southern coastal California
Extinctsince the 1960s
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's primary language families
  • Northern Chumash (Obispeño)
  • Central Chumash (Purisimeño, Ineseño, Barbareño and Ventureño)
  • Island Chumash
Pre-contact distribution of Chumashan languages

Chumashan was a family of languages that were spoken on the southern California coast by Native American Chumash people, from the Coastal plains and valleys of San Luis Obispo to Malibu, neighboring inland and Transverse Ranges valleys and canyons east to bordering the San Joaquin Valley, to three adjacent Channel Islands: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz.[1]

The Chumashan languages may be, along with Yukian and perhaps languages of southern Baja California such as Waikuri, one of the oldest language families established in California, before the arrival of speakers of Penutian, Uto-Aztecan, and perhaps even Hokan languages. Chumashan, Yukian, and southern Baja languages are spoken in areas with long-established populations of a distinct physical type. The population in the core Chumashan area has been stable for the past 10,000 years.[citation needed] However, the attested range of Chumashan is recent (within a couple thousand years). There is internal evidence that Obispeño replaced a Hokan language and that Island Chumash mixed with a language very different from Chumashan; the islands were not in contact with the mainland until the introduction of plank canoes in the first millennium AD.[2]

Although some say the Chumashan languages are now extinct or dormant, language revitalization programs are underway with four of these Chumashan languages. These languages are well-documented in the unpublished fieldnotes of linguist John Peabody Harrington. Especially well documented are Barbareño, Ineseño, and Ventureño. The last native speaker of a Chumashan language was Barbareño speaker Mary Yee, who died in 1965.

Family division


Six Chumashan languages are attested, all now extinct. However, most of them are in the process of revitalization, with language programs and classes. Contemporary Chumash people now prefer to refer to their languages by native names rather than the older names based on the local missions.

Obispeño was the most divergent Chumashan language. The Central Chumash languages include Purisimeño, Ineseño, Barbareño and Ventureño. There was a dialect continuum across this area, but the form of the language spoken in the vicinity of each mission was distinct enough to qualify as a different language.

There is very little documentation of Purisimeño. Ineseño, Barbareño and Ventureño each had several dialects, although documentation usually focused on just one. Island Chumash had different dialects on Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island, but all speakers were relocated to the mainland in the early 19th century. John Peabody Harrington conducted fieldwork on all the above Chumashan languages, but obtained the least data on Island Chumash, Purisimeño, and Obispeño. There is no linguistic data on Cuyama, though ethnographic data suggests that it was likely Chumash (Interior Chumash).

There are six or seven Chumashan languages, depending in part on how one interprets the status of the poorly attested Interior Chumash (Cuyama) as a distinct language.


The languages are named after the local Franciscan Spanish missions in California where Chumashan speakers were relocated and aggregated between the 1770s and 1830s:

Genetic relations

Roland Dixon and Alfred L. Kroeber suggested that the Chumashan languages might be related to the neighboring Salinan in a Iskoman grouping.[3] Edward Sapir accepted this speculation and included Iskoman in his classification of Hokan.[4] More recently it has been noted that Salinan and Chumashan shared only one word, which the Chumashan languages probably borrowed from Salinan (the word for 'white clam shell', which was used as currency).[5] As a result, the inclusion of Chumashan into Hokan is now disfavored by most specialists, and the consensus is that Chumashan has no identified linguistic relatives.[6]


The Chumashan languages are well known for their consonant harmony (regressive sibilant harmony). Mithun presents a scholarly synopsis of Chumashan linguistic structures.[7]


The Central Chumash languages all have a symmetrical six-vowel system. The distinctive high central vowel is written various ways, including <ɨ> "barred I," <ə> "schwa" and <ï> "I umlaut." Contemporary users of the languages favor /ɨ/ or /ə/.

Vowels of Central Chumash
Front Central Back
High i ɨ/ə u
Low e a o

Striking features of this system include

expeč "to sing" — I/B/V
ʼosos "heel" — I/B/V
ʼasas "chin" — I/B/V
kamasix "to cut into three pieces" — kal- + masix "three"
keseqen "to cut out" — kal- + seqen "to remove"
qoloq " to make or bore a hole, cut a hole in — kal- + loq "to be perforated"
katun "to cut into two pieces" — kal- + =tun "of two, being two"


The Central Chumash languages have a complex inventory of consonants. All of the consonants except /h/ can be glottalized; all of the consonants except /h/, /x/ and the liquids can be aspirated.

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (November 2015)


Reconstruction ofChumashan languages

Proto-Chumash reconstructions by Klar (1977):[8]

