Singular and Plurals: A Mini Lesson

Huhugam Heritage Center

Gila River Indian Community



Just about every language spoken around the world has a way to express the differences between one and many (singular vs. plural).  We are going to take a look at our O’otham world and how we use the basic Singular and Plurals. The word Singular is a fancy way of saying ‘one.’  Plurals, is another fancy way of saying ‘more than one, or many.’


Sometimes a word is too long but we want to identify singular and plurals when we work with O’otham words so we use abbreviations.  Below shows how we shorten singular and plural to show we are talking about either one item or more than one 

Singular: abbreviated as SG 

Plural: abbreviated as PL


In English writing, a singular word is made pulural simply by placing the letter /s/ at the end of the word that is being converted to plural form.


For example in English we say “cat” when talking about one cat. We add /s/ at the end of the word which changes to “cats” when talking about more than one mithol (SG)/mimithol(PL). Our Akimel O’otham Ñeo’ok also expresses the difference between one and many, but uses an entirely different way of transforming the word than how it is used in English. 



In O’otham Ñeo’ok, usually we change the very beginning of the word by doubling the first two letters of a word.  Linguist, those who study languages call this action of doubling ‘reduplication.’


Here is an example is the word goks.

 Goks = one dog


In the plural form, when you want to talk about a lot of dogs you would double the first part of the word.

Go goks = more than one dog, spelled gogoks


If you wanted to be more specific you can always add a number 

hethasp gogoks = five dogs


Or a descriptive word to specify the number 

Mu’ij ‘o heg gogoks  = there are many dogs 


This is a basic and general explanation of how to make words plural in O’otham Ñeo’ok; but like in every language there are exceptions to this rule. 


For example, another form of doing plurals the O’otham way is what Milgan call a ‘glottal stop.’  Wikipedia definition says:  the glottal stop is a type of alphabet letter sound used in many spoken languages, produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract or, more precisely the glottis.  The best example is the expression: “oh-oh” = when an innocent mistake is made, usually said to children.


Here you hear a break in between the expression: “Oh’oh!”

The symbol that O’otham use is /’/ -the apostrophe to tell you to take a break but continue to make the ending word sound.


Let us use the word ‘spoon.’  In O’otham, we call it kusal. To talk about many spoons you don’t double the word to say kukusal, instead you say kuk’sal.  You only are doubling the first letter. Another example like this is the word ko:ba (drinking container) that becomes kok’ba, using the same pattern. 


Some words don’t have a separate plural form. These words will always use the singular form and cannot use the doubling of the first two letters (reduplication).  The word remains single.


Examples of these include where singular words will remain the same:

You can already tell that the word /chuchuchul/ sounds unacceptable.  Fluent speakers will immediately know if one uses the /*/ words inappropriately by doubling/reduplication.

With the words above it is good to put a number or mass account when there is more than one.  A person who likes Chuchul usually have more than one, cha is a mass number when they fall to the ground, and the wai you usually see one first than the others later, if they chose to be seen.


It is good to memorize which words do not reduplicate. This little lesson is just to give you a small sample of how elaborate our language is and it is something our Community should continue practicing and speaking. As with everything, we encourage you to ask your elders, or speakers in your family, or any person/teachers who speaks the O’otham language. 


Remember there may be slight differences due to the way many variations of O’otham speech in different parts of our Community.