Creek (Exonym)
Native toUnited States
RegionEast central Oklahoma, Muscogee and Seminole, south Alabama Creek, Florida, Seminole of Brighton Reservation.
Ethnicity52,000 Muscogee people (1997)[1]
Native speakers
4,500 (2015 census)[1]
  • Eastern
    • Muscogee
Official status
Official language in
 United States
   Muscogee Nation
Language codes
ISO 639-2mus
ISO 639-3mus
Current geographic distribution of the Creek language
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.

The Muscogee language (Muskogee, Mvskoke IPA: [maskókî] in Muscogee), previously referred to by its exonym, Creek,[2] is a Muskogean language spoken by Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole people, primarily in the US states of Oklahoma and Florida. Along with Mikasuki, when it is spoken by the Seminole, it is known as Seminole.

Historically, the language was spoken by various constituent groups of the Muscogee or Maskoki 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-Mikasuki, which is spoken by the kindred Mikasuki, as well as with other Muskogean languages.

The Muscogee first brought the Muscogee and Miccosukee languages to Florida in the early 18th century. Combining with other ethnicities there, they emerged as the Seminole. During the 1830s, however, the US government forced most Muscogee and Seminole to relocate west of the Mississippi River, with most forced into Indian Territory.

The language is today spoken by around 5,000 people, most of whom live in Oklahoma and are members of the Muscogee Nation and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.[3] Around 200 speakers are Florida Seminole. Seminole-speakers have developed distinct dialects.[4]

Current status

Muscogee is widely spoken among the Muscogee people. The Muscogee Nation offers free language classes and immersion camps to Muscogee children.[5]

Language programs

The College of the Muscogee Nation offers a language certificate program.[6][7] Tulsa public schools, the University of Oklahoma[8] and Glenpool Library in Tulsa[9] and the Holdenville,[10] Okmulgee, and Tulsa Muscogee Communities of the Muscogee Nation[11] offer Muscogee Creek language classes. In 2013, the Sapulpa Creek Community Center graduated a class of 14 from its Muscogee language class.[12] In 2018, 8 teachers graduated from a class put on by the Seminole nation at Seminole State College to try and reintroduce the Muscogee language to students in elementary and high school in several schools around the state.


The phoneme inventory of Muscogee consists of thirteen consonants and three vowel qualities, which distinguish length, tone and nasalization.[13] It also makes use of the gemination of stops, fricatives and sonorants.[14]


Consonant phonemes of Muscogee[15]
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Central Lateral
Nasal m n
Plosive p t k
Fricative f s ɬ h
Approximant w l j


There are four voiceless stops in Muscogee: /p t t͡ʃ k/. /t͡ʃ/ is a voiceless palatal affricate and patterns as a single consonant and so with the other voiceless stops. /t͡ʃ/ has an alveolar allophone [t͡s] before /k/.[16] The obstruent consonants /p t t͡ʃ k/ are voiced to [b d d͡ʒ ɡ] between sonorants and vowels but remain voiceless at the end of a syllable.[17]

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:[18]

in-coko 'his or her house' [ɪnd͡ʒʊɢo]
tokná:wa 'money' [toqnɑːwə]


There are four voiceless fricatives in Muscogee: /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], but for most speakers, /s/ is a voiceless apico-alveolar fricative [s].[19]

Like /k/, the glottal /h/ is sometimes realized as the uvular [χ] when it is preceded by [o] or when syllable-final:[18]

oh-leyk-itá 'chair' [oχlejɡɪdə]
ohɬolopi: 'year' [oχɬolobiː]


The sonorants in Muscogee are two nasals (/m/ and /n/), two semivowels (/w/ and /j/), and the lateral /l/, all voiced.[20] Nasal assimilation occurs in Muscogee: /n/ becomes [ŋ] before /k/.[18]

Sonorants are devoiced when followed by /h/ in the same syllable and results in a single voiceless consonant:[21]

camhcá:ka 'bell' [t͡ʃəm̥t͡ʃɑːɡə]
akcáwhko 'a type of water bird' [ɑkt͡ʃəw̥ko]


All plosives and fricatives in Muscogee can be geminated (lengthened). Some sonorants may also be geminated, but [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.[22]


The vowel phonemes of Muscogee are as follows:[15]

