Penutian languages

From Academic Kids

Penutian is a proposed grouping of language families that includes many Native American languages of western North America, predominantly spoken at one time in Washington, Oregon, and California. There a number of varying opinions concerning its validity.

The name is based on the words meaning 'two' in the Wintuan, Maiduan, and Yokutsan languages (which is pronounced something like ) and the Utian languages (which is pronounced something like ).



It is probably best to consider the Penutian grouping as undemonstrated. Not only is Penutian undemonstrated, but many of the lower groupings are also undemonstrated although some of the subgroupings appear to be promising. The initial proposal of Penutian was based on scarce data which was sometimes not entirely reliable. Quite a bit of research has been done and is continuing to be done on investigating the genetic relations between the various subgroupings. Research is still needed to determine many uncertainties, and there remain differences in opinion between linguists. A number of the languages are no longer spoken leaving researchers with no new data to work with.

Some sugroupings have been convincingly demonstrated. Miwokan and Costanoan languages are grouped into an Utian language family. There seems to be convincing evidence for the Plateau Penutian grouping (a grouping originally called Shahapwailutan by J. N. B. Hewitt and John Wesley Powell in 1894) which would consist of Klamath-Modoc, Molala, and the Sahaptian languages (Nez Perce and Sahaptin). The inclusion of Cayuse into Plateau Penutian is questionable due to so little data.

The other groupings probably need more research before asserting them as fact. And so, the final status of Penutian is yet to come.

History of Proposals

Origin of the 5 core families

The original hypothesis of Penutian was suggested by Roland B. Dixon and Alfred L. Kroeber in 1903, published later in 1913 and 1919 (In 1910, Kroeber suggested a relationship between the Miwokan and Costanoan languages, which were later conclusively demonstrated to make up an Utian family by linguist Catherine Callaghan).) This hypothesis combined Miwok-Costanoan (i.e. Utian) with three other Californian language families and is known as Core Penutian (also California Penutian or the Penutian Kernel):

The grouping, like many of Dixon & Kroeber's other family proposals, was based mostly on shared typological characteristics. Starting from this early date, the Penutian hypothesis was controversial.

Sapir's expansion

In 1916 Edward Sapir expanded Dixon and Kroeber's California Penutian family with a sister stock, Oregon Penutian:

  • California Penutian
    • Maiduan languages
    • Wintuan languages
    • Yokutsan languages
    • Utian languages  (a.k.a. Miwok-Costanoan)
  • Oregon Penutian

Later Sapir and Leo Frachtenberg added Kalapuyan and Chinookan languages and then Alsean, culminating in Sapir's 1921 four-branch classification:

I. California Penutian family
  1. Maiduan
  2. Wintuan
  3. Yokutsan
  4. Utian
II. Oregon Penutian family
  1. Takelma
  2. Coosan
  3. Siuslaw
  4. Kalapuyan
  5. Alsea
III. Chinookan languages
IV. Tsimshianic languages

By Sapir's 1929 Encylopedia Britannica article, he had added two more branches:

resulting in a six-branch family:

I. California Penutian
II. Oregon Penutian
III. Chinookan
IV. Tsimshianic
V. Plateau Penutian
VI. Mexican Penutian

(Sapir's full 1929 classification scheme including the Penutian proposal can be seen here: Classification schemes for Native American languages#Sapir (1929).)

Other linguists have suggested other languages be included within the Penutian grouping.

Further expansions

Recent hypotheses

As of Goddard's (1996) Languages volume of the Handbook of North American Indians series, a more recent Penutian grouping that is being investigated is the following

  I. Alsean family
  II. Chinookan family
  III. Coosan family
  IV. Maiduan family
  V. Plateau Penutian family
  VI. Takelman family
  VII. Tsimshianic family
  VIII. Utian family
  IX. Wintuan family
  X. Yokutsan family
  XI. Siuslaw language

External link


  • Berman, Howard. (1996). The position of Molala in Plateau Penutian. International Journal of American Linguistics, 62, 1-30.
  • Callaghan, Catherine A. (1967). Miwok-Costanoan as a subfield of Penutian. International Journal of American Linguistics, 33, 224-227.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • DeLancey, Scott; & Golla, Victor. (1997). The Penutian hypothesis: Retrospect and prospect. International Journal of American Linguistics, 63, 171-202.
  • Dixon, Roland R.; & Kroeber, Alfred L. (1903). The native languages of California. American Anthropologist, 5, 1-26.
  • Dixon, Roland R.; & Kroeber, Alfred L. (1913). Relationship of the Indian languages of California. Science, 37, 225.
  • Dixon, Roland R.; & Kroeber, Alfred L. (1913). New linguistic families in California. American Anthropologist, 15, 647-655.
  • Dixon, Roland R.; & Kroeber, Alfred L. (1919). Linguistic families of California (pp. 47-118) Berkeley: University of California.
  • Kroeber, Alfred L. (1910). The Chumash and Costanoan languages. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, 9, 259-263.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1921). A bird's-eye view of American languages north of Mexico. Science, 54, 408.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1929). Central and North American languages. Encyclopaedia Britaannica (14th ed.; Vol. 5; pp. 138-141).de:Penuti

es:Lenguas penutíes pl:Fyla penutiańska


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