Wichita language

Native to United States
Region West-central Oklahoma
Ethnicity 2,100 Wichita people (2007)
Extinct 2016[1]
with the death of Doris McLemore.
Revival 4 conversant[2]
  • Northern

    • Wichita
Language codes
ISO 639-3 wic
Glottolog wich1260[3]

Wichita is an extinct Caddoan language once spoken in Oklahoma by the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. The last fluent heritage speaker, Doris Lamar-McLemore, died in 2016,[4] although in 2007 there were three first-language speakers alive.[5] This has rendered Wichita functionally extinct; however, the tribe offers classes to revitalize the language[6] and works in partnership with Wichita Documentation Project of the University of Colorado, Boulder.[7]


When the Europeans began to settle North America, Wichita separated into three dialects; Waco, Tawakoni, and KirikirɁi:s (aka, Wichita Proper).[5] However, when the language was threatened and the number of speakers decreased, dialect differences largely disappeared [8]


As late as 2007 there were three living native speakers,[9] but the last known fluent native speaker, Doris Lamar-McLemore, died on 30 August 2016. This is a sharp decline from the 500 speakers estimated by Paul L. Garvin in 1950.[10]


Wichita is a member of the Caddoan language family, along with modern Caddo, Pawnee, Arikara, and Kitsai.[5]


The phonology of Wichita is unusual, with no pure labial consonants (though there are two labiovelars /kʷ/ and /w/. There is only one nasal (depending on conflicting theory one or more nasal sounds may appear, but all theories seem to agree that they are allophones of the same phoneme, at best), and possibly a three vowel system using only height for contrast.[9]


Wichita has 10 consonants. In the Americanist orthography generally used when describing Wichita, /t͜s/ is spelled c, and /j/ is y.

Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain labial.
Plosive t k ʔ
Affricate t͜s
Fricative s
Sonorant ɾ ~ n
Approximant j w h

Though neither Rood nor Garvin include nasals in their respective consonant charts for Wichita, Rood’s later inclusion of nasals in phonetic transcription for his 2008 paper (“Some Wichita Recollections: Aspects of Culture Reflected in Language”) support the appearance of at least /n/.[5]

Original Word Ending Change Result Wichita Example
[VːɁ#] No Change [VːɁ#]
[VːVɁ#] -[V] [VːVɁ#] [hijaːɁ] (snow)
[CVɁ#] -[V] [CɁ#] [kiːsɁ] (bone)
- long vowel
V - short vowel
C - consonant
# - preceding sound ends word

Phonological rules[11]

ti-r-tar-s (INDIC-PL-cut-IMPERF) → ticac 'he cut them'
a:ra-r-tar (PERF-PL-cut) → a:racar 'he has cut them'
a:ra-tar (PERF-cut) → a:ratar 'he has cut it'
i-s-wa (IMPER-you-go) → iskwa 'go!'
i-t-wa (IMPER-I-go) → ickwa 'let me go!'
ti-r-kita-re:sPi (INDIC-COLL-top-lie.INAN) → tihkitare:sPi 'they are lying on top'
kePe-t-rika:s-ti:kwi (FUT-I-head-hit) → kePecika:sti:kwi 'I will hit him on the head'
ta-t-r-taPas (INDIC-I-COLL-bite) → taccaPas 'I bit them'
ti-Pak-tariyar-ic (INDIC-PL-cut.randomly-repeatedly) → taPastariyaric 'he butchered them'
ichiris-ye:cke?e:kPa (bird-ember) → ichirisse:ckePe:k?a 'redbird'


Wichita has either three or four vowels, depending on analysis:[8][9][10]

Front Back
High ɪ ~ i ~ e
Mid ɛ ~ æ (o/u)
Low ɒ ~ a

These are transcribed as i, e, a, o/u.

Word-final vowels are devoiced.

Though Rood employs the letter o in his transcriptions,[5] Garvin instead uses u, and asserts that /u/ is a separate phoneme.[10] However, considering the imprecision in vowel sound articulation, what is likely important about these transcriptions is that they attest to a back vowel that is not low.

