Yuchi Language

My original purpose in visiting the Yuchi was to collect linguistic matter, which is now being worked up for special purposes in the interest of the Bureau of Ethnology. Although the detailed results of my linguistic studies are not available for the present paper it will be of advantage to introduce here a general statement regarding some characteristics of the language.

It is quite certain now that Yuchi is spoken in only one dialect, although there is a current opinion that formerly the stock was more numerous than it is at present and that the language was spoken in two dialects. These dialects are stated according to tradition to have been mutually intelligible when spoken slowly. The language is characterized as regards processes by the use of postpositional and prepositional particles to show local modification of the noun, and by the use of auxiliaries to show adverbial and modal qualification of the verb. Position also plays some part in the expression of adverbial modification, verbal subordination, and sentence syntax. Inflection is not a characteristic of Yuchi, and reduplication is only used to denote the idea of distribution in time and space. The parts of speech seem to be nouns, verbs, adverbs, pronouns and particles. There are no syntactical cases, as in the neighboring Muskogian. The position of words indicates their syntactical relationship. Neither do there appear to be case affixes; the whole range of such ideas, locatives, instrumental, simulative, ablative, demonstratives and others being expressed by particles. In this class are also the temporal, modal and other particles used with verbs. There are a number of monosyllabic local and adverbial particles which have very general meanings. These syllables may enter into combination with each other and form thereby new word complexes which may have arbitrary meanings not necessarily derivable from the logical sum total of the thoughts expressed by them. Such compounds may be used as new verbs, new nouns, adverbs or auxiliaries. This psychological trait of Yuchi is, however, not an uncommon one in other American languages. There is apparently no true plural, either in nouns or verbs. The place of the plural is taken by the distributive idea which is expressed by reduplication. Verbs are mostly monosyllabic, but many have developed by combination into polysyllabic forms impossible to analyze. Nouns are of the same sort. In the noun compound the possessive pronominal elements are quite prominent, and their place is often taken by particles going with the name of the object, and immediately before it, which denote its possessor. These possessive particles, however, do not mark off any particular categories. As in other American languages, many verb and noun stems are difficult to distinguish apart. The difficult}’ of distinguishing between verbs and nouns is further increased by the homology between the possessive pronominal and the active subject pronominal forms. As regards personal pronouns, we find only two categories, both of which are closely related. Whether active or neutral, transitive or intransitive, the subjective pronominal forms are the same. In this paradigm are also included the possessive pronominal forms. The other category is the objective which in all but the first and second persons is a development of the subjective or of the absolute, independent forms. All of the pronominal forms are independent words capable of standing by themselves. In the pronominal persons we have first, second, third masculine, third feminine (both of which refer more particularly to Yuchi Indians), and a third indefinite form which includes whites, Negroes, other Indians, animals and indefinite objects in general. Besides these forms, which are all singular, there is a first person plural and a second person plural. No difference is recognized in the pronouns between the third person singular and plural.

To conclude this brief sketch, it may be said that the whole sentence, hinging upon the verb, which comes last in position, is built up with various locative, adverbial, and pronominal particles which have fairly definite places in the sentence but which are not inseparably affixed to the words they refer to. Thus the sentence may be built up more and more, expressing details by simply stringing on particles or particle compounds with arbitrary meanings before one another, the verb, immediately preceded by its pronouns and these by its adverbs, coming last.

The subject of phonetics has bean left until the last in order to make a some-what special mention of the sounds and characters to be used in recording terms hereafter. The language, generally speaking, is acoustically soft and flowing and abounds in arrested sounds and nasalized vowels. The present-day Yuchi assert that they speak more rapidly than the old-time people, and, they add, the purer forms of the expressions are often mutilated in consequence. Another notice in connection with phonetics should be made here in outline at least. It is the constant tendency to combine phonetically pronouns with words, and words with other words, when certain vowels and semivowels come together at the beginning and end of words. This phonetic coalescence has a tendency to obscure some particles and to knit parts of the sentence into a closer unity, giving the whole something of the appearance of incorporation where it really does not exist. The following is an explanation of some of the sounds encountered in the recording of terms, and the characters which represent them.

In the stops we have the glottal catch represented by e. The palatal surd k and sonant g are both similar to the English sounds. The alveolar dentals t and d and the labials p and b are found, both pairs being rather difficult to determine as to their surd and sonant quality. In the spirants we have the palatal c like English sh, and the surd tc, a single sound, like ch as in English church, with the corresponding sonant dj. The alveolars are s, ts, and dz, similar to the English sounds. The labial dental surd f occurs, but there is no corresponding sonant. All of the surds given so far occur also followed by a catch and are represented in such cases as follows, fe, pe, tce, se, fe, etc. The nasal n occurs, but independent m is wanting. The lateral spirant surd sound made by pressing the tip of the tongue against the upper alveolar ridge and forcing the breath out over both sides of the tongue, is represented by t. A common l like that in English is also found. The semivowels are h, y, w; and the bilabial aspirate of the last hw, also occurs.

The vowels are a, c, i, o, u, with their continental values. They are short when not marked; long with the mark over them as a, e, i, o, u. Other long vowels are a like â in English fall, and a like a in English fan. Besides these there is an obscure vowel represented here by a which is similar to u in English but. Nasalized vowels, which are very frequent, are written an, an, â n, etc. Breathed vowels are a’, A’, etc. The diphthong ai occurs rarely. Stress and prolongation are indicated !. Accent is marked’.

Language, Yuchi,

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