Yaqui language

Yaqui language

Infobox Language
nativename=Yoem Noki
pronunciation=/joʔem nok⁼i/
states=Mexico, U.S.
region=Sonora, Arizona

Yaqui (Yoem Noki), or Yoeme, is a Native American language of the Uto-Aztecan family. It is spoken by about 15,000 people, mostly of the border Yaqui tribe, in the region around the Mexican state of Sonora, and Arizona in the United States.


The remarks below use the orthography used by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in the United States. There are also several orthographic systems used in Mexico differing slightly from this, mainly in using Spanish language values for several consonants and Spanish language spelling rules [e.g., "rohikte" would be written "rojicte"] . There are minor differences between Mexican and US dialects in inclusion or exclusion of sounds, most notably the US dialects tend to exclude an intervocalic "r" and final "k".

It is important to bear in mind that Yaqui, although it has been written for almost 500 years, is a language of an oral culture. The Yaqui language uses much subtlety in facial expression, gesture, and cultural context that cannot be economically conveyed in writing - and "Phonology" is quite inadequate a heading for the basic building block of Yaqui oral communication.


Yaqui vowels are pronounced very much like they are in standard Spanish:

"A" is pronounced similarly to that in (American English) "father" (International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) IPA|/a/).

"E" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "get" (IPA IPA|/e/).

"I" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "machine" (IPA IPA|/i/).

"O" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "go" (IPA IPA|/o/).

"U" is pronounced similarly to that in (Am. Eng.) "rude" (IPA IPA|/u/).

Vowels may be either short or long in duration. Often, long vowels are reduced in length when the word they are used in is used constructively, e.g., 'maaso' ('deer') is shortened to 'maso' in 'maso bwikam' ('deer songs'). Long vowels are written by doubling the vowel. Long vowels may change tone, and this is not represented in the written language. Some writers have referred to Yaqui as being a tonal language, but the modern forms of the language do not show any wide-spread and significant use of tonemes.


The following consonantal sounds are present in Yaqui: b, ch, (d), (f), (g), h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, and y. Most of them are pronounced nearly the same as they are in English, although "p", "t", and "k" are not aspirated. In the IPA, they are respectively IPA|/b ʧ (d) (f) (ɡ) h k l m n p r s t β w j/. Many Yaqui speakers make no difference between b and v, pronouncing both as IPA|/β/, and this appears to be intrinsic to the language and not an influence of Spanish. Additionally, there are two consonants written as clusters: "bw" (IPA IPA|/bʷ/) and "kt" (IPA IPA|/k͡t/), "bw" being a rounded "b" ('bwikam') and "kt" a simultaneous articulation of "k" and "t" ('rohikte'). The "kt" sound is found in many other Uto-Aztecan languages. Pronunciation of the rounded "b" as "b"+"w" and the "kt" as "k"+"t" is acceptable, but non-native.

Note that "d", "f", and "g" are present only in English and Spanish loanwords. Often they are substituted with the native sounds "t"/"r"/"l", "p", and "w"/"k", respectively.

In Mexico, many speakers will often substitute "g" for syllable-initial "w". This is largely because the phoneme /w/ is not present in northern Mexican Spanish as an independent consonantal phoneme, but rather as either a variant of the vowel /u/ or as an adjunct to /g/ and /k/. Use of "g" in place of "w" is considered by Yaqui speakers as a Mexicanism and not as standard Yaqui usage even in Mexico.

Glottal Stops

Yaqui also features glottal stops (IPA IPA|/ʔ/). These stops are represented by an apostrophe.

There also appears to be a "fainter" glottal stop sometimes used between vowels but with apparently little predictability. Whether this is phonemic or not is still unclear.

ound Symbolism

Sound symbolism is present in Yaqui. For example, a word with the letter "l" in it may either be pronounced normally, to denote approval from the speaker, or with an "r" in place of the "l" to denote disapproval or disfavor on the part of the speaker. Either variant form is correct.


Devoicing occurs at the ends of phrases. This is especially notable with the sound "m" and with vowels. Yaqui speech often has a "breathy" sound to English speakers.


One word, "laute", has two contradictory meanings: "quickly" and "slowly". (Similar to the problem encountered with the English word "mercurial", which can mean either "unhesitating" or "scatter-brained".) The word is often accompanied with a quick or slow open-handed movement to indicate the meaning. (Alternatively, "laute" could be translated as "at a different rate of speed" which requires a hand gesture to indicate the nature of the difference when needed for clarification.)



Yaqui word order is generally Subject Object Verb.

The object of a sentence is suffixed with "-t", or, if the word already ends in "t", with "-a".

Here is a simple sentence: "Inepo huuhit vichnu", or "I am looking at the woman."

External links

* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=yaq Report on Yaqui] from the Ethnologue


*Shaul, David L. (1999). "Yoeme-English English-Yoeme Standard Dictionary". New York: Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0-7818-0633-X.

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