|Native to||United States|
|Extinct||Extinct as a first language in 1948 with the death of Sesostrie Youchigant|
|Revival||32 L2 speakers (2017)|
Pre-contact distribution of the Tunica language.
The Tunica or Luhchi Yoroni (or Tonica, or less common form Yuron) language is a language isolate that was spoken in the Central and Lower Mississippi Valley in the United States by Native American Tunica peoples. There are no native speakers of the Tunica language, but as of 2017[update], there are 32 second language speakers.
Tunica-Biloxi tribal member William Ely Johnson worked with Swiss ethnologist Albert Gatschet to help him document the language in 1886. This initial documentation was further developed by linguist John R. Swanton in the early 1900s.
The last known native speaker, Sesostrie Youchigant, died in 1948. In the 1930s, linguist Mary Haas worked with him to describe what Youchigant remembered of the language, and the description was published in A Grammar of the Tunica Language in 1941. That was followed by Tunica Texts in 1950 and Tunica Dictionary in 1953.
By the 17th century, the people had suffered a high rate of fatalities from Eurasian infectious diseases, warfare, and social disruption. The reduced Tunica tribe lived close to the Ofo and Avoyelles tribes, in present-day Louisiana. They communicated by Mobilian Jargon or French. The small population and the use of a jargon made Haas note that the eventual deterioration of the Tunica language was inevitable.
In 2010, the Tunica-Biloxi tribe formed the Tunica Language Project in partnership with the Linguistics Program at Tulane University in a continuing effort to revitalize the Tunica language. Tribal members read from a new children's book in Tunica at a 2010 pow wow. Only about half of the tribal members live within 75 miles (121 km) of the reservation, in Avoyelles Parish. The Tunica-Biloxi Language & Culture Revitalization Program uses webinars to teach the language to those who do not live near the reservation.
Tunica has seven vowels, all of which are usually short but may be lengthened in stressed syllables, and all of which are voiced completely, except if a /u/ is at the end of a phrase in a word with stress on the second-last syllable, when it is unvoiced after a /k/ or /hk/. Vowels are paired with a certain melody in last or occasionally second-last syllable of a word. The melodies are high, low, rising, falling, and falling-rising.
Vowels may appear only following or preceding consonants, never adjacent to one another. Also, /i/, /a/, and /u/ may appear in any position, but the others appear only in syllables with stress. Vowels do not typically occur at the end of a phrase, and when any vowel precedes n in the same syllable, it becomes nasalized.
The transcription style (represented in bolded symbols below) is based on Mary Haas' work Tunica Language. The IPA symbols are in brackets next to each consonant.
|Stop||voiceless||p [p]||t [t̻]||č [t͡ʃ]||k [k]||ʔ [ʔ]|
|voiced||b [b]||d [d]||g [ɡ]|
|Fricative||f [f]||s [s]||š [ʃ]||h [h]|
|Nasal||m [m]||n [n]|
|Approximant||w [w]||l [l]||y [j]|
The consonants /p/, /t/, /k/, and /t͡ʃ/ are always fairly aspirated unless they occur before a /ʔ/, when they are completely unaspirated. Meanwhile, /b/, /d/, and /g/ do not occur frequently, as is the case with /f/. The fricatives /s/ and /š/ are pronounced with a stronger hiss than in English, and /ʔ/ is said to have a very strong closure. The semi-vowels /j/ and /w/ are always voiced, as is the nasal /m/. On the other hand, /n/, /l/, and /r/ can be voiced or voiceless. The /l/ and /r/ are voiced between vowels or before /ʔ/ or continuants. However, they are voiceless before voiceless consonants except /ʔ/ or at the end of a phrase: ši'lka "blackbird," ši'hkal "stone." Similarly, /n/ is voiced between vowels or before /ʔ/ and is voiceless at the end of a phrase or before voiceless consonants except /ʔ/.
Tunica has both stressed and unstressed syllables, and stressed syllables can have a higher pitch than other syllables, depending on the position of the syllable in a phrase. The first stressed syllable of a phrase is typically spoken with a slightly higher pitch than the following syllables are. The exception is the last syllable when the high or the falling melody is used or the last syllable during the use of the low or the rising melody. The phrase-final melody then determines much of the stress in the rest of the phrase.
When there is use of the high melody, the last syllable is about a minor third higher pitch than the second-last syllable. The first syllable with stress is usually a major second higher than the following syllables are except for the last. All other syllables may not be spoken with any kind of pitch, and the same goes for other unstressed syllables. For example, ta'čiyak ʔura'pʔikʔahčá "You will kill the squirrel" shows the melody. ta'- is a major second higher than the syllables that follow it except for -ča, which is a minor third higher than any syllable that comes before it other than ta'-.
