Navajo (language)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Diné bizaad / Naabeehó bizaad

Spoken in

USA and Mexico
speaker 170,000
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Navajo or Navaho is the most widespread and most spoken of the seven Apache languages and Southern Athapaskan languages. It therefore belongs to the three major regional language groups of the Athapaskan language family and, together with Tlingit, to the so-called Na-Dené languages . It is spoken by the Navajo (Diné / Naabeehó) in the southwest of the United States , mainly in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado . However, they usually designate their language as Diné bizaad or Naabeehó bizaad - "language of the people", also: Dinék'ehjí .

The Navajo has around 170,000 native speakers , and the number is increasing. Thus, Navajo, the largest indigenous American language north of the border between the United States and Mexico . But even among the Navajo there are more and more children who speak only English: The proportion of purely English-speaking children between the ages of 5 and 17 increased between 1980 and 2000 from 11.8 to 48.7 percent. Navajo is considered an endangered language .

Navajo is so complex for the non-native speaker that the US armed forces were able to use Navajo Indians as messengers of messages ( Navajo Code spokesmen) with great success in the Pacific during World War II . On the one hand, due to its complexity, this language eluded all logical-mathematical decryption approaches; on the other hand, this type of coding was far superior to conventional encrypted communication, as it was much faster and easier - because it worked via direct speech contact.



Navajo has four vowels: a , e , i and o , which can be short, long or nasal:

  • short , z. B. a and e ,
  • long , e.g. B. aa and ee ,
  • nasal , e.g. B. ą and ęę ,

there are also four tones :

  • high , e.g. B. áá and éé ,
  • deep , e.g. B. aa and ee ,
  • increasing , e.g. B. and or
  • falling , e.g. B. áa and ée .

Tones, length and nasality can be freely combined with one another, e.g. B. ą́ą́ (long, nasal, high).


The consonants of Navajo in its normal orthography are as follows (with IPA notation in brackets):

  Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
central lateral easy labialized
Plosives not aspirated   b   [p]   d  [t]       g  [k]    
aspirated     t  [tʰ]       k  [kʰ]    
ejective     t '  [t']       k '  [k']     '  [ʔ]
Affricates not aspirated     dz  [ʦ]   dl  [tɬ]   j  [ʧ]      
aspirated     ts  [ʦʰ]    [tɬʰ]   ch  [ʧʰ]      
ejective     ts '  [ʦ']   tł '  [tɬ']   ch '  [ʧ']      
Fricatives unvoiced     s  [s]   ł  [ɬ]   sh  [ʃ]   h  [x]   hw  [xʷ]   h  [h]
voiced     z  [z]   l  [l]   zh  [ʒ]   gh  [ɣ]   ghw  [ɣʷ]  
Nasals     m  [m]   n  [n]          
Approximants     w  [w]       y  [j]      

The lateral / l / is actually a voiced lateral approximant. / ł / , on the other hand, is realized as a voiceless fricative. This contrast is often found because an actually voiceless approximant [l̥] is more difficult to perceive. Other athapasque languages, in particular Hän , have the contrast of voiced and voiceless lateral fricatives.

Like most Indigenous American languages ​​of the Northwest, Navajo is poor in labial consonants.


Typologically , Navajo is an agglutinating language, but with strong phonotactic processes in the very complex morphology of the verb. The word order is usually SOV ( subject - object - verb ). Although typologically more suffixes would be expected in this sentence order , Navajo mainly modifies using prefixes .

Navajo has an unusually large number of verbs , but hardly any nouns . There are also u. a. nor pronouns , clitics , demonstrative pronouns , numerals , postpositions , adverbs and conjunctions , which Harry Hoijer summarizes under the part of speech particles . There is no part of speech corresponding to German adjectives , the adjectival function is instead taken over by verbs.


Many concepts that are represented by nouns in other languages ​​are found as verbs in Navajo. Noun phrases are not a necessary part of the syntactic structure in Navajo and are not marked with a case .


The enormously complex verbs are the central element of Navajo. Some meanings expressed by nouns in other languages ​​are represented by verbs in Navajo. Examples include a. Hoozdo "Phoenix, Arizona" (literally "the place is hot") or ch'é'étiin "entrance" (literally "something has a level path to the outside"). Many compound nouns are derived from nominalized verbs, such as ná'oolkiłí "clock" (lit. "one that moves slowly in a circle") and chidí naa'na'í bee'eldǫǫhtsoh bikáá 'dah naaznilígíí "tank" (lit. . "A cart on which you sit over what is crawling around with a big thing that causes an explosion").