Front Central Back
Close i
Close-mid o
Open ɑɑː

There are three short vowels /i ɑ o/ and three long vowels /iː ɑː oː/. There are also the nasal vowels ɑ̃ õ ĩː ɑ̃ː õː/ (in the linguistic orthography, they are often written with an ogonek under them 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:[23]

pó-ɬki 'our father'
opónɬko 'cutworm'

Short vowels

The three short vowels /i ɑ o/ can be realized as the lax and centralized ( ə ʊ]) when a neighboring consonant is coronal or in closed syllables. However, /ɑ/ will generally not centralize when it is followed by /h/ or /k/ in the same syllable, and /o/ will generally remain noncentral if it is word-final.[22] Initial vowels can be deleted in Muscogee, mostly applying to the vowel /i/. The deletion will affect the pitch of the following syllable by 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, as the shortest a Muscogee word can be is a one-syllable word ending in a long vowel (fóː 'bee') or a two-syllable word ending with a short vowel (ací 'corn').[24]

Long vowels

There are three long vowels in Muscogee (/iː ɑː oː/), which are slightly longer than short vowels and 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:[25]

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


In Muscogee, there are three diphthongs, generally realized as [əɪ ʊj əʊ].[26]

Nasal vowels

Both long and short vowels can be nasalized (the distinction between acces and ącces below), but 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 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').[27] Nasal vowels may also appear as part of a suffix that indicates a question (o:sk-ihá:n 'I wonder if it's raining').[23]


There are three phonemic tones in Muscogee; they 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 Muscogee alphabet was adopted by the tribe in the late 1800s[28] and has 20 letters.

Although it is based on the Latin alphabet, some sounds are vastly different from those in English like 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 skim
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 spot
r ɬ a sound that does not occur in English but is often represented as "hl" or "thl" in non-Muscogee texts. The sound is made by blowing air around the sides of the tongue while pronouncing English l and 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:[29]

Spelling Sound (IPA) English equivalent
eu similar to the exclamation "ew!". A combination of the 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 Muscogee, when they appear between two sonorants (a vowel or m, n, l, w, or y), become voiced.[28] They are the consonants represented by p, t, k, c, and s:

In addition, certain combinations of consonants sound differently from English, giving multiple possible transcriptions. The most prominent case is the second person singular ending for verbs. Wiketv means "to stop:" the verb for "you are stopping" may be written in Muscogee as wikeckes or wiketskes. Both are pronounced the same. The -eck- transliteration is preferred by Innes (2004), and the -etsk- transliteration has been used by Martin (2000) and Loughridge (1964).

Vowel length

While vowel length in Muscogee is distinctive, it is somewhat inconsistently indicated in the traditional orthography. The following basic correspondences can be noted:

However, the correspondences do not always apply,[30] and in some words, short /a/ is spelled a, long /iː/ is spelled e, and short /o/ is spelled o.

Nonstandard orthography

Muscogee 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):


Word order

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).

Grammatical case

Case is marked on noun phrases using the clitics -t for subjects, and -n for non-subjects. The clitic -n can appear on multiple noun phrases in a single sentence at once, such as the direct object, indirect object, and adverbial nouns. Despite the distinction in verbal affixes between the agent and patient of the verb, the clitic -t marks subject of both transitive and intransitive verbs.

In some situations, case marking is omitted. This is especially true of sentences with only one noun where the role of the noun is obvious from the personal marking on the verb. Case marking is also omitted on fixed phrases that use a noun, e.g. "go to town" or "build a fire".


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

Verbs with irregular plurals

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

Stative verbs

Another entire class of Muscogee verbs is the stative verbs, which express no action, imply no duration, and provide only description of a static condition. In some languages, such as English, they are expressed as adjectives. In Muscogee, the verbs behave like adjectives but are classed and treated as verbs. However, they are not altered for the person of the subject by an affix, as above; instead, the prefix changes:

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

Locative prefixes

Prefixes are also used in Muscogee for shades of meaning of verbs that are expressed, in English, by 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 Muscogee, the same principle of shading a verb's meaning is handled by locative prefixes:


However, for verbs of motion, Muscogee has a large selection of verbs with a specific meaning: ossetv = to go out; ropottetv = to go through.


Clauses in a sentence use switch-reference clitics to co-ordinate their subjects. The clitic -t on a verb in a clause marks that the verb's subject is the same as that of the next clause. The clitic -n marks that verb's subject is different from the next clause.


