Northern Pomo
Native toUnited States
RegionNorthern California
  • Western
    • Northern Pomo
Language codes
ISO 639-3pej
ELPNorthern Pomo
The seven Pomoan languages with an indication of their pre-contact distribution within California
Northern Pomo is classified as Critically Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger

Northern Pomo is a critically endangered Pomoan language, formerly spoken by the indigenous Pomo people in what is now called California. The speakers of Northern Pomo were traditionally those who lived in the northern and largest area of the Pomoan territory. Other communities near to the Pomo were the Coast Yuki, the Huchnom, and the Athabascan.[2][3] Ukiah High School first began offering Northern Pomo in the Fall 2020.[4]


Northern Pomo falls under the Western branch of the Pomoan language family, and it is the only language categorized in this branch that is not part of the Southern group.


The earliest noted documentation of Native Americans in this area was by General Drake in 1579, but it cannot be certain that the people he encountered were what is now considered to be the Pomo.[2] A census was delivered of the people in this area by Colonel Redick M'Kee during an expedition in 1851 putting the Pomo at roughly 1000-1200 people.[2] The language was not documented during either encounter.

Later expeditions by John Wesley Powell[5] in 1891 and Samuel Barrett[2] in 1908 would record accounts of the language family and its branches.

Geographic Distribution

Northern Pomo was spoken in the United States of America in the northern coastal area of California. The Pomo inhabited a massive amount of territory north of the San Francisco Bay and surrounding Clear Lake in northern California, USA. According to the 2010 United States Census, there are 10,308 Pomo people in the United States. Of these, 8,578 reside in California. [2][6]

Related Languages

There are seven different Pomoan languages:

While these languages are related, "Pomo" is roughly equivalent to "Germanic" - while there may be similarities, these are all clearly distinct languages that are not mutually intelligible.


Relational Terminology

Northern Pomo normally avoids the use of birth names in conversation, instead using relational terminology such as father, mother, sister, etc. This is especially present in the case of a deceased family member.[7] The avoidance of names is why third person referencing is prevalent in Pomoan speech. If the deceased family member was close to the speaker, they will not speak their name even if a living relative shares that name. Any speaking partner is expected to avoid these names so that the speaker does not hear it. It is seen as a disrespect to their relationship with the deceased.[7] More casual speakers may mention the names of the deceased in conversation that they are not related to.

Possessive Terminology

Northern Pomo switches between regular possession and possessor raising depending upon the term the speaker wants to focus upon. In a regular possession situation, the subject of the sentence remains the focus, whereas with possessor raising the object or person being possessed becomes the focus of the sentence.[8] Depending on which construction is used in Northern Pomo the implications of a given sentence would change. Sentences with possessor raising constructions imply consequences in Northern Pomo, such as the consequences of a possessor affecting a body part or having a certain physical trait.[8]


Bilabial Dental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop Voiced b d
Voiceless Plain p t k ʔ
Aspirated t̪ʰ
Ejective t̪ʼ
Affricate Plain t͡s t͡ʃ
Aspirated t͡sʰ t͡ʃʰ
Ejective t͡sʼ t͡ʃʼ
Nasal m n
Fricative s ʃ h
Approximant w l j

Allophones of /kʰ, t͡sʼ/ include [x, sʼ].

Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a


See also


  1. ^ Northern Pomo at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016) Closed access icon
  2. ^ a b c d e Barrett, Samuel A. (1908). The Ethno-Geography of the pomo and neighboring indians. University of California Publications: American Archaeology and Ethnology. Vol. 6. Berkerley: The University Press. Berkeley, California.
  3. ^ Powers, Stephen, Powell, John Wesley, and Heizer, Robert F. ed.. Letter. N.d. (orig.1875-1882). (pub.1975). Part II: letters of stephen powers to john wesley powell concerning tribes of california. Contributions of the University of California Archaeological Research Facility. Web. 4 Mar. 2017.
  4. ^ "Incoming Freshman UHS Course Planning Guide 2021-22". Retrieved 2022-04-13.
  5. ^ Powell, John Wesley. (1891). Indian Linguistic Families Of America, North Of Mexico. Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 7:1-142. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
  6. ^ Kunkel, P. H. (1974). The Pomo Kin Group and the Political Unit in Aboriginal California. The journal of california anthropology: 7-18. Retrieved from: Kunkel.
  7. ^ a b O'Connor, Mary. (Jul., 1990) Third-Person Reference in Northern Pomo Conversation: The Indexing of Discourse Genre and Social Relations. International journal of american linguistics. Vol. 56, No. 3 , pp. 377-409. University of Chicago Press. Chicago, Illinois.
  8. ^ a b O’Connor, M. (1994). The Marking of Possession in Northern Pomo: Privative Opposition and Pragmatic Inference. Annual meeting of the berkeley linguistics society. (387-401). Berkeley Linguistics Society. Berkeley, California
  9. ^ O'Connor, Mary (1987). Topics in Northern Pomo Grammar. University of California, Berkeley.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)

Further reading