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By the Prophet of the Earth

By L.S.M. Curtin


Scattered as they are over the reservations, the Pima Indians pronounce their words quite differently in the various areas which they occupy, hence the district of each man can be determined by his dialect. Linguistic variations over such a short distance as that between St. John's Mission and the north bank of the Gila proved to be so much of a handicap in recording the Pima names of plants that I was forced to confine myself to the use of a single dialect. An educated Pima once told me that he had tried to read Rev. C. H. Cook's Pima translation of the Lord's Prayer, but could make "neither head nor tail of it," nor could he understand Russell's manner of writing Pima words in his monograph on the Pima Indians published in the 26th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1904-05.

Although the simplified system of phonetics here employed may not meet the approbation of philologists, yet I feel justified in following that system which has been successfully used by Father Willenbrink in his "Notes on the Pima Indian Language," published in 1935 by the Franciscan Fathers of California. Father Willenbrink states that his pronunciation key is practical rather than technically scientific, and I have found it to be such in recording for ultimate printing. A number of Indians have stated to me that the Father is the only white man who speaks their language so perfectly as to be indistinguishable from that of a native Pima; and they also say that "he knows more about our grammar than we do ourselves."

It therefore seems obvious that the simplified phonetic system devised by Father Willenbrink should serve every practical purpose in recording terms and thereby obviating the necessity of employing diacritical marks and other devices which, especially to the non-professional student, are often confusing.

Father Willenbrink gave much of his valuable time in patiently checking every Pima word contained in this work; and George Webb, born at Gila Crossing of pure Indian stock and educated at Phoenix Indian School and the local High School, was frequently consulted on correct pronunciation.

The language of the Pima and Papago is remotely related to Aztec, or Nahuatl. Accent is always on the first syllable of a Pima word.

With the kind permission of Father Willenbrink I am including the following key to Pima pronunciation.

a as in papa; e.g. babat, frog
e as in pet; e.g. peap, bad
i as in pit; e.g. itdam, upon
o as in won; e.g. vonam, hat
u as in put; e.g. choikut, cane
ai as in aisle; e.g. vaila, dance
aw as in saw; e.g. awk, father
ee as in eel; e.g. eebdak, heart
oe as u in urn; e.g. hoeg, the
oi as in oil; e.g. hoipat, needle
oo as in moon; e.g. oos, stick
ue as in German ü; e.g. chuet, in
d' denotes soft t sound
final khi is used for soft k
kw as qu in quail
l similar to lh sound
final phi denotes soft p sound
sh not sharp as in English
yi approaches a softly aspirated vi; e.g. cofyi, woman
h preceded by k, s, t, is silent
ny as in canyon

The other consonants are pronounced as in English, except that g is always hard, as in get.

Double vowels that do not form diphthongs are indicated by a hyphen instead of the dieresis; e.g. a-alh, children.

Copyright © 1884. The Arizona Board of Regents

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