Natchez language

Natchez language
Spoken in United States
Region Louisiana
Ethnicity Natchez people
Extinct 1930s
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ncz
Natchez lang.png
Pre-contact distribution of the Natchez language

Natchez was a language of Louisiana. Its two last fluent speakers, Watt Sam and Nancy Raven, died in the late 1930s. The Natchez nation is now working to revive it as a spoken language.[1]


The Natchez language is generally believed by scholars to be a language isolate.[2] Mary Haas studied the language with Sam and Raven in the 1930s, and posited that Natchez was distantly related to the Muskogean languages. In 1941 she also proposed grouping Natchez with the Atakapa, Chitimacha, and Tunica languages in a language family to be called Gulf.[3]

Neither of these theories is widely accepted today by linguists, but the Gulf proposal has not been entirely rejected. (It is followed by Ethnologue, for example.) A modern sketch of the Natchez language, including its assessment as an isolate, written by Geoffrey Kimball and based on Haas's notes, was published in a 2005 survey of Southeastern languages.[3][4]

As of 2011 six members of the Natchez tribe in Oklahoma speak the language, out of about 10,000.[5]


The Natchez inventory is typical of the Gulf languages. It had a voicing distinction in its sonorants but not in its obstruents, the opposite of most languages in the world.

labial alveolar palatal velar labial-velar glotal
stop p t k ʔ
affricate ts
fricative s h
nasal m̥, m n̥, n
approximant l̥, l ȷ̊, j w̥, w

There were five vowels which occurred long and short, /a aː e eː i iː o oː u uː/. Watt Sam had a sixth vowel, "ö", of secondary origin, which also occurred long and short.

Stress was penultimate if that vowel was long, otherwise ante-penultimate.


  1. ^ "Natchez Indian Language", Native Languages of the Americas, (retrieved 9 December 2010)
  2. ^ "Introduction", in Native Languages of the Southeastern United States, ed. Janine Scancarelli and Heather Kay Hardy, University of Nebraska Press, 2005, p, 6, accessed 9 Dec 2010
  3. ^ a b Nicholas A. Hopkins, "The Native Languages of the Southeastern United States", The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc., accessed 9 Dec 2010
  4. ^ Geoffrey Kimball, "Natchez", in Native Languages of the Southeastern United States, ed. Janine Scancarelli and Heather Kay Hardy, University of Nebraska Press, 2005, pp. 385-453, accessed 9 Dec 2010
  5. ^ Smith, Diane. "Universities partner to save dying languages." Associated Press at the Houston Chronicle. June 12, 2011. Retrieved on June 16, 2011.

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