Taylor uses Garvin’s transcription in his analysis, but theorizes a shift of *u to /i/ medially in Wichita, but does not have enough examples to fully analyze all the possible environments. He also discusses a potential shift from *a to /i/, but again, does not have enough examples to develop a definitive hypothesis. Taylor finds /ɛ/ only occurs with intervocalic glottal stops.[8][10]

Rood argues that [o] is not phonemic, as it is often equivalent to any vowel + /w/ + any vowel. For example, /awa/ is frequently contracted to [óː] (the high tone is an effect of the elided consonant). There are relatively few cases where speakers will not accept a substitution of vowel + /w/ + vowel for [o]; one of them is [kóːs] 'eagle'.

Rood also proposes that, with three vowels that are arguably high, mid, and low, the front-back distinction is not phonemic, and that one may therefore speak of a 'vertical' vowel inventory (see below). This also has been claimed for relatively few languages, such as the Northwest Caucasian languages and the Ndu languages of Papua New Guinea.

There is clearly at least a two-way contrast in vowel length. Rood proposes that there is a three-way contrast, which is quite rare among the world's languages, although well attested for Mixe, and probably present in Estonian. However, in Wichita, for each of the three to four vowels qualities, one of the three lengths is rare, and in addition the extra-long vowels frequently involve either an extra morpheme, or suggest that prosody may be at work. For example,

nɪːt͜s.híːːʔɪh 'the strong one'
nɪːːt͜s.híːːʔɪh 'the strong ones'
hɛːhɪɾʔíːɾas 'let him find you'
hɛːːhɪɾʔíːɾas 'let him find it for you'
háɾah 'there'
háːɾɪh 'here it is' (said when handing something over)
háːːɾɪh 'that one'

(Note that it is common in many languages to use prosodic lengthening with demonstratives such as 'there' or 'that'.)[9]

This contrasts with Mixe, where it is easy to find a three-way length contrast without the addition of morphemes.[9]

Under Rood's analysis, then, Wichita has 9 phonemic vowels:[9]

Short Long Overlong
High ɪ ɪˑ ɪː
Mid ɛ ɛˑ ɛː
Low a


There is also a contrastive high tone, indicated here by an acute accent.

Syllable and phonotactics

While vowel clusters are uncommon (unless the extra-long vowels are clusters), consonant clusters are ubiquitous in Wichita. Words may begin with clusters such as [kskh] (kskhaːɾʔa) and [ɾ̥h] (ɾ̥hintsʔa). The longest cluster noted in Wichita is five consonants long, counting [ts] as a single consonant /c/: /nahiʔinckskih/ 'while sleeping'. However, Wichita syllables are more commonly CV or CVC.

Grammar and morphology

Wichita is an agglutinative, polysynthetic language, meaning words have a root verb basis to which information is added; that is, morphemes (affixes) are added to verb roots. These words may contain subjects, objects, indirect objects, and possibly indicate possession. Thus, surprisingly complex ideas can be communicated with as little as one word. For example, /kijaʔaːt͡ssthirʔaːt͡s/ means "one makes himself a fire".[5]

Nouns do not distinguish between singular and plural, as this information is specified as part of the verb. Wichita also does not distinguish between genders, which can be problematic for English language translation.[5]

Sentence structure is much more fluid than in English, with words being organized according to importance or novelty. Often the subject of the sentence is placed initially. Linguist David S. Rood, who has written many papers concerning the Wichita language, recorded this example, as spoken by Bertha Provost (a native speaker, now deceased) in the late 1960s.[5]

"When God put our ancestors on this earth."
Wichita hiɾaːwisɁihaːs kijariːt͡seːhiɾeːweɁe hikaɁat͡saːkikaɁakɁit͡saki hiɾaːɾɁ tiɁi naːkiɾih
Word Translation Old.time.people God When.he.made.us.dwell Earth This Where.it.is.located

The subject of the sentence is ancestors, and thus the sentence begins with it, instead of God, or creation (when.he.made.us.dwell). This leads one to conclude Wichita has a largely free word-order, where parts of the sentence do not need to be located next to each other to be related.[5]

The perfective tense demonstrates that an act has been completed; on the other hand, the intentive tense indicates that a subject plans or planned to carry out a certain act. The habitual aspect indicates a habitual activity, for example: “he smokes” but not “he is smoking.” Durative tense describes an activity, which is coextensive with something else.

