Keresan //, also Keres //, is a Native American language, spoken by the Keres Pueblo people in New Mexico. Depending on the analysis, Keresan is considered a small language family or a language isolate with several dialects. The varieties of each of the seven Keres pueblos are mutually intelligible with its closest neighbors. There are significant differences between the Western and Eastern groups, which are sometimes counted as separate languages.
Pre-contact distribution of Keresan languages
- Eastern Keres: total of 4,580 speakers (1990 census)
- Cochiti Pueblo Kotyit dialect: 384 speakers (1990 census)
- San Felipe Pueblo – Santo Domingo Pueblo:
- Katishtya dialect: 1,560 speakers (1990 census)
- Kewa dialect: 1,880 speakers (1990 census)
- Zia Pueblo – Santa Ana Pueblo:
- Ts'ia dialect: 463 speakers (1990 census)
- Tamaiya dialect: 229 speakers (1990 census)
- Western Keres: total of 3,391 speakers (1990 census)
Keres is now considered a language isolate. In the past, Edward Sapir grouped it together with a Hokan–Siouan stock. Morris Swadesh suggested a connection with Wichita. Joseph Greenberg grouped Keres with Siouan, Yuchi, Caddoan, and Iroquoian in a superstock called Keresiouan. None of the proposals has been validated by subsequent linguistic research.
Keresan has between 42 and 45 consonant sounds, and around 40 vowel sounds, adding up to a total of about 95 phonemes, depending on the analysis and the language variety. Based on the classification in the World Atlas of Language Structures, Keres is a language with a large consonant inventory.
The great number of consonants relates to the three-way distinction between voiceless, aspirated and ejective consonants (e.g. /t tʰ tʼ/), and to the larger than average number of fricatives (i.e. /s sʼ ʂ ʂʼ ʃ ʃʼ h/) and affricates, the latter also showing the three-way distinction found in stops.
The large number of vowels derives from a distinction made between long and short vowels (e.g. /e eː/), as well as from the presence of tones and voicelessness. Thus, a single vowel quality may occur with seven distinct realizations: / é è e̥ éː èː êː ěː /, all of which are used to distinguish words in the language.
The chart below contains the consonants of the proto-Keresan (or pre-Keresan) from Miller & Davis (1963) based on a comparison of Acoma, Santa Ana, and Santo Domingo, as well as other features of the dialects combined from The Language of Santa Ana Pueblo (1964), Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics (1987), and The Phonemes of Keresan (1946), and the Grammar of Laguna Keres (2005).
Labial Alveolar Palatal Retroflex Postalveolar Velar Glottal Plosive voiceless p t c k ʔ aspirated pʰ tʰ cʰ kʰ ejective pʼ tʼ cʼ kʼ Fricative voiceless s ʂ ʃ h ejective sʼ ʂʼ ʃʼ Affricate voiceless ts tʂ tʃ aspirated tsʰ tʂʰ tʃʰ ejective tsʼ tʂʼ tʃʼ Approximant voiced w ɽ j glottalized wˀ ɽˀ jˀ Nasal voiced m n ɲ glottalized mˀ nˀ ɲˀ
Keresan vowels have a phonemic distinction in duration: all vowels can be long or short. Additionally, short vowels can also be voiceless. The vowel chart below contains the vowel phonemes and allophones from the information of the Keresan languages combined from The Language of Santa Ana Pueblo (1964), The Phonemes of Keresan (1946), and Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics (1987).
|Close||/ iː /||[ i ]||/ i /||[ i ɪ ]||[ ɪ̥ ]|
|Mid-front||/ eː /||[ eː ]||/ e /||[e ɛ æ ]||[ e̥ ]|
|Mid-central||/ ɨː /||[ əː ɨː ]||/ ɨ /||[ ə ɨ ɤ ]||[ ɨ̥ ]|
|Open||/ ɑː /||[ aː ɑː ]||/ ɑ /||[ a ɑ ]||[ ḁ ]|
|Back-close||/ oː /||[ oː ]||/ o /||[ o ]||[ o̥ ]|
|/ uː /||[ uː ]||/ u /||[ u ʊ o ]||[ ʊ̥ ]|
- Western Keres does not have phonemic /oː/ or /o/, though both vowels may occur phonetically. Eastern Keres words containing /o/ show /au/ in Western Keres. For instance, the first vowel in the word-sentence Sraúkacha - “I see you”:
- Kotyit Keres: [ ʂóːkʰɑ̥tʃʰɑ̥ ]
- Kʼawaika Keres: [ ʂɑ̌ukʰɑ̥tʃʰɑ̥ ] -
All Keresan short vowels may be devoiced in certain positions. The phonemic status of these vowels is controversial. Maring (1967) considers them to be phonemes of Áákʼu Keres, whereas other authors disagree. There are phonetic grounds for vowel devoicing based on the environment they occur, for instance word-finally, but there are also exceptions. Vowels in final position are nearly always voiceless and medial vowels occurring between voiced consonants, after nasals and ejectives are nearly always voiced.
