Taos dialect

Taos dialect
Spoken in USA
Region Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
Native speakers 803  (1990 census)
Language family
  • Tiwa
    • Northern Tiwa
      • Taos
Language codes
ISO 639-3 twf – Northern Tiwa
Taos County New Mexico Incorporated and Unincorporated areas Taos Highlighted.svg
Location of city of Taos ("Taos village") in Taos County New Mexico. Taos Pueblo is about two miles north of the city of Taos.

The Taos dialect of the Northern Tiwa language is spoken in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico.

Lynn Nichols of University of California, Berkeley is involved in the development of an electronic corpus of Taos texts.


Demographics and ethnography

In data collected in 1935 and 1937, George L. Trager (1946) notes that Taos was spoken by all members of the Taos Pueblo community. Additionally, most speakers were bilingual in either Spanish or English: speakers over 50 years of age were fluent in Spanish, adult speakers younger than 50 spoke Spanish and English, children around 5 years old could speak English but not Spanish — generally a decrease in age correlated with a decrease in Spanish fluency and an increase in English fluency. Pre-school children and a few very old women were monolingual Taos speakers.

A more recent report by Gomez (2003) notes that the language "until a few years ago remained viable only in age groups of thirty and older", a sign that Taos is being affected by language endangerment pressures. Nonetheless, it is one of 46 languages in North America that are being spoken by significant numbers of children as of 1995 (Goddard 1996). The most recent estimate is from 1980 with about 800 native speakers out of 1600 ethnic population (50% of the population).

Taos speakers have historically been reluctant to provide linguists with language data to work with and have preferred to keep their language secret from outsiders. G. Trager had to work with his consultants in private and keep their identities in confidence.[1] The tendency for secrecy is a continuing general Pueblo reaction starting in the 17th century in large part due to the oppressive persecution (including public executions and torture) of Pueblo religious practices by the colonial Spanish. The Taos community has been particularly guarded about revealing their language (and culture) to outsiders when compared with other eastern pueblos in New Mexico.[2] Due to secrecy practices, the details of language preservation are not known outside of the community.

Language variation

G. Trager found no dialectal variation in the 1930-1940s.

Genealogical relations

Taos belongs to a northern sub-grouping on the Tiwa branch of the Tanoan language family. It is closely related to and still mutually intelligible with Picurís (spoken at Picuris Pueblo).[3] It is slightly more distantly related to Southern Tiwa (spoken at Isleta Pueblo and Sandia Pueblo).



According to one analysis, Taos has 18 consonants:[4]

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
central lateral
Plosive voiced b d ɡ
voiceless p t k [ʔ]
Affricate c [tʃ]
Fricative ł [ɬ] s x h
Nasal m n
Approximant w l y [j]
Flap (r [ɾ])

The alveolar flap /ɾ/ is found in loanwords from New Mexican Spanish.

Taos has six vowels — five of these have an oral-nasal contrast. Taos has five (native) vowel clusters (i.e. diphthongs).

Oral Vowels
Front Back
oral nasal oral nasal
High i į [ĩ] u ų [ũ]
Mid e [ɛ] ę [æ̃] ə [ɤ]
Low a [æ] ą [ã] o [ɑ] ǫ [ɔ̃]
Vowel clusters
Final component
e ę a o
i ie [iɛ] ia [iæ]
į įę [ĩæ̃]
u uo [uɒ]
ə əo [ɤɜ]

Taos has three degrees of stress: primary, secondary, and unstressed, as well as three tones: high, mid, and low.


Taos has been transcribed by Trager in Americanist phonetic notation. However, his transcription differs between his earlier work exemplified by Trager (1946) and his later work following and explained in Trager (1948). The following chart lists the symbolization of Taos phonemes in Trager (1946) and Trager (1948) and also a corresponding IPA symbolization. However, the chart only lists symbols that differ between the three—if Trager (1946), Trager (1948), and the IPA all use the same symbol it is not listed in the chart below.

