RegionArizona, United States
Ethnicity1,420 Yavapai people (2004)[1]
Native speakers
245 (2015 census)[2]
  • Core Yuman
    • Pai
      • Yavapai
Language codes
ISO 639-3yuf Havasupai‑Walapai‑Yavapai
Glottologhava1248  Havasupai‑Walapai‑Yavapai
yava1252  Yavapai

Yavapai is an Upland Yuman language, spoken by Yavapai people in central and western Arizona. There are four dialects: Kwevkepaya, Wipukpaya, Tolkepaya, and Yavepe. Linguistic studies of the Kwevkepaya (Southern), Tolkepaya (Western), Wipukepa (Verde Valley), and Yavepe (Prescott) dialects have been published (Mithun 1999:578).

Yavapai was once spoken across much of north-central and western Arizona, but is now mostly spoken on the Yavapai reservations at Fort McDowell, the Verde Valley and Prescott.

Geographic distribution

The rate of mutual comprehension between Yavapai and Havasupai–Hualapai is similar to that between Mohave and Maricopa (Biggs 1957).

Warren Gazzam, a Tolkapaya speaker, reported that "you know they (Hualapais) speak the same language as we do, some words or accents are a little different".[3]

Due to extensive cultural interchange, many Yavapai were once bilingual in Apache, and some Apache were bilingual in Yavapai.[4]

Unlike in Havasupai and Hualapai, postaspirated stops cannot appear in word-initial position (Shaterian 1983:215).


Yavapai consonant phonemes are shown below.[5]

Consonants in Yavapai
Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
nor. lab. nor. lab. nor. lab.
plain p t k q ʔ
aspirated tʃʰ kʰʷ
Fricative β θ s (ʃ) h
Nasal m n ɲ
Trill r
Lateral l (ʎ)
Semivowel j w

Vowels occur short, mid and long in stressed syllables. The contrast is reduced to two lengths in unstressed syllables.

Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open (æ) a

There are two tones on stressed syllables, high level and falling, which are neutralized to mid on unstressed syllables.


Yavapai is a subject-verb-object language.[6]

/-k/ and /-m/ Problem

According to Martha Kendall, the morphemes /k/ and /m/ are "semantically contrastable," but are pronounced the same. She writes that homophony is present in Yavapai, and /k/ and /m/ are similar in phonological situations, but are syntactically different.[7]


Some sample words given in Yavapai translation:[8]

English Yavapai
Transliteration IPA transcription
Hello Mham jik'gah
Home Wah yoh woh
Land Mat[citation needed]
Rivers Aha gah hel’lah
Fire Oo /oʔo/
Grand Canyon Mahđ K'illa or Wika'ilaha
Thank you Honnii guhm

Preservation efforts

There have been recordings of Yavapai (as well as other Yuman languages) done in 1974, relating to phonology, syntax, and grammar. This was meant to understand the three topics better and to hear them.[9]

There is an effort to revitalize the language. There is a Yavapai language program for adults to learn the language and pass on to future generations.[10]

There have been attempts to save the language in the Yavapai community.[11]

Poetry and stories have been published in Yavapai on several occasions. Yavapai poems are featured in Gigyayk Vo'jka, the anthology of poetry in Yuman languages edited by Hualapai linguist Lucille Watahomigie. Yavapai stories also appear in Spirit Mountain: An Anthology of Yuman Story and Song. Both works are accompanied by English translations, and the poems in Gigyayk Vo'jka also feature a morphological analysis.

Alan Shaterian has published a dictionary of Northeastern Yavapai. Pamela Munro is working[when?] on a dictionary and grammar for Tolkepaya.


  1. ^ Havasupai‑Walapai‑Yavapai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Yavapai at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016) Closed access icon
  3. ^ "California Language Archive".
  4. ^ Mierau, Eric (January 1963). "Concerning Yavapai-Apache Bilingualism". International Journal of American Linguistics. 29 (1): 1–3. doi:10.1086/464706. S2CID 144439528.
  5. ^ Shaterian, Alan (1983). Phonology and Dictionary of Yavapai.
  6. ^ Kendall, Martha (1974). "Relative Clause Formation and Topicalization in Yavapai". International Journal of American Linguistics. 40 (2): 89–101. doi:10.1086/465291. S2CID 143492840.
  7. ^ Kendall, Martha (1975). "The /-k/, /-m/ Problem in Yavapai Syntax". International Journal of American Linguistics. 41: 1–9. doi:10.1086/465333. S2CID 144188658.
  8. ^ "Yavapai Apache Language".
  9. ^ Kendall, Martha Oaks (Burnett); Sine, Harold (2017-03-09). "Yavapai linguistic material". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  10. ^ House, Deborah. "Yavapai Language Programs". Stabilizing Indigenous Languages.
  11. ^ "Museum honors Yavapai elder for language work - USATODAY.com". usatoday30.usatoday.com. Retrieved 2017-03-09.