Nʉmʉ Tekwapʉ̲
Pronunciation[ˈnɨmɨ ˈtekʷapɨ̥]
Native toUnited States
RegionOklahoma (formerly, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma)
Native speakers
<9 (2022)[1]
  • Numic
    • Central Numic
      • Comanche
Language codes
ISO 639-3com
Former distribution of the Comanche language.
Comanche is classified as Severely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Comanche (English: /kəˈmæni/, endonym Nʉmʉ Tekwapʉ̲) is a Uto-Aztecan language spoken by the Comanche, who split from the Shoshone soon after the Comanche had acquired horses around 1705. The Comanche language and the Shoshoni language are quite similar, but certain consonant changes in Comanche have inhibited mutual intelligibility.[2][3]

The name Comanche comes from the Ute word kɨmantsi "enemy, stranger".[4] Their own name for the language is nʉmʉ tekwapʉ, which means "language of the people".[5]

Use and revitalization efforts

Although efforts are now being made to ensure its survival, most speakers of the language are elderly. In the late 19th century, Comanche children were placed in boarding schools where they were discouraged from speaking their native language, and even severely punished for doing so. The second generation then grew up speaking English, because of the belief that it was better for them not to know Comanche.

The Comanche language was briefly prominent during World War II. A group of seventeen young men referred to as the Comanche Code Talkers were trained, and used by the U.S. Army to send messages conveying sensitive information in the Comanche language so that it could not be deciphered by the enemy.

As of July 2013, there were roughly 25-30 native speakers of the language, according to The Boston Globe.[6] The Comanche Language and Cultural Preservation Committee offers dictionaries and language learning materials.[7] Comanche language courses were available at the now-closed Comanche Nation College.[8][9] The college previously conducted a language recording project, as the language is "mostly oral", and emphasizing instruction for tribal members.[10] On the language-learning platform Memrise, the Comanche Nation Language Department has published learning materials.[11]

As of 2022, there were fewer than nine fluent native speakers of Comanche, many of the old speakers having succumbed to old age, health problems or the COVID-19 pandemic.[1]



Comanche has a typical Numic vowel inventory of six vowels. In addition, there is the common diphthong /ai/. Historically, there was a certain amount of free variation between [ai] and [e] (as shown by comparison with Shoshoni cognates), but the variation is no longer so common and most morphemes have become fixed on either /ai/ or /e/.[12] In the following chart, the basic symbols given are in the IPA, whereas the equivalent symbols in the conventional orthography are given to the right of them.[citation needed]

Front Central Back
short long short long short long
High (close) i ⟨ii⟩ ɨ ⟨ʉ⟩ ɨː ⟨ʉʉ⟩ u ⟨uu⟩
Mid e ⟨ee⟩ o ⟨oo⟩
Low (open) a ⟨aa⟩

Vowel length and voicing

Comanche distinguishes vowels by length. Vowels can be either long or short. Long vowels are never devoiced and in the orthography they are represented as (aa, ee, ii, oo, uu, ʉʉ). An example of a long vowel is the (ee) in [wakaréʔeː] 'turtle'.[12] Short vowels can be lengthened when they are stressed.

Short vowels can be either voiced or voiceless. Unstressed short vowels are usually devoiced when /s/ or /h/ follows and optionally when word-final.[12] voiceless vowels are non-phonemic and therefore not represented in this chart. In the conventional orthography, these vowels are marked with an underline: ⟨a̱, e̱, i̱, o̱, u̱, ʉ̱⟩.


Comanche has a typical Numic consonant inventory.[12] As with the vowel charts, the basic symbols given in this chart are in the IPA, whereas the equivalent symbols in the conventional orthography are given to the right of them.

Labial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
plain labial
Nasal m n
Plosive p t k ⟨kw⟩ ʔ
Affricate ts
Fricative s h
Approximant j ⟨y⟩ w


Comanche stress most commonly falls on the first syllable. Exceptions to this rule, such as in the words Waʔsáasiʔ 'Osage people', and aná 'ouch!', are marked with an acute accent.

For the purpose of stress placement, the diphthongs /ai/, /oi/, and /ui/ act as one vowel with one mora. Additionally, possessive pronouns, which serve as proclitics, do not affect the stress of a word (so that nʉ + námi 'my sister' retains its stress on the /a/ in námi).