The falling melody causes the last syllable to start at a minor third higher than the second-last syllable: it goes down quickly: ʔa'hkiš ma'rʔikî "Go back!"
The low melody that occurs as the last syllable is lower than the last stressed syllable, which is a little higher than the syllables that it immediately follows. All unstressed syllables between the last stressed syllable and the last syllable take on the same stress as the latter. Unless it is also the last stressed syllable, the first stressed syllable is higher than any following syllable except that last stressed syllable:'ʔu'riš ma'rʔuwa'nì "He went back home, they say."
When the rising melody occurs, the last syllable starts lower than the last stressed syllable and goes upward quickly by about a minor third. Elsewhere in the phrase, the tone is like a low melody: lɔ'ta wiwa'nǎn "Do you want to run?"
The falling-rising melody is a fast drop by a fourth, followed by a fast rise by a minor third. However, only one word uses it: hőn "Yes."
Every syllable in Tunica begins with a single consonant. Sometimes, double or triple consonants may occur in the middle of words or phrases, but no more than two consonants in a row occur at the end of a phrase. The smallest phonetic group in Tunica is a phrase, but a word and a phrase can be differentiated by certain processes. Those that affect grammatical elements that merge to form words are vocalic contraction, vocalic assimilation, vocalic syncope, consonantic syncope, haplology, and patterns in stress. Those that affect words that combine into phrases are vocalic apocope, consonantic apocope, amalgamation, and stress losses. More specific information and basic examples are detailed below:
Nouns can be divided into the categories of indeterminative and determinative. The indeterminative nouns have a stem without any affixes, and the determinative nouns are distinguished by the articular prefix or the pronominal prefix. Determinative nouns belong are definitive, non-definitive, and locative, which may be distinguished by different prefixes or suffixes.
The articular prefix is similar to the definite article in English and appears as ta'- before all stems not beginning with /ʔ/ or /t/. The prefix appears as t- before stems beginning with /ʔ/, and it is omitted by haplology before stems beginning with /t/: te'tiha'yihta "on the road"; te'ti "the road" < te'ti "road"
All proper nouns, unless their stems begin with /t/, must begin with the articular prefix. For instance, ta'wišmi'li "Red River" is ta'- + wi'š(i)mi'li "red water".
The pronominal prefixes signify possession when they attached to a noun and preclude the need for articular prefixes with the same stem. Some stems, called inalienably-possessed noun stems, cannot be used without a pronominal prefix. They include those of kinship, body parts, and miscellaneous terms. Kinship terms are those such as -e'si "father" or '-gači "mother." Body part terms are those such as -e'sini "head" or -e'neri "horns." Finally, miscellaneous terms can be nouns like -e'htiwa'hkuni "breechcloth" or -e'tisa "name."
Gender-number suffixes can be used only in the definitive case of the determinative category so whenever one is used, there must also be a determining prefix attached to the stem. Below is a table showing the gender-number suffixes:
|Masculine||-ku, -ku'hu||ʔu'nima||-sɛ'ma, -sɛm|
|Feminine||-hči, -hči'hi||-si'nima, -sin'|
Sometimes, gender-number suffixes are put on an inflected verb form to convert it to a relative clause. It could be that a noun has the appropriate suffix, and the verb of the clause then takes the same one. Other times, only the verb takes the suffix. Examples of the use of the gender-number suffixes follow:
Finally, there are three possible locative suffixes to put nouns in the locative case. The nouns will also have a determining prefix attached. Gender-number suffixes and locative suffixes are mutually exclusive, but a locative noun may have a number. Also, locative suffixes can take stems and convert them into adverbs and postpositions. -ši is the most commonly used locative suffix, and its meaning is comparable to the English "in, into" or "on, over," but in Tunica, it is used as "at, to." That can be seen in the sentence "He stayed at home," which breaks down into ʔu'riš ʔunanì < "at his house" ʔu'riš(i) < ʔuhk- + ri- "house" + ši. -štihki "toward, in the direction of" is the second suffix.
Usually, it is used with the names of directions: ta'sapʔaraštihk "to the west" < ta- +sa'pʔara "west" + -štihki. The final locative suffix is -hat "on, onto." It is typically used only with ta'hali "the ground." It can be seen in the sentence "He spat on the ground" as ta'haltǎn, ču'hʔuhkɛ'nì; ta'halta < ta'- + ha'l(i) "ground, land" + -hat.
