Jemez (also Towa) is a
Tanoan language Tanoan , also Kiowa–Tanoan or Tanoan–Kiowa, is a family of languages spoken by indigenous peoples in present-day New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Most of the languages – Tiwa languages, Tiwa (Taos, Picuris, Southern Tiwa), Tewa la ...
spoken by the
Jemez Pueblo Jemez Pueblo (/ˈhɛmɛz/; tow, Walatowa, nv, Mąʼii Deeshgiizh) is a census-designated place A census-designated place (CDP) is a Place (United States Census Bureau), concentration of population defined by the United States Census Bureau for s ...
people in
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Greater Albuquerque , OfficialLang = None , Languages = English English usually refer ...

New Mexico
. It has no common written form, as tribal rules do not allow the language to be transcribed; linguists describing the language use the Americanist phonetic notation.


Its speakers are mainly farmers and
. The language is only spoken in
Jemez Pueblo Jemez Pueblo (/ˈhɛmɛz/; tow, Walatowa, nv, Mąʼii Deeshgiizh) is a census-designated place A census-designated place (CDP) is a Place (United States Census Bureau), concentration of population defined by the United States Census Bureau for s ...
, New Mexico, but as 90% of the tribal Jemez members do speak it, it is not considered to be extremely
endangered An endangered species is a species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group ...
. It was also spoken at
Pecos Pueblo Pecos National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park in San Miguel County, New Mexico, San Miguel and Santa Fe County, New Mexico, Santa Fe Counties, New Mexico. The park, operated by the National Park Service, encompasses ...
until the 19th century, when the remaining members of that community moved to Jemez.



Consonants that are in parenthesis occur only in limited occasion determined by phonological rules. and occur only in loan words.


The following chart shows the distinctive vowel phonemes in Jemez: All but can occur as short nasal and long
nasal vowel A nasal vowel is a vowel A vowel is a syllabicSyllabic may refer to: *Syllable, a unit of speech sound, considered the building block of words **Syllabic consonant, a consonant that forms the nucleus of a syllable *Syllabary, writing syste ...
s. Central vowel sounds can also be realized as back vowel sounds . This gives a total of twenty-two distinctive vowel sounds. Note that
vowel length In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langua ...
is only contrastive in the first syllable of a wordBell, Alan. (1993)
Jemez tones and stress
. ''Colorado Research in Linguistics'', 12, 26–34. (Boulder, CO: University of Colorado at Boulder).
and other syllables' vowels are measurably shorter


Jemez has four tones: High, Falling, Mid, and Low. Word-initial
syllable A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels a ...

s only have high or falling tone; other syllables have mid or low tones (though some syllables that follow a high tone also have high tone). Typically tri-syllablic words have tone patterns such as HHL, HML, HLM, HLL, and FLM. Some
loan words A loanword (also loan word or loan-word) is a word In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gesture ...
do break these rules however, such as the Spanish loans for ''coffee'', ''horse'', and ''orange''. These words have a high tone and contrastive
vowel length In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most langua ...
in the second syllable, while the first syllable carries low tone. Jemez high tones are similar to those of
Mandarin Chinese Mandarin (; ) is a group of Sinitic (Chinese) languages natively spoken across most of northern and southwestern China China (), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; ), is a country in . It is the world's , with a of more ...
, except there's a characteristic slight rise at the end. Voiced consonants tend to lower the onset of pitch in high tones. If there are several high tones in a row, the pitch also tends to rise throughout. Falling tones fall from the level of high to mid pitch. For
compound Compound may refer to: Architecture and built environments * Compound (enclosure), a cluster of buildings having a shared purpose, usually inside a fence or wall ** Compound (fortification), a version of the above fortified with defensive struct ...
nouns or verbs with noun
incorporation Incorporation may refer to: * Incorporation (business), the creation of a corporation * Incorporation of a place, creation of municipal corporation such as a city or county * Incorporation (academic), awarding a degree based on the student having a ...
, the second element loses its word-initial prominence: high tone becomes mid or low tone and vowel length distinction is lost.

Syllable structure

Jemez allows for the following syllable structures: V, VV, CV, CVV, CVC, CVVC. Of these, CV and CVV are the most common.Yumitani, Yukihiro. A phonology and morphology of Jemez Towa. Diss. University of Kansas, 1998. Ann Arbor: 1998.



