Tuscarora language

Tuscarora language

states=Canada, United States
region=Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in southern Ontario, Tuscarora Reservation in northwestern New York, and eastern North Carolina
speakers= <50
fam2=Northern Iroquoian

Tuscarora, sometimes called Skarure(h/ʔ), is an Iroquoian language of the Tuscarora people, spoken in southern Ontario, Canada, and northwestern New York around Niagara Falls, in the United States. The original homeland of the Tuscarora was in eastern North Carolina, in and around the Goldsboro, Kinston, and Smithfield areas, and some, though few, still live in this region. The name "Tuscarora" (pronounced approximately "Tuh-skuh-roar-uh") comes from the tribe's name and means "hemp people," after the Indian hemp or milkweed that they use in many aspects of their society. "Skarureh" refers to the long shirt worn as part of the men's regalia, hence "long shirt people".

Tuscarora is a living but severely endangered language. As of the mid-1970s, only about 52 people spoke the language on the Tuscarora Reservation (Lewiston, New York) and the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation (near Brantford, Ontario) . The [http://www.nw.wnyric.org/tuscarora/tuscaroraschool/index.html Tuscarora School in Lewiston] has striven to keep the language alive, teaching children from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade. Despite this, [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=tus Ethnologue] reports a total of only 11 to 13 speakers in the 1990s, all of whom are older adults.

The Tuscarora language can appear complex to those unfamiliar with it, more in terms of the grammar than the sound system. Many ideas can be expressed in a single word, and most words involve several components that must be considered before speaking (or writing). It is written using mostly symbols from the Roman alphabet, with some variations, additions, and diacritics.



Tuscarora has four oral vowels, one nasal vowel, and no diphthongs. The vowels can be both short and long, which makes a total of eight oral vowels, IPA|/i ɛ a u iː ɛː aː uː/, and two nasal vowels, IPA|/ə̃ ə̃ː/. Nasal vowels are customarily indicated with an ogonek, long vowels with a following colom, < : >, and IPA|/ɛ/ (which may actually be IPA| [æ] ) with .

The /u/ is often rather written /v/. Thus in the official writing system of Tuscarora, the vowels are /a e i o v/.


The Tuscarora language has ten symbols representing consonants, including three stops (/k/, /t/, and /ʔ/), three fricatives (/s/, /θ/, and /h/), a nasal (/n/), a rhotic (/r/), and two glides (/w/ and /y/). These last four can be grouped together under the category of resonants. (Mithun Williams, 1976) The range of sounds, though, is more extensive, with palatalization, aspiration, and other variants of the sounds, that usually come when two sounds are set next to each other.

There may also be the phonemes IPA|/b/ and IPA|/f/, although they probably occur only in loan words . IPA|/ʧ/ is commonly spelled <č>. represents IPA|/j/. The phonemic consonant cluster IPA|/sj/ is realized as a postalveolar fricative IPA| [ʃ] .


Tuscarora has three stops: /t/, /k/, and /ʔ/; in their most basic forms: [t] , [k] , and [ʔ] . /k̯w/ could be considered separate, although it is very similar to /k/+/w/, and can be counted as a variant phonetic realization of these two sounds. Each sound has specific changes that take place when situated in certain positions. These are among the phonetic (automatic) rules listed below. Since, in certain cases, the sounds [g] and [d] are realized, a more extended list of the stops would be [t] , [d] , [k] , [g] , and [ʔ] . In the written system, however, only /t/, /k/, and /ʔ/ are used. /k/ is only aspirated when it directly precedes another /k/.

Fricatives and Affricates

The language has two or three fricatives: /s/, /θ/, and /h/. /s/ and /θ/ are only distinguished in some dialects of Tuscarora. [A Grammar of Tuscarora, by Marianne Mithun Williams, VI.C.1.b] Both are basically pronounced as [s] , although in some situation /s/ becomes pronounced as [š] . /h/ is generally [h] . An affricate is /t̯s/. (Very little information is provided on this sound, but it is presumably similar to /k̯w/ in that the sound is close to /t+s/.)


