The Karankawa people speak Karankawan. This language is partially preserved with around 500 known words . Alex Pérez of the Karankawa Kadla is the reigning expert on Karankawan. For a guide to speak this language, purchase his book Karankawa Kadla Mixed Tongue: Medicine for the Land & Our Peoples

Our knowledge of Karankawan comes mostly from eight individuals:

Jean Baptiste Talon (1698): Talon lived among the Karankawas as a child in the late seventeenth-century. He provides the most reliable source on the Karankawan language. An interrogator who interviewed Talon in Brest, France listed 29 words.

Jean Béranger (1720): Béranger was a French captain who associated with the Karankawas while repairing his ship in Aransas Bay. Béranger penned 100 words in his journal.

Jean-Louis Berlandier and Rafael Chovell (1828-1829): Berlandier was a young naturalist who encountered the Karankawas while touring Texas with the Mexican Boundary Commission under General Manuel Mier y Téran. Rafael Chovell also accompanied the Mexican Boundary Commission as a mineralogist. Berlandier and Chovell jotted down 158 words. At this point, Karankawa-cultured groups had intermixed with other Native peoples in Texas such as the Akokisas, Aranamas, Coahuiltecans, Mayeyes, and Tonkawas. The Karankawan language, therefore, had shifted and morphed. Even so, this is a phenomenal source of Karankawan.

Old Simon (1884): Simon was a Tonkawa informant for the ethnographer Albert Samuel Gatschet.  Simon knew pieces of Karankawan because he lived among some Karankawas as a child. Gatschet believed Simon was around seventy-five years old, and stated that it “was a difficult matter to obtain any reliable information from him on account of an extreme debility of body and memory.”[1] Simon fuzzily remembered 17 words.

Sallie Washington (1884): Sallie Washington served as another Tonkawa source on Karankawan. Washington lived with a Karankawa man as a younger woman. Gatschet believed Sallie was around seventy-five years old, too. She recollected 6 words.

Alice W. Oliver (1888): Alice Oliver’s father settled in the Karankawas territory in 1838, and as a girl of around 10 years old, Alice met with Karankawas who seasonally visited her small farm. She learned some Karankawan words over the course of a decade, wrote them down, but lost her notebook. At the age of sixty, she tried to remember as many Karankawan words as possible for ethnographer Albert Gatschet. She recollected 137 words. Oliver is a problematic source. In her “Notes on the Carancahua Indians” at the beginning of Gatschet’s report, which is based off her memory, there are a litany of factual errors. Oliver, for example, states that the Karankawas had 3,000 warriors during the Texas Rebellion when in reality the number was likely around a hundred or two.[2] Regardless, the Karankawan she remembered is a decent match with the aforementioned sources.

Guy M. Bryan (late 1800s or early 1900s): Galveston physician Joseph Osterman Dyer interviewed Guy M. Bryan who claimed to know 7 words—how Bryan learned these words is unmentioned. This list is untrustworthy. Dyer is infamous for his misinformation. In one instance, he insisted that the Karankawas subsisted only off “roots, beetles, and the dung of deer,” in another he expounded that these peoples had “a mucous membrane unaccustomed to spiced and hot dishes” and therefore could only eat cold and raw fish.[3] 

Anthony P. Grant, a linguist from the University of Bradford, has written extensively on the Karankawas’ language. His paper serves as the basis for this section.

[1] Gatschet, The Karankawa Indians, the Coast People of Texas, 79.

[2] Gatschet, The Karankawa Indians, the Coast People of Texas, 15.

[3] Dyer, “Corrected and Epitomized Lessons of Texas History, part 1, period of 1518 to 1807,” and “Reminiscences of Early Galveston,” in Joseph Osterman Dyer Scrapbook 1915-1923, (Rosenberg Library, c. 1920s).


* – ch = š voiceless postalveolar fricative; for example: ship, push, delicious (for more meaning behind the phonetic symbols click here)

? – source handwriting is ambiguous and educated guesses were made for spelling.

