Brief History of Our Language
Apalachee is considered a Muskogean language of the American Southeast, once spoken in the Florida Panhandle and parts of Southeast Georgia. Very little is known of our language and is considered to be extinct. We do, however, know the oldest of our Elders still speak some of our language. The tribe is working hard to capture and document as much as we can in hopes of one day being able to teach more of our language. Early Spanish transcripts of our language suggest that it was most closely related to Hitchiti and Alabama. Like other Muskogean languages, Apalachee was a language with morphologically complex verbs and SOV word order.
The name Apalachee comes from the language of what was our Hitchiti neighbors and means “people on the other side.” Our original name for ourselves was never recorded; it’s possible that the Apalachee normally identified by village name, as many Southeastern people did, rather than using a special name to refer to our tribe in general. We were also sometimes known as San Luis Indians, after the name of the Spanish fort based in our territory, Mission San Luis de Talimali. The spelling we use today is Apalachee, but alternate spellings of our name have included Appalachi, Apalache, Appalachee, and Apalachi.
Apalachee Word Set
|Second in Command||Inija|
|Great Warrior (Brave One)||Noroco|
|To be Happy||Ayokpa|
|Beloved One – a title applied|
to a son or daughter that
special duties assigned to
them for the ball game.
|Usinulo or Osinulu|
|Container – sources suggest |
this Apalachee word is a
container. Used such as
“sucuche de tolocano.”
|Character We Use:||Sometimes|
|IPA symbol:||Apalachee pronunciation:|
|a||a||Like the a in father.|
|i||I ~ i||Like the i in pit or the i in police.|
|o||o ~||Like the o in note or the u in put.|
|Characters We Use:||Sometimes |
|IPA symbol:||Apalachee pronunciation:|
|b||v, u||b||Like b in bill.|
|c||k, qu, q, g||kh||Like k in kite.|
|ch||c, č||t||Like ch in chair.|
|f||f ~ φ||Like the f in English fair. It was probably originally pronounced bilabially, without touching the upper teeth to the lower lip.|
|gu||w||w||Like w in way.|
|h||g||h||Like h in English hay.|
|l||l||Like l in light.|
|lz||ł, lh, hl||ł||This sound is a lateral fricative that doesn’t really exist in English. It sounds like the “ll” in the Welsh name “Llewellyn.” Some English speakers can pronounce it well if they try to pronounce the “breathy l” in the word clue without the c in front of it.|
|m||m||Like m in moon.|
|n||n||Like n in night.|
|p||ph||Like p in pie.|
|s||s||Like s in sing.|
|t||th||Like t in tie.|
|y||i||j||Like y in yes.|
Apalachee Long Vowels
Like other Muskogean languages, Apalachee had a distinction between long and short vowels (a long vowel was simply held longer than a short one, without the quality of the vowel changing.) However, the Spanish orthography used to record the language failed to note this distinction. Linguists can make good guesses as to which vowels were long and which were short based on other, closely related Muskogean languages, and you will sometimes see Apalachee long vowels marked with a colon to show their length (i.e. to:lo, “two,” which was only recorded as tolo by the Spanish.)
Tallahassee, An Apalachee Named City
It is believed that “Tallahassee” is an Apalachee Indian word meaning “old town” or “abandoned fields,” which the area eventually became an abandoned Apalachee village. In 1656, a Spanish deputy governor and his crew settled in the Apalachee town that they called San Luis in west Tallahassee.
Other Origins of Our Language?
There are theories surrounding where the Florida Apalachee’s origins came from based on documented encounters the French and the Spanish had with pre-mission Apalachee. One theory suggested would make Tallahassee’s meaning different altogether! Some linguist and an architect named Richard L. Thornton have shared their findings on this theory.
A 17th century French ethnologist, naturalist and historian named Rev. Charles de Rochefort, devoted ten chapters of his 1658 extremely popular book, l‘Histoire Naturelle et Morale des isles Antilles de l’Amérique, to the Native Americans of Georgia, Florida and western North Carolina. The focus of most of these chapters, however, were of the Apalachee of Georgia.
De Rochefort went on to say that the Georgia Apalachee, who actually originated in Savannah, GA, but later moved northward, established many colonies along the Gulf Coast. They built towns where the Apalachee elite lived. The large town in Tallahassee, Florida was where the Apalachee elite lived was said to be named Tula-hiwalse, which means “Town of the Highlanders” in Itsate. The Georgia Apalachee built a road to that town from the Smokey Mountains, interconnecting several major indigenous towns along the way. It was called the Nene-Hvtke-Rakko or Great White Path. That road is now US Hwy 120/Peachtree Road/Peachtree Street in North Georgia and I-75 in Middle Georgia, South Georgia and Florida.
De Rochefort stated that the commoners around Tula-hiwalse were immigrants from far to the south. Over time, their language mixed with the language of the elite and became mutually unintelligible to the Apalachee in the Highlands, but they remained friends and trading partners. The Spanish said that the Florida Apalachee wore grass skirts.
The Ashaninka of Peru are Southern Arawaks, traditionally wore grass skirts. The Towns County Indians of the Upper Hiwassee (Hiwalse) River Valley in Georgia have exceedingly high levels of Ashanika DNA markers. The Florida Apalachee may have more in common with the Ashanika language than what was once believed. For Example, in the Ashanika dictionary, Anihaica, where De Soto’s expedition spent the winter of 1539-1540, means “Strong or elite – Place of.”
There is still so much to uncover and learn about our language’s origin. We can only speculate with pieces of history how our ancestors might have spoken. Over hundreds of years there was a blending of neighboring languages as tribes grew and created trade routes, which makes ancient Apalachee a near impossible task to recover. We continue our research and build partnerships to help uncover the language that was once ours. Perhaps there will be some remnants of our original language with any new words or phrases discovered in the future.