Secondary stress is placed on the second syllable of a two-syllable word, the third syllable of a word with three, four, or five syllables, and the fourth syllable of a word with six syllables.[13]

4 5 6
[á.ni.múi ] [yú.pu.sí.a] [wuh+tú.pu káʔ 'buckle]
'housefly' 'louse' 'button'[13]
An example of three syllables is [wáhkát ìmat òʔiàt I] 'twelve' (liter. waha=-?? 'two-??').[13]
[marohtíkʷan] [pahín]
ma-toH-tíkwa-n pahi-n
'he hit him' 'he fell'.[12]
By using the form CVHCV or CVhV we can see that -h "is presented as a second or a precipitated consonant".[12] However, "stress does not shift rightwards when the verb root does not contain [h].[12] An example is [nómiʔan] no-miʔa-n 'they moved camp'.[12]

Phonological processes

Writing system

The Comanche Alphabet was developed by Dr. Alice Anderton, a linguistic anthropologist, and was adopted as the official Comanche Alphabet by the Comanche Nation in 1994. The alphabet is as follows:

Alphabet Pronunciation Alphabet Pronunciation Alphabet Pronunciation
a /a/ m /m/ t [t] /t/
b [β] /p/ n /n/ u /u/
e /e/ o /o/ ʉ /ə/
h /h/ p [p] /p/ w /w/
i /i/ r [ɾ] /t/ y /j/
k /k/ s /s/ ʔ /ʔ/


Like many languages of the Americas, Comanche can be classified as a polysynthetic language.


Comanche nouns are inflected for case and number, and the language possesses a dual number. Like many Uto-Aztecan languages, nouns may take an absolutive suffix. Many cases are also marked using postpositions.

Personal pronouns exist for three numbers (singular, dual, and plural) and three persons. They have different forms depending on whether or not they are the subject or object of a verb, possessive (including reflexive possessive forms), or the object of a postposition. Like many languages of the Americas, Comanche first-person plural pronouns have both inclusive and exclusive forms.

The Comanche paradigm for nominal number suffixes is illustrated below (in the practical orthography):

Subject Object Possessive
Dual I -nʉkwʉh -nʉkwʉh-ha -nʉkwʉh-ha
Dual II -nʉhʉ -nihi -nʉhʉ
Plural -nʉʉ -nii -nʉʉ


Many of the verb stems regularly are suppletive: intransitive verbs are suppletive for singular versus plural subject and transitive verbs are suppletive for singular versus plural object. Verbs can take various affixes, including incorporated nouns before the stem. Most verb affixes are suffixes, except for voicing-changing prefixes and instrumental prefixes.[12]

Note: -HU=(1) is a particular affix which adds the meaning 'to accomplish a goal'

The verb stem can take a number of prefixes and suffixes. A sketch of all the elements that may be affixed to the verb is given on the right:

In addition to verbal affixes, Comanche verbs can also be augmented by other verbs. Although in principle Comanche verbs may be freely combined with other verbs, in actuality only a handful of verbs, termed auxiliary verbs, are frequently combined with others. These forms take the full range of aspectual suffixes. Common auxiliary verbs in Comanche include hani 'to do, make', naha 'to be, become', miʔa 'to go', and katʉ / yʉkwi 'to sit'. An example of how the verbs combine:


to sit




to go




to ride (and go)

katʉ + miʔa = katʉmiʔa

{to sit} {} {to go} {} {to ride (and go)}

Instrumental prefixes

As mentioned above, Comanche has a rich repertoire of instrumental prefixes, and certain verbs (termed instrumental verbs) cannot occur without an instrumental prefix. These prefixes can affect the transitivity of a verb. The Comanche instrumental prefixes are listed below:


Comanche parts of speech include nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and interjections (such as haa 'yes' and kee 'no'), as well as particles.

The standard word order is subject–object–verb, but it can shift in two specific circumstances. The topic of a sentence, though marked with one of two particles, is often placed at the beginning of the sentence, defying the standard word order. Furthermore, the subject of a sentence is often placed second in a sentence. When the subject is also the topic, as is often the case, it ends up in the first position, preserving SOV word order; otherwise, the subject will be placed second. For example, the English sentence 'I hit the man' could be rendered in Comanche with the components in either of the following two orders: 'I' (topic) 'man' (object) 'hit' (an aspect marker) - the standard SOV word order - or 'man' (object and topic) 'I' 'hit' (an aspect marker) - an OSV word order, which accentuates the role of the man who was hit.[12]

Switch reference

Like other Numic languages, Comanche has switch-reference markers to handle subordination.[12] This refers to markers which indicate whether or not a subordinate verb has the same or different subject as the main verb, and in the case of Comanche, also the temporal relation between the two verbs.