Trager 1946 Trager 1948 IPA
ʔ ʔ
c c tʃ ~ ts
c’ c’ tʃʼ ~ tsʼ (1946), tʃʔ ~ tsʔ (1948)
fr phr fɾ ~ ɸɾ
g g ɡ
k’ k’ (1946),
kw kw (1946), kw (1948)
kw kw’ kʷʼ (1946), kwʔ (1948)
ł ł ɬ
p’ p’ (1946), (1948)
p‛ ph (1946), ph (1948)
r r ɾ
s s s ~ ʃ
t’ t’ (1946), (1948)
t‛ th (1946), th (1948)
xw xw (1946), xw (1948)
y y j

Both Trager (1946) and Trager (1948) use the same vowel symbolization. This symbols have roughly approximate values of corresponding IPA symbols except that the vowel transcribed as ⟨o⟩ by Trager is phonetically IPA [ɑ] and in Trager's phonemic categorizing a low back vowel (with rounding details irrelevant to the categorization).

More different is Trager's two ways of transcribing tone and stress. The table below shows the differences on the syllable ta.

Stress + Tone combination Trager 1946 Trager 1948 IPA
primary stress + mid tone tˈa ˈtā
secondary stress + mid tone tˌa ˌtā
primary stress + high tone ta̋ ˈtá
secondary stress + high tone ˌtá
primary stress + low tone ˈtà
secondary stress + low tone tȁ̏ ˌtà
unstressed ta ta ta

The conflation between primary + high and secondary + high as well as primary + low and secondary + low in Trager (1946) was due to the belief that they were in complementary distribution. Trager rescinded this view in Trager (1948) and onward. In Trager's terminology, primary stress is called "loud" stress, secondary stress is "normal", and unstressed is "weak".

The orthography used in this article is essentially that of Trager (1948) with one modification: Trager (1948: 158) mentioned that the glottal stop was not written when word-initial in the practical orthography he was teaching his informants — this practice is followed here.



Taos nouns are inflected according to grammatical number with the number suffixes. Additionally, they may be inflected for possession with prefixes that indicate the number and grammatical person of the possessor as well as agreeing with the number of noun stem.

Number inflection

Nouns are generally composed of a noun stem with a following number suffix. The number suffixes distinguish between singular and plural. However, in verbs, three numbers are distinguished — singular, dual, and plural — because of this distinction in verbs the plural suffixes on nouns are more appropriately duoplural (Trager uses the term "nonsingular"). The singular suffix is ‑na and the duoplural suffix is ‑ne.

Two other number suffixes ‑ną and ‑nemą can express either singular number or duoplural depending upon the grammatical class of noun. For example, the noun stem cupa‑ "judge" is duoplural with the addition of ‑ną: cùpáną "judges". On the other hand, the noun stem t’awa‑ "wheel" is singular with the addition of ‑ną: t’áwaną "wheel". Examples with ‑nemą include ká‑nemą "mothers" (duoplural) and cí‑nemą "eye" (singular). Following the terminology used for other Tanoan languages, these will be called here "inverse" number suffixes.[5] These inverse suffixes effectively indicate the grammatical number opposite the other suffix that appears on a given noun. Thus, since the stem p’iane‑ "mountain" requires the plural suffix ‑ne in the duoplural form (namely, p’íane‑ne "mountains"), the inverse ‑nemą marks the singular in p’íane‑nemą "mountain". And, likewise, since the stem cibiki‑ "robin" requires the singular suffix ‑na in the singular form (namely, cìbikí‑na "robin"), the inverse ‑ną marks the duoplural in cìbíki‑ną "robins".

