Muskogean Language

Muskogean (also Muskhogean, Muskogee) is an indigenous language family of the Southeastern United States.

Though there is an ongoing debate concerning their interrelationships, the Muskogean languages are generally divided into two branches, Eastern Muskogean and Western Muskogean.

They are agglutinative languages, which means most words are formed by joining morphemes together.

An agglutinative language is a form of synthetic language where each affix typically represents one unit of meaning (such as “diminutive,” “past tense,” “plural,” etc.), and bound morphemes are expressed by affixes (and not by internal changes of the root of the word, or changes in stress or tone).

Additionally, and most importantly, in an agglutinative language affixes do not become fused with others, and do not change form conditioned by others.

The Muskogean language family consists of six languages which are still spoken: Alabama, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek-Seminole, Koasati, and Mikasuki, as well as the now-extinct Apalachee and Hitchiti (the latter generally considered a dialect of Mikasuki).

The major subdivisions of the family have long been controversial, though the following lower-level groups are universally accepted: Choctaw-Chickasaw, Alabama-Koasati, Hitchiti-Mikasuki, and Creek-Seminole.

Because Apalachee is extinct, its precise relationship to the other languages is uncertain; Mary Haas and Pamela Munro both classify it with the Alabama-Koasati group.

Muskogean Language Family Trees

Languages are extremely difficult to classify and there are numerous internal classifications proposed by linguists. Here we follow the classification of Mithun (1999) which is the most widely recognized.

Western Branch

Choctaw-Chickasaw: 11,000 speakers according to UNESCO and SIL
Central Branch

Alabama (alternate name: Alibamu): 275 speakers according to UNESCO and 100 according to SIL

Apalachee: extinct

Hitchiti Mikisaki: 500 speakers according to UNESCO and 400 according to SIL

Koasati (alternate name: Coushatta): 475 speakers according to UNESCO and 200 according to SIL

Eastern Branch

Creek (alternate names: Muskogee, Maskoke, Seminole): 5000 speakers according to UNESCO and SIL

Haas’ Muskogean language classification:


Muskogean (6)

     Eastern (4)

          Alabama  (United States)          

          Koasati  (United States)          

         Mikasuki (United States)          

        Muskogee  (United States)

     Western (2)

          Chickasaw   (United States)          

          Choctaw (United States)

For connections among these groupings, the traditional classification is that of Mary Haas and her students, such as Karen Booker, in which “Western Muskogean” (Choctaw-Chickasaw) is seen as one branch major branch, and “Eastern Muskogean” (Alabama-Koasati, Hitchiti-Mikasuki, and Creek-Seminole) as another.

Within Eastern Muskogean, Alabama-Koasati and Hitchiti-Mikasuki are generally thought to be more closely related to one another than either are to Creek-Seminole.This classification is reflected in the list below:

I. Western Muskogean

1. Chickasaw
2. Chocktaw (a.k.a. Chahta, Chacato)

II. Eastern Muskogean

A. Central Muskogean

i. Apalachee-Alabama-Koasati group

a. Alabama-Koasati

3. Alabama (a.k.a. Alibamu)
4. Koasati(a.k.a. Coushatta)

b. Apalachee

5. Apalachee (†)

ii. Hitchiti-Mikasuki

6. Hitchiti-Mikasuki (a.k.a. Miccosukee)

B. Creek-Seminole

7. Creek-Seminole (a.k.a. Muskogee, Maskoke, Seminole)

Munro’s Muskogean language classification

A more recent and controversial classification has been proposed by Pamela Munro. In this classification, the languages are divided into a “Southern Muskogean” branch (Choctaw-Chickasaw, Alabama-Koasati, and Hitchiti-Mikasuki) and a “Northern Muskogean” one (Creek-Seminole).

Southern Muskogean is the subdivided into Hitchiti-Mikasuki and a “Southwestern Muskogean” branch containing Alabama-Koasati and “Western Muskogean” (Choctaw-Chickasaw).This classification is reflected in the list below:

I. Northern Muskogean


II. Southern Muskogean

A. Southwestern Muskogean group

i. Apalachee

2. Apalachee(†)

ii. Alabama-Koasati

3. Alabama
4. Koasati

iii. Western Muskogean

5. Chickasaw
6. Choctaw

B. Hitchiti-Mikasuki group

7. Hitchiti-Mikasuki

Kimball’s Muskogean language classification

A third proposed classification is that of Geoffrey Kimball, who envisions a three-way split among the languages, between “Western Muskogean” (Choctaw-Chickasaw), “Eastern Muskogean” (Creek-Seminole), and “Central Muskogean” (Alabama-Koasati and Hitchiti-Mikasuki).

However, Kimball’s classification has not received as much support as either Haas’ or Munro’s.

Possible Muskogean languages

Several sparsely-attested languages have been claimed to be Muskogean languages. George Broadwell suggested that the languages of the Yamasee and Guale were Muskogean.

However, William Sturtevant argued that the “Yamasee” and “Guale” data was actually Creek, and that the language(s) spoken by the Yamasee and Guale people remain unknown. It is possible that the Yamasee were an amalgamation of several different ethnic groups and did not speak a single language.

Chester B. DePratter describes the Yamasee as consisting mainly of speakers of Hitchiti and Guale.

The historian Steven Oatis also describes the Yamasee as an ethnically mixed group that included people from Muskogean-speaking regions such as the early colonial-era towns of Hitchiti, Coweta, and Cussita.

A vocabulary of the Houma may be another under-documented Western Muskogean language or a version of Mobilian Jargon. Mobilian Jargon is a pidgin based on Western Muskogean.

Muskogean Gulf Language Theory

The best-known connection proposed between Muskogean and other languages is Mary Haas’ Gulf hypothesis, in which she conceived of a macro-family comprising Muskogean and a number of language isolates of the southeastern US: Atakapa, Chitimacha, Tunica, and Natchez.

While well-known, the Gulf grouping is now generally rejected by historical linguists, though a number of Muskogean scholars continue to believe that Muskogean is related to Natchez.