Muscogee language

Native to United States
Region East central Oklahoma, Creek and Seminole, south Alabama Creek, Florida, Seminole of Brighton Reservation.
Ethnicity Muscogee people
Native speakers
5,000 (2010 census)[1]
  • Eastern

    • Muscogee
Language codes
ISO 639-2 mus
ISO 639-3 mus
Glottolog cree1270[2]

Map showing the distribution of Oklahoma Indian Languages

The Muscogee language (Mvskoke in Muscogee), also known as Creek,[3] Seminole, Maskókî [4] or Muskogee, is a Muskogean language spoken by Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole people, primarily in the U.S. states of Oklahoma and Florida.

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/Miccosukee, spoken by the kindred Miccosukee (Mikasuki), as well as other Muskogean languages.

The Muscogee first brought the Muscogee and Miccosukee languages to Florida in the early 18th century and would eventually become known as the Seminoles. In the 19th century, however, the US government forced most Muscogees and Seminoles to relocate west of the Mississippi River, with many forced into Indian Territory.

Today, the language is spoken by around 5000 people, most of whom live in Oklahoma and are members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.[1] Around 200 speakers are Florida Seminoles. Seminole use of the language constitutes distinct dialects.[5]

Current status

Creek is widely spoken amongst the Creeks, and the Muscogee Nation offers free language classes and immersion camps to Creek children.[6]

Language programs

The College of the Muscogee Nation offers a language certificate program.[7][8] Tulsa public schools, the University of Oklahoma[9] and Glenpool Library in Tulsa[10] and the Holdenville,[11] Okmulgee, and Tulsa Creek Indian Communities of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation[12] offer Muskogee Creek language classes. In 2013, the Sapulpa Creek Community Center graduated a class of 14 from its Muscogee language class.[13]


The phoneme inventory of Muscogee consists of thirteen consonants and three vowel qualities, which distinguish length and nasalization.[14] In addition, it also makes use of the gemination of plosives, fricatives and sonorants.[15]


These are the consonant phonemes of Muscogee:[16]

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Central Lateral
Nasal m n
Stop p t k
Fricative f s ɬ h
Approximant w ɬ j


There are four voiceless plosives in Creek: /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/.[17] 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.[18]

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:[19]

in-coko ‘his or her house’ [ɪnd͡ʒʊɢo]
tokná:wa ‘money’ [toqnɑːwǝ]


There are four voiceless fricatives in Muscogee Creek: /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].[20]

Like /k/, the glottal /h/ is sometimes realized as the uvular [χ] when it is proceeded by [o] or when syllable-final:[19]

oh-leyk-itá ‘chair’ [oχlejɡɪdǝ]
ohɬolopi: ‘year’ [oχɬolobiː]


The sonorants in Muscogee are two nasals (/m/ and /n/), two semivowels (/w/ and /j/), and the lateral /l/, all voiced.[21] Nasal assimilation occurs in Creek: /n/ becomes [ŋ] before /k/.[19]

Sonorants are devoiced when followed by /h/ in the same syllable and results in a single voiceless consonant:[22]

camhcá:ka ‘bell’ [t͡ʃǝm̥t͡ʃɑːɡǝ]
akcáwhko ‘a type of water bird’ [ɑkt͡ʃǝw̥ko]


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.[23]


The vowel phonemes of Muscogee are as follows:[16]

Front Central Back
Close i iː
Close-Mid o oː
Open ɑ ɑː

There are three short vowels /i ɑ o/ and three long vowels /iː ɑː oː/. There are also the nasal vowels /ĩ ɑ̃ õ ĩː ɑ̃ː õː/ (in the linguistic orthography, they are often written with an ogonek undern 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:[24]

pó-ɬki ‘our father’
opónɬko ‘cutworm’

Short vowels

The three short vowels /i ɑ o/ can be realized as the lax and centralized ([ɪ ǝ 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.[23] Initial vowels can be deleted in Creek, 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 Creek 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').[25]

Long vowels

There are three long vowels in Muscogee Creek (/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:[26]

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


In Creek, there are three diphthongs, generally realized as [əɪ ʊj əʊ].[27]

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').[28] Nasal vowels may also appear as part of a suffix that indicates a question (o:sk-ihá:n 'I wonder if it's raining').[24]


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.).


Bilingual stop sign in English and Creek, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

The traditional Muscogee alphabet was adopted by the tribe in the late 1800s[29] 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 risk
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 sap
r l a sound that does not occur in English but is often represented as "hl" or "thl" in non-Creek texts. The sound is made by blowing air around the sides of the tongue while pronouncing English 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 ɪ like the "y" in yet

There are also three vowel sequences whose spellings match their phonetic makeup:[30]

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.[29] 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 Creek 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,[31] and in some words, short /a/ is spelled a, long /iː/ is spelled e, and short /o/ is spelled o.

Nonstandard orthography

Muscogee Creek 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).


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:

Example: vyetv = to go (singular subjects only, see above); ayes = I am going; ak-ayes = I am going (in water / in a low place / under something); tak-ayes = I am going (on the ground); oh-ayes = I am going (on top of something).

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


In some languages, a special form of the noun, the genitive case, is used to show possession. The process is handled in two fundamentally different ways in Muscogee, depending on the nature of the noun.

Nouns in fixed relationships (inalienable possession)

A body part or family member cannot be discussed in Muscogee without mentioning the possessor; it is an integrated part of the word. A set of changeable prefixes serves that 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's his hand").

Transferrable nouns

All other nouns are possessed through separate set of prepositions.

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's 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.


Seminole dialects

The forms of Muscogee used by the Seminole 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 Miccosukee language.[5]

See also



  1. 1 2
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Creek". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "About Creek". Creek Language Archive. Retrieved 2009-04-26.
  4. "Voices of the Everglades: Indian culture". The News-Press. 2014-03-22. Retrieved 2014-03-28.
  5. 1 2 Brown, Keith, and Sarah Ogilvie (2008). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world, pp. 738–740. Elsevier. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  7. "Academics." College of the Muscogee Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  8. Pratt, Stacey (2013-04-15). "Language vital part of cultural identity". Tahlequah Daily Press. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  9. "Creek," University of Oklahoma: The Department of Anthropology.(retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  10. "Library Presents Mvskoke (Creek) Language Class." Native American Times. 8 Sept 2009 (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  11. "Holdenville Indian Community." Muscogee (Creek) Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  12. "Thunder Road Theater Company to perform plays in the Mvskoke (Creek) Language." Muscogee (Creek) Nation. (retrieved 27 Dec 2010)
  13. Brock, John (2013-08-17). "Creek language class graduates 14". Sapulpa Herald Online. Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
  14. Hardy 2005:211-12
  15. Martin, 2011, p.50-51
  16. 1 2 Martin, 2011, p.47
  17. Martin, 2011, p.48-49
  18. Martin, 2011, p.62
  19. 1 2 3 Martin, 2011, p. 63
  20. Martin, 2011, p. 49
  21. Martin, 2011, p.49-50
  22. Martin, 2011, p.64
  23. 1 2 Martin, 2011, p.51
  24. 1 2 Martin, 2011, p. 53
  25. Martin, 2011, pp. 64, 72-23
  26. Martin, 2011, p.64-65
  27. Martin, 2011, pp. 54-55
  28. Martin, 2011, pp. 53-54,95
  29. 1 2 Innes 2004
  30. Hardy 2005, pg. 202
  31. Hardy 2005, pp. 201-2
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