- Word-final devoicing: [ pɑ̌ːkʊ̥ ] because
- Word-medial devoicing: [ ʔìpʰi̥ʃɑ́ ] white paint
|High||[tɨ́j] , [áwáʔáwá]||here, matrilineal uncle|
|Falling||[ʔêː] , [hêːk'a]||and, whole part|
Most Keresan syllables take a CV(V) shape. The maximal syllable structure is CCVVC and the minimal syllable is CV. In native Keresan words, only a glottal stop /ʔ/ ⟨ʼ⟩ can close a syllable, but some loanwords from Spanish have syllables that end in a consonant, mostly a nasal (i.e. /m n/ but words containing these sequences are rare in the language.
|CV||[sʼà], [ʔɪ]shv́v||I have it, left|
|CVV||[mùː]dedza , a[táù]shi||young boy, cooking pot|
|CCV||[ʃkʰí]srátsʼa||I'm not fat|
|CVC||í[miʔ], [kùm]banêeru||expression of fear, workmate (Spanish "compañero")|
Due to extensive vowel devoicing, several Keresan words may be perceived as ending in consonants or even containing consonant clusters.
- Word-internal cluster: yʼâakạ srûunị ‘stomach’ /jˀɑ̂ːkḁʂûːni/ > [jɑ̂ːkḁʂûːni] ~ [jɑ̂ːkʂûːni]
- Word-final coda: úwàakạ ‘baby’; /úwɑ̀ːkḁ/ > [úwɑ̀ːkʰḁ] ~ [úwɑ̀ːkʰ]
The only sequence of consonants (i.e. consonant cluster) that occurs in native Keresan words is a sequence of a fricative /ʃ ʂ/ and a stop or affricate. Clusters are restricted to beginnings of syllables (i.e. the syllable onset). When the alveolo-palatal consonant /ʃ/ occurs as C1, it combines with alveolar and palatal C2, whereas the retroflex alveolar /ʂ/ precedes bilabial and velar C2s, which suggest a complementary distribution. Consonant clusters may occur both word-initially and word-medially.
|C1 / C2||Bilabial||Alveolar||Velar||Postalveolar|
|/ p /||/ pʰ /||/ pʼ /||/ t /||/ tʰ /||/ tʼ /||/ k /||/ kʰ /||/ kʼ /||/ tʃ /||/ tʃʰ /||/ tʃʼ /|
|/ ʃ /||/ʃtáʊ̯rákʊ̥/
'plot of land'
|/ ʂ /||/ʂpúːná/
Traditional Keresan beliefs postulate that Keres is a sacred language that must exist only in its spoken form. The language's religious connotation and years of persecution of Pueblo religion by European colonizers may also explain why no unified orthographic convention exists for Keresan. However, a practical spelling system has been developed for Laguna (Kʼawaika) and more recently for Acoma (Áakʼu) Keres, both of which are remarkably consistent.
In the Keres spelling system, each symbol represents a single phoneme. The letters ⟨c q z f⟩ and sometimes also ⟨v⟩ are not used. Digraphs represent both palatal consonants (written using a sequence of C and ⟨y⟩), and retroflex consonants, which are represented using a sequence of C and the letter ⟨r⟩. These graphemes used for writing Western Keres are shown between ⟨...⟩ below.