Resonants are /n/, /r/, /w/, /y/. Based on [http://www.nw.wnyric.org/tuscarora/tuscaroraschool/tuscaror.htm recent recordings] it seems like these letters are realized very much the same way they are in English. /r/ does not seem to be trilled at all, and /y/ is not pronounced as IPA| [y] , but rather as /y/ like in the word "year." A rule below specifies pre-aspiration under certain circumstances. The resonants can also become voiceless fricatives (as specified below). A voiceless /n/ is described as "a silent movement of the tongue accompanied by an audible escape of breath through the nose." [A Grammar of Tuscarora, by Marianne Mithun Williams, VI.C.1.c] When /r/ becomes a voiceless fricative, it often becomes similar in sound to /s/.

Automatic Rules

*V = a vowel
*C = a consonant
*R = a resonant
*# = the beginning or end of a word
*Ø = sound is dropped

/s/ followed by /y/ or sometimes /i/ often becomes [š] .

Used here is a type of linguistic notation. Aloud, the first bullet point would read, "/s/ becomes /š/ when preceded by /t/."

*s → š / t_
*θ → t̯s / _ {y, i}
*k → g / _ {w, y, r, V}
*t → d / _ {w, y, r, V}
*{h, ʔ} → Ø / #_C
*V → Vh / _#
*k → kʰ / _k
*k → ky / _e
*i → y / _V{C, #}
*{h+ʔ, ʔ+h} / h
*R → hR / _{ʔ, h, #}
*R → R / _{h, ʔ, s, #}



The basic construction of a verb consists of
#Prepronominal Prefixes
#Pronominal Prefixes
#The Verb Base
#Aspect Suffixesin that order. All verbs contain at least a pronominal prefix and a verb base.

Prepronominal Prefixes

These are the very first prefixes in a verb. Prepronominal prefixes can indicate
*location In addition, these can mark such distinctions as dualic, contrastive, partitive, and iterative. According to Marianne Mithun Williams, it is possible to find some semantic similarities from the functions of prepronominal prefixes, but not such that each morpheme is completely explained in this way.

Pronominal Prefixes

As it sounds, pronominal prefixes identify pronouns with regards to the verb, including person, number, and gender. Since all verbs must have at least a subject, the pronominal prefixes identify the subject, and if the verb is transitive, these prefixes also identify the object. For example:

Tuscarora word: rà:weh
Translation: He is talking.
Breakdown: masculine + 'talk' + serial
The 'masculine' ("rà") is the pronominal prefix, indicating that a male is the subject of the sentence.

On account of various changes in the evolution of the language, not all of the possible combinations of distinctions in person, number, and gender are made, and some pronominal prefixes or combinations thereof can represent several acceptable meanings.

The Verb Base

The verb base is, generally, exactly what it sounds like: it is the barest form of the verb. This is a verb stem that consists solely of one verb root.

Verb stems can be made of more than just a verb root. More complex stems are formed by adding modifiers. Roots might be combined with many different kinds of morphemes to create complicated stems. Possibilities include reflexive, inchoative, reversive, intensifier, and distributive morphemes, instrumental, causative, or dative case markers, and also incorporated noun stems. The base may be further complicated by ambulative or purposive morphemes. ["Grammar Tuscarora" by Marianne Mithun Williams]

Aspect Suffixes

Aspect suffixes are temporal indicators, and are used with all indicative verbs. "Aspect" is with respect to duration or frequency; "tense" is with respect to the point in time at which the verb's action takes place. ["Grammar Tuscarora" by Marianne Mithun Williams] Three different aspects can be distinguished, and each distinguished aspect can be furthermore inflected for three different tenses. These are, respectively, punctual, serial, or perfective, and past, future, or indefinite. ["Grammar Tuscarora" by Marianne Mithun Williams]


Nouns, like verbs, are composed of several parts. These are, in this order:
#the pronominal prefix
#the noun stem
#the nominal suffix

Nouns can be divided two ways, formally and functionally, and four ways, into formal nouns, other functional nouns, possessive constructions, and attributive suffixes.

