The indigenous languages of the Americas form various linguistic areas or Sprachbunds that share various common (areal) traits.
The languages of the Americas often can be grouped together into linguistic areas or Sprachbunds (also known as convergence areas). The linguistic areas identified so far deserve more research to determine their validity. Knowing about Sprachbunds helps historical linguists differentiate between shared areal traits and true genetic relationship. The pioneering work on American areal linguistics was a dissertation by Joel Sherzer, which was published as Sherzer (1976).
In American Indian Languages: the Historical Linguistics of Native America, Lyle Campbell also lists over 20 linguistic areas, many of which are still hypothetical.
Note: Some linguistic areas may overlap with others.
|Linguistic Area (Sprachbund)||Included families, branches, and languages|
|Northern Northwest Coast||Eskimo-Aleut, Haida, Eyak, Tlingit|
|Northwest Coast||Eyak, Tlingit, Athabaskan, Tsimshian, Wakashan, Chimakuan, Salishan, Alsea, Coosan, Kalapuyan, |
Takelma, Lower Chinook
|Plateau||Sahaptian, Upper Chinook, Nicola, Cayuse, Molala language, Klamath, Kutenai, Interior Salishan|
|Northern California||Algic, Athabaskan, Yukian, Miwokan, Wintuan, Maiduan, Klamath-Modoc, Pomo, Chimariko, Achomawi, |
Atsugewi, Karuk, Shasta, Yana, (Washo)
|Clear Lake||Lake Miwok, Patwin, East and Southeastern Pomo, Wappo|
|South Coast Range||Chumash, Esselen, Salinan|
|Southern California–Western Arizona||Yuman, Cupan (Uto-Aztecan), less extensively Takic (Uto-Aztecan)|
|Great Basin||Numic (Uto-Aztecan), Washo|
|Pueblo||Keresan, Tanoan, Zuni, Hopi, some Apachean branches|
|Plains||Athabaskan, Algonquian, Siouan, Tanoan, Uto-Aztecan, Tonkawa|
|Northeast||Winnebago (Siouan), Northern Iroquoian, Eastern Algonquian|
|Southeast ("Gulf")||Muskogean, Chitimacha, Atakapa, Tunica language, Natchez, Yuchi, Ofo (Siouan), Biloxi (Siouan) – |
sometimes also Tutelo, Catawban, Quapaw, Dhegiha (all Siouan); Tuscarora, Cherokee, Shawnee
|Mesoamerican||Aztecan (Nahua branch of Uto-Aztecan), Mixe–Zoquean, Mayan, Xincan, Otomanguean |
(except Chichimeco–Jonaz and some Pame varieties, Totonacan), Purépecha, Cuitlatec, Tequistlatecan, Huave
|Mayan||Mayan, Xincan, Lencan, Jicaquean|
|Colombian–Central American||Chibchan, Misumalpan, Mangue, Subtiaba; sometimes Lencan, Jicaquean, Chochoan, Betoi|
|Venezuelan–Antillean||Arawakan, Cariban, Guamo, Otomaco, Yaruro, Warao|
|Andean||Quechuan, Aymaran, Callahuaya, Chipaya|
(subarea of Andean)
|Páez, Guambiano (Paezan), Cuaiquer, Cayapa, Colorado (Barbacoan), Camsá, Cofán, Esmeralda, Ecuadorian Quechua|
|Orinoco–Amazon||Yanomaman, Piaroa (Sálivan), Arawakan/Maipurean, Cariban, Jotí, Uruak/Ahuaqué, Sapé (Kaliana), Máku|
|Amazon||Arawakan/Maipurean, Arauan/Arawan, Cariban, Chapacuran, Ge/Je, Panoan, Puinavean, Tacanan, Tucanoan, Tupian|
|Southern Cone||Mapudungu (Araucanian), Guaycuruan, Chon|
Pache, et al. (2016) note that the word ‘dog’ is shared across various unrelated language families of the Americas, and use this word as a case study of lexical diffusion due to trade and contact.