In Jemez the makeup of verbs is: Prefix complex – incorporated adverb – incorporated noun – verb stem – tense marker – subordinating particle. The following example is one where all possible components in a verb are present. ųnópenǫʔǫ níí hhéda uwóókæ̨nuhaasæhųųlʔe. ų -nópenǫʔǫ níí hhéda u –wóó-kæ̨nʔu-haasæ -hųųl-ʔe. 1sD-know 1s neg 1s-really-dog -bite(pass) -FUT – NOM I know that I will not be bitten by a dog. The only case in which the rule of a verb having to have a prefix and verb stem does not apply is in the case of negative imperatives where the verbal stem is not present. The prefix in Jemez is more than just an agreement system. The prefix functions the same as an independent pronoun and with it, a verb is a full sentence. The prefix in Jemez can agree with up to three nominals. The detailed explanation for how this prefix agreement system works was to complicated for me to understand. What I did take from it is that basically it all boils down to the class of the noun, whether it is singular, dual, or plural and to what kind of sentence it is, whether it is transitive, or intransitive. Another additional factor is if there is possession. These factors will then decide what prefix will be used.

Verb types

There are four types of verbs in Jemez. These are categorized by two different factors, transitivity and stativity. To be transitive a verb must have both an active and passive form, which means that it can take the transitive prefix or the intransitive prefix, depending on if it is being used in an active sentence or a passive. Verbs that are classified as intransitive do not have passive forms and occur with only an intransitive prefix. Following this division into transitive and intransitive there is a further division in these classes based on stativity. This divides them into active and stative verbs. Active verbs are found to have multiple different inflections, for example, perfective and imperfective, different from stative verbs, which have only one. The four categories are: transitive active, transitive stative, intransitive active, and intransitive stative.


Jemez nouns use an elaborate number-based
classification system Classification is a process related to categorization Categorization is the human ability and activity of recognizing shared features or similarities between the elements of the experience of the world (such as Object (philosophy), objects, eve ...
and take on an
inflection In linguistic morphology Morphology, from the Greek and meaning "study of shape", may refer to: Disciplines * Morphology (archaeology), study of the shapes or forms of artifacts * Morphology (astronomy), study of the shape of astronomical ob ...
al suffix. The
demonstrative Demonstratives (abbreviated An abbreviation (from Latin ''brevis'', meaning ''short'') is a shortened form of a word or phrase, by any method. It may consist of a group of letters, or words taken from the full version of the word or phrase; fo ...
then used is dependent on the
number A number is a mathematical object A mathematical object is an abstract concept arising in mathematics. In the usual language of mathematics, an ''object'' is anything that has been (or could be) formally defined, and with which one may do deduct ...
class Class or The Class may refer to: Common uses not otherwise categorized * Class (biology), a taxonomic rank * Class (knowledge representation), a collection of individuals or objects * Class (philosophy), an analytical concept used differently f ...
of nouns. Noun stems are in most cases made up of a single root, a root and a suffix, or more than one root. In general, a noun stem will contain from one to three syllables; out of these disyllabic are most common. The majority of noun roots can occur freely, though there are some noun roots that are bound. There are three main methods by which nouns are derived from verbs: tone change, suffixation, and
compounding In the field of pharmacy, compounding (performed in compounding pharmacies) is preparation of a custom formulation of a medication to fit a unique need of a patient that cannot be met with commercially available products. This may be done for med ...
. While the first two are fairly straightforward, the latter appears in different forms, such as noun+verb or noun+noun. The compounds consisting of noun and verb can be either noun+verb or verb+noun. A more complex compounding pattern occurs in some words such as outdoor oven, bread+bakeenclosure] or noun+verbnoun]. The languages of the Tanoan languages, Tanoan family have three numbers – singular, dual, and plural – and exhibit an unusual system of marking number, called " inverse number" (or ''number toggling''). In this scheme, every
countable noun In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic ...
has what might be called its "inherent" or "expected" numbers, and is unmarked for these. When a noun appears in an "inverse" (atypical) number, it is inflected to mark this. Therefore, Jemez nouns take the ending ''-sh'' to denote an inverse number; there are four
noun class In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic b ...
es which inflect for number as follows: As can be seen, class-I nouns are inherently singular, class-II nouns are inherently plural, and class-III nouns are inherently singular or plural. Class-IV nouns cannot be counted and are never marked with ''-sh''.* The table below gives examples of each class that can take the ''-sh'' suffix, and illustrates the effect it has on their meanings:

Noun adjectives

The Jemez language does not have adjectives like those one usually thinks of in English or other languages. The function of “adjectives” is carried out in the Jemez language mainly by stative verbs, and also by a smaller group of words labeled “noun adjectives". This smaller group of words is syntactically nouns; they are not inflected as a verb would be, but semantically they are adjectives. These noun adjectives can, like other nouns in Jemez, take the inverse marker, and they can also compound with other nouns, another typical characteristic for Jemez nouns. Examples of words in this noun adjective category are the words meaning big, small, blind, and old.


The first-person singular pronoun is always ''nį́į́''). For the first-person dual and plural there are two different types of forms: one is inclusive, the other exclusive. The exclusive first person is “nį́į́sh“. In respect to “nį́į́”, it was observed by Robert Sprout that speakers are not very casual in usage of /-sh/ as in other cases, though it is possible to use “nį́į́” for dual or plural. The inclusive first person plural is forms are “ʔų́ų́” and “ʔų́ų́sh”, the latter being reported as being probably viewed as more formal though both were heard. Second-person pronouns are singular: “ʔų́wa” and “ʔúmi” or “ʔúmish” dual and plural. According to Robert Sprout, his teachers taught him that “ʔúmi” is for dual, two people and “ʔúmish” for three or more people, but that in actual practice the usage is not strictly divided; he reports that he observed that “ʔúmi” was often used plural, and more rarely “ʔúmish” for dual.

Exclusive vs. inclusive

The inclusive and exclusive are used to show the relationship between the two speakers, in relation to the topic at hand. The inclusive would put the speaker and his interlocutor, or person being spoken to in the same group, or something that is sometimes known as "in-group". And so conversely if using the exclusive, it shows that they are an outsider. An example illustrating this given by Robert Sprott in his doctoral dissertation is if there are two men speak Jemez fluently, one a Jemez man and the other a person who is Anglo, but also speaks Jemez. In this case if the man was talking about a broad subject, like the problems humanity faces, the group would be every human being, so in this case the inclusive "ʔų́ų́sh" would be used since they both belong to the same group. Continuing with this example, if one changes the topic to the problems faced by members pertaining to Native Americans or even more specific, members of just the Jemez nation, then the Jemez man would use "nį́į́sh", because they would no longer be members of the same group. While it does show the relationship of the speaker to the person being spoken to the, it is not simply used to express an already defined relationships, but can also be used to express changes in this relationship, depending on how the speaker is perceiving or wants the relationship to be perceived by the person who he is speaking to as well as other people. Continuing with the example given by Sprott, if the Jemez man wished to insist that the Anglo was not an outsider to the Jemez then he might use the inclusive "ʔų́ų́sh". Also if this man was being taught how to be Jemez, then in that case "ʔų́ų́sh" would carry the additional meaning of an exhortation to meet the expectations held. In this case it shows how the choice in pronoun can be used to show unity, and the opposite can also be true. The example given is: “Say I’m on a baseball team and we have a game. One of our good players doesn’t show up for the game, but we play without him and we win anyway. Later I run into him and he asks me about the game, “Did we win (“ʔų́ų́sh”) win?” I say to him, “Yeah, we (“nį́į́sh”) won,” and that cuts him out and puts him down.”