Formal Nouns

Pronominal Prefix and Noun Gender

The pronominal prefix is very much like that in verbs. It refers to who or what is being identified. The prefixes vary according to the gender, number, and "humanness" of the noun. Genders include:
*Masculine Singular
*Feminine-Indefinite Human Singular
*Indefinite Human Dual
*Indefinite Human Plural The prefixes are:
*Masculine Singular
*Feminine-Indefinite Human Singular
*Indefinite Human Dual Nouns
*Indefinite Human Plural Nouns

Noun Stem

Most stems are simple noun roots that are morphologically unanalyzable. These can be referred to as "simplex stems." More complex stems can be derived from verbs this is commonly done as:
(verb stem) + (nominalizing morpheme).
The process can be repeated multiple times, making more complex stems, but it is rarely the case that it is repeated too many times.

Nominal Suffix

Most nouns end in the morpheme "-eh". Some end in "-aʔ", "-vʔ", or "-ʔ".

Other Nominals

Other Functional Nominals

In addition to the formal nouns mentioned above, clauses, verbs, and unanalyzable particles can also be classified as nominals. Clausal nominals are such things as sentential subjects and compliments. Verbal nominals usually describe their referents.

Unanalyzable particles arise from three main sources which overlap somewhat.
*onomatopoeia from other languages
*other languages
*verbal descriptions of referents Onomatopoeia, from Tuscarora or other languages, is less common than other words from other languages or verbal descriptions that turned to nominals. In many cases a pronominal prefix has dropped off, so that only the minimal stem remains.

Possessive Constructions

Ownership is divided into alienable and inalienable possession, each of which type has its own construction. An example of inalienable possession would be a body part—this cannot be disputed. An example of inalienable possession would be a piece of paper.

Attributive Suffixes

Attributive suffixes come in many forms:

A diminutive indicates something smaller; an augmentive makes something bigger. A simple example would be a diminutive suffix added to the word "cat" to form a word meaning "small cat." A more abstract example would be the diminutive of "trumpet" forming "pipe." Both diminutives and augmentives have suffixes that indicate both smallness and plurality. A (certain) diminutive can be added to any functional nominal. Augmentives usually combine with other morphemes, forming more specific stems.

Attributive suffixes can be added to any word that functions as a nominal, even if it is a verb or particle.


Word Order

The basic word order in Tuscarora is SVO (subject, verb, object), but this can vary somewhat and still form grammatical sentences, depending on who the agents and patients are. For example: ["A Grammar of Tuscarora" by Marianne Mithun (Williams)] If two nouns of the same relative "status" are together in a sentence, the SVO word order is followed. Such is the case, for example, in a Noun-Predicate-Noun sentence in which both nouns are third person zoic (non-human) singular. If one is of a "superior" status, it can be indicated by a pronominal prefix, such as "hra", and as such SVO, VSO, "and" OSV are all grammatically correct. The example given in "Grammar Tuscarora" is:
*SVOwí:rv:n wahrákvʔ tsi:r
(William he-saw-it dog.)
*VSOwahrákvʔ wí:rv:n tsi:r
(he-saw-it William dog.)
*OSVtsi:r wí:rv:n wahrákvʔ
(dog William he-saw-it.)

In all cases, the translation is "William saw a dog." Mithun writes:" [I] t is necessary but not sufficient to consider the syntactic case roles of major constituents. In fact, the order of sentence elements is describable in terms of "functional deviation from a syntactically defined basic order"." (Emphasis added.)

