Tanoan, also Kiowa–Tanoan or Tanoan–Kiowa, is a family of languages spoken in New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Most of the languages – Tiwa (Taos, Picuris, Southern Tiwa), Tewa, and Towa – are spoken in the Pueblos of New Mexico (with one outlier in Arizona) and were the ones first given the collective name Tanoan, while Kiowa is spoken mostly in southwestern Oklahoma.
The Tanoan language family has seven languages in four branches:
Kiowa, (Cáuijògà / cáuijò:gyà): 1,000 speakers
Jemez (or Towa): 1,301 speakers (1990 census)
Taos: 803 speakers (1980 census)
Picuris: 101 speakers (1990 census)
Southern Tiwa: 1,732 speakers
? Piro (extinct)
Tewa: 1,298 speakers (1980 census)
Kiowa–Towa might form an intermediate branch, as might Tiwa–Tewa.
Tanoan has long been recognized as a major family of Pueblo languages, consisting of Tiwa, Tewa and Towa.
The inclusion of Kiowa into the family was at first controversial; the once-nomadic Kiowa people of the Plains are culturally quite distinct from the Tiwa, Tewa, and Towa pueblos.
However, it is now accepted that a Tanoan family without Kiowa would be paraphyletic, as any ancestor of the pueblo languages would be ancestral to Kiowa as well. Indeed, Kiowa may be closer to Towa than Towa is to Tiwa–Tewa.
Thus technically Tanoan and Kiowa–Tanoan are synonyms. However, because of the cultural use of the name Tanoan, the more explicit term Kiowa–Tanoan is still commonly used for the language family.
The prehistory of the Kiowa people is little known, and the history behind the separation of the members of this language family into two groups (‘Puebloan’ and ‘Plains’) with radically distinct lifestyles is obscure.
There is apparently no tradition of any ancient connection.
The linguistic connection is the more mysterious as the earliest traditions and historical notices of the Kiowa record them as migrating, not from nearer to their linguistic ‘brethren’, but from much further to the north and west, to the territory now associated with the nation (more or less the modern states of Texas and Oklahoma), which they occupied from the late 18th century.
The Tanoan family has been connected to the Uto-Aztecan family in a hypothetical Aztec–Tanoan proposal. Although undemonstrated, many linguists find this hypothesis to be promising.