Comanche language to be saved at Texas Tech
Condensed by Native Village

Texas: Jeff Williams is Department Chairman at Texas Tech University. He has a difficult task: collecting remnants of the nearly-extinct Comanche language, then creating college coursework to teach it.

The project is called Numu Tekwapu,.

Williams, tribal members, and researchers from Comanche Nation College will record the language, then develop a method to teach it at CNC.

“The Comanche language is nearly dead,” Williams said. “Of the 13,000 people on the tribe’s enrollment, we had, at last estimate, 20 - 25 speakers. Kids aren’t learning it anymore. Speakers are much, much older. It’s in a really bad way. Part of my task is to create a digital archive of what we know of Comanche, the other is to use technology and devise a way to teach college students the language.”

Numu Tekwapu  project director is Todd McDaniels from the linguistics department at Comanche Nation.
“We’re basically starting at square one,” McDaniels said. “The purpose of the current project is to help develop Comanche speaking skills in students. Everything is ‘sit down and crack your knuckles’ type of work. We will need to work hard to develop interest, enthusiasm and goodwill within the Comanche community, most especially with native Comanche speakers.”

Comanche is a complex offshoot of the Shoshoni language. This came about after the tribe split and moved south.

The Comanche language is a branch of the Uto-Aztecan languages. It was passed on orally and didn’t have a writing system until 1994.

There are 6,000 – 7,000 languages in the world. The Comanche language is very rare because it has “voiceless vowels.”

Voiceless vowels are almost inaudible when spoken.

Voiceless vowels are written  by underlining.


The language loss began when the Comanche lost their Oklahoma Indian Territory lands in the early 1900s. They remained in Indian Territory, but were moved to allotments that mixed Anglos and other non-Indians.

Comanche children were then sent to residential boarding schools and forced to assimilate into white culture.

The cultural loss and trauma created a “lost generation” that blocked the flow of the tribe’s culture and language.

Williams doesn't know how much Comanche has disappeared. He compares it to New Mexico’s Zuni language. While Zuni is still spoken and is being preserved, it has lost many formal speaking patterns. 

“If we look at the Zuni language, it’s estimated that it had about seven different speech levels,” he said. “The first level was the most informal and the seventh was the highest, most formal and sacred way to speak.

"The top four or five levels of speech are completely lost. Most people only speak in the lowest registers ... It would not signal honor or respect for elders or those who possessed specialized knowledge or skills."

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