- Comanche language
Comanche Nʉmʉ tekwap u Pronunciation [ˈnɨmɨ ˈrekʷapɨ ̥] Spoken in United States Region Oklahoma (formerly, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma) Native speakers 200 (date missing) Language family Language codes ISO 639-3 comDistribution of the Comanche language. This page contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
Comanche (pronounced /kəˈmæntʃiː/) is a Uto-Aztecan language spoken by the Comanche people, who split off from the Shoshone soon after they acquired horses in around 1705. The Comanche language and the Shoshoni language are therefore quite similar, although certain low-level consonant changes in Comanche have inhibited mutual intelligibility.
Although efforts are now being made to ensure its survival, most speakers of the language are elderly, and less than one percent of the Comanche people can speak the language. In the late 19th century, Comanche children were placed in boarding schools where they were discouraged from speaking their native language, and even severely punished for doing so. The second generation then grew up speaking English, because of the belief that it was better for them not to know Comanche.
The Comanche language was briefly prominent during World War II. A group of seventeen young men referred to as the Comanche Code Talkers were trained and used by the U.S. Army to send messages conveying sensitive information in the Comanche language so that it could not be deciphered by the enemy.
Comanche has a typical Numic vowel inventory of six vowels. In addition, there is the common diphthong /ai/. Historically, there was a certain amount of free variation between [ai] and [e] (as shown by comparison with Shoshoni cognates), but the variation is no longer so common and most morphemes have become fixed on either /ai/ or /e/. In the following chart, the basic symbols given are in the IPA, whereas the equivalent symbols in the conventional orthography are given to the right of them, in parentheses and boldface. Note that Comanche also has voiceless vowels, but they are non-phonemic and therefore not represented in this chart. In the conventional orthography, these vowels are marked with an underline: a̱, e̱, i̱, o̱, u̱, ʉ̱.
Short Long Front Central Back Front Central Back High (close) i ɨ (ʉ) u iː (ii) ɨː (ʉʉ) uː (uu) Mid e o eː (ee) oː (oo) Low (open) a aː (aa)
Vowel length distinction
Comanche has vowel length distinction. Vowels can be long or short. Long Vowels are never devoiced and they are in the orthography (aa, ee, ii, oo, uu, ɨɨ). An example of a long vowel is (ee) in [wakaréʔee] meaning 'turtle'. Short vowels can be lengthened when they are stressed. They can either be voiced or voiceless. In this example [múúptsɫ] or [múptsvɫ] which stands for “the name of a monster in Comanche folklorecan”notice how stress changes a short vowel into long vowel. In addition, the next examples are sentences with voiceless and voiced vowels.
VD represents “voiced vowels” VL represents “voiceless vowels."
- VD: ʔu’hanikɨkʔuʔ he came to fix it for me
- VL: ʔu’hanikIkiʔuʔ he fixed it for him and came
In the previous example of the Comanche language it’s possible to predict were voiceless vowels occurred. In addition, according to Canonge by using minimal pairs we are able to perceive the contrast of voiced and voiceless vowels. Also, the prediction of where voiceless vowels are found reflects on the Devoicing process. Devoicing produces a “voiceless vowel when a short unstressed vowel is followed by s or h.” 
However, Armagost analyzes some exceptions to the voiceless vowels rule, which are the followed. 
- “When a consonant is followed by a vowel that should be voiced and its identical to the s or h or when its comparable in stridency with –s which is follows by a vowel devoicing dos not occur.” 
- “Two consecutive syllables cannot be organically voiceless. If a syllable is voiceless, the vowel in the next syllable rightwards will not be devoicing.” 
- “A stress shift may create an environment for evoking well after the point in the derivation for devoicing well after the point in the derivation at which devoicing should have taken place” 
Comanche has a typical Numic consonant inventory. As with the vowel charts, the basic symbols given in this chart are in the IPA, whereas the equivalent symbols in the conventional orthography are given to the right of them in parentheses and boldface.
Labial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal plain labial Nasal m n Plosive p t k kʷ (kw) ʔ Affricate ts Fricative s h Approximant j (y) w
Comanche stress most commonly falls on the first syllable. Exceptions to this rule, such as in the words Waʔsáasiʔ, meaning 'Osage people', and aná, meaning 'ouch!', are marked with an acute accent.
For the purpose of stress placement, the diphthongs /ai/, /oi/, and /ui/ act as one vowel with one mora. Additionally, possessive pronouns, which serve as proclitics, do not affect the stress of a word (so that nʉ + námi 'my sister' retains its stress on the /a/ in námi).
