Muscogee language

The Muscogee language (Muskogee, Mvskoke IPA: [maskókî] in Muscogee), also known as Creek,[3] is a Muskogean language spoken by Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole people, primarily in the US states of Oklahoma and Florida. Along with Mikasuki, when spoken by the Seminole it is known as Seminole.

Native toUnited States
RegionEast central Oklahoma, Creek and Seminole, south Alabama Creek, Florida, Seminole of Brighton Reservation.
Ethnicity52,000 Muscogee people (1997)[1]
Native speakers
4,500 (2015 census)[1]
  • Eastern
    • Muscogee
Language codes
ISO 639-2mus
ISO 639-3mus
Map showing the distribution of Oklahoma Indian Languages

Historically the language was spoken by various constituent groups of the Muscogee or Maskoki in what are now Alabama and Georgia. It is related to but not mutually intelligible with the other primary language of the Muscogee confederacy, Hitchiti/Miccosukee, spoken by the kindred Miccosukee (Mikasuki), as well as other Muskogean languages.

The Muscogee first brought the Muscogee and Miccosukee languages to Florida in the early 18th century. Combining with other ethnicities there, they emerged as the Seminole. During the 1830s, however, the US government forced most Muscogee and Seminole to relocate west of the Mississippi River, with most forced into Indian Territory.

Today, the language is spoken by around 5,000 people, most of whom live in Oklahoma and are members of the Muscogee Nation and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.[4] Around 200 speakers are Florida Seminole. The Seminole speakers have developed distinct dialects.[5]

Current status

Creek is widely spoken among the Creek. The Muscogee Nation offers free language classes and immersion camps to Creek children.[6]

Language programs

The College of the Muscogee Nation offers a language certificate program.[7][8] Tulsa public schools, the University of Oklahoma[9] and Glenpool Library in Tulsa[10] and the Holdenville,[11] Okmulgee, and Tulsa Creek Indian Communities of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation[12] offer Muskogee Creek language classes. In 2013, the Sapulpa Creek Community Center graduated a class of 14 from its Muscogee language class.[13] In 2018, 8 teachers graduated from a class put on by the Seminole nation at Seminole State College to try and reintroduce the Muskogee language to students in elementary and high school in several schools around the state.


The phoneme inventory of Muscogee consists of thirteen consonants and three vowel qualities, which distinguish length and nasalization.[14] It also makes use of the gemination of plosives, fricatives and sonorants.[15]


These are the consonant phonemes of Muscogee:[16]

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Central Lateral
Nasal m n
Stop p t k
Fricative f s ɬ h
Approximant w l j


There are four voiceless plosives in Creek: /p t t͡ʃ k/. /t͡ʃ/ is a voiceless palatal affricate and patterns as a single consonant and so with the other voiceless stops. /t͡ʃ/ has an alveolar allophone [t͡s] before /k/.[17] The obstruent consonants /p t t͡ʃ k/ are voiced to [b d d͡ʒ ɡ] between sonorants and vowels but remain voiceless at the end of a syllable.[18]

Between instances of [o], or after [o] at the end of a syllable, the velar /k/ is realized as the uvular [q] or [ɢ]. For example:[19]

in-coko 'his or her house' [ɪnd͡ʒʊɢo]
tokná:wa 'money' [toqnɑːwə]


There are four voiceless fricatives in Muscogee Creek: /f s ɬ h/. /f/ can be realized as either labiodental ([f]) or bilabial [ɸ] in place of articulation. Predominantly among speakers in Florida, the articulation of /s/ is more laminal, resulting in /s/ being realized as [ʃ], but for most speakers, /s/ is a voiceless apico-alveolar fricative [s].[20]

Like /k/, the glottal /h/ is sometimes realized as the uvular [χ] when it is preceded by [o] or when syllable-final:[19]

oh-leyk-itá 'chair' [oχlejɡɪdə]
ohɬolopi: 'year' [oχɬolobiː]


The sonorants in Muscogee are two nasals (/m/ and /n/), two semivowels (/w/ and /j/), and the lateral /l/, all voiced.[21] Nasal assimilation occurs in Creek: /n/ becomes [ŋ] before /k/.[19]

Sonorants are devoiced when followed by /h/ in the same syllable and results in a single voiceless consonant:[22]

camhcá:ka 'bell' [t͡ʃəm̥t͡ʃɑːɡə]
akcáwhko 'a type of water bird' [ɑkt͡ʃəw̥ko]