In California, identical roots for ‘dog’ are found in:
In South America, a root for ‘dog’ is shared by Uru-Chipayan (paku or paqu) and several unrelated neighboring languages of lowland Bolivia (Movima pako, Itonama u-paʔu, and Trinitario paku), as well as Guaicuruan (Mocoví, Toba, and Pilagá pioq). An identical root for ‘dog’ is also shared by Huastec (*sul) and Atakapa (šul), which are very geographically distant from each other although both are located along the Gulf of Mexico coast. Areal words for ‘dog’ are also shared across the U.S. Southeast (Karankawa keš ~ kes, Chitimacha kiš, Cotoname kissa ‘fox’, Huavean *kisɨ), as well as across Mesoamerica. Mesoamerican areal words for ‘dog’ diffused unidirectionally from certain language families to others, and are listed below:
This linguistic area was proposed by Jeff Leer (1991), and may be a subarea of the Northwest Coast Linguistic Area. This sprachbund contains languages that have strict head-final (XSOV) syntax. Languages are Aleut, Haida, Eyak, and Tlingit.
Leer (1991) considers the strong areal traits to be:
This linguistic area is characterized by elaborate consonant systems. Languages are Eyak, Tlingit, Athabaskan, Tsimshian, Wakashan, Chimakuan, Salishan, Alsea, Coosan, Kalapuyan, Takelma, and Lower Chinook. Phonological areal traits include:
Typical shared morphological traits include:
See also: Plateau Penutian languages
The Plateau linguistic area includes Sahaptian, Upper Chinook, Nicola, Cayuse, Molala language, Klamath, Kutenai, and Interior Salishan. Primary shared phonological features of this linguistic area include:
Other less salient shared traits are:
The Northern California linguistic area consists of many Hokan languages. Languages include Algic, Athabaskan, Yukian, Miwokan, Wintuan, Maiduan, Klamath-Modoc, Pomo, Chimariko, Achomawi, Atsugewi, Karuk, Shasta, Yana, (Washo).
Features of this linguistic area have been described by Mary Haas. They include:
Washo, spoken in the Great Basin area, shares some traits common to the Northern California linguistic area.
This is clearly a linguistic area, and is centered around Clear Lake, California. Languages are Lake Miwok, Patwin, East and Southeastern Pomo, and Wappo. Shared features include:
Languages in Sherzer's (1976) "Yokuts-Salinan-Chumash" area, which includes Chumash, Esselen, and Salinan, share the following traits.
This linguistic area is defined by Sherzer (1973, 1976) and Jacobsen (1980). Languages are Numic (Uto-Aztecan) and Washo. Shared traits include:
However, the validity of this linguistic area is doubtful, as pointed out by Jacobsen (1986), since many traits of the Great Basin area are also common to California languages. It may be an extension of the Northern California linguistic area.
This linguistic area has been demonstrated in Hinton (1991). Languages are Yuman, Cupan (Uto-Aztecan), less extensively Takic and (Uto-Aztecan). Shared traits include:
The Yuman and Cupan languages share the most areal features, such as:
The influence is strongly unidirectional from Yuman to Cupan, since the features considered divergent within the Takic subgroup. According to Sherzer (1976), many of these traits are also common to Southern California languages.
Shaul and Andresen (1989) have proposed a Southwestern Arizona ("Hohokam") linguistic area as well, where speakers of Piman languages are hypothesized to have interacted with speakers of Yuman languages as part of the Hohokam archaeological culture. The single trait defining this area is the presence of retroflex stops (/ʈ/ in Yuman, /ɖ/ in Piman).
Main article: Pueblo linguistic area
The Pueblo linguistic area consists of Keresan, Tanoan, Zuni, Hopi, and some Apachean branches.
The Plains Linguistic Area, according to Sherzer (1973:773), is the "most recently constituted of the culture areas of North America (late eighteenth and nineteenth century)." Languages are Athabaskan, Algonquian, Siouan, Tanoan, Uto-Aztecan, and Tonkawa. The following areal traits are characteristic of this linguistic area, though they are also common in other parts of North America.