- Primary Stress
Primary stress is “marked when it is non-initial stress”. In addition, “when a pronoun is suffixed by, for instance a postposition, the pronouns dose take primary- and initia-l stress.” An example is [nɨvía] nɨ-pia, which means my mother (my-mother). In the following data where primary stress appears it will be shown as an “acute accent.” Primary stress is found in words or compounds of three, six and five syllables. However, when primary stress is marked in a third syllable it can also be consider as a secondary stress according to Canonge’s but an “exception to this case is when both a proclitic and prefix are used.” An example of a third syllable stress is [há.bi+hu.píi.tu] which means 'stopped and lay down'. Words with “five syllables have primary stress on the first syllable.” An example is [ká.wo+nò.ka.tu] which means ‘stress’. Also, words with six syllables have primary stress on the first syllable. An example is [kú.ʔi.na.kù.ʔe.tu] which means ‘rosts for’. 
- Non-initial stress
Non-initial stress can be found in any syllable of a word that is not in the initial position and it can also fall on long vowel. Also, the “initial syllable never weekends to the point of voicelessness” However, some exceptions to the non-initial stress are animal and plant names because some of them end with a stress long vowel plus which is represented by "ʔ".“Loans are common sources of words with nonitinal stress” an example is [pirísii] pitísii, which means ‘policeman’. A word with two stresses is [ánikúra] ánikúta, which means ant (analysis unknown). 
- Alternating stress
Alternating stress occurs when there are words with three four, five and six syllables. In addition alternating stress is given “when nouns of compound are coequal, a root or stem has one-syllable suffix.” Also, prefixes or not stem-changes do not receive an indicial stress because the alternating stress “begins on the second syllable as in the following word of six syllables, following the pattern of five-syllable words.” An example is [wu.hká.ʔa.mí.ʔanu] which means 'went to cut down'. An examples of alternating stress in a four, five and six syllabuses are [á.ni.múi ]‘housefly’, [yú.pu.sí.a] meaning ‘louse’ and [wuh+tú.pu káʔ ‘buckle] which meaning 'button’. A examples of three syllables is [wáhkát ìmat òʔiàt I] waha=-?? twelve, which means 'two-??'. 
- Stress Shift
Stress shift occurs when “verves often exhibit stylistic stress shift when occurring at the end of a breathing group.” In addition, stress moves “one syllable to the right if that syllable is voiced; otherwise it skips over the voiceless vowels to the next syllable”. An example is [pohínu ]‘jumped. According to Charney stress shift is caused by a suffixes-n which cause a ‘right ward shift of stress in form with the shape CVHCV or CVhV.” Examples of CVHCV is [marohtíkwan] ma-toH-tíkwa-n which means ‘he hit him’ and an example of CVhv is [pahín] pahi-n which means 'he fell'.  By using the form CVHCV or CVhV we can see that -h “is presented as a second or a precipitated consonant”. However, “stress dos not shift rightwards when the verb root dos not contain [h]. An example is [nómiʔan] no-miʔa-n meaning ‘they moved camp.’ 
- Free Variation: although not often reflected in the orthography, certain sounds occur in free variation. For instance, /j/ can be pronounced as a [dʒ] (for example: ma yaa [ma dʒaː]), and a labialized /k/ can be voiced (as in nʉ gwʉhʉ: it is written gw, even though it is more accurately /ɡʷ/, just as the labialized /k/ is written in Comanche as kw rather than /kʷ/). In contemporary times, preaspiration and preglottalization may occur in free variation with a long vowel: aakaaʔ / ahkaaʔ ('devil's horn').
- Spirantization: spirantization can occur in the phonemes /p/ and /t/ when they are preceded by vowels. /p/ becomes the voiced bilabial fricative, [β], usually written as a b, and /t/ becomes the voiced alveolar tap, [ɾ], written as an r. An intervening /h/ or /ʔ/ does not block this spirantization process, as seen in tuaʔbaʔa 'on the son' (the sound [β] is written here as b, and is allophonic with the Comanche /p/). In the past, there was a process of nasalization in Comanche which has since been lost and which blocked spirantization; certain words that would otherwise exhibit spirantization in modern Comanche do not, therefore, as a result of the historical presence of what would have been a preceding nasal (ʉ papi 'your head' would historically have been ʉn papi).
