North America
Linguistic classificationProposed language family
ISO 639-5hok
Hokan families of California, Arizona and Baja California

The Hokan /ˈhkæn/ language family is a hypothetical grouping of a dozen small language families spoken mainly in California, Arizona, and Baja California.


The name Hokan is loosely based on the word for "two" in the various Hokan languages: *xwak in Proto-Yuman, c-oocj (pronounced [koːkx]) in Seri, ha'k in Achumawi, etc.

History of the proposal

The "Hokan hypothesis" was first proposed in 1913 by Roland B. Dixon and Alfred L. Kroeber,[1][2] and further elaborated by Edward Sapir. Initial follow-up research found little additional evidence that that these language families were related to each other. But since about 1950, increased efforts to document Hokan languages and to establish sound correspondences in proposed lexical resemblance sets have added weight to the Hokan hypothesis, leading to its acceptance by many specialists in the languages of California, Oregon, and Mesoamerica. However, some skepticism remains among scholars.[3]

Linguist Paul Rivet claimed the Yurumanguí language of Colombia was part of the Hokan family.[4] This claim has not been accepted by historical linguists. Terrence Kaufman wondered if Hokan might be related to Oto-Mangean of Central America.[5]

An automated computational analysis (ASJP 4) by Müller et al. (2013)[6] found lexical similarities among Seri, Yuman and Tequistlatecan. However, since the analysis was automatically generated, the grouping could be either due to mutual lexical borrowing or genetic inheritance.


The geographic distribution of the Hokan languages suggests that they became separated around the Central Valley of California by the influx of later-arriving Penutian and other peoples; archaeological evidence for this is summarized in Chase-Dunn & Mann (1998). These languages are spoken by Native American communities around and east of Mount Shasta, others near Lake Tahoe, the Pomo on the California coast, and the Yuman peoples along the lower Colorado River. Some linguists also include Chumash, between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles, and other families, but the evidence is insubstantial, and most now restrict Hokan to some or all of the languages listed below.


The Hokan languages retained by Kaufman (1988) due to regular sound correspondences and common core vocabulary are as follows. (The data on which these conclusions were drawn have not been published or evaluated by anyone else.) Apart from Shasta–Palaihnihan and Yuman, all branches are single languages or shallow families.[7]

Marlett (2008) reevaluated the evidence and concluded that the evidence for Seri and Salinan has not been systematically or convincingly presented. The inclusion of the Tequistlatecan languages has also not received much support.[citation needed] The Chumash languages were once included, but that position has been almost universally abandoned.

Zhivlov (2013)

A lexicostatistical classification of the Hokan languages by Zhivlov (2013) is roughly presented as follows.[8]

Zhivlov (2013) does not consider Jicaquean (Tol) and Washo to be Hokan languages.


Some Hokan lexical correspondences from Mary R. Haas (1963) are provided below.[9]

Yana Karok Chimariko PROTO-

*išamál malʔgu -sam *išamárika
'liver' *č-ímapasi
ima váfiš -ši
'navel' *ímaraw
alu (Achomawi)
'neck (nape)' *ímapka


ipwá (Okwanuchu)





Similar forms for 'tongue' include:

Similarities with Uto-Aztecan

Shaul (2019) notes the following similarities between Proto-Hokan (based on Kaufman 2015[10]) and Proto-Uto-Aztecan.[11]

Gloss (for Proto-Hokan) Proto-Hokan Proto-Uto-Aztecan
louse/flea #ači *atë(N) ‘louse/nit’
paternal grandfather #apu *apu ‘father/parent/mother’
objective case #-i *i ‘objective case’
come #iyu, #iya *ya- ‘come’
wife #luwa, #lowa *lowa ‘vagina’
hand #man, #ma *man ~ *ma ‘hand’
give #ma ~ #mo *maka ‘give’
woman #mari maːla ‘mother’ (Yoemian)
know (through magic) #mata ~ #matu ~ #mati *mata ~ *mati ‘know’
be a woman #momo- momo- ‘woman’ (Hopi)
(not quite) dead #mu- *mukːV ‘die (singular)’
young woman #mus- *muts [~ *mos] ‘vagina’
child #ŋam -ŋyam ‘clan’ (Hopi)
pitch/sap #sala *saLa ‘pitch’

See also


  1. ^ Dixon, Roland R.; Kroeber, Alfred L. (1913a). "Relationship of the Indian languages of California." Science, 37, 225
  2. ^ Dixon, Roland R.; Kroeber, Alfred L. (1913b) "New linguistic families in California." American Anthropologist, 15, 647–655
  3. ^ Kaufmann, Terrence (2009). "Hokan". In Brown, E. K.; Ogilvie, Sarah (eds.). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world (1st ed.). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier. pp. 504–510. ISBN 9780080877754. OCLC 318247422.
  4. ^ Paul Rivet, 1942
  5. ^ Kaufmann, Terrence (1990). Tlapaneko-Sutiaba, OtoMangean, and Hokan: where Greenberg went wrong.
  6. ^ Müller, André, Viveka Velupillai, Søren Wichmann, Cecil H. Brown, Eric W. Holman, Sebastian Sauppe, Pamela Brown, Harald Hammarström, Oleg Belyaev, Johann-Mattis List, Dik Bakker, Dmitri Egorov, Matthias Urban, Robert Mailhammer, Matthew S. Dryer, Evgenia Korovina, David Beck, Helen Geyer, Pattie Epps, Anthony Grant, and Pilar Valenzuela. 2013. ASJP World Language Trees of Lexical Similarity: Version 4 (October 2013).
  7. ^ Golla (2011) California Indian Languages
  8. ^ Zhivlov, Mikhail. 2013. The Hokan family and lexicostatistics. Comparative-Historical Linguistics of the XXIst Century: Issues and Perspectives. Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies, Russian State University for the Humanities. Moscow, March 20–22, 2013. (Accessed 2021-10-07)
  9. ^ Haas, Mary R. (1963): "Shasta and Proto-hokan." Language, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 1963), pp. 40–59. doi:10.2307/410761
  10. ^ Kaufman, Terrence. 2015. A research program for reconstructing proto-Hokan: first gropings. Project for the Documentation of the Languages of Mesoamerica.
  11. ^ Shaul, David (2019). Esselen studies: language, culture, and prehistory. Muenchen: Lincom Europa. ISBN 978-3-86288-986-0. OCLC 1132875180.