Number classes

Taos nouns can be grouped into four grammatical classes based on which number prefixes are required for the singular and duoplural inflectional forms. Trager calls these noun classes "genders". One class requires the singular suffix ‑na in the singular form and an inverse suffix in the duoplural. Another class requires an inverse suffix in the singular and the duoplural suffix ‑ne in the duoplural. A third class requires the singular and duoplural suffixes for the singular and duoplural forms, respectively. A fourth class only occurs with the duoplural suffix ‑ne. The first two classes, which use an inverse suffix, can be separated into two subclasses based on whether inverse ‑ną or ‑nemą is used. These are summarized in the following table.

Class Singular Duoplural Examples
I ‑na ‑ną (cupa‑) cùpána "judge", cùpáną "judges"
(kayu‑) kàyúna "maternal aunt", káyuną "maternal aunts"
‑nemą (ka‑) kána "mother", kánemą "mothers"
(t’oy‑) t’óyna "person", t’óynemą "persons"
II ‑ną ‑ne (tawa‑) t’áwaną "wheel", t’áwane "wheels"
(ciatu‑) cìatúną "legging", cìatúne "leggings"
‑nemą (ci‑) cínemą "eye", cíne "eyes"
(xo‑) xónemą "arm", xóne "arms"
III ‑na ‑ne (pululu‑) pùlulúna "plum", pùlulúne "plums"
(kwo‑) kwóna "axe", kwóne "axes"
IV ‑ne (c’o‑) c’óne "liver"
(kopha‑) kopháne "coffee"

Noun class I is composed of primarily animate nouns. The animate nouns include persons, animals, and kinship terms. Two non-animate nouns in the class are c’ìpána "doll" and p’ȍxwíana "egg". The class includes both native words and loanwords from Spanish (such as yàwo’óna "mare" < yegua, prìmu’úna "cousin" < primo, etc.). Membership of this class is represented by the following list of nouns (cited in the singular form). The first list uses the ‑ną inverse suffix in the duoplural.

àłu’úna "paternal grandmother" c’ìpána "doll" c’ȕnéna "coyote"
c’ùwala’ána "squirrel" cìbikína "robin" cìwyu’úna "bird"
cìyúna "mouse" cùlo’óna "dog" cùpána "judge"
ə̀wyu’úna "boy" hȕolóna "quail" gòyu’úna "rooster" (loan)
į̀ęmę’éna "paternal aunt" k’òwa’ána "relative" k’ùo’ȕ’úna "lamb"
kàyúna "maternal aunt" kìłu’úna "nephew, niece" kòlno’óna "badger"
kòsi’ína "cow" kòw’ȕ’úna "colt" kóywona "Kiowa Indian" (loan)
kùci’ína "pig" (loan) kumàyli’ína "godmother" (loan) kumpàyli’ína "godfather" (loan)
kùylulúna "skunk" kw’àyána "magpie" láyna "king" (loan)
lìlúna "chicken" łìtúna "maternal grandmother" mą́kuna "grandchild"
mèstu’úna "teacher" (loan) mį̏mína "maternal uncle" mùlo’óna "mule" (loan)
mùldu’úna "donkey" (loan) mùoya’ána "ox" (loan) mų̀si’ína "cat"
nábahuna "Navajo Indian" (loan) nòdu’úna "soldier" (loan) oxènti’ína "agent" (loan)
p’àyu’úna "younger sister" p’ȍ’ǫ́yona "spider" p’ȍwàya’ána "worm"
p’ȍxwíana "egg" p’óyona "beaver" p’ǫ́yna "younger brother"
pènku’úna "orphan" pę̀cu’úna "rattlesnake" phìayána "louse, flea"
phonsáyna "white man" (loan) phų̀yu’úna "fly" pòpóna "older brother"
prìmu’úna "cousin" (loan) sayénuna "Cheyenne Indian" (loan) sə̀oyi’ína "daughter-in-law"
t’òyłóna "giant" tà’ána "son-in-law" tàłułi’ína "grandfather"
tòbúna "governor of pueblo" tràmpi’ína "tramp" (loan) tȕculóna "hummingbird"
tùlu’úna "bull" (loan) tų̀łu’úna "paternal uncle" tùtúna "older sister"
tùxwána "fox" ȕłęłę’éna "youth" upę̀yu’úna "girl"
yàwo’óna "mare" (loan)