Wichita has no indirect speech or passive voice. When using past tense, speakers must indicate if this knowledge of the past is based in hearsay or personal knowledge. Wichita speakers also use a morpheme which amounts to two versions of “we”; one that includes the listener, and one that does not. Wichita also differentiates between singular, dual and plural number, instead of the simpler singular or plural designations commonly found.[5]


Some Wichita affixes are:[12]

aorist a...ki-
aorist quotative aːɁa...ki-
future keɁe-
future quotative eheː-
perfect aɾa-
perfect quotative aːɾa-
indicative ta/ti-
exclamatory iskiri-
durative a/i-
imperative hi/i-
future imperative kiɁi-
optative kaɁa-
debetative kaɾa-
perfective Ø
imperfective -s
intentive -staɾis
habitual -ːss
too late -iːhiːɁ
'I heard she'll be cooking it.'

Instrumental suffixes

[13] The suffix is Rá:hir, added to the base. Another means of expressing instrument, used only for body parts, is a characteristic position of incorporation in the verb complex.

  1. ha:rhiwi:cá:hir 'using a bowl' (ha:rhiwi:c 'bowl')
  2. ika:rá:hir 'with a rock' (ika:Ɂa 'rock')
  3. kirikirɁi:sá:hir 'in Wichita (the language)' (kirikirɁi:s 'Wichita)
  4. iskiɁo:rɁeh 'hold me in your arms' (iskiɁ 'imperative 2nd subject, 1st object'; a 'reflexive possessor'; Ɂawir 'arm'; Ɂahi 'hold').
  5. keɁese:cɁíriyari 'you will shake your head' (keɁes 'future 2nd subject'; a 'reflexive possessor'; ic 'face'; Ɂiriyari 'go around'. Literally: 'you will go around, using your face').

Tense and aspect

One of these tense-aspect prefixes must occur in any complete verb form.[13]

durative; directive a / i
aorist (general past tense) a…ki
perfect; recent past ara
future quotative eheː
subjunctive ha…ki
exclamatory; immediate present iskiri
ought kara
optative kaɁa
future keɁe
future imperative kiɁi
participle na
interrogative indicative ra
indicative ta
negative indicative Ɂa

Note: kara (ought), alone, always means ‘subject should’, but in complex constructions it is used for hypothetical action, as in ‘what would you do if…’)

The aspect-marking suffixes are:

perfective Ø
imperfective s
intentive staris
generic ːss

Other prefixes and suffixes are as follows:

Examples: Ɂarasi 'cook'

á:kaɁarásis quotative aorist imperfective I heard she was cooking it
kiyakaɁarásis quotative aorist imperfective I heard she was cooking it
á:kaɁarásiki quotative aorist perfective I heard she was cooking it
á:kaɁarásistaris quotative aorist intentive I heard she was planning on cooking it
kiyakaɁarásistaris quotative aorist intentive I heard she was planning on cooking it
á:kaɁarásiki:ss quotative aorist generic I heard she always cooked it
kiyakaɁarásiki:ss quotative aorist generic I heard she always cooked it
ákaɁárasis aorist imperfective I know myself she was cooking it
ákaɁárasiki aorist perfective I know myself she cooked it
ákaɁarásistaris aorist intentive I know myself she was going to cook it
ákaɁaraásiki:ss aorist generic I know myself she always cooked it
keɁárasiki future perfective She will cook it
keɁárasis future imperfective She will be cooking it
keɁárasiki:ss future generic She will always cook it
ehéɁárasiki quotative future perfective I heard she will cook it
ehéɁárasis quotative future imperfective I heard she will be cooking it
eheɁárasiki:ss quotative future generic I heard she will always be the one to cook it
taɁarásis indicative imperfective She is cooking it; She cooked it
taɁarásistaris indicative intentive She's planning to cook it
taɁarásiki::s indicative generic She always cooks it
ískirá:rásis exclamatory There she goes, cooking it!
aɁarásis directive imperfective Then you cook it
haɁarásiki imperative imperfective Let her cook it
ki:Ɂárasiki future imperative perfective Let her cook it later
ki:Ɂárasiki:ss future imperative generic You must always let her cook it
á:raɁarásiki quotative perfect perfective I heard she cooked it
á:raɁarásistaris quotative perfect intentive I heard she was going to cook it
áraɁárasiki perfect perfective I know she cooked it
keɁeɁárasis optative imperfective I wish she'd be cooking it
keɁeɁárasiki optative perfective I wish she'd cook it
keɁeɁárasistaris optative intentive I wish she would plan to cook it
keɁeɁárasiki:ss optative generic I wish she'd always cook it
keɁeɁárasiki:hi:Ɂ optative too late I wish she had cooked it
karaɁárasis ought imperfective She ought to be cooking it
karaɁarásiki:ss ought generic She should always cook it
karaɁárasiski:hiɁ ought too late She ought to have cooked it


