomas. A. (Ed.). 1976. Native Languages of the Americas. New York: Plenum Press.

Suarez, Jorge A. 1983. The Mesoamerican Indian Languages. Cambridge University Press.


The course grade will be based on a term paper, class participation, occasional written assignments and attendance. Graduate students will be expected to do more than undergraduates. Term paper topics must be cleared with the instructor by the middle of October.

The term paper will be due in my office by 5 p.m., Wednesday, December 15th. I have posted some guidelines for the project at project guidelines.

Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else’s work as your own. Plagiarism of all or a portion of any assignment will not be accepted. Plagiarism will result in a failing grade for any assignment or report.

Any student who has a disability which may prevent his/her ability to participate fully in the course should contact the instructor as soon as possible so we can discuss the class assignments.


The reading assignments are designed to complement the class lectures for the week. It is to your advantage to complete the reading before the class discussion of the topic. References to 1979 readings come from the Campbell and Mithun book; references to the 1996 readings come from the Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 17.

Tentative Date


Aug. 24

Boas. 1911. Introduction to Handbook of American Indian Languages

Aug. 26

Campbell and Mithun. 1979. Introduction

Aug. 31

Mithun 1999. Introduction; Mithun 1996. Overview of General Characteristics

Sept. 7

Bateman et al. 1990. Speaking of forked tongues. Current Anthropology 31:1-24

Sept. 14

Goddard 1979. Comparative Algonquian; Wolfart 1996. Sketch of Cree

Sept. 28

Haas 1979. Muskogean.

Booker 1996. Creek grammar sketch.

Davies, William D. 1986. Choctaw Verb Agreement and Universal Grammar. Reidel.

Haas. 1968 The last words of Biloxi. International Journal of American Linguistics 34: 77-84.

Pamela Munro. 1993. The Muskogean II prefixes and their significance for classification. International Journal of American Linguistics 59(4):374-404.

Oct. 12

Nicholas A. Hopkins. The Native Languages of the Southeastern United States.

Mary R. Haas. 1944. Men’s and women’s speech in Koasati. Language 20: 142-149.

Karen M. Booker. 1980. Comparative Muskogean: Aspects of Proto-Muskogean Verb Morphology. Ph.D. dissertation. The University of Kansas.

Oct. 19

Mithun 1979. Iroquoian; Chafe 1996. Sketch of Seneca

Mithun & Chafe. 1979. Recapturing the Mohawk Language. In Timothy Shopen (ed.), Languages and Their Status. Cambridge, MA: Winthrop Publishers.

Mithun. 1989. The Acquisition of Polysynthesis. Journal of Child Language 16 (2):285-312.

Oct. 26

Rood 1979. Siouan.

Rankin, Robert L. 1990. The Siouan Languages. Plains volume of the Handbook of North American Indians. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Robert Rankin. 1994. Siouan chronologies calculated from cultigen (and other) terminology held in common. Oneota Workshop, Iowa City.

Rankin, Robert L. 2002. Polysynthesis in Siouan Verb Morphology. Linguistics Colloquy, The University of Kansas, May 6, 2002.

Nov. 4

Steele 1979. Uto-Aztecan; Miller 1996. Sketch of Shoshone

Nov. 9

Krauss 1979. Na-Dene; Fang-Kuei Li. 1946. Chipewyan. In H. Hoijer (ed.), Linguistic Structures of Native America, pp. 398-423. New York: Viking Fund.

Eung-Do Cook. 2006. The patterns of consonantal acquisition and change in Chipewyan (Dene Suline). IJAL 72(2):236-263.

Victor Golla. 1977. Coyote and frog. IJAL Northern California Texts, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 17-25.

Harry Hoijer. 1945. Classificatory verb stems in the Apachean languages. IJAL 11:13-23.

James Kari. 1989. Affix positions and zones in the Athapaskan verb complex: Ahtna and Navajo. IJAL 55(4):424-454.

Nov. 16

Thompson 1979. Salishan; Thompson et al. 1996. Sketch of Thompson

Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins and M. Dale Kinkade. 1998. Salish languages and linguistics. In Czaykowska-Higgins and Kinkade (eds.), Salish Languages and Linguistics: Theoretical and Descriptive Perspectives. Trends in Linguistics Studies and Monographs 107, pp. 1-70. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Nov. 30

Campbell 1979. Mayan; Kaufman 1977. Some structural characteristics of the Mayan languages

Clifton Pye. 2010. The acquisition of ergativity in Mam.

Dec. 7

Presentations of language sketches



Date due

Sept. 21

Organize suffix paradigm for verbs in Cree text.

Sept. 21

For a Native American language that interests you find each of the following:

• Two websites with good information on the language, history or culture

• Two websites with bad information on the language, history or culture

Sept. 28

Reconstruct Proto-Algonquian consonant clusters (Bloomfield’s problem)

Oct. 12

Describe the order of attachment for Creek verb affixes

Oct. 19

Reconstruct Proto-Iroquoian consonants

Web Resources

In addition to the traditional bibliographic resources students can find a considerable amount of information about indigenous languages on the internet. This material varies considerably in quality and depth so it should always be compared with published descriptions. The following websites provide basic information.

Native Languages of the Americas

Alaska Native Language Center

The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project

Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies

The World Atlas of Language Structures

Gramatica Maya Comparativa


The Electronic Metastructure for Endangered Languages Data

Society to Advance Indigenous Vernaculars of the United States

Intertribal Wordpath Society

Kaufman, Terrence. 2001. The history of the Nawa language group from the earliest times to the sixteenth century: some initial results