The following belong to noun class I with the ‑nemą inverse suffix.

c’ȁwéna "bluejay" cíwena "eagle" kána "mother"
kə́ona "bear" kòléna "wolf" kònéna "buffalo"
kǫ̏wéna "owl" kwę́na "Mexican" kwə́lena "maiden"
kwíanena "bitch" łȉwéna "woman" łùłi’ína "old man"
p’į́wna "sparrow" pę́na "deer" pə̏’ə́na "fish"
phȉwéna "daughter" pȉwéna "rabbit" pulísena "policeman" (loan)
púyena "friend" sə́onena "man" sȕléna "bluebird"
t’óyna "person" tǫ̏ména "father" ȕp’iléna "baby"
ȕ’úna "son"

Nouns in classes II and III are opposed to class I in that they are inanimates. However, there is no apparent semantic motivation for distinguishing the types of nouns with membership in class II and class III. Both classes include body parts, plants, natural phenomena, and man-made materials. Loanwords are incorporated into both classes. Examples of nouns in class II follow. Those with the ‑ną inverse suffix are below.

bósuną "glass tumbler" (loan) butéyoną "bottle" (loan) bútoną "boot" (loan)
cìatúną "legging" hálgoną "rug" (loan) hǫ́luną "lung"
hų́łoliną "weapon" hų̏p’ôhaną "juniper" íałoną "willow"
į̂ęthuną "ladder" kwę́łoną "oak" kwíltoną "quilt" (loan)
łòmų́ną "mouth" łòwatúną "chief's cane" łòxwóloną "window"
mą̂nmųną "glove" mę́dianą "stocking" (loan) mę́soną "table" (loan)
p’ȍk’úowoną "fir" pisóloną "blanket" (loan) púeloną "frying pan" (loan)
sédoną "silk" (loan) t’áwaną "wheel" túłoną "tree"
tų́łęną "birch" tûoyoną "towel" (loan) úliną "rubber (object)" (loan)
xų̀p’íną "knee" yúwolaną "skirt"

Examples of nouns in class II with the ‑nemą inverse suffix are below.

cínemą "eye" ę́nemą "shoulder" hų̂nemą "cedar"
į̏ęnénemą "foot" k’ə́onemą "neck" kə̏dénemą "door"
kə̀nénemą "cradle" kə̀obénemą "shoe" kínemą "blanket"
mą̏nénemą "hand" ȍdénemą "chin" p’íanenemą "mountain"
p’ínemą "head" phùolénemą "yucca" piakə̀nénemą "chest"
pȍbénemą "flower" telędúnenemą "fork" (loan) wę̀’énemą "pine"
wǫ́nemą "wind" xomúnenemą "ham" (loan) xónemą "arm"
xų́nemą "leg" yò’ónemą "song"

Examples of noun in class III are the following:

bòyi’ína "valley" (loan) belísena "suitcase" (loan) bùtúnena "button" (loan)
c’únena "deerhide strip" c’òwowo’óna "ankle" cą̀pienéna "yeast"
cȅdéna "anus" cìakǫ’óna "question" cûdena "shirt"
ə̂bena "cherry" kàsu’úna "cheese" (loan) kàyi’ína "street" (loan)
kayúnena "canyon" (loan) kèke’éna "cake" (loan) kə́na "vulva"
komòlto’óna "bed frame" (loan) kòmpu’úna "camp" (loan) kòwmą̏celéna "hoof"
kùli’ína "cabbage" (loan) kùti’ína "coat" (loan) kwę̀xòci’ína "bracelet"
kwìawìp’į́ęna "racetrack" kwóna "axe" kwę̀mų́na "carpenter's apron"
láyna "law" (loan) lílena "belt" lìmunéna "lemon" (loan)
łòxóyna "lip" łúna "buckskin" mą̏c’élena "fingernail"
mąkìno’óna "machine" (loan) mę̀diaxų̀ci’ína "garter" mę̀so’óna "(Catholic) mass" (loan)
mę̀sotu’úna "church" (loan) mį̀yo’óna "mile" (loan) moltìyu’úna "hammer" (loan)
monsònu’úna "appletree" (loan) mùlso’óna "pocket" (loan) mųstúnena "button" (loan)
ną̀xù’úna "adobe brick" p’ȍkúna "bread" p’óna "moon"
p’ȍpə́na "sky" p’ȍtukw’ilóna "mint" p’ȍxəłóna "star"
pànąthóna "underwear" pèro’óna "pear" (loan) phę́na "cloud"
phə́yna "nose" phò’ína "peach" (loan) phóna "hair"
píana "heart" pį̏ę’éna "bed" pį́ęna "road"
plòso’óna "city" (loan) pòmų́na "trousers" póna "pumpkin"
pǫ̏’óna "land, country" púlulúna "plum" pùohóna "ball"
pùru’úna "cigar" (loan) ràncu’úna "ranch" (loan) rarą̀xu’úna "orange" (loan)
supòno’óna "bedspring" (loan) t’àmų́na "cheek" t’ółəona "ear"
tą́na "bean" thį̀ę’éna "stomach" thȕléna "sun"
tį̀ęndo’óna "store" (loan) tìkiti’ína "ticket" (loan) tomòli’ína "tamale" (loan)
tròki’ína "truck" (loan) tumą̀ti’ína "tomato" (loan) ùbo’óna "grape" (loan)
úyna "charcoal" (loan) úypha’ána "burning coal" wána "penis"
xwílena "bow"

The final class IV consists of mostly abstract and deverbal nouns. All nouns in this class only are inflected with the duoplural. They may be semantically either singular or collective. Examples follow.

adùbi’íne "adobe" (loan) benę̀nu’úne "poison" (loan) biną̀gre’éne "vinegar" (loan)
c’óne "liver" cì’íne "knot" cìli’íne "chili" (loan)
cìliłə̀’ə́ne "chili soup" cìlithə̀o’óne "chili powder" gosulínene "gasoline" (loan)
hə́olene "sickness" ȉa’áne "corn" į̀ękǫ́ne "hail"
kopháne "coffee" (loan) kùku’úne "cocoa" (loan) lecùgo’óne "lettuce" (loan)
łáne "tobacco" łíne "grass" łitǫ́ne "wheat"
łò’óne "wood" łùléne "rain" mùoli’íne "return"
ną̀méne "soil" obènu’úne "oats" (loan) p’ȍcíane "ice"
p’ȍxúone "steam" p’ȍ’óne "water" páne "clothing"
phà’áne "fire" pòwdo’óne "baking powder" (loan) sùdo’óne "baking soda" (loan)
téne "tea" (loan)

Trager treats class III and IV as sub-classes of a larger single class.

The noun class system also applies to some other word types besides nouns. Demonstratives and some numerals are also inflected for number with different suffixes that agree with the noun that they modify.

Connecting -e-

When some stems are followed by the number suffixes, they are followed by a connecting ‑e‑ vowel. For example, the word "flower" consists of a stem pob‑ and in the inflected forms the intervening vowel appears: pȍb‑é‑nemą "flower". Other examples include ȍd‑é‑nemą "chin, jaw", kwían‑e‑na "bitch", łȉw‑é‑na "woman". However, not all instances of e vowels occurring directly before number suffixes are this intervening vowel as there also some stems which end in a e vowel, such as c’ȕné‑na "coyote" which has the stem c’ùne‑.