assé:hah all
ta:wɁic few
tiɁih this
ha:rí:h that
hi:hánthirih tomorrow
tiɁikhánthirisɁih yesterday
chih á:kiɁí:rakhárisɁí:h suddenly
ti:Ɂ at once
wah already
chah still
chih continues
tiɁrih here
harah there
hí:raka:h way off
hita edge
kata on the side
(i)wac outside
ha in water
ka in a topless enclosure
ka: in a completely enclosed space
kataska in an open area
Ɂir in a direction
kataskeɁer through the yard
kataskeɁero:c out the other way from the yard



[13] In the Wichita language, there are only case markings for obliques. Here are some examples:

Instrumental case

Locative case

Most nouns take a locative suffix kiyah:

But a few take the verbal -hirih:

Any verbal participle (i.e. any sentence) can be converted to a locative clause by the suffix -hirih

Predicates & arguments

Wichita is a typical example of a polysynthetic language. Almost all the information in any simple sentence is expressed by means of bound morphemes in the verb complex. The only exception to this are (1) noun stems, specifically those functioning as agents of transitive verbs but sometimes those in other functions as well, and (2) specific modifying particles. A typical sentence from a story is the following:[15]

wá:cɁarɁa kiya:kíriwa:cɁárasarikìtàɁahí:rikss niya:hkʷírih

wa:cɁarɁa 'squirrel'

kiya 'quotative' + a...ki 'aorist' + a 'preverb' + Riwa:c 'big (quantity) + Ɂaras 'meat' + Ra 'collective' + ri 'portative' + kita 'top' + Ɂa 'come' + hi:riks 'repetitive' + s 'imperfective'

na 'participle' + ya:k 'wood' + r 'collective' + wi 'be upright' + hrih 'locative'

'The squirrel, by making many trips, carried the large quantity of meat up into the top of the tree, they say.'

Note that 'squirrel' is the agent and occurs by itself with no morphemes indicating number or anything else. The verb, in addition to the verbal units of quotative, aorist, repetitive, and imperfective, also contain morphemes that indicate the agent is singular, the patient is collective, the direction of the action is to the top, and all the lexical information about the whole patient noun phrase, 'big quantity of meat'.


In the Wichita language, there is no gender distinction (WALS).

Person and possession

Subjective Objective
1st person -t- -ki-
2nd person -s- -a:-
3rd person -i- Ø
inclusive -ciy- -ca:ki-

The verb 'have, possess' in Wichita is /uR...Ɂi/, a combination of the preverb 'possessive' and the root 'be'. Possession of a noun can be expressed by incorporating that noun in this verb and indicating the person of the possessor by the subject pronoun:[16][17]

Number marking

Nouns can be divided into those that are countable and those that are not. In general, this correlates with the possibility for plural marking: Countable nouns can be marked for dual or plural; if not so marked, they are assumed to be singular. Uncountable nouns cannot be pluralized.

Those incountable nouns that are also liquids are marked as such by a special morpheme, kir.

Those incountable nouns that are not liquid are not otherwise marked in Wichita. This feature is labeled dry mass. Forms such as ye:c 'fire', kirɁi:c 'bread', and ka:hi:c 'salt' are included in this category.

Wichita countable nouns are divided into those that are collective and those that are not. The collective category includes most materials, such as wood; anything that normally comes in pieces, such as meat, corn, or flour; and any containers such as pots, bowls, or sacks when they are filled with pieces of something.

