Southeastern Pomo
Native toUnited States
RegionNorthern California
Native speakers
7 (2013)[1]
  • Southeastern Pomo
Language codes
ISO 639-3pom
ELPSoutheastern Pomo
The seven Pomoan languages with an indication of their pre-contact distribution within California
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Southeastern Pomo, also known by the dialect names Elem Pomo, Koi Nation Lower Lake Pomo and Sulfur Bank Pomo, is one of seven distinct languages comprising the Pomoan language family of Northern California. In the language's prime, Southeastern Pomo was spoken primarily in an area surrounding East Lake and Lower Lake, in Lake County, along the eastern coast of Clear Lake, in Northern California by the Pomo people.[2][3] Southeastern Pomos inhabited an area on the northern bank of Cache Creek, and the Sulfur Bank Rancheria. Dialectal differences between the two sites of habitation seem to be minimal, and may be limited to a small number of lexical differences.[4]



Southeastern Pomo has six vowels, as depicted in the following table. Vowels that are inserted via epenthesis sometimes depend upon the adjacent consonants. Because of the variability of inserted vowels, they have been hypothesized to be excrescent. Southeastern Pomo is the only language in the Pomoan language family with only a marginal vowel length distinction.

   Front   Central   Back 
 High (close)  i u
 Mid  e (ə) o
 Low (open)  a


The consonants in Southeastern Pomo are as laid out in the following table. Following Moshinsky (1974), at a systematic phonemic and abstract phonemic level, the parenthesized segments could be removed from the inventory.[4] The voiced stop /d/ can in some cases be retroflex, as in the production of the word [x̣óḍoḍ] 'gopher snake'. The ejective stops of /k/ and /q/ are often distinguished by articulatory position.

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stop voiceless p t [t̪] ṭ [t̺] c [t͡ʃ] k q ʔ
ejective tʼ [t̪ʼ] ṭʼ [t̺ʼ] (cʼ) [t͡ʃʼ]
voiced b d [d̺]
Fricative voiceless f s š [ʃ] x x̣ [χ] h
Nasal voiceless m n (ŋ)
Tap voiced (ɾ)
Approximant voiceless w l y [j]


Words are stressed on the first syllable. Although, in some cases a short epenthetic vowel is inserted to break up word-initial consonant clusters. Examples of these cases are:

In cases of loanwords, which are often borrowed from Spanish (similar to the examples above), the stress is changed from later stresses that are found in the Spanish language to an initial stress. Some examples of words that are borrowed from Spanish are as follows:

Primary stress is applied to the first stem vowel within the categories of noun and verb, this vowel is also often the first phonemic vowel in the word. Although there are two distinct exceptions to this rule: when a directional prefix comes before the vowel and in reduplication, when the vowel is the second occurrence in the stem.

Stress placement

Examples of this, as noted by Moshinsky (1974) are:

/ca+qla+m+t/ 'it flew down to the ground'

→ cáqlamat

/cicala/ 'pea'

→ cícala

/qlacac/ 'woodpecker'

→ qəlácac

Phonological processes

Sonorant syllabicization

In this phonological rule, /m/ and /l/ become syllabic when they precede a consonant which has the same point or articulation. Examples of this are as follows:

/lde/ 'mountain lion' /lṭa/ 'shoulder blade' /mpu+k+t/ 'he whistles' /mbo+l+k+t/ 'it exploded'
→ ldé

→ ḷdé

→ lṭá

→ ḷṭá

→ mpú+k+t

→ ṃpú+k+t

→ ṃpú+ki+t

→ ṃpúkit

→ mbó+l+k+t

→ ṃbó+l+k+t

→ ṃbó+l+ki+t

→ ṃbólkit


This rule is as follows: d → ø / _ C

D-deletion occurs when it appears before a consonant, and Moshinsky (1974) has hypothesized that this may occur in order to eliminate two-consonant clusters when the first consonant is an alveolar stop or resonant. Some examples of d-deletion in Southeastern Pomo are:

/lod+t/ 'my hair is falling out' /bṭed+lay/ 'women'
→ lód+t

→ ló+t

→ lót

→ bṭéd+lay

→ bəṭéd+lay

→ biṭéd+lay

→ biṭé+lay

→ biṭélay

Pretonic vowel epenthesis

This rule inserts a schwa between stem-initial consonants, preceding the stress vowel. This phonological process most often appears in the most difficult to articulate constant clusters, such as two stops.