Several noun stem have reduplicated stem material appearing between the stem and the number suffix. For example, kò’óne "washing" consists of the stem ko‑ and the duoplural number suffix ‑ne. Between the stem and the suffix is the duplifix ‑’o‑. This duplifix consists of the consonant and a copy of the final vowel of the stem ko‑. The duplifix may be symbolized as ‑’V‑ where V represents the reduplication of any vowel that occurs at the end of the preceding noun stem. Thus "washing" is ko‑’V‑ne, which after copying is ko‑’o‑ne. Other examples include

cì‑’í‑ne "knot"
cìwyu‑’ú‑na "bird"
ȉa‑’á‑ne "corn"

Further details about the phonology of the reduplication are found in Taos phonology: Reduplicative vowel patterning.

The reduplication occurs in all four noun classes before the all number suffixes except inverse ‑ną (in both class I duoplural and class II singular). The following examples show the patterning of reduplication and number suffixes found by Trager.

Singular Duoplural Noun class Gloss
c’ìliyo‑’ó‑na reduplication c’íliyo‑ną no reduplication Class I "bat"
ȕ‑’ú‑na reduplication ȕ‑’ú‑nemą reduplication Class I "son"
yúwola‑ną no reduplication yùwola‑’á‑ne reduplication Class II "skirt"
yò‑’ó‑nemą reduplication yò‑’ó‑ne reduplication Class II "song"
kwę̀xòci‑’í‑na reduplication kwę̀xòci‑’í‑ne reduplication Class III "bracelet"
mę̀sotu‑’ú‑na reduplication mę́sotu‑ne no reduplication Class III "church"
Stress shift
Place-gender (local)


Noun stems of the nouns in class I can standalone as free words when they are used to refer to persons as proper nouns.



Pronominal inflection

First Second Third
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Plural Inverse
First Singular ą- mąpę-n- mąpi- ti- o- pi-
Dual ą-n- ką-n- ąpę-n-
Plural i- kiw- ipi-
Second Singular may- o- ku- i-
Dual mą-n- mą-n- mąpę-n-
Plural mą- mąw- mąpi-
Third Singular o- ą-n- i- ą- mą-n- mą- u- i-
Dual ą-n- ą-n- ąpę-n-
Plural i- iw- ipi-

See also


  1. ^ G. Trager's primary consultants in 1935 and 1937 were young men of about 30 years of age.
  2. ^ For example, the Taos degree of Indian "blood" averaged around 95% in 1972. In 1970 only one Spanish-American female and 23 non-Taos Indians were living in Taos Pueblo. See Bodine (1979) and Eggan (1979).
  3. ^ Sources on mutual intelligibility report conflicting information. Mithun (1999): "they [Taos and Picuris] are close but generally considered mutually unintelligible". But, G. Trager (1969): "The facts that there are considerable phonological differences between the two languages [Taos and Picuris], but that the grammatical systems are very much alike and that mutual intelligibility still persists...". G. Trager (1946): "The two Tiwa groups [Northern Tiwa and Southern Tiwa] are fairly homogeneous: Sandía and Isleta [of the Southern Tiwa group] differ very little and are mutually completely intelligible; Taos and Picurís [of the Northern Tiwa group] diverge more from each other. Further, the group as a whole is very similar: Taos and Picurís are each intelligible to the other three, and Sandía and Isleta are understood in the north, though with difficulty". G. Trager (1943): "Taos and Picurís are much alike, and mutually understandable. Sandía and Isleta are almost identical. A speaker of the southern languages can manage to understand the northern two, but the reverse is not true." F. Trager (1971): "[Picuris] is most closely related to Taos; these two languages are in part mutually intelligible." Harrington (1910) observed that an Isleta person (Southern Tiwa) communicated in "Mexican jargon" with Taos speakers as Taos and Southern Tiwa were not mutually intelligible.
  4. ^ This list of consonants rests on Trager (1948). A different analysis is in Trager (1946) (and earlier publications). Both can be compared in Taos phonology.
  5. ^ In Kiowa and Jemez linguistic studies these suffixes are known as "inverse number" suffixes. In this type of analysis nouns belong to grammatical classes which have a default grammatical number specification. The inverse suffixes change (or toggle) to a non‑default number.


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