Creek language

Creek language
Spoken in United States
Region Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia and Florida
Ethnicity Muscogee people
Native speakers 6,213[1]  (date missing)
Language family
  • Eastern Muskogean
    • Creek
Language codes
ISO 639-2 mus
ISO 639-3 mus
Muskogee USC2000 PHS.svg
Creek language spread in the United States.

The Creek language, also known as Muskogee[2] or Muscogee (Mvskoke in Creek), is a Muskogean language spoken by Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole people primarily in the U.S. states of Oklahoma and Florida.

Historically the language was spoken by various constituent groups of the Muscogee in what are now Alabama and Georgia. It is related to, but not mutually intelligible with, the other primary language of the Muscogee confederacy, Hitchiti/Miccosukee, as well as other Muskogean languages.

Muscogee settlers first brought the Creek and Miccosukee languages to Florida in the early 18th century where they would eventually became known as the Seminoles. In the 19th century, however, the US government forced most Muscogees and Seminoles to relocate west of the Mississippi River, with many eventually settling in Oklahoma.

Today, the language is spoken by around 4,000 people, the majority of whom live in Oklahoma and are members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Around 200 are Florida Seminoles. Seminole usage of the language constitutes distinct dialects.[3]



The phoneme inventory of Creek consists of thirteen consonants and three vowel qualities, which distinguish length and nasalization.[4] In addition, Creek also makes use of the gemination of plosives, fricatives and sonorants.[5]


The consonant phonemes of Creek are:[6]

  Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p t t͡ʃ k
Fricative Central f s h
Lateral ɬ
Sonorants Nasals m n
Glide w j
Lateral l


There are four voiceless plosives in Creek: /p t t͡ʃ k/. /t͡ʃ/ is a voiceless palatal affricate that patterns as a single consonant, and therefore with the other voiceless stops. /t͡ʃ/ has an alveolar allophone [t͡s] before /k/.[7] The obstruent consonants /p t t͡ʃ k/ are voiced to [b d d͡ʒ g] between sonorants and vowels, but remain voiceless at the end of a syllable.[8].

Between instances of [o], or after [o] at the end of a syllable, the velar /k/ is realized as the uvular [q] or [ɢ]. For example:[9]

in-coko   ‘his or her house’   [ɪnd͡ʒʊɢo]
tokná:wa   ‘money’   [toqnɑːwǝ]


There are four voiceless fricatives in Creek: /f s ɬ h/. /f/ can be realized as either labiodental ([f]) or bilabial ([ɸ] in place of articulation. Predominantly among speakers in Florida, the articulation of /s/ is more laminal, resulting in /s/ being realized as [ʃ], though for most speakers /s/ is a voiceless apico-alveolar fricative [s].[10]

Like /k/, the glottal /h/ is sometimes realized as the uvular [χ] when proceeded by [o] or when syllable-final. For example:[11]

oh-leyk-itá   ‘chair’   [oχlejɡɪdǝ]
ohɬolopi:   ‘year’   [oχɬolobiː]


The sonorants in Creek consist of two nasals (/m/ and /n/), two semivowels (/w/ and /j/), and the lateral /l/, all voiced.[12] Nasal assimilation occurs in Creek: /n/ becomes [ŋ] before /k/.[13]

Sonorants are devoiced when followed by /h/ in the same syllable. This results in a single voiceless consonant. For example:[14]

camhcá:ka   ‘bell’   [t͡ʃǝm̥t͡ʃɑːɡǝ]
akcáwhko   ‘a type of water bird’   [ɑkt͡ʃǝw̥ko]


All plosives and fricatives in Creek can be geminated (lengthened). Some sonorants may also be geminated, though [hh] and [mm] are less common than other sonorant geminates, especially in roots. For the majority of speakers, except for those influenced by the Alabama or Koasati languages, the geminate [ww] does not occur.[15]


The vowel phonemes of Creek are as follows:[16]

Front Central Back
Close i iː
Close-Mid o oː
Open ɑ ɑː

There are three short vowels /i ɑ o/ and three long vowels /iː ɑː oː/. There are also the nasal vowels /ĩ ɑ̃ õ ĩː ɑ̃ː õː/ (in the linguistic orthography these are often written with an ogonek underneath 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. For example:[17]

pó-ɬki   ‘our father’
opónɬko   ‘cutworm’

Short Vowels

The three short vowels /i ɑ o/ can be realized as the lax and centralized ([ɪ ǝ ʊ]) when a neighboring consonant is coronal or in closed syllables. However, /ɑ/ will generally not centralize when followed by /h/ or /k/ in the same syllable, and /o/ will generally remain noncentral if word-final.[18] Initial vowels can be deleted in Creek, mostly applying to the vowel /i/. This deletion will affect the pitch of the following syllable, 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, since the shortest a Creek word can be is either a one-syllable word ending in a long vowel (fóː ‘bee’) or a two-syllable word ending with a short vowel (ací ‘corn’).[19]

Long Vowels

There are three long vowels in Creek (/iː ɑː oː/), which are held out slightly longer than short vowels, and which 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. For example:[20]

in-ɬa:m-itá   ‘to uncover, open’
in-ɬam-k-itá   ‘to be uncovered, open’