The verb can be divided into various individual segments. They consist of an abstract stem that is preceded by various prefixes in a fixed order. The stem together with a classification prefix forms the subject of the verb. The topic is then connected with one or more derivative prefixes and thus forms the basis of the verb. Finally, inflectional prefixes are added to the base (which Young and Morgan call “paradigmatic prefixes”) to form a complete Navajo verb.

Verb scheme

The prefixes of the Navajo are connected to the verb in a fixed order, depending on the type of prefix. This type of morphology is referred to as a position class template. Attached below is a table of the Navajo verb schema as established by Young and Morgan in 1987. Not every possible position needs to be prefixed, so most Navajo verbs are in fact less complex than the scheme would suggest.

The verb has three main parts:

disjoint prefixes conjunct prefixes tribe

These three parts can be broken down into eleven headings, some of which in turn can be further subdivided:

disjoint prefixes conjunct prefixes tribe
0 1a 1b 2 3 4th 5 6th 7th 8th 9 10
postpositional object Post position adverbial-thematic iterative Plural direct object Deixis adverbial-thematic Mode aspect subject Classifier tribe

Although the prefixes are usually in a specific position, some prefixes can change the order through metathesis . The prefix a- (3i object pronouns) usually precedes di- , such as B. in:

adisbąąs “I am starting to drive a wheeled vehicle” [<'a- + di- + sh- + ł + -bąąs].

But if 'a- meets the prefixes di- and ni- , the ' a- exchanges its position with the di- by metathesis , from which the sequence di- + 'a- + ni- results. So it says correctly:

di'nisbąąs "I'm about to drive a vehicle (somewhere) and get stuck" [<di-'a-ni-sh-ł-bąąs <'a- + di- + ni- + sh- + ł + -bąąs ] (Note: 'a- is here reduced to ' - .).

Instead of the expected wording:

adinisbąąs ('a-di-ni-sh-ł-bąąs).

Classifying verbs

Navajo has verb stems that classify an object based on its shape or other physical characteristics and also the movement or condition of the object. These verb stems are known as classifying verb stems and are usually named with an English acronym . There are eleven primary classifying verb stems for hand-moved objects, listed here in perfective mode:

Classifier + stem   designation   Full name Explanation Examples
-'ą́ SRO Solid Roundish Object solid, round object Bottle, ball, boots, box etc.
-yį́ LPB Load, pack, burden Load, baggage, load Backpack, bundle, sack, saddle etc.
-ł-jool NCM Non-compact matter volatile substances Pile of grass, cloud, fog etc.
-lá SFO Slender Flexible Object narrow, flexible object Rope, gloves, socks, fried onions etc.
-tą́ SSO Slender Stiff Object narrow, inflexible object Arrow, bracelet, pan, saw etc.
-ł-tsooz FFO Flat flexible object flat, flexible object Blanket, coat, pouch etc.
-tłéé ' MM Mushy Matter soft fabrics Ice cream, mud, unconscious person, etc.
-Nile PLO1 Plural Objects 1 Objects in plural 1 Eggs, balls, animals, coins etc.
-Yes a' PLO2 Plural Objects 2 Objects in plural 2 Marbles, seeds, sugar, beetles etc.
-ką́ OC Open container open container a glass of milk, a spoonful of food, a handful of flour, etc.
-ł-tį́ ANO Animate Object living object Microbe, person, corpse, doll etc.

Because of these classifications, Navajo does not have a single verb that generally corresponds to the German word give . Depending on the classification of the given object, there are eleven different verbs in Navajo that correspond to the German verb give . For example, to express the German sentence give me some hay , the verb níłjool (NCM) must be used. In the sentence give me a cigarette , on the other hand , is given with the verb nítįįh (SSO).

In addition to defining the physical properties of an object, classifying verb stems can also distinguish between objects in different movements. For this purpose, the tribes can be divided into three different categories:

  1. moved by hand
  2. driven
  3. free flight

moved by hand includes z. B. carry, lower and take away, driven throw, drop, fling, etc. and free flight u. a. fall down and fly.