Signage at Acoma PuebloEdit
Signs at Acoma Pueblo sometimes use special diacritics for ejective consonants that differ from the symbols above, as shown in the table:
|General||⟨pʼ⟩||⟨tʼ⟩||⟨kʼ⟩||⟨sʼ⟩||⟨tsʼ⟩||⟨mʼ⟩||⟨wʼ⟩||⟨yʼ⟩||⟨nʼ shʼ srʼ tyʼ⟩|
Vowel sounds are represented straightforwardly in the existing spellings for Keresan. Each vowel sound is written using a unique letter or digraph (for long vowels and diphthongs). However, there are two competing representations for the vowel /ɨ/. Some versions simply use the IPA ⟨ɨ⟩ whereas others use the letter ⟨v⟩ (the sound /v/ as in veal does not occur in Keresan). Voiceless vowels have also been represented in two ways; either underlined or with a dot below (see table).
|Long vowels||Short vowels||Voiceless vowels|
|/ iː /||⟨ii⟩||/ i /||⟨i⟩||/ ɪ̥ /||⟨i̱⟩ or ⟨ị⟩|
|/ eː /||⟨ee⟩||/ e /||⟨e⟩||/ e̥ /||⟨e̱⟩ or ⟨ẹ⟩|
|/ ɨː /||⟨ɨɨ⟩ or ⟨vv⟩||/ ɨ /||⟨ɨ⟩ or ⟨v⟩||/ ɨ̥ /||⟨ɨ̱⟩ or ⟨ṿ⟩|
|/ ɑː /||⟨aa⟩||/ ɑ /||⟨a⟩||/ ḁ /||⟨a̱⟩ or ⟨ạ⟩|
|/ oː /||⟨oo⟩||/ o /||⟨o⟩||/ o̥ /||⟨o̱⟩ or ⟨ọ⟩|
|/ uː /||⟨uu⟩||/ u /||⟨u⟩||/ ʊ̥ /||⟨u̱⟩ or ⟨ụ⟩|
Diacritics for ToneEdit
Tone may or may not be represented in the orthography of Keresan. When represented, four diacritics may be used above the vowel. Unlike the system used for Navajo, diacritics for tone are not repeated in long vowels.
|High tone||Low tone||Rising tone||Falling tone|
|Long Vowel||⟨áa⟩, ⟨úu⟩||⟨àa⟩, ⟨ùu⟩ or unmarked||⟨ǎa⟩, ⟨ǔu⟩ or ⟨aá⟩, ⟨uú⟩||⟨âa⟩, ⟨ûu⟩ or ⟨aà⟩, ⟨uù⟩|
|Short Vowel||⟨á⟩, ⟨ú⟩||⟨à⟩, ⟨ù⟩ or unmarked||-|
Keres Alphabet and Alphabetical orderEdit
Although Keresan is not normally written, there exists only one dictionary of the language in which words are listed in any given order. In this dictionary of Western Keres, digraphs count as single letters, although ejective consonants are not listed separately; occurring after their non-ejective counterparts. Both the glottal stop ⟨ʼ⟩ and long vowels (e.g. ⟨aa ee ii⟩ etc.) are not treated as separate letters.
Orthography marking toneEdit
Woodpecker and Coyote
Ái dítʼîishu srbígà kʼánâaya dyáʼâʼu. Shʼée srbígà ái dyěitsị ái náyáa shdyɨ dyáʼa.
Orthography without tone markingEdit
Boas text 
Baanaʼa, egu kauʼseeʼe, atsi sʼaama-ee srayutse.
Keresan is a split-ergative language in which verbs denoting states (i.e. stative verbs) behave differently from those indexing actions, especially in terms of the person affixes they take. This system of argument marking is based on a split-intransitive pattern, in which subjects are marked differently if they are perceived as actors than from when they are perceived as undergoers of the action being described.
The morphology of Keresan is mostly prefixing, although suffixes and reduplication also occur. Keresan distinguishes nouns, verbs, numerals and particles as word classes. Nouns in Keresan do not normally distinguish case or number, but they can be inflected for possession, with distinct constructions for alienable and inalienable possession. Other than possession, Keresan nouns show no comprehensive noun classes.
|'John saw Bill'|
Negation is doubly marked in Keresan. In addition to the adverb dzaadi, verbs index negation through a suffix (e.g. -u).
