The Muscogee language (Muskogee, ''Mvskoke'' in Muscogee), also known as Creek, is a Muskogean language
spoken by Muscogee
(Creek) and Seminole
people, primarily in the US states
. Along with Mikasuki
, when it is spoken by the Seminole, it is known as Seminole.
Historically, the language was spoken by various constituent groups of the Muscogee or ''Maskoki'' in what are now Alabama
. It is related to but not mutually intelligible with the other primary language of the Muscogee confederacy, Hitchiti
, which is spoken by the kindred Mikasuki, as well as with 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
The language is today 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
Around 200 speakers are Florida Seminole. Seminole-speakers have developed distinct dialects.
[Brown, Keith, and Sarah Ogilvie (2008)]
''Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world''
pp. 738–740. Elsevier. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
Creek is widely spoken among the Creek. The Muscogee Nation offers free language classes and immersion camps to Creek children.
The College of the Muscogee Nation
offers a language certificate program. Tulsa
public schools, the University of Oklahoma
and Glenpool Library in Tulsa and the Holdenville, Okmulgee, and Tulsa Creek Indian Communities of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation
offer Muskogee Creek language classes. In 2013, the Sapulpa
Creek Community Center graduated a class of 14 from its Muscogee language class. 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 consonant
s and three vowel qualities
, which distinguish length
. It also makes use of the gemination
These are the consonant phonemes
[Martin, 2011, p. 47]
There are four voiceless stops in Creek: . is a voiceless palatal affricate
and patterns as a single consonant and so with the other voiceless stops. has an alveolar allophone
before . The obstruent
consonants are voiced to between sonorant
s and vowel
s but remain voiceless at the end of a syllable
Between instances of , or after at the end of a syllable, the velar is realized as the uvular  or . For example:
[Martin, 2011, p. 63]
There are four voiceless fricatives in Muscogee Creek: . can be realized as either labiodental () or bilabial in place of articulation
. Predominantly among speakers in Florida, the articulation of is more laminal
, resulting in being realized as , but for most speakers, is a voiceless apico-alveolar fricative .
Like , the glottal is sometimes realized as the uvular  when it is preceded by or when syllable-final:
The sonorants in Muscogee are two nasals ( and ), two semivowel
s ( and ), and the lateral , all voiced
. Nasal assimilation occurs in Creek: becomes  before .
Sonorants are devoiced when followed by in the same syllable and results in a single voiceless consonant:
All plosives and fricatives in Muscogee can be geminated
(lengthened). Some sonorants may also be geminated, but and are less common than other sonorant geminates, especially in roots. For the majority of speakers, except for those influenced by the Alabama
languages, the geminate does not occur.
[Martin, 2011, p. 51]
The vowel phonemes of Muscogee are as follows:
There are three short vowels and three long vowels . There are also the nasal vowels (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:
[Martin, 2011, p. 53]
The three short vowels can be realized as the lax and centralized () when a neighboring consonant is coronal
or in closed syllables. However, will generally not centralize when it is followed by or in the same syllable, and will generally remain noncentral if it is word-final.
Initial vowels can be deleted in Creek, mostly applying to the vowel . 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').
There are three long vowels in Muscogee Creek (), 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:
In Muscogee, there are three diphthongs, generally realized as .
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:n
th-os-i:'' 'nice and warm'). Nasal vowels may also appear as part of a suffix that indicates a question (''o:sk-ihá:n
'' 'I wonder if it's raining').
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
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
There are also three vowel sequences whose spellings match their phonetic makeup:
As mentioned above, certain consonants in Muscogee, when they appear between two sonorants
(a vowel or m, n, l, w, or y), become voiced
They are the consonants represented by p, t, k, c, and s:
* c can sound like , the "j" in j
* k can sound like , the "g" in g
* p can sound like , the "b" in b
* s can sound like , the "z" in z
* t can sound like , the "d" in d
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).
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 ( vs. )
* The short vowel e with the long vowel ē ( vs. )
* The short vowel u with the long vowel o ( vs. )
However, the correspondences do not always apply, and in some words, short is spelled a, long is spelled e, and short is spelled o.
Muscogee Creek words carry distinctive tone
s 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.
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 adjective
s tend to occur either at the beginning of the sentence (for time adverbs) or immediately before the verb (for manner adverbs).
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
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).
** ''Wihkis.'' = I just stopped (active voice, 1st past).
** ''Cvwihokes.'' = I was just stopped (passive voice, 1st past).
** ''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.
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
''enokkē'' = to be sick;
''enokkēs'' = he / she is sick;
''cvnokkēs'' = I'm sick;
''cenokkēs'' = you are sick.
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").
All other nouns are possessed through a separate set of pronoun
* ''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".
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.
** ''Erke.'' = Father.
** ''Ecke.'' = Mother.
** ''Pauwv.'' = Maternal Uncle.
** ''Erkuce.'' = Paternal Uncle.
** ''Eckuce.'' = Aunt.
** ''Puca.'' = Grandpa.
** ''Puse.'' = Grandma.
** ''Cēpvnē.'' = Boy.
** ''Hoktuce.'' = Girl.
Male vs. female speech
, 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 "attachd
distinct endings to verbs", while girls "accentd
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.
The forms of Muscogee used by the Seminole
s 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 Mikasuki language. The most distinct dialect of the language is said to be that of the Florida Seminole, which is described as "rapid", "staccato" and "dental", with more loan words from Spanish and Mikasuki as opposed to English. Florida Seminole is the most endangered register of Muskogee.
* Muscogee people
* Creek mythology
*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.
Edited and translated by Jack B. Martin, Margaret McKane Mauldin, and Juanita McGirt. UC Publications in Linguistics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Creek Language Archive
This site includes a draft of a Creek textbook, which may b
in .pdf format (''Pum Opunvkv, Pun Yvhiketv, Pun Fulletv: Our Language, Our Songs, Our Ways'' by Margaret Mauldin, Jack Martin, and Gloria McCarty).
* The official website for th
Muskogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma
Acoustic vowel reduction in Creek: Effects of distinctive length and position in the word
Mvskoke Nakcokv Eskerretv Esvhokkolat. Creek Second Reader. (1871)
Muskogee Genesis Translation
OLAC resources in and about the Creek language
Category:Indigenous languages of Oklahoma
Category:Indigenous languages of the North American Southeast