( ) – taken from source

[ ] – my comments

All spelling and accent marks replicated from sources.

An alphabetical list can be downloaded here: Excel | PDF

The categorized list as shown below can be downloaded here: Excel | PDF

I initially believed this to be the first collective list of the Karankawa language ever  published, but after some research I found a similar list published in 1994 which may have a possible seventh source, see Anthony Grant’s.

Compiled Karankawa LanguageTalon Brothers (1693)Beranger (1720)Berlandier (1828)Gatschet: Mrs. Oliver (1888)Gatschet: Old Simon (1884)Gatschet: Sallie Washington (1884)
Gender and People
A mantechoyoualanesayláyámaweúshi 
father   béhema  
he   tál  
the womanachadu calí   
virgin  fetscuem-cali   
mother   kanínma  
she   tál  
girl  cali-cuankā’da  
a boycolohs cloxgló-ěssěnníktam 
a little man, youngster    ushi níktam 
child, young, babe   kwā’n  
Indian man  choygnea*   
Indian woman  choygnea-calem*   
the Spainards (“people of the land” because they came by land)cahamqueamy   kahe or ka 
the French (“people of the sea” because they came by sea)calbasses     
Tonkawa Indians    Tchankáya 
Body, Appearance, and Health
blood  fechandelman*   
the foot ehamhei-yúkékeya (foot)  
toes  hei-yosam   
ankle  iclea ?   
heel  ik-dota   
sole of the foot  ik-aal   
the leg emanpocqschemi *   
veins? of the entire leg  acuynu ?   
the knee enelus    
the thigh emedale    
the arms sumahahachigmia (arm)   
upper arms  cha(j)egual   
the entire arm  laaje   
the hand  hooyoétsma  
fingers  hooyo-amétsma  
to touch   tchaútawa;  
nails  hooymblé   
the back of hand  cuama (the back of hand)   
palm of the hand  ho-yal   
from the elbow to the shoulder schotumdeeya   
the shoulder enidschotaeel-em   
the stomach and the abdomen (belly/womb) alouocoog ? (belly or bowels) or enauza ? (stomach)   
the eyes emicoutleca (eye)   
to see  omtchá  
the eyebrows imlahoué    
eyelash  leguems   
eyelid  lesayma   
pupil of the eye  lacuim   
the neck emubecqsebilool ?   
the head enoquerdaal   
face  iancú ?   
the hair equioay couyequa (hair of head) or ecun-eche (hair from animal?) *   
the chin emimian haumaagnena (chin or beard)   
the nose emay aloumylóo (nose) or lóo-dulm (large nosed)   
the mouth emy aquoyagg   
the teeth dolonaquine(y) or(g) (tooth)é, é tesselénia(toothbrush)  
the tongue ascunelen (tongue)   
lip  aggmach *   
to speak  aal   
to whistle   áksōl  
gums  eclenemac ?   
palate  elcon   
clavicle or collar bone  lemoolmá   
ribs  guen, ay(?)   
forehead  mekloó   
the broad faced man? (Cado?)  veloó-dulm   
face  lesáyom or iancú ?   
cheek  agui   
ear  aisoyna or ai(g) or ai(y)   
ear wax  aigenal   
heart   láhama  
breast  alkanín (teat)  
breasts of a woman  (ev)em   
testicles  en   
the private parts of a man emibacqbaj (penis)   
the uterus  hacha culo*   
buttock  mooj   
muscle  eel   
the entire body  quismatamac ?   
tattoos (the pricks or punctures they have on them) bachmanae    
sick a bas kwátcho  
in good health, healthy   klabán  
tall, large   yá-an  
small, little   kwā’n  
round   lá-akum  
wide   yá-an  
Clothing, Trinkets, Trade, and Other Odds and Ends