Frequent traits, which are not shared by all languages, include:
Southern Plains areal traits include:
The Northeast linguistic area consists of Winnebago (Siouan), Northern Iroquoian, and Eastern Algonquian. Central areal traits of the Northeast Linguistic Area include the following (Sherzer 1976).
In New England, areal traits include:
New England Eastern Algonquian languages and Iroquoian languages share the following traits.
The boundary between the Northeast and Southeast linguistic areas is not clearly determined, since features often extend over to territories belonging to both linguistic areas.
Main article: Gulf languages
Gulf languages include Muskogean, Chitimacha, Atakapa, Tunica language, Natchez, Yuchi, Ofo (Siouan), Biloxi (Siouan) –
sometimes also Tutelo, Catawban, Quapaw, Dhegiha (all Siouan); Tuscarora, Cherokee, and Shawnee.
Bilabial or labial fricatives (/ɸ/, sometimes /f/) are considered by Sherzer (1976) to be the most characteristic trait of the Southeast Linguistic Area. Various other shared traits have been found by Robert L. Rankin (1986, 1988) and T. Dale Nicklas (1994).
Main article: Mesoamerican language area
This linguistic area consists of the following language families and branches.
Some languages formerly considered to be part of the Mesoamerican sprachbund, but are now considered to lack main diagnostic traits of Mesoamerican area languages, include Cora, Huichol, Lenca, Jicaquean, and Misumalpan.
See also: Macro-Mayan languages
The Mayan Linguistic Area is considered by most scholars to be part of the Mesoamerican area. However, Holt & Bright (1976) distinguish it as a separate area, and include the Mayan, Xincan, Lencan, and Jicaquean families as part of the Mayan Linguistic Area. Shared traits include:
Colombian–Central American consists of Chibchan, Misumalpan, Mangue, and Subtiaba; sometimes Lencan, Jicaquean, Chochoan, and Betoi are also included.
This linguistic area is characterized by SOV word order and postpositions. This stands in contrast to the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area, where languages do not have SOV word order.
Holt & Bright (1976) define a Central American Linguistic Area as having the following areal traits. Note that these stand in direct opposition to the traits defined in their Mayan Linguistic Area.
Constenla's (1991) Colombian–Central American area consists primarily of Chibchan languages, but also include Lencan, Jicaquean, Misumalpan, Chocoan, and Betoi (Constenla 1992:103). This area consists of the following areal traits.
This linguistic area, consisting of Arawakan, Cariban, Guamo, Otomaco, Yaruro, and Warao, is characterized by VO word order (instead of SOV), and is described by Constenla (1991). Shared traits are:
The Venezuelan–Antillean could also extend to the western part of the Amazon Culture Area (Amazonia), where there are many Arawakan languages with VO word order (Constenla 1991).
See also: Quechumaran languages
This linguistic area, consisting of Quechuan, Aymaran, Callahuaya, and Chipaya, is characterized by SOV word order and elaborate suffixing.
Quechuan and Aymaran languages both have:
Büttner's (1983:179) includes Quechuan, Aymaran, Callahuaya, and Chipaya. Puquina, an extinct but significant language in this area, appears to not share these phonological features. Shared phonological traits are:
Constenla (1991) defines a broader Andean area including the languages of highland Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, and possibly also some lowland languages east of that Andes that have features typical of the Andean area. This area has the following areal traits.
Quantitative studies on the Andes and overlapping areas have found the following traits to be characteristic of these areas in a statistically significant way.
