Kwatsáan Iiyáa
Native toUnited States
RegionCalifornia, Arizona
Ethnicityc. 10,000 Quechan
Native speakers
~ 60 (2020)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3yum
Yuma County with Fort Yuma Indian Reservation, where Quechan is spoken, highlighted
Quechan is classified as Definitely 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.

Quechan or Kwtsaan (/kʷt͡sa:n/, Kwatsáan Iiyáa),[2] also known as Yuma, is the native language of the Quechan people of southeastern California and southwestern Arizona in the Lower Colorado River Valley and Sonoran Desert. Despite its name, it is not related to the Quechua language of the Andes.

Quechan belongs to the River branch of the Yuman language family, together with Mohave and Maricopa languages. Publications have documented Quechan grammar and texts.[3]

In 1980, it was estimated that there were fewer than 700 speakers of the language, including both the elderly and young.[4] Hinton put a conservative estimate of the number of speakers at 150, and a liberal estimate at 400-500.[5] As of 2009, 93 preschoolers were learning Quechan in the Quechan tribe's language preservation program, and the number of fluent speakers was estimated to be about 100. A Quechan dictionary was in progress.[6]

In 2020, it was estimated that there were approximately 60 speakers of the language left.[7]

Quechan speakers participate in the Yuman Family Language Summit, held annually since 2001.[8]

A 2010 documentary, “Songs of the Colorado,” by filmmaker Daniel Golding features traditional songs in the Quechan language. Golding says, "The songs are all sung in the language, so if you're not learning and picking up the language, then you won't be able to understand the songs ... there are actually words telling stories..."[9]

Assistance is available for speakers of the language who wish to vote in elections in Imperial County, California and Yuma County, Arizona, under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.



Quechan has five vowel phonemes, which all occur in short and long forms. Vowel length is contrastive, as shown in ʔa·vé "snake" versus ʔa·vé· "mouse".

Front Central Back
Close i iː u uː
Mid e eː o oː
Open a aː


The consonants in Quechan are given in the table below.

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive voiceless p t k kʷ q qʷ ʔ
Fricative voiceless s x xʷ
voiced β ð
Rhotic r
Affricate t͡s
Nasal m n ɲ
Lateral l ʎ
Approximant w j

Quechan features word-medial and word-final consonant clusters. Word-medial clusters may be biconsonantal or triconsonantal, while word-final clusters only appear with two consonants.

The semivowels w and j occur as consonants when in a word-initial position, when intervocalic, and as final members of consonant clusters. They occur as vowels when in the word-final position and as initial members of vowel clusters.

Phonological processes

A variety of processes affect the realization of sounds in Quechan, a few of which are listed below.


Word structure

Quechan words consist of two immediate constituents: a theme and non-thematic elements. Themes are structures consisting of unanalyzable root morphemes that form the basis of Quechan words. Themes can consist of stems in isolation, reduplicated, or affixed.

Words usually include one or more nonthematic affixes which can be either nominal or verbal. Themes can be split into noun themes, verbal themes and interjectional themes. Nouns are words composed of noun themes and nominal affixes, verbs are words composed of verbal themes and verbal affixes, and interjections are themes with no affixes added.


Quechan nouns consist of a theme alone or a theme plus non thematic affixes. The primary function of a noun is to convey simple referential content. There are four types of nonthematic elements that can be affixed to nouns: pronominal prefixes, demonstrative suffixes, the locative suffix -i, and case suffixes.

Pronominal prefixes

Possessive pronominal prefixes indicate first, second, third and indefinite third person possessor. There are two distinct sets of possessive prefixes.

1st person ʔ- ʔanʸ-
2nd person m- manʸ-
3rd person ∅- nʸ-
Indef. 3rd person kʷ- kʷanʸ-

The first set of prefixes is used primarily with body parts and kinship terms, while the second is used primarily with natural objects and artifacts but also certain body part terms. The distinction is not that between inalienable and alienable possession: for example, i·kʷé "his horn" refers to both a deer's horn and a person's deer horn.

Demonstrative suffixes

The demonstrative suffixes in Quechan are -va "this (nearby)," -sa, "that (far off)," and -nʸ "that (location unspecified)."

Locative suffix

The locative suffix -i is roughly equivalent in meaning to English "at, in the vicinity of." It is primarily affixed to the noun theme plus a demonstrative suffix: i·mé šama·vi (i·mé "foot," šamá· "root" + -va "this" + -i "at") "at his feet, underfoot" (literally "at the root of his foot").