- Metathesis: A fairly regular process of metathesis occurs, sporadically with voiceless consonants and regularly with voiced consonants. It is accompanied by the deletion of a vowel: otʉnhʉh -> orʉhʉ -> ohrʉ ('they', dual). In modern Comanche, voiceless, unaspirated stops followed by a long /ɨ/ (written ʉ) and an /h/ may be realized as aspirated equivalents at the expense of the subsequent long vowel and [h]: pitsipʉ̱ha -> pitsipʰa ('milk').
- Preaspiration and Preglottalization: Certain consonants undergo preaspiration word medially, namely, /n/ and the voiceless, unaspirated stops /p/, /t/, and /k/ (rendered in the IPA as [ʰn], [ʰp], [ʰt], [ʰk], respectively). It is usually written with an h before the consonant, as in aworahna 'cupboard' or ekasahpanaʔ 'soldier'. Similarly, many of the same consonants can also undergo preglottalization, which is written with ʔ before the consonant (resulting in the digraphs ʔn, ʔb, ʔw, and ʔr), as in hunuʔbiʔ 'creek' or taʔwoʔiʔ 'gun'.
- Organic and Inorganic Devoicing: each Comanche vowel has an allophonic voiceless (or "whispered") equivalent. The devoicing process in Comanche follows a predictable pattern, and can be broken down into two categories - organic (compulsory) and inorganic (optional).
- A vowel which precedes an /s/ or an /h/ undergoes induced organic devoicing, provided that the vowel is unstressed, short, and not part of a cluster (contrast sit
usuʔa, 'this one also', which undergoes organic devoicing, with the similar word sit u usuʔa, 'these ones also', which does not because the vowel is not short). Two adjacent syllables cannot both have organic voiceless vowels. In such a situation, the second vowel does not devoice.
- The second type of devoicing that can occur in Comanche is inorganic devoicing. Short vowels that are not part of a cluster may be optionally devoiced at the end of a breath group, and this may apply even if the preceding vowel has undergone organic devoicing. Additionally, an inorganic, voiceless vowel conditions optional lengthening of a voiced penultimate vowel if there is no intervening preaspirated consonant (for example, kaasa̲ 'wing' and oomo̲ 'leg').
- A vowel which precedes an /s/ or an /h/ undergoes induced organic devoicing, provided that the vowel is unstressed, short, and not part of a cluster (contrast sit
Like many languages of the Americas, Comanche can be classified as a polysynthetic language.
Comanche nouns are inflected for case and number, and the language possesses a dual number. Like many Uto-Aztecan languages, nouns may take an absolutive suffix. Many cases are also marked using postpositions.
Personal pronouns exist for three numbers (singular, dual, and plural) and three persons. They have different forms depending on whether or not they are the subject or object of a verb, possessive (including reflexive possessive forms), or the object of a postposition. Like many languages of the Americas, Comanche first-person plural pronouns have both inclusive and exclusive forms.
The Comanche paradigm for nominal number suffixes is illustrated below:
Subject Object Possessive Dual I -nʉkwʉh -nʉkwʉh-ha -nʉkwʉh-ha Dual II -nʉhʉ -nihi -nʉhʉ Plural -nʉʉ -nii -nʉʉ
- The objective and possessive forms differ only in their final feature: fortis is applied at the end of the possessive suffixes.
- The two dual suffixes are not technically distinct and may be used interchangeably. However, the first of the two (Dual I) is preferred for humans.
- The absolutive suffix may be dropped before the addition of these suffixes.
Many of the verb stems regularly are suppletive: intransitive verbs are suppletive for singular versus plural subject and transitive verbs are suppletive for singular versus plural object. Verbs can take various affixes, including incorporated nouns before the stem. Most verb affixes are suffixes, except for voicing-changing prefixes and instrumental prefixes.
The verb stem can take a number of prefixes and suffixes. A sketch of all the elements that may be affixed to the verb is given on the right:
In addition to verbal affixes, Comanche verbs can also be augmented by other verbs. Although in principle Comanche verbs may be freely combined with other verbs, in actuality only a handful of verbs, termed auxiliary verbs, are frequently combined with others. These forms take the full range of aspectual suffixes. Common auxiliary verbs in Comanche include hani 'to do, make', naha 'to be, become', miʔa 'to go', and katʉ / yʉkwi 'to sit'. An example of how the verbs combine: katʉ 'to sit' + miʔa 'to go' = katʉmiʔa to ride (and go).