Some of the noncollective nominals are also marked for other selectional restrictions. In particular, with some verbs, animate nouns (including first and second person pronouns) require special treatment when they are patients in the sentence. Whenever there is an animate patient or object of certain verbs such as u...raɁa 'bring' or irasi 'find', the morpheme |hiɁri|(/hirɁ/, /hiɁr/, /hirɁi/) also occurs with the verb. The use of this morpheme is not predictable by rule and must be specified for each verb in the language that requires it.

Like hiɁri 'patient is animate', the morpheme wakhahr, means 'patient is an activity'.

Countable nouns that are neither animate nor activities, such as chairs, apples, rocks, or body parts, do not require any semantic class agreement morphemes in the surface grammar of Wichita.

The morpheme |ra:k| marks any or all non-third persons in the sentence as plural.

The morpheme for 'collective' or 'patient is not singular'. The shape of this varies from verb to verb, but the collective is usually |ru|, |ra|, or |r|.

The noncollective plural is usually |Ɂak|. Instead of a morpheme here, some roots change form to mark plural. Examples include:

Word Singular Plural
cook Ɂarasi wa:rasɁi:rɁ
eat kaɁac Ɂa
kill ki Ɂessa

A surface structure object in the non-third-person category can be clearly marked as singular, dual, or plural. The morpheme ra:k marks plurality; a combination oh hi and Ɂak marks dual. Singular is marked by zero.

If both agent and patient are third person, a few intransitive verbs permit the same distinctions for patients as are possible for non-third objects: singular, dual, and plural. These verbs (such as 'come' and 'sit') allow the morpheme wa to mark 'dual patient'. In all other cases the morphemes ru, ra, r, or Ɂak means 'patient is plural'.



According to the Ethnologue Languages of the World website, the status of the Wichita language is an 8b, meaning the language is nearly extinct. As of 2008, there is only one individual who is a native speaker of the Wichita language, Doris Jean Lamar McLemore. The reason for this is because the speakers of the Wichita language switched to speaking English. Thus, children were not being taught Wichita and only the elders knew the language. “Extensive efforts to document and preserve the language” are in effect through the Wichita Documentation Project.

Revitalization efforts

The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes offers language classes, taught by Doris McLemore and Shirley Davilla.[6] The tribe has created an immersion class for children and a class for adults. Linguist David Rood has collaborated with Wichita speakers to create a dictionary and language CDs.[18] The tribe is collaborating with Rood of the University of Colorado, Boulder to document and teach the language through the Wichita Documentation Project.[7]


  1. Poolaw, Rhiannon (31 August 2016). "Last Wichita Speaker Passes Away". ABC News 7. KSWO. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  2. Anderton, Alice, PhD. "Status of Indian Languages in Oklahoma." Intertribal Wordpath Society. (retrieved 17 July 2010)
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Wichita". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. "The Last Living Speaker of Wichita : NPR" (Audio interview).
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Rood, 2008, p. 395-405
  6. 1 2 Wichita Language Class. Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. 18 Feb 2009 (retrieved 3 Oct 2009)
  7. 1 2 "Wichita: About the Project." Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado, Boulder. (retrieved 17 July 2010)
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Taylor, 1967, p.113-131
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Rood, 1975, p. 315-337
  10. 1 2 3 4 Garvin, 1950, p. 179-184
  11. Rood, David S. "The Implications of Wichita Phonology" Language 51.2 (1975): 315-337. Web. 30 Jan 2014.
  12. http ||//www.colorado.edu/linguistics/faculty/rood-old/Wichita/SketchofWichita.pdf
  13. 1 2 3 Rood, David S. Wichita Grammar. New York: Garland Publishing, 1976. Print.
  14. http://www.colorado.edu/linguistics/faculty/rood-old/Wichita/SketchofWichita.pdf
  15. Rood, David S. "Agent and object in Wichita." Lingua 28 (1971-1972): 100. Web. 14 Feb. 2014
  16. 1 2 Rood, David S. "Sketch of Wichita, a Caddoan Language"
  17. Ruckman, S. E. "Tribal language fading away." Tulsa World. 26 Nov 2007 (retrieved 3 Oct 2009)


Further reading

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