A sentence that is ambiguous on basis of its containing too many ambiguous arguments is:
tsya:ts wahrá:nv:t kv:tsyvh
George he-fed-it fish
This could be translated either as "George fed the fish" or "George fed it fish."


Tuscarora appears to be a nominative-accusative language. Tuscarora has a case system in which syntactic case is indicated in the verb. The main verb of the sentence can indicate, for example, "aorist+1st-person+objective+human+'transitive-verb'+punctual+dative." (In this case, a sentence could be a single word long, as below in Noun Incorporation.) Objective and dative are indicated by morphemes.

Noun Incorporation

Tuscarora definitely incorporates nouns into verbs, as is evident from many examples on this page. This is typical of a polysynthetic language. In Tuscarora, one long verb can be an entire sentence, including subject and object. In fact, theoretically any number of arguments could be incorporated into a verb. It is done by raising nominals realized as noun stems. Datives are not incorporated.

Examples are as follows: ["Grammar Tuscarora" by Marianne Mithun Williams] "nvkheyaʔtsiʔrá:’nihr"
Breakdown:n + v + k + h + ey + aʔ + tsiʔr + aʔn + ihr
dualic + future + 1st-person + objective + human + reflexive + 'fire' + 'set'
Translation: "I'll set my fire on him." or "I'll sting him."
Breakdown: waʔ + k + h + e + taʔnar + a + tyáʔt + hahθ
aorist + 1st-person + objective + human + 'bread' + joiner + 'buy' + dative-punctual
Translation: "I bought her some bread.
Breakdown: yo + ʔn-aʔ-tshár + h + v
non-human-objective + 'door' + 'cover' + perfective
Translation: "The door is closed."

Vocabulary Examples

(From "Grammar Tuscarora" by Marianne Mithun Williams.)



'I think'




Tuscarora is a language of Northern Iroquois. This branch of Iroquois includes Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Cayuga along with Tuscarora. Of these, it is most closely related to Cayuga, but in general is the farrest removed from the group of six. William Chafe posits that it broke off from a larger language, which he calls "Proto-Northern-Iroquois," into "Proto-Tuscarora-Cayuga," and then broke off onto its own, having no further contact with Cayuga or any of the others. [Chafe, William. "How To Say They Drank In Iroquois". "Extending the Rafters: Interdisciplinary Approaches To Iroquoian Studies", ch. 17. State University of New York Press, 1984.] Through "Proto-Northern-Iroquois" it is related also to Huron.


Amerind is Joseph H. Greenberg's criticized theory of one massive proto-language from which all American Indian languages descended. In his "Amerind Etymological Dictionary" he cites Tuscarora 42 times, as part of the Amerind branch he calls Keresiouan. Examples of these citations include:
*"aˇchuri" ‘eat’, in relation to *it'io, 'tooth'
*"ku…reh" ‘acorn’, in relation to *kul, 'tree'
*"nyatar" ‘sea’, in relation to *na, 'water'


*Rudes, Blair A. (1999). "Tuscarora-English / English-Tuscarora Dictionary". Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.
*Rudes, Blair A., and Dorothy Crouse (1987). "The Tuscarora Legacy of J. N. B. Hewitt: Materials for the Study of Tuscarora Language and Culture". Canadian Museum of Civilization, Mercury Series, Canadian Ethnology Service Paper No. 108.
*Williams, Marianne Mithun (1976). "A Grammar of Tuscarora". Garland studies in American Indian Linguistics.

ee also

*Tuscarora (tribe)


External links

* [http://www.nw.wnyric.org/tuscarora/tuscaroraschool/tuscaror.htm Tuscarora Language] at the Tuscarora School
* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=tus Ethnologue Report on Tuscarora]
* [http://www.languagegeek.com/rotinonhsonni/tuscarora.html Language Geek: Tuscarora]
* [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Tuscarora-Language/ Tuscarora Language Learning Yahoo! Group]

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