no. gloss Proto-Chumash Proto-Southern Chumash notes
1 advise, to *si/umun
2 all *yimlaʔ
3 alone *l-ho
4 already *kVla-
5 ant *tkaya’ plus sound symbolism
6 armpit *ti/uq’olo(lo) stem: *q'olo(lo)
7 arrive *ki/um
8 arrow *ya'
9 arroyo *l’VmV
10 ascend *-nVpa
11 ashamed, to be *-nos-
12 ashes *qSa
13 ask, to *-VsqVnV
14 back (body part) *mVtV’
15 ball *-apapa reduplicated stem
16 bat (animal) *mVkala
17 bathe, to *k-ep’
18 bear (animal) *qus
19 bee *olo plus sound symbolism
20 begin, to *-nVna’ reduplicated stem?
21 blow, to *aq-(tV)-p-; *-kVt *-wu-
22 boil, to *-wi-
23 bone *Se
24 bow (noun) *aqa
25 break, to *k’oto; *eqe
26 breast *kVtet
27 breathe; breath *kal-haS; *-haS
28 bring, to *kVlhi
29 burn, to *qi/ut
30 cost, to *piw’
31 carry, to *kum
32 carry on back, to *sVpV
33 cheek *po'
34 chest (body part) *kVwV
35 chia *’epV-
36 canoe *tomolo
37 clitoris *Cele ~ *C’ele
38 cold, to feel *toqom ~ *qotom
39 comb, to *ti/ukikS
40 come, to *yit-i; *VlhVw
41 concerned with, to be *tak
42 cooked *pSel
43 cough, to *oqoqo- reduplicated stem; onomatopoetic
44 cover, to *Vqmay
45 crack, split, to *-eqe
46 cut, to *’iwa plus reduplication
47 dark-colored, to be *Soy
48 day *qSi; *-iSa-
49 deaf *tu’
50 deep *l-hiy
51 die, to *qSa
52 dirt *uyu
53 drink; thirsty, to be *aq-mihi-l-ha; *o-
54 ear *tu’
55 earth *šup
56 eat, to *uw
57 eye, face *tVq
58 eyes, face, having to do with *weqe
59 far, to be *mVkV
60 fat *qilhi
61 fight, to *aqi/u
62 fire *ne
63 flower *pey’
64 flea *-tep (Proto-Central Chumash)
65 fly (insect) *axulpes
66 follow, to *pey
67 food (cf. eat) *uw- *uw- 'eat' plus *-mu (nominalizing suffix)
68 foot *teme’
69 forget, to *may
70 full from eating, to be *qti’
71 get up, to *kVta’
72 gopher snake *pSoSo reduplicated stem
73 grasshopper *ti/uqu root: *-qu
74 gull sp. *miyV
75 hair, fur *SuSV reduplicated stem?
76 hand *pu
77 hang, to *wayan ~ *waya
78 hear, to *taq
79 heel *’ososo reduplicated stem
80 hello (greeting) *haku
81 hole *loq
82 hole, cave, den *Si ~ *SiSV
83 homosexual, to be *’aqi’
84 jimson weed *mom’oy from *moy
85 knee *pVm’V
86 knife *’iw
87 lie down, to *toy’ ~ *ton’
88 liver *c-al’a
89 look, to *kuti ~ *kuti’
90 louse *Seke
91 low tide *qVw
92 many, much *equ
93 meat, body *’Vmin’
94 moist, to be *so’
95 money; clam sp. *’ala-qu-Cum ~ *’ana-qu-Cum *Cum is the root
96 mosquito *pewe(we)’
97 mother-in-law *mVSV
98 mountain lion *tVkem’
99 mouse *qlo plus reduplication
100 mouth *’Vk
101 name *ti
102 neck *ni’
103 necklace *el’
104 nerve *pilhil
105 nest *patV ~ *patV’
106 new, to be *VmVn
107 now *kipV(’)
108 oak spp. *kuwu(’)
109 one-eyed, to be *ta’
110 open, to *kal
111 overcast, to be *iqVmay
112 pelican *sew
113 person *ku
114 pet *qo’
115 pick up, lift, raise *lay
116 prickly pear *qV’
117 quail *takaka onomatopoetic
118 rabbit/jackrabbit *ma’; *kuni’
119 rain, to *tuhuy ~ *tuy
120 red *qupe
121 roadrunner *pu’
122 rub, to *muy
123 salt *tepu(’) ~ *tipu(’)
124 save (rescue), to *apay
125 seed *’VmVn’
126 skunk *tVqema
127 smoke *tuwo’
128 snail, sea *q’VmV’
129 speak, say, to *’ipi(’)
130 split-stick rattle *wanS-aq’a ~ *wacs-aq’a
131 spread open *kek-an
132 squirrel, ground *emet’ ~ *em’et’
133 steps *tVyV-
134 stick to, to *pey ~ *pey’
135 sticky, to be *pilhiy
136 stone, rock *qVpV
137 straight *tyiyeme ?
138 swordfish *’eleyewun’
139 tadpole *qlo ~ *qyo root: 'small creature' (cf. mouse)
140 tail *telheq’
141 take off, to *qe
142 tears *tinik’
143 tongue *’elhew’
144 tooth *Sa
145 urinate, to *Sol’
146 vomit *paS(V)
147 walk, to -
148 warm self, to *mol
149 water *’o’
150 whale *paqat(V)
151 wood, tree, stick *pono’
152 woodpecker *pVlak’a(k’)
153 wrinkled *Sok’ plus reduplication
154 yawn *San plus reduplication
155 yellow jacket *ɨyɨ ~ *ɨyɨ’

See also


  1. ^ Grant 1978
  2. ^ a b Golla, Victor. (2011). California Indian Languages. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-5202-6667-4
  3. ^ Dixon and Kroeber 1913
  4. ^ Sapir 1917
  5. ^ Klar 1977
  6. ^ Mithun 1999:390
  7. ^ Mithun 1999:390-392
  8. ^ Klar, Kathryn A. 1977. Topics in Historical Chumash Grammar. Doctoral dissertation, University of California at Berkeley.