/blay/ 'blood' /qbandu x̣le/ 'white oak tree'
→ bláy

→ bəláy

→ buláy

→qbándu x̣lé

→qəbándu x̣lé ~ qəbándu x̣ə

→qəbàndu x̣ə

Vowel lowering

This rule lowers /i/ and /u/ to /e/ and /o/, respectively. This lowering occurs morpheme-finally: /i/ lowering before /s/, /u/ before /cʹ/ and both /i/ and /u/ lowering before /l/.

/ca+mlu+l+t/ 'he ran around' /cʹi+mkʹu+cʹ+t/ 'those three are fighting each other'
→ cá+mlu+l+t

→ cá+mlu+li+t



→ cʹí+mkʹu+cʹ+t

→ cʹí+mkʹu+cʹi+t

→ cʹí+mkʹo+cʹi+t


Stop metathesis

This rule metathesizes the last two segments of the suffix -mkʹu- when it is directly preceded by a consonant.

/pʹutʹ+mkʹu+t/ 'they kissed each other' /mxex+mkʹu+tta+t/ 'the two of them swapped something'
→ pʹútʹ+mkʹu+t

→ pʹútʹ+mukʹ+t

→ pʹútʹ+mukʹi+t


→ mxéx+mkʹu+tta+t

→ mxéx+mukʹ+tta+t

→ mxéx+mukʹ+ta+t




Noun morphology is significantly more limited than among verbs. However, there are still some cases of morphological rules.


There are some nouns that show reduplication. As noted by Moshinsky (1974), these nouns include derived verbs, and the semantic domains of small animals, plants and birds. Below are a few examples of nouns with reduplication in the Southeastern Pomo language:


Person: Number: Gender (in third person): Position with relation to speaker: Displacement: Case:
wi- first

ma- second



-ay plural

-yi, -wi masculine

-med feminine

mi-, me- near—this





-il object

-itib benefactive

-it+baq alienable possession

-it inalienable possession


Verbs take a great variety of suffixes divided into many position classes. There are also instrumental prefixes that figure crucially in the use of many verb stems.

Position classes

Moshinsky (1974) identifies the following position classes; it can be seen that there is far more complexity in the set of suffixes than in the prefixes.

Reduplicative Morphemes
  • HAB habitual
  • INST intensive
  • DISTR distributed
  • ITCOM iter. to comp.
  • PLS plural source
  • PLF plural figure
  • ITER iterative
Suffix Position 1
  • -b- intensive change
  • -š- forceful contact
  • -pʹ- with force
  • -t- iterative
  • -y- plural figure
Suffix Position 2 Directionals
  • -mlu- circulative
  • -qla- downward
  • -qlo-~-ql- upward
Suffix Position 3
  • -mg- down towards a surface
  • -qc- causative
  • -qp- non-singular
  • -qx- to away from
Suffix Position 4
  • -mi- iterative
  • -n- figure separation
Suffix Position 5
  • -mkʹu- reciprocal
  • -w- plural action
Suffix Position 6
  • -ki- inceptive
  • -kp- plural figure, source
  • -ks- semelfactive
Suffix Position 7
  • -mp- plural source
  • -ćx- to away
Suffix Position 8
  • -cʹr- reflexive
  • -kp- plural figure, source
Suffix Position 9
  • -l- durative
Suffix Position 10
  • -cʹp- plural action
  • -qc- causative
  • -qp- non-singular
  • -ki- inceptive
Suffix Position 11
  • -x̣ot- negative
Suffix Position 12
  • -tta- dual
Suffix Position 13


