Linguistically, Navajo is an agglutinative language, but many of its affixes combine into barely recognisable contractions. Navajo words are altered primarily by prefixes, with circumfixes playing some part as well. The key element in Navajo is the verb, with even some noun meanings provided by verbs; many complex nouns are derived from verbs as well; for instance, the Navajo word lhéé'íí'níílh "cemetery" is actually a verb meaning "(plural objects) lie in the ground". Navajo is quite complex, with a large variety of noun classes including "animate", "round object", "long, stiff object" and "granular object". Very simple verbs in Navajo may translate into many words in English; for instance, the verb si' means "to cause a hafted object to move" or, more practically, "to practise archery".
There are four phonemic vowels in Navajo: a, e, i and o; each of these may occur long, nasalised, or with one of four tones: high, low, rising or falling. Various combinations of these features are also possible.
The consonants of Navajo are:
Bilabial b m 'm Alveolar d t t' n 'n Prepalatal g k k' labialised kw Palatal y 'y Postpalatal gh x labialised ghw xw Sibilant alveolar z s dz ts ts' postalveolar j c dj tc tc' Lateral l1 lh dl tl tl' Glottal ' h/xOr, in SAMPA-style notation:
|stop||unaspirated||p||t|| || ||k||kw||’|
|aspirated|| ||th|| || ||kh|| || |
|ejective|| ||t’|| || ||k’|| || |
|affricate||voiced2|| ||dz||dl\\||dZ|| || || |
|voiceless|| ||ts||tl\\||tS|| || || |
|ejective|| ||ts’||tl\\’||tS’|| || || |
|fricative||voiced|| ||z|| ||Z||G||Gw|| |
|voiceless|| ||s||l\\³||S||x||xw||h |
|liquid||voiced|| || ||l||j|| || || |
|preglottalized|| || || ||’j|| || || |
|nasal||voiced||m||n|| || || || || |
|preglottalized||’m||’n|| || || || || |
2. The standard orthography uses English voiced stop symbols for the unaspirated phonemes, as in rapid speech these are frequently heard as voiced. It is also unclear from the orthography whether the affricates use a voicing or aspiration contrast.
3. Note that the first chart fails to clearly distinguish liquids and fricatives; in particular, it is unclear whether lh is a voiceless lateral liquid or a voiceless lateral fricative.
As in many northwestern American languages, Navajo is extremely poor in labial consonants.