- Gukacha 'S/he saw her/him'
- Dzaadi gukachau 'S/he didn't see her/him'
The verb is a central grammatical category in Keres, conveying the most information about events in communicative acts. Through its morphemes, Keresan verbs code not only person and number of the initiator of the action (e.g. 'Tammy drinks decaf') as is common in Indo-European languages, but also how the initiator is implicated in the action. For instance, the three verbs that describe Tammy's actions in 'Tammy kicked the ball' vs. 'Tammy jumped' vs. 'Tammy sneezed', where kicking, jumping and sneezing require different levels of effort from Tammy. The person and number of the undergoer of the action is also coded on the verb (e.g. gukacha means 'S/he sees her/him' on its own), as well as how the speaker assesses the action ('I think Tammy arrived from class' vs. 'Tammy arrived from class'). Finally, the internal temporal structure of the action (i.e. aspect, as in 'Tammy was sneezing in class' vs. 'Tammy sneezed in class').
According to Maring (1967), the Keresan verb is organized around the following grammatical categories (pp. 39-40)
- Subject/Object relations
- Subject of intransitive verbs: marked by a prefix that distinguishes 3-4 persons in the singular (see below).
- Subject of transitive verbs: marked by a prefix that distinguishes 3-4 persons in the singular (see below).
- Object of transitive verbs: marked by a prefix that combines with the subject prefix, or by a suffix
- Number relations
- Temporal relations
- Future: is marked on the verb by a series of prefixes that also encode number
- Modality relations
- Voice relations
The verbal prefixEdit
In Keres, the verbal prefix carries information from five different grammatical categories: argument role, modality, polarity, person and number. That is, a single Keresan verb prefix codes who initiated the action and how implicated that entity is (the subject/case), whom underwent the effects of the action (the direct object), the speaker's assessment of the action (the modality) and whether it occurred or not (polarity). On the other hand, information about when the action took place (i.e. tense) is expressed elsewhere in a clause, mostly by adverbs.
Keresan verbs distinguish three numbers: singular, dual (two entities) and plural (more than two entities); and four persons: first (the speaker), second (the hearer), third (a known, definite or salient entity being talked about) and fourth (a non-salient, unknown or indefinite entity being talked about, also known as obviative) persons. The plural and dual forms are often marked by reduplication of part of the stem (gukacha ‘s/he saw it’ vs guʼukacha ‘the two of them saw it’).
Languages encode two main types of actions: those in which the main participant initiates an action that produces change in an object (e.g. kick a ball, buy a gift, cook a dish, read a book); and those in which the action produces no (perceived) change in the world or that have no object (sneezing, breathing, growing, diving, etc.). Actions that take an object are encoded by transitive verbs, whereas those that take no object are expressed via intransitive verbs.
In Indo-European languages like English, all intransitive verbs behave similarly (‘They sneeze/breathe/dive/think’/etc.). In Keresan, actions that take no object are conceptualized in two distinct ways depending on how the initiator of the action is implicated. More active-like intransitive verbs (e.g. ‘to sneeze’) are coded through one set of morphemes, whereas actions conceptualized as involving the initiator at a lesser degree (e.g. ‘to believe’) are coded using a separate set of prefixes.
|Actions||Intransitive verb type|
|More||to write (-dyàatra), to steal as a thief (-chʼáwʼa), to have diarrhea (-ushchʼi),
to leave (-mi), to whistle (-srbiitsa), to sweat (-shdyuwàan’i)
|Less||to believe (-hima), to be born (-dyá), to sleep (-bái),
to be afraid (-tyishu), to forget (-dyúmidruwi)
Ideas expressed in Indo-European languages with adjectives are most often encoded by verbs in Keresan. That is, in Keresan one express the idea in the sentence ‘He is selfish’ by saying something along the lines of ‘He selfishes’. In such “actions”, the entity that is characterized by them is not implicated in the action directly (i.e. it's beyond their control), and thus belong in the Inactive intransitive category. The different sets of prefixes are shown below:
|Active intransive||Inactive intrasitive|
|first||s(i)-||sudyàatra||I write||srk-||srkuhima||I believe|
|second||sr-||srúuchʼáwʼa||you steal||kɨdr-||kɨdrâidyá||you were born|
|third||k-||kashdyuwàanʼi||s/he sweats||dz-||dzíibái||he is sleeping|
|Subject||First ('me’)||Second (‘you’)||Third (‘her’/‘him’)||Fourth|
|I see you||I see her/him|
|you see me||you see her/him|
|s/he sees me||s/he sees you||s/he sees her/him||s/he sees something|
|one sees it|
Aspect in Keresan is signalled by suffixes.
|káajáni||it is raining|
|kájásɨ||it keeps raining|
Time (tense) adverbialsEdit
The category of tense is expressed in Keresan via adverbs that indicate when the action about which one is speaking took place.
|súwa||yesterday||naháayashi||day after tomorrow|
New words are coined through a number of roots that are combined to pre-existing ones. Compounding is a common strategy for word building, although derivation also occurs.
