Hiaki (also known as Yaqui, Jiaki, Yoeme, and Cahita) is a Native American language indigenous to the Rio Yaqui Valley in Sonora, Mexico. The language is spoken as a part of everyday life by children and adults alike in its homeland. There are several communities of speakers within the United States (mostly in Southern Arizona), but Arizona Hiaki is primarily restricted to ceremonial use or conversations between tribal elders. Nonetheless, language revitalization efforts are working to create more and more young speakers.
The Hiaki language belongs to the Cahitan branch of the Uto-Aztecan language family. Other languages in this family include Mayo, Tohono O’odham, Pima, Tepehuan, Opata, Eudeve, Tarahumara, Guarijio, Tubar, Cora, Huichol, Nahuatl, Pipil, Pochutec, Mono, N. Paiute, Panamint, Shoshoni, Comanche, Kawaiisu, Ute, Serrano, Kitanemuk, Gabrieliño, Cupeño, Cahuilla, Luiseño, and Hopi.
How many people speak Hiaki today?
Less than 100 people speak it fluently in Arizona; a few thousand speakers live in northern Mexico. In the pueblos in Sonora, Hiaki is learned as a first language by children.
Is the Hiaki language endangered?
Yes, Hiaki is an endangered language. In Arizona, it is severely endangered, as no children are learning it as a first language. However, community members are working to ensure that this situation changes and the language returns to a state of being used by Hiakis of all ages.
What resources exist for learning the Hiaki language in Arizona?
First and foremost are the tribal elders who speak Hiaki and the community language efforts to revitalize Hiaki. There are also Hiaki dictionaries in both English and Spanish, as well as Volume I of the Hiaki learning grammar.
Below are some Hiaki phrases you can employ in greeting people and making basic small talk:
A: Lios enchi anía!
(God help you)
B: Lios enchi hiokoe!
(God pity you)
A: Ketche allea?
(Are you still happy/well?)
B: Ket tu’i.
In the above conversation, speaker A is arriving at the scene and speaker B is receiving speaker A. So, the phrases Lios enchi anía! and Ketche allea? should be used by someone greeting people as they arrive, and the phrases Lios enchi hiokoe! and Ket tu’i should be used by the person receiving whoever just entered. It wouldn’t be quite right for someone who just walked in to greet the people already in the room with Lios enchi hiokoe!, for example.
If you’re on good terms with the person you’re greeting and you are about the same age, you can greet them informally by saying:
(What’s being said?)
which corresponds to English greetings like “hello” or “what’s up?”. A response to this would be:
(Nothing is being said)
It is important to remember that these greetings are very informal and only appropriate for use with friends and family of the same age as you. They should never be said to elders and ceremonial leaders.
If you’d like to introduce yourself in Hiaki, you can say
Inepo Merehilda teak.
(I am named/called Merehilda)
While phrase doesn’t directly translate to “My name is Merehilda”, it is used for the same purpose. To ask someone else what their name is, you can say
Haisa empo teak?
(What are you named/called?)
If someone tells you their name in response to this question, you should thank them by saying
Lios enchi hiokoe utte’esia!
(God have great mercy on you!)
because by giving you their name, the person you’re speaking with has given you valuable information.
Moseley, Christopher. 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Paris: UNESCO Publishing. http://www.unesco.org/
Silver, Shirley and Miller, Wick R. 1997. American Indian Languages.
Tucson: The University of Arizona Press.