When the verb of a subordinate clause has a different subject from the verb of the main clause, and the time of the verbs is simultaneous, the subordinate verb is marked with -ku, and its subject is marked as if it were an object. When the time of the verbs is not simultaneous, the subordinate verb is marked with one of several affixes depending on the duration of the subordinate verb and whether it refers to an action which occurred before that described by the main verb or one which occurred after.

In popular culture

In the 1956 film The Searchers, starring John Wayne, there are several badly pronounced Comanche words interspersed, such as nawyecka (nooyʉka 'move camp around') and timoway (tʉmʉʉ 'buy, trade').

In the 1963 film McLintock!, also starring John Wayne, McLintock (Wayne) and Chief Puma (Michael Pate) speak Comanche several times throughout the film.

In a 2013 Boston Globe article, linguist Todd McDaniels of Comanche Nation College commented on Johnny Depp's attempts to speak the Comanche language in the film The Lone Ranger, saying, "The words were there, the pronunciation was shaky but adequate."[6]

In the 2016 film The Magnificent Seven two of the titular characters, a Comanche warrior named Red Harvest and Sam Chisholm, an African-American warrant officer, speak Comanche to each other.

In the 2019 TV series The Son, the main character, Eli McCullough, lives with a tribe of Comanche natives, who speak in Comanche to each other and later to him.

The 2022 movie Prey, set in the early 18th century, is the first feature film to have a full Comanche language dub.[14]

See also


  1. ^ a b Reddin, Gary (2022-08-18). "Comanche language 'critically endangered'". The Duncan Banner. Retrieved 2023-05-11.
  2. ^ McLaughlin, John (1992). "A Counter-Intuitive Solution in Central Numic Phonology". International Journal of American Linguistics. 58 (2): 158–181. doi:10.1086/ijal.58.2.3519754. JSTOR 3519754. S2CID 148250257.
  3. ^ McLaughlin, John E. (2000). "Language Boundaries and Phonological Borrowing in the Central Numic Languages". In Casad, Gene; Willett, Thomas (eds.). Uto-Aztecan: Structural, Temporal, and Geographical Perspectives. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. pp. 293–304. ISBN 970-689-030-0.
  4. ^ Edward Sapir. 1931. Southern Paiute Dictionary. Reprinted in 1992 in: The Collected Works of Edward Sapir, X, Southern Paiute and Ute Linguistics and Ethnography. Ed. William Bright. Berlin: Mouton deGruyter.
  5. ^ Lila Wistrand Robinson & James Armagost. 1990. Comanche Dictionary and Grammar. Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington Publications in Linguistics Publication 92. Dallas, Texas: The Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington.
  6. ^ a b Peterson, Britt (2013-07-06). "In The Lone Ranger, is Tonto really speaking Comanche?". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2013-07-11.
  7. ^ "Comanche Language & Cultural Preservation Committee". Retrieved 2013-07-11.
  8. ^ "Academic services - Native Languages". Comanche Nation College. Archived from the original on 2013-10-27. Retrieved 2013-07-11.
  9. ^ "Comanche Nation College". Comanche Nation College. Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  10. ^ Mangan, Katherine (June 9, 2013). "Comanche Nation College Tries to Rescue a Lost Tribal Language - Diversity in Academe". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2013-07-11.
  11. ^ Comanche Nation Language Department (13 February 2019). "New Language Department Has Launched" (Press release). Lawton, Oklahoma. Archived from the original on 4 January 2024. Retrieved 29 March 2024. The Comanche language course has launched on the Memrise website and app and continues to be updated with new levels.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Charney, Jean O. (1993). A Grammar of Comanche. Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1461-8.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Robinson, Lila Wistrand; James Armagost (1992). Comanche Dictionary and Grammar. Arlington, Texas: The Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc. ISBN 0-88312-715-6.
  14. ^ Boyle, Kelli (August 2022). "'Prey' Cast on 'Predator' Prequel's Historic Use of Comanche Language & More". TV Insider.