The Keresan numeral system is a base 10 system. Numerals 11-19, as well as those between the multiple of tens, are formed by adding the word kʼátsi (/ kʼátsʰɪ / 'ten') followed by the word dzidra (/tsɪtʂa/ 'more'). Numerals 20 and above are formed by adding a multiplicative adverb (-wa or -ya) to the base number and the word kʼátsi.
Loanwords from SpanishEdit
European colonizers arriving in the Southwest US brought with them material culture and concepts that were unknown to the peoples living in the area. Words for the new ideas introduced by Spaniards were often borrowed into Keres directly from Early Modern Spanish, and a large number of these persists in Modern Keresan.
|Semantic domain||Modern Western Keres||Modern Spanish||English translation|
|Household items||kamárîita, kuchâaru, kujûuna, méesa, mendâan, kuwêeta||camarita, cuchara, colchón, mesa, ventana, cubeta (Mexico)||bed, spoon, mattress, table, window (glass), bucket|
|Social structure||gumbanêerụ, rái, murâatụ, merigâanạ, kumanirá, ninêeru||compañero, rey, mulato, americano(a), comunidad, dinero||workmate, king, black person, white person, community house, money|
|Food||géesu, arûusị, kawé, kurántụ, mantạgîiyụ, mandêegạ||queso, arroz, café, cilantro, mantequilla, manteca||cheese, rice, coffee, cilantro, butter, lard/butter|
|Animal husbandry||kawâayu, kanêeru, kujíinu, kurá, dûura, wáakạshị||caballo, carnero, cochino, corral, toro, vaca||horse, sheep, pen/corral, bull, cow|
|Religious concepts||míisa, Háasus Kuríistị, nachạwêena, guréesima||misa, Jesús Cristo, Noche Buena, Cuaresma||mass, Jesus Christ, Christmas, Lent|
|Days of the week||tamîikụ, rûunishị, mâatịsị, mérikụsị, sruwêewesị, yêenịsị, sâawaru||domingo, lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado||Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday|
In popular mediaEdit
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- Lachler, Jordan (2005). Grammar of Laguna Keres. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Dissertation.
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- Maring, Joel M. (1967). Grammar of Acoma Keresan. Indiana University Dissertation.
- Spencer, Robert (1947). "Spanish Loanwords in Keresan". Southwestern Journal of Anthropology. 3 (2): 130–146. doi:10.1086/soutjanth.3.2.3628729.
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- Hawley, Florence. (1950). "Keresan patterns of kinship and social organization", American Anthropologist, 52 (4), 499–512.
- Kroskrity, Paul V. (1983). "On male and female speech in the Pueblo Southwest", International Journal of American Linguistics, 49, 88–91.
- Lachler, Jordan. (2005). Grammar of Laguna Keres. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico dissertation.
- Maring, Joel. (1975). "Speech variation in Acoma Keresan", In D. Kinkade, K. L. Hale, & O. Werner (Eds.), Linguistics and anthropology in honor of C. F. Voegelin (pp. 473–485). Lisse: Peter de Ridder.
- Mickey, Barbara H. (1947). "Acoma kinship terms", Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 12 (2), 249–256.
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- Miller, Wick R. (1960). "Spanish loanwords in Acoma: II", International Journal of American Linguistics, 26 (1), 41–49.
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- Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
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- Valiquette, Hilaire (1990). A study for a lexicon of Laguna Keresan.
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- Nathan Romero, "Chochiti Keres: About Me and My Language: The politics of saving a vanishing language: The politics of writing", Language Documentation Training Center, University of Hawaii, Manoa (UHM)
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- Grammatical and Lexical Notes on the Keres Language (Acoma-Laguna Dialect) of the Keresan Stock
- English-Queres Language Vocabulary
- Keres Language Project – Keres Audio Dictionary