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The phonology of the Zuni language as spoken in the southwestern United States is described here. Phonology is a branch of linguistics that studies how languages or dialects systematically organize their sounds (or constituent parts of signs, in sign languages).


The 16 consonants of Zuni:

Velar Glo-
cen. late. plain labi.
Nasal m n
Stop plain p t () k ʔ
ejective () (kʼʷ)
Affricate plain ts
ejective (tsʼ) (tʃʼ)
Fricative s ɬ ʃ h
Approximant l j w


Front back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a

Syllable and phonotactics

Zuni syllables have the following specification:


That is, all syllables must start with a consonant in the syllable onset. The onset may optionally have two consonants. The syllable coda is optional and may consist of a single consonant or two consonants. There are restrictions on the combinations with long vowels, which are listed below.

Onset. When the onset is a single consonant (i.e., CV(ː), CV(ː)C, or CV(ː)CC), C1 may be any consonant. When the onset is a two consonant cluster (i.e., CCV(ː), CCV(ː)C, or CCV(ː)CC), C1 may only be /ts, tʃ, k, kʷ/, and C2 may only be /ʔ/. These onset clusters can occur word-initially.

Nucleus. Any vowel of either length may be the syllable nucleus when open (i.e., has no coda: CV(ː) or CCV(ː)) or with a single consonant coda (i.e., CV(ː)C or CCV(ː)C). When the coda consists of two consonant cluster, the nucleus may be any short vowel; however, long vowels only occur with coda consisting of /tsʔ, tʃʔ, kʔ, kʷʔ/.[c]

Coda. A single coda C3 may be any consonant. When the coda is a two consonant cluster (i.e., CV(ː)CC or CCV(ː)CC), any combination of consonants may occur with the following exception: if C3 is /ts, tʃ, kʷ/, then C4 can only be either /ʔ/ or an identical consonant (C3 = C4).

Non-tautosyllabic combinations. Inside words, a short vowel plus a two consonant coda (i.e., CVCC or CCVCC) may only be followed by a syllable with a /ʔ/ onset. Likewise, a long vowel plus a single consonant coda (i.e., CVːC or CCVːC) may only be followed by a /ʔ/ onset. An open syllable (i.e., CV(ː) or CCV(ː)) and a short vowel plus a single consonant coda (i.e., CVC or CCVC) may be followed by a syllable with any possible onset.


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At the word level, the first syllable of lexical words receive stress. Although the acoustic correlates of stress are not fully described in Newman's grammar, at least vowel length is a significant correlate: short vowels are lengthened under syllable-initial stress. Stressed long vowels do not appear to have perceptible variation in duration.

Stress at the phrase level was not fully studied by Newman, and, therefore, its details are not well known. Pronouns and certain particles consisting of a single syllable are unstressed when inside clauses, but are stressed at the beginning of phrases.


  1. ^ See Davis (1966), Newman (1965), Newman (1967), Walker (1966b), Walker (1972).
  2. ^ The other articles are Davis (1966), Newman (1967), Michaels (1971), Walker (1966b), Walker (1972).
  3. ^ Newman (1965) reports only /kʔ/ after long vowels, but further fieldwork by Walker (1966b) also finds /tsʔ, tʃʔ, kʷʔ/.


  • Davis, Irvine (1966), "Review of Zuni grammar by Stanley Newman", International Journal of American Linguistics, 32: 82–84, doi:10.1086/464883
  • Michaels, David (1971), "A note on some exceptions in Zuni phonology", International Journal of American Linguistics, 37 (3): 189–191, doi:10.1086/465159, S2CID 144460775
  • Newman, Stanley (1965), Zuni grammar, University of New Mexico publications in anthropology, vol. 14, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico
  • Newman, Stanley (1967), "Zuni grammar: Alternative solutions versus weaknesses", International Journal of American Linguistics, 33 (3): 187–192, doi:10.1086/464959, S2CID 144980446
  • Tedlock, Dennis (1969), "The problem of k in Zuni phonemics", International Journal of American Linguistics, 35: 67–71, doi:10.1086/465044, S2CID 145544319
  • Walker, Willard (January–March 1966a), "Review: [Zuni grammar by Stanley Newman]", Language, 42 (1): 176–180, doi:10.2307/411614, JSTOR 411614
  • Walker, Willard (July 1966b), "Inflection and taxonomic structure in Zuni", International Journal of American Linguistics, 32 (3): 217–227, doi:10.1086/464906, S2CID 144301852
  • Walker, Willard (1972), "Toward a sound pattern of the Zuni", International Journal of American Linguistics, 38 (4): 240–259, doi:10.1086/465223, S2CID 143863446

Further reading

  • Bunzel, Ruth L. (1934). "Zuni". Handbook of American Indian languages. Vol. 3. Gluckstadt: J. J. Augustin. pp. 383–515.
  • Dutton, Bertha P. (1983). American Indians of the Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-0704-0.
  • Newman, Stanley (1954). "A practical Zuni orthography". In Roberts, J.; Smith, W. (eds.). Zuni law: A field of values. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology. Vol. 43. Cambridge: Harvard University. pp. 163–170. ISBN 0-527-01312-9.
  • Newman, Stanley (1955). "Vocabulary levels: Zuni sacred and slang usage". Southwestern Journal of Anthropology. 11 (4): 345–354. doi:10.1086/soutjanth.11.4.3628910. S2CID 124011467.
  • Newman, Stanley (1958). Zuni dictionary. Indiana University research center publications.
  • Newman, Stanley (1996). "Sketch of the Zuni language". In Goddard, I. (ed.). Handbook of North American Indians: Languages. Vol. 17. Washington: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 483–506.
  • Shaul, David (1982). "Glottalized consonants in Zuni". International Journal of American Linguistics. 48 (1): 83–85. doi:10.1086/465715. S2CID 143594811.
  • Tedlock, Dennis (1972). Finding the center: Narrative poetry of the Zuni Indians. New York: Dial.
  • Tedlock, Dennis (1983). The spoken word and the work of interpretation. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. ISBN 0-8122-7880-1.
  • Tedlock, Dennis (1999). Finding the center: The art of the Zuni storyteller (2nd ed.). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-4439-8.
  • Walker, Willard (1964). Reference, taxonomy and inflection in Zuni (Doctoral dissertation). Cornell University.
  • Yumitani, Yukihiro (1987). "A comparative sketch of Pueblo languages: Phonology". Kansas working papers in linguistics. University of Kansas. pp. 119–139.