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Sergio Demara | AIS/LING 210

O'odham Sociolinguistics

Tohono O'odham language speakers in Arizona have shifted from being predominant speakers of O'odham to predominant speakers of English, speakers in Sonora have shifted towards Spanish

Uto-Aztecan includes approximately 30 languages of the Americans

O'odham language belongs to the Southern branch of the Uto-Aztecan family, specifically Tepiman sub-branch

Subdialects of Tohono O'odham: Totoguañ, Kokololodi, Gigimai, Hu:hu'ula, Huhuwoṣ, Kohadk

O'odham in the South experience greater integration into Mexican society which has produced fewer speakers of O'odham than in Arizona.

Tohono O'odham Reservation, San Xavier Reservation, San Lucy and Florence Village Districts

Tohono O'odham Nation is comprised of 4 federally recognized land bases in the U.S.

Communities are across Sonora, MX, in Pitiquito, Caborca, Altar, Sáric, Sonoyta, and Puerto Peñasco

No federally recognized O'odham land bases in Mexico

Refers to the variety of the language spoken in Mexico

Sonoran O'otam

of the Tohono O'odham language in Sonora, Mexico according to a language survey by Franco Hernández

22 fluent speakers

Grammatical:- Speakers in Sonora show more restricted use of the imperfective auxiliary 'o - Development of a past progressive marker in Sonoran speech not typically in ArizonaPhonological:- Vowel length contrasts in O'odham show evidence of disappearing in Sonoran speech- Physical separation and prohibitions on movement across the Sonoran international border have promoted the beginnings of language divergence

North vs. South O'odham language differences

O'odham community was contending with the Spanish and Mexicans as the US government UNDERWENT the Treaty Making PeriodThis period led first to the reservation system, then the General Allotment Act (or the Dawes Act) of 1887

The Dawes Act and education initiatives (like English language instruction) became critical to assimilating Indigenous communities and to encouraging the erasure of their traditional beliefs and culture

"Indian Problem" was the US government assimilationist agenda


  • Some schools complied with the government's movement toward English-instruction only, a dark remnant of the past though there is revitalization of O'odham language classes
  • Presbyterians had students who refused to speak O'odham although they were fluent and became strongly religious and church affiliated
  • Assimilation tactics have caused significantly more harm than good, particularly after the boarding school era

"Exploring Language Endangerment and Language Change in Tohono O'odham" by Keiko F. Beers for University of New Mexico - Main CampusBeers, Keiko F.. "Exploring Language Endangerment and Language Change in Tohono O'odham." (2020).https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/ling_etds/72