All plosives and fricatives in Muscogee can be geminated (lengthened). Some sonorants may also be geminated, but [hh] and [mm] are less common than other sonorant geminates, especially in roots. For the majority of speakers, except for those influenced by the Alabama or Koasati languages, the geminate [ww] does not occur.[23]


The vowel phonemes of Muscogee are as follows:[16]

Front Central Back
Close i iː
Close-mid o oː
Open ɑ ɑː

There are three short vowels /i ɑ o/ and three long vowels /iː ɑː oː/. There are also the nasal vowels /ĩ ɑ̃ õ ĩː ɑ̃ː õː/ (in the linguistic orthography, they are often written with an ogonek under them or a following superscript "n"). Most occurrences of nasal vowels are the result of nasal assimilation or the nasalizing grade, but there are some forms that show contrast between oral and nasal vowels:[24]

pó-ɬki 'our father'
opónɬko 'cutworm'

Short vowels

The three short vowels /i ɑ o/ can be realized as the lax and centralized ([ɪ ə ʊ]) when a neighboring consonant is coronal or in closed syllables. However, /ɑ/ will generally not centralize when it is followed by /h/ or /k/ in the same syllable, and /o/ will generally remain noncentral if it is word-final.[23] Initial vowels can be deleted in Creek, mostly applying to the vowel /i/. The deletion will affect the pitch of the following syllable by creating a higher-than-expected pitch on the new initial syllable. Furthermore, initial vowel deletion in the case of single-morpheme, short words such as ifa 'dog' or icó 'deer' is impossible, as the shortest a Creek word can be is a one-syllable word ending in a long vowel (fóː 'bee') or a two-syllable word ending with a short vowel (ací 'corn').[25]

Long vowels

There are three long vowels in Muscogee Creek (/iː ɑː oː/), which are slightly longer than short vowels and are never centralized.

Long vowels are rarely followed by a sonorant in the same syllable. Therefore, when syllables are created (often from suffixation or contractions) in which a long vowel is followed by a sonorant, the vowel is shortened:[26]

in-ɬa:m-itá 'to uncover, open'
in-ɬam-k-itá 'to be uncovered, open'


In Muscogee, there are three diphthongs, generally realized as [əɪ ʊj əʊ].[27]

Nasal vowels

Both long and short vowels can be nasalized (the distinction between acces and ącces below), but long nasal vowels are more common. Nasal vowels usually appear as a result of a contraction, as the result of a neighboring nasal consonant, or as the result of nasalizing grade, a grammatical ablaut, which indicates intensification through lengthening and nasalization of a vowel (likoth- 'warm' with the nasalizing grade intensifies the word to likŏ:nth-os-i: 'nice and warm').[28] Nasal vowels may also appear as part of a suffix that indicates a question (o:sk-ihá:n 'I wonder if it's raining').[24]


There are three phonemic tones in Muscogee; they are generally unmarked except in the linguistic orthography: high (marked in the linguistic orthography with an acute accent: á, etc.), low (unmarked: a, etc.), and falling (marked with a circumflex: â, etc.).


The traditional Muscogee alphabet was adopted by the tribe in the late 1800s[29] and has 20 letters.

Although it is based on the Latin alphabet, some sounds are vastly different from those in English like those represented by c, e, i, r, and v. Here are the (approximately) equivalent sounds using familiar English words and the IPA:

Spelling Sound (IPA) English equivalent
a ~ a like the "a" in father
c ~ ts like the "ch" in such or the "ts" in cats
e ɪ like the "i" in hit
ē like the "ee" in seed
f f like the "f" in father
h h like the "h" in hatch
i ɛ ~ ɛj like the "ay" in day
k k like the "k" in skim
l l like the "l" in look
m m like the "m" in moon
n n like the "n" in moon
o ~ ʊ ~ o like the "o" in bone or the "oo" in book
p p like the "p" in spot
r ɬ a sound that does not occur in English but is often represented as "hl" or "thl" in non-Creek texts. The sound is made by blowing air around the sides of the tongue while pronouncing English l and is identical to Welsh ll.
s s like the "s" in spot
t t like the "t" in stop
u ʊ ~ o like the "oo" in book or the "oa" in boat
v ə ~ a like the "a" in about
w w like the "w" in wet
y j like the "y" in yet

There are also three vowel sequences whose spellings match their phonetic makeup:[30]

