On May 31, Washington State University linguistics professor Lynn Gordon (third from left) joined the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s monthly Piipaa Kuutsh Matasheevm. This meeting is held on the last Tuesday of each month at the Cultural Resources Department, Building 12, in the main classroom.
Professor Lynn Gordon Visits SRPMIC’s O’odham Piipaash Language Program
Submitted by the O’odham Piipaash Language Program

During the week of May 23-31, the O’odham Piipaash Language Program, in collaboration with Gila River’s Huhugam Heritage Center and the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI), hosted a six-day language work shop that encompassed the Piipaash (Maricopa) language.

Through this collaboration, these programs were able to bring professor and linguist Lynn Gordon to Arizona and to our communities. Gordon, who is an associate professor at Washington State University, has been studying the Piipaash language for 37 years.

In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Gordon collectively gathered audio and documented language from Piipaash language speakers. All of these language informants came from the District 7 area in Gila River. They included the late Pollyanna Heath, the late Jasper Donahue, the late Ralph Cameron and the late Achsah Porter.

Gordon said, “As a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), I did a field methods class on Tolkapaya Yavapai with Molly Fasthorse. My soon-to-be advisor, Pam Munro (whose dissertation was on Mojave), taught that class. I liked working on a little-studied [or] under-documented language. I went to Pam and asked if she knew of a language I could work on, where I could make a contribution. Pam had heard that there was a Maricopa (Piipaash) speaker in Los Angeles, Pollyanna Heath, and she tracked her down and we started working with Polly almost immediately.”

She explained, “Piipaash is a very interesting, structurally complex language which had almost no documentation—so I hoped that I could make a substantive contribution to both linguistics and to the Community. My work on Piipaash has been the cornerstone of my professional research life.” Without the help of her informants, Gordon would not have been able to earn her doctorate in linguistics.

Professor Gordon said she hopes her work will have made a difference for the Piipaash communities of District 7 (Laveen) and the Lehi area of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC).

She was eager to share her work, field notes and audio recordings with both communities. “I know that everyone I worked with hoped to see their language survive, and all of them knew it was already potentially endangered. They were worried that children were not learning Piipaash and knew that their own experience of BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) schools interfered with their own language experience,” Gordon said.

She continued, “I hope that my work can help all of you who are doing the necessary, hard, on-the-ground teaching. I hope I can give you tools that can help you understand [the linguistics of] Piipaash better and that I can help you build teaching tools that can help your students learn.”

Our program would like to thank Lynn Gordon for her hard work and for her willingness to share this priceless documentation of our Piipaash language. We also hope that this is only the beginning of a strong relationship where we can continue to learn more about our precious Piipaash language.

We would also like to thank the elders of District 7 and SRPMIC for being a part of these language sessions. We would also like to recognize and thank the Gila River Indian Community’s Huhugam Heritage Center and the American Indian Language Development Institute for their valuable contributions that made this collaboration possible.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the O’odham Piipaash Language Program, please contact the SRPMIC Cultural Resources Department at (480) 362-6325 or visit the website at

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Professor Lynn Gordon Visits SRPMIC’s O’odham Piipaash Language Program