In some languages, a special form of the noun, the genitive case, is used to show possession. In Muscogee this relationship is expressed in two quite different ways, depending on the nature of the noun.

Nouns in fixed relationships (inalienable possession)

A body part or family member cannot be named in Muscogee without mentioning the possessor, which is an integrated part of the word. A set of changeable prefixes serves this function:

Even if the possessor is mentioned specifically, the prefix still must be part of the word: Toskē enke = Toske's hand. It is not redundant in Muscogee ("Toske his_hand").

Transferable nouns

All other nouns are possessed through a separate set of pronouns.

Again, even though the construction in English would be redundant, the proper way to form the possessive in Muscogee must include the correct preposition: Toskē em efv = Toske's dog. That is grammatically correct in Muscogee, unlike the literal English translation "Toske his dog".

Locative nouns

A final distinctive feature, related to the above, is the existence of locational nouns. In English, speakers have prepositions to indicate location, for example, behind, around, beside, and so on. In Muscogee, the locations are actually nouns. These are possessed just like parts of the body and family members were above.


Male vs. female speech

Claudio Saunt, writing about the language of the later 18th century, said that there were different feminine and masculine versions, which he also calls dialects, of the Muscogee language. Males "attach[ed] distinct endings to verbs", while Females "accent[ed] different syllables". These forms, mentioned in the first (1860) grammar of the Muscogee language, persisted in the Hichiti, Muscogee proper, and Koasati languages at least into the first half of the 20th century.[31]: 141 

Seminole dialects

The forms of Muscogee used by the Seminoles of Oklahoma and Florida are separate dialects from the ones 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 Mikasuki language. The most distinct dialect of the language is said to be that of the Florida Seminole, which is described as "rapid", "staccato" and "dental", with more loan words from Spanish and Mikasuki as opposed to English. Florida Seminole Creek is the most endangered register of the Muscogee language.[4]

See also



  1. ^ a b Muscogee at Ethnologue (21st ed., 2018) Closed access icon
  2. ^ "About Creek". Creek Language Archive. Archived from the original on 2009-06-09. Retrieved 2009-04-26.
  3. ^ Census Table 1[dead link]
  4. ^ a b Brown, Keith, and Sarah Ogilvie (2008). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world, pp. 738–740. Elsevier. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  5. ^ "Muscogee (Creek) Nation". Archived from the original on 2015-07-15. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
  6. ^ "Academics." College of the Muscogee Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  7. ^ Pratt, Stacey (2013-04-15). "Language vital part of cultural identity". Tahlequah Daily Press. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  8. ^ "Creek," Archived 2011-02-24 at the Wayback Machine University of Oklahoma: The Department of Anthropology.(retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  9. ^ "Library Presents Mvskoke (Creek) Language Class." Native American Times. 8 Sept 2009 (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  10. ^ "Holdenville Indian Community." Muscogee (Creek) Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  11. ^ "Thunder Road Theater Company to perform plays in the Mvskoke (Creek) Language." Archived 2015-07-15 at the Wayback Machine Muscogee (Creek) Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  12. ^ Brock, John (2013-08-17). "Creek language class graduates 14". Sapulpa Herald Online. Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Archived from the original on 2013-08-23. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
  13. ^ Hardy 2005:211-12
  14. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 50–51
  15. ^ a b Martin, 2011, p. 47
  16. ^ Martin, 2011, p.48-49
  17. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 62
  18. ^ a b c Martin, 2011, p. 63
  19. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 49
  20. ^ Martin, 2011, p.49-50
  21. ^ Martin, 2011, p.64
  22. ^ a b Martin, 2011, p. 51
  23. ^ a b Martin, 2011, p. 53
  24. ^ Martin, 2011, pp. 64, 72-23
  25. ^ Martin, 2011, p. 64–65
  26. ^ Martin, 2011, pp. 54–55
  27. ^ Martin, 2011, pp. 53–54, 95
  28. ^ a b Innes 2004
  29. ^ Hardy 2005, pg. 202
  30. ^ Hardy 2005, pp. 201-2
  31. ^ Saunt, Claudio (1999). A New Order of Things. Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1810. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521660432.


  1. ^ "Haas/Hill texts - Muskogee (Seminole/Creek) Documentation Project". Muskogee (Seminole/Creek) Documentation Project. Retrieved 2017-12-22.