A statistical study of argument marking features in languages of South America found that both the Andes and Western South America constitute linguistic areas, with some traits showing a statistically significant relationship to both areas. The unique and shared traits of the two areas are shown in the following table. (The wordings of the traits are directly from the source.)
|Andes only||Both Andes and Western South America||Western South America only|
|Subject-object-verb constituent order||Use of both case and indexation as argument marking strategies||Marked neutral case marking patterns in ditransitive constructions|
|Suffixes as verbal person markers||Verbally marked applicative constructions|
|The R argument role can be indexed in ditransitive constructions|
|Accusative case alignment for NP arguments|
Phonologically, the following segments and segmental features are areal for the Andes:
This is a subarea of the Andean Linguistic Area, as defined by Constenla (1991). Languages include Páez, Guambiano (Paezan), Cuaiquer, Cayapa, Colorado (Barbacoan), Camsá, Cofán, Esmeralda, and Ecuadorian Quechua. Shared traits are:
The Orinoco–Amazon Linguistic Area, or the Northern Amazon Culture Area, is identified by Migliazza (1985 ). Languages include Yanomaman, Piaroa (Sálivan), Arawakan/Maipurean, Cariban, Jotí, Uruak/Ahuaqué, Sapé (Kaliana), and Máku. Common areal traits are:
The following traits have diffused to west to east (Migliazza 1985 ):
Main article: Amazonian languages
The Amazon linguistic area includes the Arawakan/Maipurean, Arauan/Arawan, Cariban, Chapacuran, Ge/Je, Panoan, Puinavean, Tacanan, Tucanoan, and Tupian families.
Derbyshire & Pullum (1986) and Derbyshire (1987) describe the characteristics of this linguistic area in detail. Traits include:
Noun classifier systems are also common across Amazonian languages. Derbyshire & Payne (1990) list three basic types of classifier systems.
Derbyshire (1987) also notes that Amazonian languages tend to have:
Mason (1950) has found that in many languages of central and eastern Brazil, words end in vowels, and stress is ultimate (i.e., falls on the final syllable).
Lucy Seki (1999) has also proposed an Upper Xingu Linguistic Area in northern Brazil.
The validity of Amazonia as a linguistic area has been called into question by recent research, including quantitative studies. A study of argument marking parameters in 74 South American languages by Joshua Birchall found that “not a single feature showed an areal distribution for Amazonia as a macroregion. This suggest that Amazonia is not a good candidate for a linguistic area based on the features examined in this study.” Instead, Birchall finds evidence for three “macroregions” in South America: the Andes, Western South America, and Eastern South America, with some overlap in features between Andes and Western South America.
Based on that study and similar findings, Patience Epps and Lev Michael claim that “an emerging consensus points to Amazonia not forming a linguistic area sensu strictu [sic?].”
Epps (2015) shows that Wanderwort are spread across the languages of Amazonia. Morphosyntax is also heavily borrowed across neighboring unrelated Amazonian languages.
Main article: Mamoré–Guaporé linguistic area
Crevels and van der Voort (2008) propose a Mamoré–Guaporé linguistic area in eastern lowland Bolivia (in Beni Department and Santa Cruz Department) and Rondonia, Brazil. In Bolivia, many of the languages were historically spoken at the Jesuit Missions of Moxos and also the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos. Language families and branches in the linguistic area include Arawakan, Chapacuran, Jabuti, Rikbaktsá, Nambikwaran, Pano-Tacanan, and Tupian (Guarayo, Kawahib, Arikem, Tupari, Monde, and Ramarama) languages. Language isolates in the linguistic area are Cayuvava, Itonama, Movima, Chimane/Mosetén, Canichana, Yuracaré, Leco, Mure, Aikanã, Kanoê, and Kwazá, Irantxe, and Chiquitano. Areal features include:
Muysken et al. (2014) also performed a detailed statistical analysis of the Mamoré–Guaporé linguistic area.
Main article: Chaco linguistic area
See also: Macro-Chaco languages
Campbell and Grondona (2012) consider the Mataco–Guaicuru, Mascoyan, Lule-Vilelan, Zamucoan, and some southern Tupi-Guarani languages to be part of a Chaco linguistic area. Common Chaco areal features include SVO word order and active-stative verb alignment. Features include:
The languages of the South Cone area, including Mapudungu (Araucanian), Guaycuruan, and Chon, share the following traits (Klein 1992):