Spelling Sound (IPA) English equivalent
eu similar to the exclamation "ew!". A combination of the sounds represented by e and u
ue like the "oy" in boy
vo ~ əʊ like the "ow" in how


As mentioned above, certain consonants in Muscogee, when they appear between two sonorants (a vowel or m, n, l, w, or y), become voiced.[29] They are the consonants represented by p, t, k, c, and s:

  • c can sound like [dʒ], the "j" in just
  • k can sound like [ɡ], the "g" in goat
  • p can sound like [b], the "b" in boat
  • s can sound like [z], the "z" in zoo
  • t can sound like [d], the "d" in dust

In addition, certain combinations of consonants sound differently from English, giving multiple possible transcriptions. The most prominent case is the second person singular ending for verbs. Wiketv means "to stop:" the verb for "you are stopping" may be written in Creek as wikeckes or wiketskes. Both are pronounced the same. The -eck- transliteration is preferred by Innes (2004), and the -etsk- transliteration has been used by Martin (2000) and Loughridge (1964).

Vowel length

While vowel length in Muscogee is distinctive, it is somewhat inconsistently indicated in the traditional orthography. The following basic correspondences can be noted:

  • The short vowel v with the long vowel a (/a/ vs. /aː/)
  • The short vowel e with the long vowel ē (/i/ vs. /iː/)
  • The short vowel u with the long vowel o (/o/ vs. /oː/)

However, the correspondences do not always apply,[31] and in some words, short /a/ is spelled a, long /iː/ is spelled e, and short /o/ is spelled o.

Nonstandard orthography

Muscogee Creek words carry distinctive tones and nasalization of their vowels. These features are not marked in the traditional orthography, only in dictionaries and linguistic publications. The following additional markers have been used by Martin (2000) and Innes (2004):

  • Falling tone in a syllable is shown using a circumflex. In English, falling tone is found in phrases such as "uh-oh" or commands such as "stop!" In Muscogee, however, changing a verb such as acces ("she is putting on (a dress)") to âcces alters the meaning from one of process to one of state ("she is wearing (a dress)").
  • Nasalization of a vowel is shown with an ogonek under the vowel. Changing the verb acces to ącces adds the imperfective aspect, a sense of repeated or habitual action ("she kept putting on (that same dress)").
  • The key syllable of a word is often shown with an accent and is the last syllable that has normal (high) tone within a word; the following syllables are all lower in pitch.


Word order

The general sentence structure fits the pattern subject–object–verb. The subject or object may be a noun or a noun followed by one or more adjectives. Adverbs tend to occur either at the beginning of the sentence (for time adverbs) or immediately before the verb (for manner adverbs).

Grammatical case

Case is marked on noun phrases using the clitics -t for subjects, and -n for non-subjects. The clitic -n can appear on multiple noun phrases in a single sentence at once, such as the direct object, indirect object, and adverbial nouns. Despite the distinction in verbal affixes between the agent and patient of the verb, the clitic -t marks subject of both transitive and intransitive verbs.

In some situations, case marking is omitted. This is especially true of sentences with only one noun where the role of the noun is obvious from the personal marking on the verb. Case marking is also omitted on fixed phrases that use a noun, e.g. "go to town" or "build a fire".


In Muscogee, a single verb can translate into an entire English sentence. The root infinitive form of the verb is altered for:

  • Person of agent. Letketv = to run.
    • Lētkis. = I am running.
    • Lētketskes. = You are running.
    • Lētkes. = He / She is running.
    • Plural forms can be a bit more complicated (see below).
  • Person of patient and/or indirect object. That is accomplished with prefixes. Hecetv = to see.
    • Cehēcis = I see you.
    • Cvhēcetskes. = You see me.
    • Hvtvm Cehēcares. = I will see you again. (Huh-Dum-Jee-He-Jaw-thes)
  • Tense. Pohetv = to hear.
    • Pohis. = I am hearing (present).
    • Pohhis. = I just heard (first or immediate past; within a day ago).
    • Pohvhanis. = I am going to hear.
    • Pohares. = I will hear.
    • Pohiyvnks. = I heard recently (second or middle past, within a week ago).
    • Pohimvts. = I heard (third or distant past, within a year ago).
    • Pohicatēs. = Long ago I heard (fourth or remote past, beyond a year ago).
    • There are at least ten more tenses, including perfect versions of the above, as well as future, indefinite, and pluperfect.
  • Mood. Wiketv = to stop.
    • Wikes. = He / She is stopping (indicative).
    • Wikvs. = Stop! (imperative)
    • Wike wites. = He / She may stop (potential).
    • Wiken omat. = If he / she stops (subjunctive).
    • Wikepices. = He / She made someone stop (causative).
  • Aspect. Kerretv = to learn.
    • Kērris. = I am learning (progressive, ongoing or in progress).
    • Kêrris. = I know (resulting state).
    • Kęrris. = I keep learning (imperfect, habitual or repeated action).
    • Kerîyis. = I just learned (action completed in the past).
  • Voice.
    • Wihkis. = I just stopped (active voice, 1st past).
    • Cvwihokes. = I was just stopped (passive voice, 1st past).
  • Negatives.
    • Wikarēs. = I will stop (positive, future tense).
    • Wikakarēs. = I will not stop (negative, future tense).
  • Questions. Hompetv = to eat; nake = what.
    • Hompetskes. = You are eating.
    • Hompetskv? = Are you eating? (expecting a yes or no answer)
    • Naken hompetska? = What are you eating? (expecting a long answer)

Verbs with irregular plurals

Some Muscogee verbs, especially those involving motion, have highly irregular plurals: letketv = to run, with a singular subject, but tokorketv = to run of two subjects and pefatketv = to run of three or more.

Stative verbs

Another entire class of Muscogee verbs is the stative verbs, which express no action, imply no duration, and provide only description of a static condition. In some languages, such as English, they are expressed as adjectives. In Muscogee, the verbs behave like adjectives but are classed and treated as verbs. However, they are not altered for the person of the subject by an affix, as above; instead, the prefix changes:

enokkē = to be sick; enokkēs = he / she is sick; cvnokkēs = I'm sick; cenokkēs = you are sick.

Locative prefixes

Prefixes are also used in Muscogee for shades of meaning of verbs that are expressed, in English, by adverbs in phrasal verbs. For example, in English, the verb to go can be changed to to go up, to go in, to go around, and other variations. In Muscogee, the same principle of shading a verb's meaning is handled by locative prefixes:

Example: vyetv = to go (singular subjects only, see above); ayes = I am going; ak-ayes = I am going (in water / in a low place / under something); tak-ayes = I am going (on the ground); oh-ayes = I am going (on top of something).

However, for verbs of motion, Muscogee has a large selection of verbs with a specific meaning: ossetv = to go out; ropottetv = to go through.


Clauses in a sentence use switch-reference clitics to co-ordinate their subjects. The clitic -t on a verb in a clause marks that the verb's subject is the same as that of the next clause. The clitic -n marks that verb's subject is different from the next clause.


In some languages, a special form of the noun, the genitive case, is used to show possession. In Muscogee this relationship is expressed in two quite different ways, depending on the nature of the noun.

Nouns in fixed relationships (inalienable possession)

A body part or family member cannot be named in Muscogee without mentioning the possessor, which is an integrated part of the word. A set of changeable prefixes serves this function:

  • enke = his / her hand;
  • cvnke = my hand;
  • cenke = your hand;
  • punke = our hand.

Even if the possessor is mentioned specifically, the prefix still must be part of the word: Toskē enke = Toske's hand. It is not redundant in Muscogee ("Toske his_hand").

Transferrable nouns

All other nouns are possessed through a separate set of pronouns.

  • efv = dog;
  • vm efv = my dog;
  • cem efv = your dog;
  • em efv = his / her dog;
  • pum efv = our dog.

Again, even though the construction in English would be redundant, the proper way to form the possessive in Muscogee must include the correct preposition: Toskē em efv = Toske's dog. That is grammatically correct in Muscogee, unlike the literal English translation "Toske his dog".

Locative nouns

A final distinctive feature, related to the above, is the existence of locational nouns. In English, speakers have prepositions to indicate location, for example, behind, around, beside, and so on. In Muscogee, the locations are actually nouns. These are possessed just like parts of the body and family members were above.

  • cuko = house; yopv = noun for "behind"; cuko yopv = behind the house; cvyopv = behind me; ceyopv = behind you.
  • lecv = under; eto = tree; eto lecv = under the tree.
  • tempe = near; cvtempe = near me; cetempe = near you; putempe = near us.