The possible word classes that are found in Tunica include independent personal pronouns, nouns, interrogative-indefinite pronouns, quantificatives, postpositions, adjectives, comparatives, adverbs, auxiliary verbs, active verbs, static verbs, sentence connectives, and exclamatives and imitatives. Syntactic elements of a sentence are made up of words, phrases, or clauses acting in one of the following: predicative words, independent subjects, independent objects, subject or object modifiers, predicate modifiers, predicate complements, or sentence connectives. The syntactic elements can all be made into clauses that are either main or subordinate, and subordinate clauses can be dependent, complementary, relative, or adverbial.
There are three types of sentences that the Tunica language produces: simple, compound, and complex. Simple sentences must contain only one predicative word. Compound sentences have two or more main clauses. Complex sentences have a main clause and one or more of the different types of subordinate clauses that are mentioned above.
The following are brief descriptions of possible syntactic elements of a clause:
may be words when used as adjectives, comparatives, adverbs, and locatives and may be phrases and clauses when it is adverbial.
There are other special constructions that also take place in certain specific environments. For example, quantificatives and nouns can be in apposition to other nouns that independent subjects or objects: ʔuhkʔo'nisɛ'mǎn, ho't ʔaku'hpanʔuhkɛ'nì "He assembled all (of) his people, it is said" < "he assembled, it is said, his people, all." Additionally, a possessive nexus can serve in the same syntactical functions that a noun can. For example, ta'čɔhak ʔu'rǐhč, hi'yuhɔ'nì "The chief's house was (made of) grass" (ta'čɔhaku "the chief", possessor noun, + ʔu'rihči "his house", alienably possessed noun, the combination serving as independent subject).
There are certain rules that are observed to form sentences in the correct order:
There are also certain rules in the order of clauses:
Noun can belong to one of the following gender-number classes: masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine dual, feminine dual, masculine plural, or feminine plural. There are rules to help determine classification of nouns:
Nouns in Tunica are also classified according to what position they take. There are three positions that are available and that encompass every noun in the Tunica language: horizontal, squatting, and vertical. Humans and four-legged non-humans can take any of the positions, but elongated non-human animates (like fish or snakes) always take the horizontal position. Smaller non-human animates, like frogs and birds, always take the squatting position.
Inanimates are always horizontal or vertical: abstract nouns are always horizontal, and inanimate objects that take an erect position, like trees, are vertical.
The preverbs are often used with active verb predicative words:
There are many postfixes, which express different meanings like certain tenses and negation. Sometimes, more than one postfix may be attached to one word, and each postfix has its own governing rules.
There are two possible noun categories: the determinative and the indeterminative. The determinative category can be divided into definitive, non-definitive, and locative. Indeterminative nouns can be predicative words, subjects of predications, objects of transitive and transimpersonal active verbs and of static verbs, and complements of impersonal and transimpersonal active verbs and of static verbs.
Personal pronouns are inflected depending on person, number, and gender, but they do not have special forms that indicate whether they fall into the determinative or indeterminative categories. They substitute for nouns, and they can be used like nouns, except in the locative case.
The interrogative-indefinite pronouns are ka'ku "who, someone, anyone" and ka'nahku "what, something, anything." They can substitute for nouns when they do not occur in the locative case. Also, ka'nahku does not appear as an independent subject.
Quantificatives include numerals and others like ho'tu "all, everything," na'mu "many, much," ka'šku "a few, a little bit," ka'škuto'hku "several, quite a few," and ʔa'mari "enough." They can be used as minimal clauses, substitutes for nouns, modifiers of nouns, and modifiers of active verbs.
Postpositions are used to modify locatives and predicates.
Adjectives can be used as predicate words, as noun modifiers used as predicative words, or as modifiers of the interrogative-indefinite pronoun ka'nahku.
Comparatives can be used as modifiers of adjectives, static verbs, adverbs, nouns, or quantificative na'mu.
Adverbs can be used to modify auxiliary and active verbs.
Auxiliary verbs are always in a predicative word position. Active verbs are either finite or infinitive in form. Finite verbs take subjective pronominal referentials and are predicative words. Infinitives are taken as predicate complements. Sometimes, they are inflected for an objective referential. Static verbs are always inflected for an objective referential and are always predicative words.
Sentence connectives connect or contrast two sentences or sometimes two words.
Exclamatives and imitatives always appear as minimal clauses. The most predominant exclamatives are hõn "yes", ʔahâ "no", and dâ "now; ready."