For example, the SRO category has the following roots:

  1. -'ą́  (a round object) move by hand ,
  2. -ne '  (a round object) , and
  3. -l-ts'id  (a round object) moves unaffected .

yi- / bi- alternation (liveliness)

As in most of the Athapaskan languages, the Navajo grammar marks various degrees of animation.

Depending on how they are classified in this hierarchy of animation, certain nouns require specific verb forms (cf. Young and Morgan 1987: 65–66). Human beings occupy the highest degree of animation, the lowest abstractions:

Human → child / large animal → medium-sized animal → small animal → natural forces → abstraction

In general, the noun with the higher degree of animation precedes the noun with the lower degree. If both nouns have the same degree of animation, the order is free.

This phenomenon was first recorded by Kenneth Hale (1973).


The war film Windtalkers is about Navajo native speakers who had to be protected from the Japanese because of their translation skills. The term Windtalkers is derived from the Navajo designation for radio technology , and means "who speak with the wind" ; however, the spokespersons used in the intelligence service were not referred to as such, but simply as Navajo Code Talkers .

In imaginative novel Mr. Adamson of Urs Widmer already eight year old narrator interested in the Navajos. As an adult, he tries to learn their language and can then use it with the Navajos under special circumstances.

Individual evidence

  1. Archived copy ( memento of the original dated February 5, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  2. ^ Fiscal impact report: Research and Teaching of Navajo Language, January 29, 2007


Teaching materials

  • Robert W. Blair, Leon Simmons, Gary Witherspoon: Navaho Basic Course . BYU Printing Services, 1969.
  • Irvy W. Goossen: Navajo made easier: A course in conversational Navajo . Northland Press, Flagstaff, AZ 1967.
  • Irvy W. Goossen: Diné bizaad: Speak, read, write Navajo . Salina Bookshelf, Flagstaff, AZ 1995, ISBN 0-9644189-1-6 .
  • Irvy W. Goossen; Diné bizaad: Speak, Read and Write Navajo . Salina Bookshelf, Flagstaff, AZ 1997. (Translated by PB Loder)
  • Berard Haile: Learning Navaho . Volumes 1-4. St. Michael's Mission, St. Michaels, AZ 1941-1948.
  • Paul R. Platero: Diné bizaad bee naadzo: A conversational Navajo text for secondary schools, colleges and adults . Navajo Preparatory School, Farmington, NM 1986.
  • Paul R. Platero, Lorene Legah, Linda S. Platero: Diné bizaad bee na'adzo: A Navajo language literacy and grammar text . Navajo Language Institute, Farmington, NM 1985.
  • Luci Tapahonso, Eleanor Schick: Navajo ABC: A Diné alphabet book . Macmillan Books for Young Readers, New York 1995, ISBN 0-689-80316-8 .
  • Gary Witherspoon: Diné Bizaad Bóhoo'aah for secondary schools, colleges, and adults . Navajo Language Institute. Farmington, NM 1985.
  • Gary Witherspoon: Diné Bizaad Bóhoo'aah I: A conversational Navajo text for secondary schools, colleges and adults . Navajo Language Institute, Farmington, NM 1986.
  • Alan Wilson: Breakthrough Navajo: An introductory course . The University of New Mexico, Gallup Branch, Gallup, NM 1969.
  • Alan Wilson: Laughter, the Navajo way . The University of New Mexico at Gallup, Gallup, NM 1970.
  • Alan Wilson: Speak Navajo: An intermediate text in communication . University of New Mexico, Gallup Bran, Gallup, NM 1970.
  • Garth A. Wilson: Conversational Navajo workbook: An introductory course for non-native speakers. Conversational Navajo Publications, Blanding, UT 1995, ISBN 0-938717-54-5 .