  • Family.
    • Erke. = Father.
    • Ecke. = Mother.
    • Pauwv. = Maternal Uncle.
    • Erkuce. = Paternal Uncle.
    • Eckuce. = Aunt.
    • Puca. = Grandpa.
    • Puse. = Grandma.
    • Cēpvnē. = Boy.
    • Hoktuce. = Girl.

Male vs. female speech

Claudio Saunt, writing about the language of the later 18th century, said that there were different feminine and masculine versions, which he also calls dialects, of the Muscogee language. Males "attach[ed] distinct endings to verbs", while girls "accent[ed] different syllables". These forms, mentioned in the first (1860) grammar of the Creek language, persisted in the Hichiti, Muscogee proper, and Koasati languages at least into the first half of the 20th century.[32]:141

Seminole dialects

The forms of Muscogee used by the Seminole of Oklahoma and Florida are separate dialects from the ones spoken by Muscogee people. Oklahoma Seminole speak a dialect known as Oklahoma Seminole Creek. Florida Seminole Creek is one of two languages spoken among Florida Seminoles; it is less common than the Miccosukee language.[5]

See also


  • Brown, Keith, and Sarah Ogilvie (2008). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world, pp. 738–740. Elsevier. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  • Haas, Mary R. and James H. Hill. 2014. Creek (Muskogee) Texts.[33] Edited and translated by Jack B. Martin, Margaret McKane Mauldin, and Juanita McGirt. UC Publications in Linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Hardy, Donald E. (2005). "Creek". In Hardy, Heather K.; Scancarelli, Janine (eds.). Native Languages of the Southeastern United States. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 200–245. ISBN 0803242352.
  • Johnson, Keith; Martin, Jack (2001). "Acoustic Vowel Reduction in Creek: Effects of Distinctive Length and Position in the Word" (PDF). Phonetica. 58 (1–2): 81–102. doi:10.1159/000028489. PMID 11096370. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-26. Retrieved 2009-04-26.
  • Innes, Pamela; Linda Alexander; Bertha Tilkens (2004). Beginning Creek: Mvskoke Emponvkv. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3583-2.
  • Loughridge, R.M.; David M. Hodge (1964). Dictionary Muskogee and English. Okmulgee, OK: Baptist Home Mission Board.
  • Martin, Jack B. (2011). A Grammar of Creek (Muskogee). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803211063.
  • Martin, Jack B.; Margaret McKane Maudlin (2000). A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8302-4.


  1. Muscogee at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Creek". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "About Creek". Creek Language Archive. Archived from the original on 2009-06-09. Retrieved 2009-04-26.
  5. Brown, Keith, and Sarah Ogilvie (2008). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world, pp. 738–740. Elsevier. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-07-15. Retrieved 2015-07-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. "Academics." College of the Muscogee Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  8. Pratt, Stacey (2013-04-15). "Language vital part of cultural identity". Tahlequah Daily Press. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  9. "Creek," Archived 2011-02-24 at the Wayback Machine University of Oklahoma: The Department of Anthropology.(retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  10. "Library Presents Mvskoke (Creek) Language Class." Native American Times. 8 Sept 2009 (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  11. "Holdenville Indian Community." Muscogee (Creek) Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  12. "Thunder Road Theater Company to perform plays in the Mvskoke (Creek) Language." Archived 2015-07-15 at the Wayback Machine Muscogee (Creek) Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  13. Brock, John (2013-08-17). "Creek language class graduates 14". Sapulpa Herald Online. Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Archived from the original on 2013-08-23. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
  14. Hardy 2005:211-12
  15. Martin, 2011, p. 50–51
  16. Martin, 2011, p. 47
  17. Martin, 2011, p.48-49
  18. Martin, 2011, p. 62
  19. Martin, 2011, p. 63
  20. Martin, 2011, p. 49
  21. Martin, 2011, p.49-50
  22. Martin, 2011, p.64
  23. Martin, 2011, p. 51
  24. Martin, 2011, p. 53
  25. Martin, 2011, pp. 64, 72-23
  26. Martin, 2011, p. 64–65
  27. Martin, 2011, pp. 54–55
  28. Martin, 2011, pp. 53–54, 95
  29. Innes 2004
  30. Hardy 2005, pg. 202
  31. Hardy 2005, pp. 201-2
  32. Saunt, Claudio (1999). A New Order of Things. Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1810. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521660432.
  33. "Haas/Hill texts - Muskogee (Seminole/Creek) Documentation Project". Muskogee (Seminole/Creek) Documentation Project. Retrieved 2017-12-22.
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