a shoe cameplan    
a hat calamu    
all kinds of clothes sams    
woman’s dress, gown   kwíss kádla  
textile fabric   kwíss  
cloth   kwíss  
hat  dalmac-cama   
trousers  yenna-cama ?   
shoe  camepel   
blanket  lams   
shirt  chacamagusgáma  
glove  oñecada   
handkerchief  lams-santle ?   
pins and needles beschena aguíya (from Spanish)  
to sew tecsilea    
pretty woman  calee-malemhamála (handsome, pretty in general)  
ugly woman  calee-bat   
bell  selabaya   
brush   tesselénia  
glass trinkets quiahin    
paper imeter a coum    
to read   gwá  
vermilion cadrum    
to give   báwûs  
to manufacture, to produce, to create, to make   káhawan, kosáta  
to work   takína  
Elements, Environment, and Celestial Bodies
firecohoillequoylesem (fire)cuacha *kwátchi (also used to refer to fever)húmhe 
smoke   ánawan  
live coal  alm   
ashes ahonae    
heat  schoj*   
the suncolonuclosclon (sun)dó-owal  
the moon a oviltayk   
the woodcohabquesoul (wood)    
ocean, saltwater, seacocomden (saltwater) tacui (sea, ocean)gllé-i (ocean, water, open water)  
water clayclégllé-i  
the wind eta   
the cold delingláy (cold)   
the rain ampajeg(ü)ss or g(ii)swíasn (to rain)  
star  caguan   
clouds  quapan   
air  lun   
sand cohon    
tree  etsquequiakwiní  
field  do(ps)á   
a cane (reed, walking stick) coln    
dwarf pine quesis-maille    
resin or tar couja    
Tree type?(of a certain wood with which they start fire by rubbing one piece of it against eachother) demaje    
an oak apple (oak gall) aix quitoula    
tree  etsquequiakwiní  
mountain  euajadan   
day   bákta  
grass   awtchzōl  
Animals and Insects
A horsecanonaium  kuwáyi, kuwaí (from Spanish caballo)kwá, kwán 
mare  cuay-nen   
colt or immature stallion  cuaanñam   
stallion  cuaflekuen   
dogquezquecheqüeche (male) qüeche-nen (female) *kíss  
pig, sowquez calbasses “French Dogs”quechetech-lo-disa or tech-lo-nem ? (female pig – probably nen isntead of nem) *madóna tapshewá (hog)
an ox/buffalo dedotteoola-lá (bison or buffalo)   
an oxhorn deyuedolanhomo (horn)   
bull  chool-la   
female cow  chool-nen   
calf  chool-cuain   
buffalo hide  oola-jay   
cattle   téts’oa  
cow   téts’oa  
deer  edochindó-atn  
doe  edochin-nen   
a deerskin quesoul    
octopus   ám tchúta  
oyster   dă’  
fish guyleraamám  
bird  coocho*k’udn  
feather  coochcam*   
feathers humdolucq    
bird’s feet  cuch-lú   
a plover cebé    
a lark cout sest aeta    
a pelican ammane    
a water hen (coot) ouapa    
chicken   kútně wólya (prarie chicken)  
crane   kědō’d  
a duck coué    
duck (canvasback duck)   medá-u  
cock  co(nnuan)guila   
hen  (connua)-gnen   
turkey  sam kei(a)solote or sam kei(se)solote   
turkey hen  samnen   
goose   lá-ak  
egg   dáhome  
male cat  catum   
female cat  catum-nen   
calico   kádla  
domestic cat   gáta (from Spanish)  
kitten   gáta kwán  
a fly camoje    
mosquito   gă’ or gá’h  
turtle  chaube*haítnlokn (green turtle)  
alligator  oñase hókso 
serpent, snake   aúd  
bear   ŏ’s  
coyote  cuba   
female coyote  cuba-nen   
wolfquez, queche badolú   
female wolf  badolú-nen   
young of animal   kwā’n  
to kill   ahúk  
dead   mál  
guts  (t)ach*   
animal entrails  trach-sá*   
