The Creek Language

The Creek Dialect of Maskoki is a harmonious, clearly vocalized form of speech, averse to nasalization. In forms it is exceedingly rich, but its syntax is very simple and undeveloped. An archaic form, called the female language, exists outside of the common Creek, and mainly differs from it in the endings of the verbs.

Creek possesses all sounds of the general Maskoki alphabet; but here and in Hitchiti the gutturals g, k, χ are often pronounced with the tongue resting upon the fore or alveolar part of the palate. The alternating processes observed here also occur in most other Indian and illiterate languages: tch, dsh alternate with ts, ds, h with k, χ, g with the other gutturals, b with p, d with t, ä with e, o with u. The accent shifts for rhetoric and syntactic causes, and many unaccented syllables are pronounced long. In the pronunciation of the natives there is a sort of singing modulation, which likes to lengthen the last syllables of a sentence. 1 Syllables not final generally terminate in a vowel.

Creek Morphology

The nominal inflection shows but three cases: The first in -i (or -a, -o, -u), which may be called absolute; 2 the subjective case in -t, -it (-at, -ut), and the objective in -n, -in (-an, -un. The absolute case, when used as a vocative, often lengthens or strongly accentuates the last syllable. The suffix -n indicates the direct and indirect object, and also sometimes the locative case. Diminutives are formed by means of the suffix -odshi, -udshi.

Substantive. The substantive noun does not inflect for number except in a few terms designating persons which form a plural in -agi, -aki: míko chief míkagi chiefs, to be distinguished from míkalgi class from which chiefs are chosen; húnanwa man, hóti woman; hunantági, hóktagi. It is the archaic form of -akīs, the verbal ending of third person plural of certain verbal inflections. Cf. –a’li in Hitchiti.

The suffix -algi, though sometimes used as a plural suffix, designates collectivity: u-ikaíwa spring of water, u-ikaiwálki place with water-springs, and u-ikaiuálki people living at the springs; alíktcha conjurer, alíktchalgi conjurers as one body, taken in a body.

The parts of speech being but imperfectly differentiated, tenses can be expressed in nouns by adding suffixes: míko chief, mikotáti, míko-ō’mā one who was, has been chief; míko-ta’láni a future chief; adsulagitáti the defunct fore fathers.

Adjectives form a real plural by appending the suffix -agi, -aki to the base. This applies, however, only to a limited number of adjectives, like:

  • atchúla old, pi. atchúlagi
  • hí’li good, hí’lagi
  • tcháti red, tchátaki
  • yíktchi strong, yíktchaki

The majority of the adjectives and of the attributive verbs derived from them form derivatives, which in some instances may be called distributive, in others frequentative and iterative forms. They are formed by a partial reduplication of the radix, when the basis is monosyllabic, or often of the last syllable of the basis, when the word is polysyllabic. Examples:

  • lásti black, láslati black here and black there; verbified: lánis, laslánis it is black.
  • hállui high, hálhawi each of them high.
  • súfki deep, súfsuki deep each, or deep in spots.
  • súli many, súlsugi many of each.
  • hólwaki bad, holwahóki each bad.
  • líkwi rotten; lík’howi (animals), líkliwi (vegetables).
  • kotchúkni short, kotchúntchoki short in spots.
  • sílkosi narrow, sílsikosi narrow in places, from sílki strip.

Adjectives are made negative by appending the privative particle -go, -gu, -ko, -ku: ítskisusi having a mother, ítskisu-siko motherless; hí’li good, hí’ligo not good, bad.

Gradation of adjectives and of attributive verbs formed from these can be effected in different ways, which are more perfect and expressive here than in those Indian languages which can express gradation only by syntactic means.

A comparative is formed by prefixing isim-, isin-, isi-, apheretically sim-, sin-, si- to the adjective or the attributive verb, the two objects compared standing usually before the adjective or verb. This prefix is composed of the particle isi-, is- and the possessive pronoun im-, in-, i- of the third person (s. and pi.), and corresponds somewhat to our than, as. The object compared stands in the absolute case.

  • Kát’tcha yahá isin’lákit ómis the panther (kát’tcha) is larger (‘láke large) than the wolf (yahá; ómis is so}.
  • tchátu tchátu-χunáp-hatki(i-)síntchalatuit ómis iron (tchátu) is harder than silver.
  • ma tchī’panat ma hōktudshi (i-)simmáhis this boy is taller than that girl.

A superlative is formed by placing i’li-, apheretically ‘li-, before the comparative: máhi tall, isímmahi taller than, i’lisímmahi, ‘lisímmahi, ‘lisímahi tallest of, lit. “still taller than the taller ones.”

  • ma tsúku halháwat i’lisihálluit ómis this house is the highest; lit. “higher than the high ones.”

A superlative may be expressed also by using the comparative instead: ma tchípanat anhopuitáki omálgan isímmahis that boy is the tallest of all my children”; lit. “that boy is taller than all my children.” Or the superlative is expressed by the augmentative adverb máhi: very, quite, greatly, largely yíktchi máhi, the strongest, which at the same time means: very strong, quite strong; ‘láko máhi largest and very large; máhimahi tallest and very tall, the latter also being expressed by a lengthening of the vowel: mā’hi very tall.

Minuitive gradation is effected by inversion of the sense in the sentence and the use of the comparative; they say: “silver is costlier than iron,” instead of saying: “iron is less costly than silver.”

What we call prepositions are generally nominal forms in Creek, inflected like nouns and placed after their complements as postpositions, governing the absolute case:

  • únapa, subj. únapat, obj. únapan above, on the top of; ‘láni únapa (or: ‘láni yúksa) on the top of the mountain.
  • tchuku-ófan läíkas I stay within, in the house; -ófan, -ofa, -úfa, -of is also temporal suffix: when, while, during: yá o’lolopí-ófan in this year.
  • imúkla atígin ak’húi’l he stands in the water up to (atígin) his neck.
  • Tsá’lki a’laχkan on account of my father.
  • tchukú ilídshan, under the house.
  • ítu ilídshan, ítu tchískan under the tree.

Numerals. The cardinal numeral has a full form ending in -in, and another abbreviated from it used in counting objects, and not extending beyond ten; an ordinal, with prefix -ísa-, is-, apheret. sa-, s-; a distributive substituting -ákin to -in of the cardinal, and an adverbial form in -a

1hámginhámmaiihatitchíska first
2hokólinhŏ’kosahokólat second
100tchúkpi hámgintchúkpi hámginispali-hokólat


  1. Thus the Creek verbal ending -is, though short by itself, generally becomes -is, when concluding a sentence; also the Hitchiti ending -wáts, -tawāts.[]
  2. Absolute case has to be regarded as a provisional term only. I call it absolute, because the natives, when giving vocables of the language not forming part of a sentence, mention them in that case in Creek, in Hitchiti, in Koassáti, etc. In the sentence this case often corresponds, however, to the status constructus of the Hebrew.[]

Gatschet, Albert S. A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians. Pub. D.G. Brinton, Philadelphia, 1884.

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