As mentioned above, Comanche has a rich repertoire of instrumental prefixes, and certain verbs (termed instrumental verbs) cannot occur without an instrumental prefix. These prefixes can affect the transitivity of a verb. The Comanche instrumental prefixes are listed below:
- kʉh- = 'with the teeth, chin, mouth'
- kuh- = 'with heat, fire'
- ma- = 'with the hand' and as a generalized instrumental
- mu- / muh = 'with the nose, lips, front'
- nih- = 'verbally'
- pih- = 'with the buttocks, rear (e.g., of a car)'
- sʉ- = 'with cold'; fortis is applied at the end of the prefix
- sʉh- = 'with the foot, in a violent motion'
- su- = 'with the mind, mental activity'; fortis is applied at the end of the prefix
- tah- = 'with the foot'
- toh- = 'with the hand, violent or completed action'
- tsah- = 'with the hand (extended to hand tools)'
- tsih- = 'with a sharp point, with the finger'
- tsox- = 'with the head'
- kʉh- = 'with the teeth, chin, mouth'
- wʉh- = an all-purpose instrumental
The word order is SOV: Subject - Object - Verb. But while the standard word order in Comanche is SOV, it can shift in two specific circumstances. The topic of a sentence, though marked with one of two particles, is often placed at the beginning of the sentence, defying the standard word order. Furthermore, the subject of a sentence is often placed second in a sentence. When the subject is also the topic, as is often the case, it ends up in the first position, preserving SOV word order; otherwise, the subject will be placed second. For example, the English sentence 'I hit the man' could be rendered in Comanche with the components in either of the following two orders: 'I' (topic) 'man' (object) 'hit' (an aspect marker) - the standard SOV word order - or 'man' (object and topic) 'I' 'hit' (an aspect marker) - an OSV word order, which accentuates the role of the man who was hit.
Like other Numic languages, Comanche has switch-reference markers to handle subordination. This refers to markers which indicate whether or not a subordinate verb has the same or different subject as the main verb, and in the case of Comanche, also the temporal relation between the two verbs.
When the verb of a subordinate clause has a different subject from the verb of the main clause, and the time of the verbs is simultaneous, the subordinate verb is marked with -ku, and its subject is marked as if it were an object. When the time of the verbs is not simultaneous, the subordinate verb is marked with one of several affixes depending on the duration of the subordinate verb and whether it refers to an action which occurred before that described by the main verb or one which occurred after.
The Comanche Alphabet was developed by Dr. Alice Anderton, a linguistic anthropologist, and was adopted as the official Comanche Alphabet by the Comanche Nation in 1994. The alphabet is as follows:
Alphabet Pronunciation Alphabet Pronunciation Alphabet Pronunciation Alphabet Pronunciation Alphabet Pronunciation Alphabet Pronunciation a /a/ b [β] /p/ e /e/ h /h/ i /i/ k /k/ m /m/ n /n/ o /o/ p [p] /p/ r [ɾ] /t/ s /s/ t [t] /t/ u /u/ ʉ /ə/ w /w/ y /j/ ʔ /ʔ/
- Long vowels are indicated by doubling the vowel: aa, ee, ii, oo, uu, ʉʉ.
- Voiceless vowels are indicated by an underline: a̱, e̱, i̱, o̱, u̱, ʉ̱.
- When the stress does not fall on the first syllable of the word, it is marked with an acute accent ´: kʉtséena 'coyote'.
- The glottal stop /ʔ/ is sometimes written as ?.
- The phonemes /ts/ and /kʷ/ are written as ts and kw, respectively.
The following are examples of words from the Comanche language. They are based primarily on the Comanche Vocabulary: Trilingual Edition by Manuel García Rejón (originally published in 1864). The orthography used here is not the official Comanche Alphabet, but is based on Spanish orthography. In it, doubled letters are long, and h is always sounded as in the English "hit", even in the middle of a word, as in "cuhtz" (kuutsuu 'buffalo'). An accent mark indicates stress on that syllable.
English Comanche Official alphabet equivalent Boy Tuinéhpua tuinʉpʉ Brother (Older) Bávi pabi (-babi following vowel) Brother (Younger) Rámi tami (sometimes -rami following vowel) Buffalo Cuhtz kuutsuu Corn Janib hanipʉ Cougar Toyarohco toyaruku Coyote Tzensa tzsensa ? (usual modern term is kʉtséena) Cricket Tuaahtaqui tuaahtaki Deer Areca arʉka Dog Sarrie sarii Father Ap apʉ Fire Cuuna kuuna Fish Pécui pekwi Frog Pasauiyió pasawʔóo Grass Sonip sunipʉ Horse Puc puuku House Caani kahni Jerky (meat) Inap inapʉ Moon Muea mʉa Mother Pia pia No Niatz niats ?? (modern 'no' is kee) Owl Mupitz mupitsʉ Rabbit Tábo tabu Rain Emar ʉmarʉ Rainbow Paracoa paracoa River Piajunubi pia hunuubi Sister (Older) Batzi patsi (-batsi following a vowel) Sister (Younger) Nami nami Sky Tomóbi tomoobi Star Tatzinupi tatsinupi Sun Taabe taabe Water Paa paa Yes Jaa haa
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- Armagost, James (1982). "Comanche deictic roots in narrative texts". Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics 7: 5–14. https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/handle/1808/3611.