In the Jemez language there exist 3rd person pronouns but these serve other functions as well, adopting different characteristics depending on usage. Almost all determiners can function as independent pronouns, demonstratives or noun modifiers. They are similar to nouns in that they can take on the inverse number marker. Further more when acting as independent pronouns they take the same class as what they are referring to. Determiners in the Jemez language are broken down into three groups. The divisions among these groups are distinguished by the meaning they show in relation to space of the speaker with the noun accompanying the determiner. The first class of determiner is one that is only used with nouns that are in sight and easily accessible to the speaker, this accessibility seems to be directly related to effort that must be put in to reach the noun and distance to the speaker. The determiner used is dependent on the form of the noun. Determiners that are used when in plain noun form are: “nų́ų́”, “nų́ų́dæ”, “nų́ų́tʔæ” and “hhnų́”. The determiners applied to nouns in the inverse forms are: “nų́ų́dæsh” and “nų́ų́tʔæsh”. Breaking the determiners into another division is possible based on usage, determiners nų́ų́dæ” and “nų́ų́dæsh” tend to be used when the determiner is followed by a noun. When it is not, instead playing the rule of an independent pronoun, in that case being the noun phrase, then “nų́ų́ʔtæ” “nų́ų́ʔtæsh” are a possibility, along with “nų́ų́dæ” and “nų́ų́dæsh”. It is important to make note that there is differences between speakers. When a determiner combines with a noun there are different rules depending on the class of the noun, these rules explain under what situations what will or can take the inverse suffix, whether it will be the determiner, noun, or both. For Class I nouns, there is an overall tendency or “rule” that the noun has to take this inverse suffix. That is the only requirement for it to be acceptable; it is possible to have two inverse suffixes, one on the determiner and one on the noun. The only scenario not acceptable being that where the noun did not have this inverse suffix but the determiner did. “nų́ų́dæsh véélesh” – These men “nų́ų́dæ véélesh”- These men “nų́ų́dæsh vééle”- These men- Not acceptable This is not applicable to Class II or Class III nouns. For these two classes the pattern is different, the insistence of the noun having to take an inverse suffix is gone and instead we see that as long as either the determiner or the noun takes an inverse it is fine, but if both take the –sh inverse suffix, it is reported as being “to much”. The second type of determiner category we to only have one determiner, “nǽ̨ǽ̨”. This determiner is used to show that the noun is in sight of the speaker but “not really accessible to him.” (sprott) This determiner though used to show this meaning is not used every time that this is the special relation between noun and speaker because its usage is limited to only nouns in the basic form. When it is the case that the noun is in its inverse form than “nǽ̨ǽ̨” is replaced with “nų́ų́dæsh”. The determiner “nǽ̨ǽ̨” can, like other determiners, also be used as an independent pronoun, though there is a slight change; instead of “nǽ̨ǽ̨” it becomes “nǽ̨ʔǽ̨”, something like this also having been observed to happen in the first determiner category. The third category of determiners shows a relation between speaker and noun where it is not about distance but instead line of sight, these determiners being used when the noun is out of sight regardless of distance. The three determiners belonging to this category are “doo”, “dosh” and “ʔoo”. Again as in the other two determiner categories there is a distinction between when used as an independent pronoun or a determiner. For “doo” and “dosh” the independent pronoun form is “doʔo” and “doʔsh”, but for “ʔoo” this is not the case as it is an exception among all the determiners that is not used a pronoun. Besides it not being used as a pronoun, “ʔoo” also has the special characteristic of only being used with animate objects, mainly human, as Sprott says “it can sometimes be applied to non-human animates, but with a great deal of hesitation and some reluctance”. Another restriction that is pointed out by a speaker mentioned as one of Sprott's Jemez teachers is that they feel that the pronoun would not be used when mentioning the person for the first time, only after you have already mentioned them could you use it.


In 2006, the leadership of
Pueblo of Jemez Jemez Pueblo (/ˈhɛmɛz/; tow, Walatowa, nv, Mąʼii Deeshgiizh) is a census-designated place (CDP) in Sandoval County, New Mexico, Sandoval County, New Mexico, United States. The population was 1,788 at the 2010 United States Census, 2010 censu ...
noticed a language shift and established a 10-person team of speakers, elders, and educators to study language use and develop strategies for language revival. Through interviews, the tribe determined the fluency rate was 80% among tribal members. The Jemez Language Program developed an early childhood immersion program and Jemez language curriculum for kindergarten through 8th grade. They also hosted Jemez Education Retreats."Jemez Towa Language Program."
''Pueblo of Jemez.'' Accessed March 25, 2014.



* Bell, Alan & R. Heins. (1993). ''Phonetics of Jemez vowels''. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 1993. * Deutscher, Guy (2005). ''The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention''. New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 43. * Hale, Kenneth (1955–1956). "Notes on Jemez Grammar". Manuscript. * Martin, Constance C. (1964). "Jemez Phonology". M.A. thesis, University of New Mexico. * Mithun, M. (1999). ''The Languages of Native North America.'' Cambridge University Press. p. 81, 443.

External links

Jemez Language ProgramPueblo of Jemez
official website

{{Tanoan languages Tanoan languages Indigenous languages of New Mexico