Commands and Requests in O’otham

Huhugam Heritage Center

Gila River Indian Community



I va:k! G ‘i hi:m! Thaiwañ! Vapkoñ heg e no:nov! What do all these phrases have in common? Aside from being some of the first phrases in O’otham that you learn either as a child or as an adult learner, they all belong to a group of phrases that are called commands. Commands are the types of phrases that we use when we want to request or order someone (or a group of people) to do something. We use commands all the time, regardless of what language we speak, because it serves a basic human need of ours to communicate to one another in a direct way. Commands are found in all languages and every language has developed its own unique way to form command phrases that signal to listeners that they are being asked to do something. If we pause for a moment and consider how we talk in English, we can see that a simple command in English consists of nothing more than a verb (action word) that is said directly to the person you’re talking to.  What can we learn about commands in O’otham and how do they work? Commands in O’otham are similar in that they usually consist of an action word, but they differ from English in that they usually have some sort of extra marking either at the beginning or end that lets the listener know that they are being asked to do something. For example, when you are at the door you can often hear people letting you know to come in by saying “I va: k!” Speakers will recognize that va:k simply means to “come in” or “enter.” The simple one-word phrase commands the listener to start the action of entering into the house or room to where he is being called.  With the second example “G ‘i him!” we see the action verb him with a meaning somewhat equivalent to “walk” or “move” This phrase also has a marker “g” that comes at the beginning. This initial “g” is called a command marker and also works to let the listener know that he is being requested to do something, which in this case is to walk toward where the speaker is calling him.  With the final example “Thaiwañ!” a simple verb that communicates to the listener the request to sit down or take a seat.  One of the most important commands you can use with your kids nowadays is “Vapkoñ heg e no:nov!” ‘Wash your hands!’ With some commands you will hear some of the differences in the dialects in our language, as some dialects will use one command, while others will use a slightly different form. Basic commands in O’otham are easy to say and memorize, we encourage you to use them in your everyday lives.  This month’s word match will teach you a few useful phrases to use around the home with your families.