Case suffixes

Noun themes with case suffixes function as subjects of verbs, adverbs, or, with vocative -a, as a predicative expression: šalʸʔáyc ʔamé·k "the sand is high," literally "sand it-is-high."

Nominative -c
Locative -k
Allative -lʸ
Ablative -m
Vocative -a

The following suffix combinations are found (with -nʸ representing the demonstrative suffixes):

Case suffix With nothing With a demonstrative suffix With the locative suffix With a demonstrative and locative suffix
Absolute -∅ -nʸ -I -nʸi
Nominative -c -nʸc
Locative -k -nʸk -ik -nʸik
Allative -lʸ -nʸǝlʸ -ilʸ -nʸilʸ
Ablative -m -nʸǝm -im -nʸim
Vocative -a -nʸa


Quechan verbs convey most meaning in sentences, including indication of notional and grammatical relationships, in contrast to nouns which are comparatively simple in content.

Verbs typically consist of a theme and two nonthematic elements, a pronominal prefix and a predicative suffix as in ʔayú·k "I see", which is composed of first person pronominal prefix ʔ + "to see" ayú + present-past suffix ·k.

Verb stems that form the basis of verb themes can be modified in a variety of ways to modify their meaning.


Some verb stems can be reduplicated to add the meaning of repetitive or intermittent activity. An example of a reduplicated stem is toxatóx "to be spotted", from the stem atóx "to have a spot." Another example is aspukaspúk "to be kinky (hair)", from the stem aspúk "to be curled.

Thematic prefixes

A variety of thematic prefixes can be added to the verb stem to give the stem meaning.

One such prefix is t- "to cause generally or by means of an instrument." The stem qʷeraqʷér "to be sharp-pointed" can be modified by t- to produce the stem taqʷeraqʷér "to sharpen to a point."

Prefixes can be compounded, which most frequently occurs with the causative prefix u·- in addition to another prefix. The causative prefix u·- is affixed in conjunction with the prefix c- "to cause with the teeth" present in caqáw "to eat fruit," producing the compound u·caqáw "to feed fruit to."


A theme consisting of only a stem or a prefix-stem structure can be further developed through infixation. Infixing before the consonant preceding the accented vowel of the stem in conjunction with the suffixation of a thematic suffix -v or -p produces a developed theme with the meaning "to be one who does."

An example is the theme ku·nácv "to be one who orders" which is produced by infixing and affixing -v to the stem kanác "to order, summon."[12]


Word order

Quechan has a subject-object-verb word order.[13]

Switch reference

Like other Yuman languages, Quechan features switch-reference by which two clauses can be linked with markers specifying whether their subjects are the same or different.[13]

Sample text

The following is an excerpt from a traditional Quechan story called "The Man Who Bothered Ants."[14]


  1. ^ Quechan at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Golla, Victor (2011). California Indian Languages. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  3. ^ Mithun, Marianne (1999). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ Kendall, Martha B. (1983). "Yuman languages". In Ortiz, Alfonso (ed.). Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 10: Southwest. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 4–12.
  5. ^ Hinton 1994, p. 32.
  6. ^ Slagill, Anne (2009-07-27). "Tribal program seeks to preserve Quechan language". The Yuma Sun. Retrieved 2012-09-22.
  8. ^ "Yuman Language Family Summit Home Page". Retrieved 2012-09-22.
  9. ^ Gilkey, Nancy (2010-12-08). "Tribal music documentary premieres Saturday". YumaSun. Archived from the original on 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2012-09-22.
  10. ^ Halpern, Abraham Meyer; Miller, Amy; Langdon, Margaret (1997). Karʔúk: native accounts of the Quechan mourning ceremony. p. 24.
  11. ^ Halpern, Abraham M. (1947). A grammar of the Yuma language (PhD dissertation). Chicago: University of Chicago.
  12. ^ Halpern, Abraham M. (1947). A grammar of the Yuma language (PhD dissertation). Chicago: University of Chicago. pp. 261–265.
  13. ^ a b Langdon, Margaret; Munro, Pamela (1979). "Subject and (Switch-) Reference in Yuman". Folia Linguistica. 13 (3–4). doi:10.1515/flin.1979.13.3-4.321. S2CID 143447978.
  14. ^ Halpern, A. M. (2014). Stories from Quechan Oral Literature. Open Book.