Takelma language

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Native to United States
Region Oregon, Rogue Valley along the middle course of the Rogue River
Ethnicity Takelma, Latgawa, Cow Creek band of Upper Umpqua
Extinct 1934, with the death of Frances Johnson
  • Takelma
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tkm
Glottolog take1257[1]
Takelman langs.png
Takelma (south), with the Kalapuyan languages to the north
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Takelma /təˈkɛlmə/[2] was the language spoken by the Latgawa and Takelma people and Cow Creek band of Upper Umpqua. It was first extensively described by Edward Sapir in his graduate thesis, The Takelma Language of Southwestern Oregon.[3] The last fluent speaker of Takelma, with whom Sapir worked while writing about the language, was Frances Johnson (Gwísgwashãn). A dictionary from English to Taklema is currently being created in the hopes it can be revived.[4]


There was possibly a Cow Creek dialect spoken in southwestern Oregon along the South Umpqua River, Myrtle Creek, and Cow Creek.[5]

Genealogical relations

Takelma is commonly included in the controversial Penutian macro-family, as first suggested by Edward Sapir.[6]

Within Penutian, Takelma has been grouped together with the Kalapuyan languages in a "Takelma-Kalapuyan" or "Takelman" language family.[7][8][9][10] However, an unpublished paper by Tarpent & Kendall (1998)[11] finds this relationship to be unfounded because of the extremely different morphological structures of Takelma and Kalapuyan. DeLancey follows this position.[citation needed]



The consonant phonemes as described by Sapir are:[3]

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain sibilant plain labialized
Nasal m n
Stop/Afficate plain p t k ʔ
aspirated kʷʰ
ejective tsʼ kʼʷ
Fricative (ɬ) s x h
Approximant l j w


The vowel system of the Takelma language comprises the six vowels /a e i o u ʉ/, as well as their lengthened counterparts /aː eː iː oː uː ʉː/.


Takelma like many Native American languages is polysynthetic meaning that you can link together many different morphemes to form a word. Therefore one single word can often contain a lot of information that in English would be portrayed in a full sentence. This is mainly done by adding affixes to verbs.


Takelma has 6 different tenses listed below with the first (aorist) being the basic tense which is equivalent to the immediate future, present, and past.

  1. Aorist
  2. Potential
  3. Future
  4. Inferential
  5. Present Imperative
  6. Future Imperative

Person and possession

In Takelma, possession is marked by a set of affixes. Most of them are suffixes but there is one prefix. Below is a table of the four declensional sets.

1 sg. 2 sg. 3 sg/pl 1 pl. 2 Pl. reflexive 3 sg. reflexive 3 pl.
I wi- `-ʔtʰ -(x) -tam -ʔtʰpan -(x)akʷa -(x)akʷan
II -t/tʰekʰ -t/tʰeʔ -t/tʰ -tam -t/tʰapaʔn -t/tʰakʷa -t/tʰakʷan
III ´-tʰkʰ `-ʔtʰ `-(tʰ) -tam `-ʔtʰpan `-tʰkʷa `-tʰkʷan
IV -té: -taʔ `-ta -tam tapaʔn or `-ʔtʰpan `-tʰkʷa or `-takʷa `-takʷan or `-tʰkʷan

Set I is only ever used with terms of kinship. For example:

Wi-wá: wà:-ʔtʰ wi:-xa
‘my younger brother’ ‘your younger brother’ ‘his younger brother’

Set II is used with bare stems or stems having the formant. For example:

-x:hè:l hè:l-tʰekʰ hè:l-tʰa
‘song’ ‘my song’ ‘his song’

tàkax-tekʰ tàkax-ta
‘my head’ ‘his head’

Alternations between –t and –tʰ in set II and set IV is regular and predictable.

