California Indian Languages

California Indian Languages

California Indian Languages

California Indian Languages


Nowhere was the linguistic diversity of the New World more extreme than in California, where an extraordinary variety of village-dwelling peoples spoke seventy-eight mutually unintelligible languages. This comprehensive illustrated handbook, a major synthesis of more than 150 years of documentation and study, reviews what we now know about California's indigenous languages. Victor Golla outlines the basic structural features of more than two dozen language types, and cites all the major sources, both published and unpublished, for the documentation of these languages--from the earliest vocabularies collected by explorers and missionaries, to the data amassed during the twentieth-century by Alfred Kroeber and his colleagues, and to the extraordinary work of John P. Harrington and C. Hart Merriam. Golla also devotes chapters to the role of language in reconstructing prehistory, and to the intertwining of the language and culture in pre-contact California societies, making this work, the first of its kind, an essential reference on California's remarkable Indian languages.


This book is intended to be the reference of first resort for linguists, archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, ethnohistorians, and others who in the course of their work find themselves in need of a guide to what is known to scholarship about the indigenous languages of California.

Part 1, a short introductory essay, proposes a definition of the California linguistic area primarily in geographical and sociopolitical terms—a region in which a mosaic of language differences and a multitude of tiny village-level polities have evolved together in tandem for millennia.

Part 2 is a narrative history of the documentation and study of California languages from the contact period to the present, emphasizing the social and institutional contexts in which the work was carried out.

Part 3 is a detailed survey of the language diversity of California in the framework of the twenty-eight basic classificatory units into which the languages of the region fall (either uncontroversial language families or subfamilies, such as Miwok or Takic, of no more than two to three thousand years’ time depth, or classificatory isolated languages, such as Karuk or Takelma, that do not belong to such a group). the characteristic phonological and grammatical structures of each family or isolate are outlined, and information is provided on the geography and dialectology of each language of a given group, with a thorough summary of its documentation. These sections are divided into six groups, five for the larger classificatory units to which most of the languages of California have been assigned with varying degrees of certainty (the Algic, Na-Dene, and UtoAztecan superfamilies, and the Penutian and Hokan phyla) and a sixth for the small residuum of languages whose deeper affiliations have not been determined (the Yukian and Chumashan families, and the languages of the southern tip of Baja California). a short introductory essay on the nature and implications of these deeper classifications accompanies each section.

Part 4 provides a nontechnical summary of the structural features that characterize the languages of the California region, from phonology through discourse-level syntax, along with some consideration of the sociolinguistic profile of precontact speech communities and of the patterns of linguistic borrowing within the region.

Part 5 summarizes what is known (or has been speculated) about the linguistic prehistory of the California region, following the general classificatory outline of Part 3.

One of the principal goals of this book is to direct researchers to the full range of published and archival materials on California languages. Citations of the published literature. . .

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