- Armagost, James (1982). "The temporal relationship between telling and happening in Comanche narrative". Anthropological Linguistics 24: 193–200.
- Armagost, James (1983). "Comanche narrative: Some general remarks and a selected text". Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics 8 (2): 1–30. https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/handle/1808/477.
- Armagost, James (1985). "On predicting voiceless vowels in Comanche". Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics 10 (2): 1–15. https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/handle/1808/499.
- Armagost, James (1985). "Comanche ma-: Undistinguished deictic, narrative obviative". International Journal of American Linguistics 51 (3): 302–310. doi:10.1086/465874. JSTOR 1265433.
- Armagost, James (1986). "Three exceptions to vowel devoicing in Comanche". Anthropological Linguistics 28: 3.
- Armagost, James (1990). "Interpreting St. Clair's Comanche texts: Objective case marking and the 'same subject' dependent clauses". Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics 15 (2): 1–17. https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/handle/1808/435.
- Bruce, Benjamin. "Mar
úawe!" Internet:  October 14, 2005.
- Canonge, Elliott D. (1957). "Voiceless vowels in Comanche". International Journal of American Linguistics 23 (2): 63–67. doi:10.1086/464394. JSTOR 1264055.
- Canonge, Elliott D. (1958). Comanche texts. Summer Institute of Linguistics publications in linguistics and related fields (No. 1). Norman, OK: Summer Institute of Linguistics of the University of Oklahoma.
- Casagrande, Joseph (1948). "Comanche baby language". International Journal of American Linguistics 14: 11–14. doi:10.1086/463971. JSTOR 1263088.
- Casagrande, Joseph B. (1954). "Comanche linguistic acculturation: I". International Journal of American Linguistics 20 (2): 140–151. doi:10.1086/464267. JSTOR 1263388.
- Casagrande, Joseph B. (1954). "Comanche linguistic acculturation: II". International Journal of American Linguistics 20 (3): 217–237. doi:10.1086/464281. JSTOR 1263347.
- Casagrande, Joseph B. (1955). "Comanche linguistic acculturation: III". International Journal of American Linguistics 21 (1): 8–25. doi:10.1086/464304. JSTOR 1263210.
- Charney, Jean Ormsbee, 1993. A Grammar of Comanche. London/Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
- Hamp, Eric. (1958). "Prosodic notes: On Comanche voiceless vowels". International Journal of American Linguistics 24 (4): 321–322. JSTOR 1263980.
- Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version: .
- The Language. Internet: www.comanchelanguage.org October 22, 2005.
- Osborn, Henry; & Smalley, William (1949). "Formulae for Comanche stem and word formation". International Journal of American Linguistics 15 (2): 93–99. doi:10.1086/464027.
- Rejón, Manuel García. (1864; reprint 1995). Comanche vocabulary (trilingual ed.). Gelo, Daniel J. (Ed.). Texas archaeology and ethnohistory series. Austin: University of Texas Press.
- Robinson, Lila Wistrand; & Armagost, James. (1990). Comanche dictionary and grammar. Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington publications in linguistics (No. 92). Dallas, Texas: The Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington.
- Smalley, William (1953). "Phonemic rhythm in Comanche". International Journal of American Linguistics 19 (4): 297–301. doi:10.1086/464236.
- Troike, Rudolph C. (1956). "Comanche linguistic acculturation: A critique". International Journal of American Linguistics 22 (3): 213–215. doi:10.1086/464370.
- Linguist List map of Comanche
- Comanche Language and Cultural Preservation Committee (Nʉmʉ Tekwapʉha Nomneekatʉ)
- Comanche alphabet at Omniglot.com
- Learn Comanche web site
- Exploration of the Red River of Louisiana, in the year 1852 / by Randolph B. Marcy ; assisted by George B. McClellan. hosted by the Portal to Texas History. See charts in the back of the book that compare the English, Comanche, and Wichita languages.
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