intestines for sausage?  clax ?   
bone  fechedall*   
meat, beef  fechi*téts’oa, tétsoatíkěmai 
grass or hay  quayawtchzōl  
to grow (said of animals and plants)   kwān or kw únakwan  
Hunting, Tools, and Weapons
a bowcrouin  gaí  
arrowdemo (an arrow)  děmóa  
a knife cousilachelasilekáyi  
a gun quesoulp    
the powder calmel    
a musketball quechila-demoux    
a cannon esjam    
an ax, a hatchet quiaen matchíta  
an oyster catcher quojol    
a pistol caayuuane    
a rope (cord) bachina    
an adze (tool used to shape wood) cousilca    
a pickax (mattlock) queune    
a dart,harpoon, or fish spear cousila    
rifle  chelacuy ?   
gunpowder  con-melkû’nmil  
rock or stone  cay   
iron  chelneday*   
silver  cheledame*   
gold  chelee-cheman*   
hoe or pickaxe  chelee-nagut*   
to catch   haítn  
to shoot   ódn  
to break, to tear   táhama  
a gimlet (drilling tool) cluny    
Food, Cooking, and Smoking
fire potcocomdencoje eun (a mess tin)    
a pitcher (jug,jar) cahan    
a flask (bottle) quedim    
a kettle couquiol    
a cask caucouum    
a tin (or pewter) plate quesil-acouan  koláme (tin bucket [Gatschet questioned “Aztec comalli?”]) 
a bowl locq    
a bucket, pail, or bowl cocq    
a grindstone hunca    
barrel   búdel (from Spanish baril)  
frying-pan   koláme  
food cousilami    
to eat, eatable   aknámus  
meat, beef  fechi*téts’oa, tétsoatíkěmai 
an oak acorn calache    
biscuit (or hardtack) comjam    
bread cocam (fresh bread)cuama-mayakwiamóya (cornbread)  
tortilla  cuampà   
peas and beans coudeche    
potato   yám  
egg   dáhome  
corn or maize  cuayc(un) or (cuayc(em)kwiám (maize)  
corn flour   ámhătn  
molasses   téskaus-gllé-i  
butter  fecha   
flour   ámhätn  
salt quetache    
liquid   gllé-i  
to drink coacaen akwetén  
wine debeu    
milk  schimucim*tesnakwáya  
whiskey or brandy  libanlabá-i  
sugar, sweet   téskaus  
a calumet (long-stemmed Indian pipe) cadiolle    
cigarette    ka swénas 
cigar  caje-tible   
to grow (said of animals and plants)   kwān or kw únakwan  
to pound   kássig  
to suck   énno  
hungry   ámel  
building, camp, Indian village, huts, house, wigwam, lodge, cabincaham (cabin) caha (house)bá-ak  
a board quouaham    
a mat didaham    
to sleep najanana î’m  
seat  ioyaiene ?   
Spanish Religion
church  catssé   
God  dios (from Spanish)   
Movement and Ships
a ship elouchoumyualagleawā’n  
a canoe, pirogue, dugout, boat, sailing vessel ouhahim awā’n  
a paddle for a boat emolouajem    
a sail emlamil    
a mast enyuesoul    
a cane (reed, walking stick) coln    
resin or tar couja    
to walk (to march or to go) stray   
pass from one side to another lon    
to arrive   gás  
at present   messús  
to fall   amóak  
to come   gás, gá’hsewé-e, ewé, zankí (to come quick)ewé-e (come, to come quick), ká’-as (come here!)
get away!   ähä’mmish snî’n  
to hasten, to hurry   kóta or zankée or ewé-e  
to jump   ém  
quick!   ewé-e or ewē  
to run   tólos (also means to run fast) zankéye (to run, to hasten, to hasten: See Old Simon’s “to come quick” – zankí
scat!   ähä’mmish snî’n (as said to dogs and cats; with a sharp accent)  
let us go! or go away!     wána
to swim   nótawa  
to skip   ém  