In Creek, there are three diphthongs which are generally realized as [əɪ ʊj əʊ].[21]

Nasal Vowels

Both long and short vowels can be nasalized (cf. the distinction between acces and ącces below), though 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 a 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:nth-os-i: ‘nice and warm’).[22] Nasal vowels may also appear as part of a suffix which indicates a question (o:sk-ihá:n ‘I wonder if it’s raining’).[23]


There are three phonemic tones in Creek, which 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 Creek alphabet was adopted by the tribe in the late 1800s.[24] 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 the IPA:

Spelling Sound (IPA) English equivalent
a ~ a like the "a" in father
c ~ ts like the "ch" in such or the "ts" in cats
e ɪ like the "i" in hit
ē like the "ee" in seed
f f like the "f" in father
h h like the "h" in hatch
i ɛ ~ ɛj like the "ay" in day
k k like the "k" in risk
l l like the "l" in look
m m like the "m" in moon
n n like the "n" in moon
o ~ ʊ ~ o like the "o" in bone or the "oo" in book
p p like the "p" in sap
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"; it is identical to Welsh ll
s s like the "s" in spot
t t like the "t" in stop
u ʊ ~ o like the "oo" in book or the "oa" in boat
v ə ~ a like the "a" in about
w w like the "w" in wet
y j like the "y" in yet

There are also three vowel sequences, whose spellings match their phonetic makeup:[25]

Spelling Sound (IPA) English equivalent
eu similar to the exclamation "ew!". A combination of the Creek sounds represented by e and u
ue like the "oy" in boy
vo ~ əʊ like the "ow" in how


As mentioned above, certain consonants in Creek, when appearing between two sonorants (a vowel or m, n, l, w, or y), become voiced.[24] These are the consonants represented by p, t, k, c, and s. Thus:

  • c can sound like [dʒ], the "j" in just
  • k can sound like [ɡ], the "g" in goat
  • p can sound like [b], the "b" in boat
  • s can sound like [z], the "z" in zoo
  • 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

While vowel length in Creek 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 (/a/ vs. /aː/)
  • The short vowel e with the long vowel ē (/i/ vs. /iː/)
  • The short vowel u with the long vowel o (/o/ vs. /oː/)

However, these correspondences do not always apply,[26] and in some words, short /a/ is spelled a, long /iː/ is spelled e, and short /o/ is spelled o.

Non-standard orthography

Creek words carry distinctive tones, 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 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 shown with 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

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.
    • 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 (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.
  • 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 through 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 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.


  • Family.
    • Erke. = Father. (Ith-Key)
    • Ecke. = Mother. (Itch-Key)
    • Pauwv. = Uncle. (Bow-wah)
    • Eckuce. = Aunt. (Itch-go-jee)
    • Puca. = Grandpa. (Boo-jah)
    • Puse. = Grandma. (Bo-see)
    • Cepane. = Boy. (Gee-bonnie)
    • Hoktuce. = Girl. (Hook-to-jee)

Language programs

The College of the Muscogee Nation offers a Mvskoke language certificate program.[27] Tulsa public schools, the University of Oklahoma[28] and Glenpool Library in Tulsa[29] and the Holdenville,[30] Okmulgee, and Tulsa Creek Indian Communities of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation[31] offer Muskogee Creek language classes.

Seminole dialects

The forms of Creek used by the Seminole of Oklahoma and Florida constitute separate dialects from that 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 Miccosukee language.[3]

See also



  1. ^ Indigenous Languages Spoken in the United States
  2. ^ "About Creek". Creek Language Archive. Retrieved 2009-04-26. 
  3. ^ a b Brown, Keith, and Sarah Ogilvie (2008). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world, pp. 738–740. Elsevier. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  4. ^ Hardy 2005:211-12
  5. ^ Martin, 2011, p.50-51
  6. ^ Martin, 2011, p.47
  7. ^ Martin, 2011, p.48-49
  8. ^ Martin, 2011, p.62
  9. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 63
  10. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 49
  11. ^ Martin, 2011, p.63
  12. ^ Martin, 2011, p.49-50
  13. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 63
  14. ^ Martin, 2011, p.64
  15. ^ Martin, 2011, p.51
  16. ^ Martin, 2011, p.47
  17. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 53
  18. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 51
  19. ^ Martin, 2011, pp. 64, 72-23
  20. ^ Martin, 2011, p.64-65
  21. ^ Martin, 2011, pp. 54-55
  22. ^ Martin, 2011, pp. 53-54,95
  23. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 53
  24. ^ a b Innes 2004
  25. ^ Hardy 2005, pg. 202
  26. ^ Hardy 2005, pp. 201-2
  27. ^ "Academics." College of the Muscogee Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  28. ^ "Creek," University of Oklahoma: The Department of Anthropology.(retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  29. ^ "Library Presents Mvskoke (Creek) Language Class." Native American Times. 8 Sept 2009 (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  30. ^ "Holdenville Indian Community." Muscogee (Creek) Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  31. ^ "Thunder Road Theater Company to perform plays in the Mvskoke (Creek) Language." Muscogee (Creek) Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)

External links

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