Word formation in Yurok

Yurok nouns and verbs are assembled and change their forms in patterns that are sometimes elaborate, expressing a variety of meanings. Here only a few patterns are noted. For more detail, and information about other patterns, interested readers should consult R. H. Robins's book The Yurok language: Texts, grammar, lexicon (1958) or the Yurok Language Project booklet Basic Yurok grammar (2010), which you can download here.


A noun is a kind of word that can be the subject or object of a sentence; nouns usually refer to a person, place, thing, event, substance, or quality. Unlike English, where most nouns change the form to refer to more than one (cat vs. cats, for example, or man vs. men), Yurok nouns usually do not change their form: puesee can mean "cat" or "cats", and 'yoch can mean "boat" or "boats". A very few nouns do change their form, for example:

mewah "boy" mewahsegoh "boys"
meweemor "old man" meweemor "old man"
perey "old woman" pegerey "old woman"
wer'yers "girl" wer'yernerk "girls"

But Yurok nouns do sometimes change their form to refer to locations:

mech "fire" mecheek "in the fire"
'yoch "boat" 'yoncheek "in a boat"

Verb endings

A verb is a kind of word that changes its form according to the subject (and possibly the object) of a sentence; verbs usually refer to a kind of activity or state. A few changes of verb form are shown here, highlighted by underlining:

kooychkwok' "I buy it" kooychkwoh "we buy it"
kooychkwoom' "you buy it" kooychkwow' "you (plural) buy it"
kooychkwom' "he or she buys it" kooychkwohl "they buy it"

This verb is an "oo-class" verb, so called because an oo appears in some of its changing endings. Yurok also has o-class, e-class, and a-class verbs, all with slightly different endings.

Other elements of verbs

A fascinating aspect of the Yurok language, one that is quite unlike English, is the intricate way that certain meaningful elements combine in the formation of verbs. The table below illustrates typical combinations of elements, used to form verbs with distinct but related meanings. Notice the elements heem- "fast", kwomhl- "back", pkw- "out from an enclosed area", and yohp- "in a circle", to which are added -ech- "go" and -o'rep- "run":

heemechok' "I hurry" heemo'repek' "I run quickly"
kwomhlechok' "I return" kwomhlo'repek' "I run back"
pkwechok' "I emerge" pkwo'repek' "I run out from an enclosed area"
yohpechok' "I go in a circle" yohpo'repek' "I run in a circle"

Of course there are many details, and other patterns, but the examples above may offer a glimpse into the interesting structure of Yurok words. To find out more, ask your teachers or consult the references above.