to sit, sit down!   hákěs háka, tchakwamé (sit down here!)
to push   dán  
to go     
far off   wál nia or nyá  
to find   tchá  
to lie down   wú-ak  
to stand   yétso  
wide   yá-an  
Emotion and War
very angry    nazerúaza pára 
brave  fechigua*   
coward  fechi-chi-salem *   
war  maché *   
peace  biase   
bad   tchuúta  
to capture   haítn  
to strike   gá-an  
to cause pain   kassídshuwakn  
to weep   owíya  
give me!  (g)ajuch*   
“when you give them what pleases them” baa    
to wish     
to want     
friend   aháyika (“the Spanish amigo was more used among them. When wanting to be on good terms with the whites, they preferred the term amigo and said: ‘mucho amigo!”  
to laugh   kaíta  
to love   ka  
to cherish   ka  
dear   mutá  
nice, good   plá  
want or love  qúachel*   
I don’t love you  mi-qúachals   
enemy   kóm aháyika  
to hate   matákia  
hostile or hostile enemy   kóm aháyika (“the Karankawas called so several of the tribes around them.”)  
to hurt, to injure   kassídshuwakn  
to kill   ahúk  
dead   mál  
obnoxious   tchúta  
dangerous   tchúta  
powerful, strong   wól  
tired   kwá-al  
pretty   hamála  
to understand   kúmna  
to know   kwáss or kúmna  
fine [as in ok]   plá  
shall we fuck?  hachi cooche*   
get away!   ähä’mmish snî’n  
let us go! or go away!     wána
I am going to (do etc.)   n’tchápn  
hush!   ähä’mmish! (as said to children)  
goodbye   atcháta  
gone   budáma  
one   nā’tsa  
two   haíkia  
three   kazáyi  
four   háyo háln  
five   nā’tsa béhema  
six   háyo haíkia  
seven   haíkia nā’tsa  
eight   béhema  
nine   haíkia dó-atn  
ten   dó-atn hábe  
Social Structures, Ceremony, and Entertainment
whiskey or brandy  libanlabá-i  
Ceremony [mitote Cabeza de Vaca?]      
a calumet (long-stemmed Indian pipe) cadiolle    
cigarette    ka swénas 
cigar  caje-tible   
music   yŏ’ta  
to marry   mawída  
chief   hálba  
to perform   kosáta  
black   p’al 
blue   tsō’l  
red   tamóyika  
white    péka 
Greetings, Time, and Location
“Long ago I spoke” (the language)    gaziamétět upā’t 
yesterday   tuwámka  
where?   mudá?  
yonder   nyá  
soon   messús  
to return   gás  
presently   asháhak  
past time (in times past)   tuwámkaupāt (long ago [emphatically upá-ā-āt]) 
long past   budáma wál  
now   asháhak  
future tense   tá or tchápn  
for a long while   mushawáta  
far off   wál nia or nyá  
farewell   atcháta!  
how do you do?   m’ tchá áwa  
to converse, to talk, to tell, to say, to say to   kaúpn, gaziamétětnapé-ni pátsim 
after a while   messús  
all the time   mushawáta  
Syntax and Sayings
that   tál  
there   nyá  
thine or thy   áwa  
this   t;al  
too   ténno  
well (adj)   klab;an  
no!   kóm, kúmkwó-om, kwōm 
yes   hié-ě  
not   kóm  
mine or my   náyi  
I   náyi or ná-inapé-nai 
future tense   tá or tchápn  
it   tál  
to do   kosáta or káhawan  
be or to   in detail Oliver Sec  
also   ténno  
always   mushawáta  
and a   a (when used in a sentence) or ténno (also)  
much   wól  
by and by   messús  
behold   tch’a  
great   yá-anawátchzol 
a great deal of, plenty of   wól  
light [as in daylight or not heavy?]  est-day   
be on the point of [I believe as in standing “on the point of”]   tchápn