muskogean language

Creek language

The Creek language, also known as Muscogee (Mvskoke in Creek), is a Muskogean language spoken by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Seminole Indians in Oklahoma, Florida, and (to a lesser extent) Alabama and Georgia.


The traditional Creek alphabet was adopted by the tribe in the late 1800s (Innes 2004). There are 20 letters. Although it is based on the Latin alphabet, some of the sounds are vastly different from those in English — in particular those represented by c, e, i, r, and v. Here are the (approximately) equivalent sounds using familiar English words and IPA.

  1. a, (a), as in father.
  2. c, (tʃ), like the "ch" such.
  3. e, (ɨ), like the "i" in hit.
  4. ē, (i), like the "ee" in seed.
  5. f, (f), as in father.
  6. h, (h), as in hatch.
  7. i, (e), like the "ay" in day, but really more of a pure vowel like Spanish language "e".
  8. k, (k), like the "k" in risk.
  9. l, (l), as in look.
  10. m, (m), as in moon.
  11. n, (n), as in moon.
  12. o, (ʊ) or (o), which can be short like "oo" in book, or long like "o" in bone.
  13. p, (p), as in spot.
  14. r, (ɬ), a sound which does not occur in English. This is often represented as "hl" or "tlh" in non-Creek texts. The sound is made by blowing air around the sides of the tongue while pronouncing English "l"; identical to Welsh ll.
  15. s, (s), as in spot.
  16. t, (t), like the "t" in spot.
  17. u, (ʊ) or (o), essentially the same sound as that given for short o, above.
  18. v, (ə), like the English schwa sound: "a" in about or the second "o" in common.
  19. w, (w), as in wet.
  20. y, (j), as in yet.

There are only three major diphthongs in written Mvskoke:

  • ue, like the "oy" in boy.
  • vo, like the "aw" in hawk.
  • eu, which is simply the Creek short e sound blended smoothly into the Creek u sound.

There are no silent letters in Creek; everything is pronounced.


Four consonants in Mvskoke are slightly different from what English speakers would expect, being unaspirated and unvoiced. When placed between two voiced sounds or at the beginning of a word, they can sound slightly different (Innes 2004).

  • c can sound like dʒ, the "j" in just.
  • k can sound like g, the "g" in goat.
  • p can sound like b, the "b" in boat.
  • t can sound like d, the "d" in dust.

In addition, certain combinations of consonants sound differently to English speakers, giving multiple possible transcriptions. The most prominent case is the 2nd 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), while the -etsk- transliteration has been used by Martin (2000) and Loughridge (1964).

Vowel Length

A key point in Mvskoke is the length of vowels. Generally speaking, vowels come in long and short pairs; alteration of this vowel sound is the basis for many changes in meaning, for example, alteration of verb tense, mood, and aspect. The vowel pairs are:

  • The short vowel v with the long vowel a.
  • The short vowel e with the long vowel ē.
  • The short vowel u with the long vowel o.

Unfortunately, in written Mvskoke, sometimes the traditional spelling for a word is written using a when the actual vowel is v; similarly, o is used in some spellings where a u sound is pronounced. For instance, Martin (2000) points out that kono (skunk) might also be found as kunu; in either case, the correct pronunciation is close to the English words cook nook without the k's.

Non-Standard Orthography

Creek words may have specific tone and nasalization of their vowels. These additional qualities are not given in the standard orthography, only in dictionaries. 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 only really found in phrases such as uh oh. In Creek, 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 given by an ogonek under the vowel. Changing the verb acces to ącces adds the imperfective aspect, that is, 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 mark. This is the last syllable of the word with normal tone; the following syllables are all lower in pitch.

Distinctive Features of the Language

Sentence Structure

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).


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

  • Person (of subject). Letketv = to run.
    • Letkis. = I am running.
    • Letkeckes. (or Letketskes.)= You are running.
    • Letkes. = He / She is running.
    • Plural forms can be a bit more complicated (see below).
  • Person (of direct or indirect object). This is accomplished with prefixes. Hecetv = to see.
    • Cvhēcis = I see you.
    • Cehēceckes. = You see me.
  • Tense. Pohetv = to hear.
    • Pohis. = I am hearing (present).
    • Pohhis. = I just heard (1st or immediate past; within a day ago).
    • Pohvhanis. = I am going to hear.
    • Pohares. = I will hear.
    • Pohiyunks. = I heard recently (2nd or middle past, within a week ago).
    • Pohimvts. = I heard (3rd or distant past, within a year ago).
    • Pohicatēs. = Long ago I heard. (4th 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 tenses.
  • Mood. Wiketv = to stop.
    • Wikes. = He / She is stopping (indicative).
    • Wikvs. = Stop! (imperative)
    • Wikv-wites. = He / She may stop (potential).
    • Wike-nomat. = If he / she stops (subjunctive).
    • Wikepueces. = 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.
    • Hompeckes. = You are eating.
    • Hompeckv? = Are you eating? (expecting a yes or no answer)
    • Nake hompecka? = What are you eating? (expecting a long answer)

Verbs with Irregular Plurals

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

Stative Verbs

Another entire class of Creek verbs are the stative verbs. These verbs express no action, imply no duration, and provide only description of a static condition. In some languages, such as English, these are expressed as adjectives. In Creek, the verbs behave similar to adjectives, yet are classed and treated as verbs. However, these verbs are not altered for the person of the subject by an affix, as above; instead, the prefix changes.

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

Locative Prefixes

Prefixes are also used in Creek for shades of meaning of verbs which are expressed in English using preposition stranding. 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 Mvskoke, 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, Creek also has a large selection of verbs with specific meaning: ossetv = to go out; ropottetv = to go though.


In some other languages, a special form of the noun, the genitive case, is used to show possession. This process is handled in two fundamentally different ways in Creek, depending on the nature of the noun.

Nouns in Fixed Relationships (Inalienable possession)

A body part or family member cannot be discussed in Creek without mentioning the possessor; it 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, for example, Toske enke = Toske's hand. This is not redundant in Creek (e.g. "Toske's his hand").

Transferrable Nouns

All other nouns are possessed through separate set of prepositions.

  • 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 Creek must include the correct preposition. For example, Toske em efv = Toske's dog. This is grammatically correct in Creek, unlike the literal English translation "Toske's his dog".

Locative Nouns

A final distinctive feature of Creek, tied to the above, is the existence of locational nouns. In English, we have prepositions to indicate location, for example, behind, around, beside, and so on. In Creek, these 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.


The phonology of Creek seems to be: , ,

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k
Affricate ʧ
Fricative f s h
Lateral fricative ɬ
Nasal m n
Lateral l
Semivowel w j

/ʧ/ is spelled , /ɬ/ is spelled , and /j/ is spelled .

Front Central Back

Creek has three diphthongs: /ej ow aw/. Vowels can be nasalized (cf the distinction in acces vs ącces above); nevertheless Johnson and Martin (2001) do not list nasalized vowels as distinctive. Nasalized vowels are indicated using an ogonek underneath: <ę>, <ų>, <į>, etc. There are three tones: high (marked with an acute: á), low (unmarked: a), and falling (marked with a circumflex: â). Short vowels /i o a/ are subject to centralization, to around . The orthographical conventions discussed here are those used primarily by linguists, and not necessarily the traditional orthographies.

See also


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