Linguistic and other publications

  • Adrian Akmajian, Steven Anderson, Steven: On the use of the fourth person in Navajo, or Navajo made harder. In: International Journal of American Linguistics. 36 (1), 1970, pp. 1-8.
  • Mary Helen Creamer: Ranking in Navajo nouns. In: Navajo Language Review. 1, 1974, pp. 29-38.
  • Leonard M. Faltz: The Navajo verb: A grammar for students and scholars . University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM 1998, ISBN 0-8263-1901-7 (hb), ISBN 0-8263-1902-5 (pbk).
  • Nancy Frishberg: Navajo object markers and the great chain of being. In: J. Kimball (Ed.): Syntax and semantics. Vol. 1, Seminar Press, New York 1972, pp. 259-266.
  • Barbara F. Grimes (Ed.): Ethnologue: Languages ​​of the world. 14th edition. SIL International, Dallas, TX 2000, ISBN 1-55671-106-9 .
  • Kenneth L. Hale: A note on subject-object inversion in Navajo. In BB Kachru, RB Lees, Y. Malkiel, A. Pietrangeli, S. Saporta (Eds.): Issues in linguistics: Papers in honor of Henry and Renée Kahane. University of Illinois Press, Urbana 1973, pp. 300-309.
  • Harry Hoijer: Navaho phonology . In: University of New Mexico publications in anthropology. No. 1, 1945.
  • Harry Hoijer: Classificatory verb stems in the Apachean languages. In: International Journal of American Linguistics. 11 (1), 1945, pp. 13-23.
  • Harry Hoijer: The Apachean verb, part I: Verb structure and pronominal prefixes. In: International Journal of American Linguistics. 11 (4), 1945, pp. 193-203.
  • Harry Hoijer: The Apachean verb, part II: The prefixes for mode and tense. In: International Journal of American Linguistics. 12 (1), 1946, pp. 1-13.
  • Harry Hoijer: The Apachean verb, part III: The classifiers. In: International Journal of American Linguistics. 12 (2), 1946, pp. 51-59.
  • Harry Hoijer: The Apachean verb, part IV: Major form classes. In: International Journal of American Linguistics. 14 (4), 1948, pp. 247-259.
  • Harry Hoijer: The Apachean verb, part V: The theme and prefix complex. In: International Journal of American Linguistics. 15 (1), 1949, pp. 12-22.
  • Harry Hoijer: A Navajo Lexicon . In: University of California Publications in Linguistics (No. 78). University of California Press, Berkeley 1970.
  • James Kari: The disjunct boundary in the Navajo and Tanaina verb prefix complexes. In: International Journal of American Linguistics. 41, 1975, pp. 330-345.
  • James Kari: Navajo verb prefix phonology. Garland Publishing Co., 1976.
  • Joyce. McDonough: The Navajo sound system . Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 2003, ISBN 1-4020-1351-5 (hb), ISBN 1-4020-1352-3 (pbk).
  • Gladys A. Reichard: Navaho grammar . In: Publications of the American Ethnological Society (Vol. 21). JJ Augustin , New York 1951.
  • Edward Sapir: Two Navaho puns. In: Language. 8 (3), 1932, pp. 217-220.
  • Edward Sapir, Harry Hoijer: Navaho texts . William Dwight Whitney series, Linguistic Society of America, 1942.
  • Edward Sapir, Harry Hoijer: Phonology and morphology of the Navaho language . University of California Press, Berkeley 1967.
  • Margaret Speas: Phrase structure in natural language . Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990, ISBN 0-7923-0755-0 .
  • C. Leon Wall, William Morgan: Navajo-English dictionary . Hippocrene Books, New York 1994, ISBN 0-7818-0247-4 . (The first edition was published in 1958 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Branch of Education, Bureau of Indian Affairs.)
  • Anthony Webster: Coyote Poems: Navajo Poetry, Intertextuality, and Language Choice. In: American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 28, 2004, pp. 69-91.
  • Gary, Witherspoon: Navajo categories of objects at rest. In: American Anthropologist. 73, 1971, pp. 110-127.
  • Gary, Witherspoon: Language and art in the Navajo universe . University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 1977, ISBN 0-472-08966-8 , ISBN 0-472-08965-X .
  • Sheldon A. Yazzie: Navajo for Beginners and Elementary Students . The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Press, Chapel Hill 2005.
  • Robert W. Young: The Navajo verb system: An overview . University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque 2000, ISBN 0-8263-2172-0 (hb), ISBN 0-8263-2176-3 (pbk).
  • Robert W. Young, William Morgan Sr .: The Navajo language: A grammar and colloquial dictionary. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque 1987, ISBN 0-8263-1014-1 . (Revised edition)
  • Robert W. Young, William Morgan, Sally Midgette: Analytical lexicon of Navajo . University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque 1992, ISBN 0-8263-1356-6 , ISBN 0-8263-1356-6 .

Web links