Set III is used with stems having other formants. For example:

xá:n xa:lám-tʰkʰ xa:lám
‘urine’ ‘my urine’ ‘his urine’
tán taná-tʰkʰ taná
‘rock’ ‘my rock’ ‘his rock’
p’á:-n p’á:n-tʰkʰ p’á:n-tʰ
‘liver’ ‘my liver’ ‘his liver’

Set IV is used in locative constructions. For example:

‘in my house’


‘my house’
‘between my legs’


‘my legs’

wa-té ‘to me’



Object markers

Takelma has a complex system of verbal pronominal suffixes and is also accompanied by the loss of case markers on nouns. This represents a complete shift to full head marking. So far the only actual examples I have found are in the 3rd person object marker in Takelma, which is the suffix –kʰwa which is realized on the verb. However the distribution of –kʰwa is very restricted.

Here is the full set of object markers:

Object Markers Singular Plural
1st -xi -am
2nd -pi -ampʰ
3rd ∅/ -kʰwa ∅/ -kʰwa

For the 1st and 2nd person objects overt marking is required with clear difference between singular and plural. For 3rd person there is no difference between singular and plural and there is also alternation between the suffix –kʰwa and zero suffix.

The zero variant occurs with animates as well as inanimate, covert pronouns, and overt nominals.

However –kʰwa occurs in three distinct environments. First, when the subject is also 3rd person. Second, it is always used when the object is higher in animacy than the subject. This means that the object refers to a human also a mythic animal that is thought of as a human being. The third situation is when the subject and object are of equal animacy but the object outranks the subject in topicality.[14]


  • [mìːʔskaʔ] – one
  • [kàːʔm] – two
  • [xìpiní] – three
  • [kamkàm] – four
  • [déːhal] – five
  • [haʔiːmìʔs] – six
  • [haʔiːkàːʔm] – seven
  • [haʔiːxín] – eight
  • [haʔiːkó] – nine
  • [ìxtiːl] – ten


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Takelma". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  3. ^ a b Sapir, Edward (1922). The Takelma Language of Southwestern Oregon. Handbook of American Indian Languages. Bulletin 40. Bureau of American Ethnology. pp. 1–296.
  4. ^ Group, Sinclair Broadcast. "Pair breathe life into dead language". Mail Tribune. Retrieved 2018-05-21.
  5. ^ Don Macnaughtan. "Western Oregon Indian Languages". Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  6. ^ Sapir, Edward (1909). "Takelma Texts". University of Pennsylvania Anthropological Publications. University of Pennsylvania. 2 (1): 1–263.
  7. ^ Frachtenberg, L. (1918). Comparative Studies in Takelman, Kalapuyan and Chinookan Lexicography, a Preliminary Paper. International Journal of American Linguistics, 1(2), 175-182.
  8. ^ Swadesh, M. (1965). Kalapuya and Takelma. International Journal of American Linguistics, 31(3), 237-240.
  9. ^ Shipley, W. (1969). Proto-Takelman. International Journal of American Linguistics, 35(3), 226-230.
  10. ^ Kendall, D. (1997). The Takelma Verb: Toward Proto-Takelma-Kalapuyan. International Journal of American Linguistics, 63(1), 1-17.
  11. ^ cited in: Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America, pp. 432-433. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  12. ^ Golla, Victor. California Indian Languages. Berkeley: U of California, 2011. 132-33. Print
  13. ^ Sapir, Edward, Victor Golla, and Edward Sapir. Takelma Texts and Grammar. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter, 1990. 110. Print
  14. ^ Aissen, Judith. Differential Coding, Partial Blocking, and Bidirectional OT. UC Santa Cruz, n.d. Web. 5 May 2015.

Further reading

  • Edward Sapir (1914). Takelma texts. University Museum. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  • Comparative vocabulary of the languages spoken by the 'Umpqua,' 'Lower Rogue River' [Takelma and 'Calapooia' tribes of Indians" (35 pp., original dated May 1859)], California Language Archive
  • OLAC resources in and about the Takelma language
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