Wondering if there exist any direct Native American or other Indigenous people's transcript of a story or a complete something in their language. By indigenous I mean those living in the Amazon, New Guinea, or Arctic regions, for example. Even Mayan, Aztec, or Incan would work too (in the native language).

Most linguistic examples from these languages are snippets or perhaps as much as a single phrase or sentence, but I haven't seen complete stories multi-sentence structures.

I can find Native American stories here, and click into one of the texts (e.g. Yana Texts), but it seems like an English retelling of stories heard from indigenous peoples. Same with stories from the Inuit. Basically looking for a written transcription (either a Romanization or in their original language like Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics) of some story or content from an indigenous language, not written in English but instead written in the native language (or Romanization of it).

I would love to see something like what follows (but for any Native/Indigenous language), but even longer and more complex.

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I understand that most (all perhaps) indigenous languages didn't have writing until it was invented in the 1800's or 1900's or so, so Romanizations work well too.


Here are some I have since encountered a while later:

  • What do you mean by "understand that most (all perhaps) indigenous languages didn't have writing until it was invented in the 1800's or 1900's or so"? Writing, even Native American writing, has been around for much much longer. Sep 18, 2018 at 8:59
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    You're right, I just meant modern writing systems, like sound-based alphabets. I'm not aware of any of those that weren't invented recently. I read the Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics was invented in 1840, same with Cherokee (late 1810s early 1820s). So I just assumed they didn't have any written language, but I meant sound based. I assume you mean pictograms.
    – Lance
    Sep 18, 2018 at 9:19
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    You’re being overly narrow about writing systems. There is a very old writing system in Mesoamerica, Mayan glyphs, used and adapted by many languages. It’s a logographic system (glyphs representing words) with phonetic elements. But, the Chinese and Japanese writing systems are in the same category, and they are modern writing system. The only thing that makes Mayan glyphs not “modern” is that they’re no longer in regular use. Sep 18, 2018 at 14:53
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    Can you explain what makes those languages more "indigenous" to their respective homelands than Basque or Georgian or Lithuanian or Tamil to theirs? Sep 19, 2018 at 19:56
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    Don't let my skepticism kill your healthy curiosity. But I think if you stop and think of this from non-US perspective you will get better answers. Sep 19, 2018 at 22:28

5 Answers 5


It's not clear to me exactly what your criteria are: the most stringent version that I can reasonably imagine would be substantial (2-page?) narratives in written form, composed by a native speaker in the language and written in the language by a native speaker. That would exclude translations of texts from other languages – however, if you do include translations, then there are myriad Bible translations performed by native speakers (the contemporary standard for Bible translation is that the linguists assist in developing a writing system but the native speakers do the translating). This is an example of the Bible in Zapotec

There are stories in Lushootseed which may qualify. For example, the story sčətxʷəd ʔi tsiʔiɬ ƛ̕aƛ̕ac̓apəd "by" sʔadacut is available. This is a traditional story, so it would be more accurate to say that he told the story, rather than composing it. However, it is not clear who did the transcribing/writing. In light of the fact that he died in 1973, I suspect that the written version is based on the recorded telling of the story (which is available in that link). It is highly likely that some of the stories from tsi siʔab taqʷšəblu are written by her, since she did write in Lushootseed. This story is attributed to her, although the recording is not of her voice. I don't have a copy of the book, but she published a collection of stories, Haboo: Native American Stories from Puget Sound: but it is possible that these are just translations and they do not have the original texts. It is probably also unclear which stories were written down by taqʷšəblu, and which were written by Tom Hess, the main linguist involved in the language.

  • Oh that Zapotec reference is perfect! Thank you!!! Those other ones are good too.
    – Lance
    Sep 18, 2018 at 17:19
  • wondering where I can find a guide to the symbols / phonology used in the zapotec document. Looking here shows a different alphabet than the doc. Same with here.
    – Lance
    Sep 18, 2018 at 19:40
  • Unfortunately, I don't know of an orthography guide for that dialect.
    – user6726
    Sep 18, 2018 at 20:07

The Mayan society transcribed a large part of its literature into the Latin alphabet shortly after the conquest in the 16th century. Some of the surviving literature is in this book.

The most famous (and quite complex) example of Mayan litterature is the Popol Vuh, which was written in Quiché (and translated in Spanish) in the early 18th century. You will find a 300 page edition with line by line translation in English in this pdf.

  • Looks like there's some hints as to the pronunciation of the romanization, but wondering if you saw a pronunciation guide anywhere, or know what system it follows.
    – Lance
    Sep 18, 2018 at 19:42
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    @LancePollard Looks like standard orthography as defined by the Guatemalan Academy for Mayan Languages. Unfortunately it's a bit defective in that it doesn't mark long vowels, but apart from that it's quite good. Wikipedia has a summary on its page about the K'iche' language. (Look at the charts in the phonology section; anything marked "ALMG" is the version you want.)
    – Draconis
    Sep 20, 2018 at 5:32
  • Wondering if you know of any other central/south american ancient texts like these, this is great. Thank you again.
    – Lance
    Oct 19, 2018 at 0:43

The oldest indigenous writing uses the Mayan script. The Wikipedia article on Mesoamerican literature gives links to has a list of the different codices (the respective articles have links to images).

The site you linked to omits the transcriptions of the native language, but the transcriptions are part of the original books. For example, the Yana texts can also be found in the original here, which includes transcriptions. You can try searching for the other books on archive.org if you're interested in the texts in the native languages.


Common Crawl, Wikipedia, the Bible and the UN Declaration of Human Rights are all popular default corpora. Here is a list of Wikipedias by language family:


The "indigenous" criterion is very unclear - a language is indigenous to a place, not in the abstract, and more or less all languages are indigenous to some place.

From the Americas, the largest are Quechua, Nahuatl, Navajo and Aymara. You mention New Guinea. Do the indigenous languages of Hawaii and Eastern Island qualify? And if so, then why not Indonesian or Malagasy, which is in the same macro-family?

Is there a definition of "indigenous language" that includes those languages but does not include, say, Georgian, Basque, Chechen, Japanese, Lithuanian, Celtic, Ukrainian, Igbo, Tamil or Amharic?

  • I should have answered in the comment above. But mainly was just looking for resources on cultures that don't have many resources, which the stereotypical use of the word "Indigenous" are pretty much the only ones that don't (i.e. all major languages are well documented). Some "indigenous languages" do have good documentation, but I was already aware of those. Also, I need to learn more about Hawai'i / Easter Island / Indonesia / Malagasy.
    – Lance
    Sep 19, 2018 at 20:19
  • The term for this that I see used is "low-resource languages". So the question would be "Resources for low-resource languages?" Sep 19, 2018 at 22:17
  • Wondering what you would recommend as a good language from the Indonesian/Malagasy/Hawaii/Eastern Island group would be to learn. Something with features that differ from other languages like Inuktitut, Greek, Latin, English, Chinese, Japanese, etc.
    – Lance
    Sep 22, 2018 at 21:15
  • Here is a nice map qr.ae/TUG1Xd.
    – Lance
    Sep 22, 2018 at 21:24
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    You are out of my league. I personally would just go for the largest ones, for which there are for more materials and chances to practice wherever you life, which increases the speed at which you learn, and the probably that you actually learn. So probably Indonesian/Malay or Hawaiian. Sep 23, 2018 at 19:40

It's not one of the areas in the examples you listed, but you can get some Ainu texts online today. For example, Yukie Chiri's "The Song the Owl God Sang" is available in the original Ainu here (parallel with Japanese text). It's a collection of yukar.

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