  • -d- potential
  • -dey- about to
  • -mlaʔm- almost
Suffix Position 14
  • -a imperative
  • -da future conditional
  • -dowa hortative
  • -hine imperfect optative
  • -kʹli inabilitive
  • -wa impersonal agent
  • -kle habitual
  • -s negative imperfect
  • -t positive imperfect
  • -ya perfective
  • -baq past passive part.
  • -m instr. or place nom.
  • -n absolutive
Conjoining Elements
  • -btonwa after
  • -day simultaneous
  • -fed conditional
  • -fla sequential
  • -qat when
  • -yukinʹ before-switch reference
  • -miṭ identical subj.
  • -ʔe interrogative
  • -ʔha yes no interrogative
  • -we locative interrogative
  • -do quotative
  • -qʹo introspective
  • -ya visual
  • -y perfective optative


There are six verb affixes that are realized phonologically by reduplication, and they are as follows:

  1. Habitual (HAB)
  2. Intensive (INTS)
  3. Iterative (ITER)
  4. Iterative to Completion (ITCOM)
  5. Plural source of motion (PLS)
  6. Plural figure (PLF)

Many, but not all, verb stems that occur with reduplication can also occur without it. There are four reduplication rules for verbs (two of which are minor), that accompany the reduplicative morphemes in the above table.

Reduplication 1. Stem reduplication, (Directional Prefix) + (Instrumental Prefix) + Root → (DP)+(IP)+Root+(IP)+Root

Reduplication 2. Directional prefix + -o-

Reduplication 3. Stem-final Consonant Loss (minor rule)

Reduplication 4. Root+Suffix (minor rule), Root+Suffix → Root+Suffix+Root+Suffix

Instrumental prefixes

Instrumental prefixes in Southeastern Pomo are significantly more limited than other Pomo languages. Moshinsky (1974) found that this is the result of a pre-Southeastern Pomo phonological rule which deleted an unstressed vowel that preceded the stressed root vowel, reducing in shape from CV- to C-.[4] Because many of the prefixes are now rather similar, there is reduced analyzability of their meanings. The instrumental prefixes are as follows:

As noted by Sally McLendon (1973), most of the prefixes are cognate with prefixes in Pomoan languages.[5] Among those that are not direct cognates with the prefixes in these other languages, they are highly related. An example of this with two languages in the Pomoan family is c- 'with the front end, by flowing water';, which is cognate with Kashaya /cû/ and may be related to Eastern Pomo /ku-/.


Word order

While Moshinsky (1974) notes that Southeastern Pomo has a somewhat free word order, and that sentences are often generated in the neutral order, Southeastern Pomo is a largely SOV language.[6]

Some examples of this are as follows:

Object-Verb sentences are also exemplified in the Moshinsky grammar:[4]

Case marking

Southeastern Pomo is classified as a nominative-accusative in nature. Some examples of this syntactic feature, as noted by Bernard Comrie[7] are:[8]

Switch reference

Southeastern Pomo also has various switch references that come through in a number of sentences. The categories for each sentence type are outlined below with some examples of how they are used in Southeastern Pomo.

-fla 'sequential action', affixed to the verb of the first sentence

-yukin 'sequential actions, different subjects', this suffix conjoins sentences with sequentially occurring events but that have different subjects

-day 'simultaneous actions', this suffix conjoins sentences in which the actions are occurring simultaneously, and can include either the same or different subjects

-fed 'conditional', conjoins two sentences, when the second of which is conditional upon the first

-qat 'contingent actions', this suffix conjoins two sentences in which the actions occur either simultaneously or sequentially, and can be used when the subject is the same or differs between the sentences

-miṭ 'contingent actions, same subject', conjoins two sentences with the same subject in which the actions are connected or simultaneous


  1. ^ As of 2009, there is only one remaining fluent native speaker, Loretta Kelsey."Last living speaker works to keep NorCal tribe's language alive". Retrieved February 12, 2009.
  2. ^ Kevin Fagan (September 29, 2007). "Only living Elem Pomo speaker teaches so she won't be the last". SFGate. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  3. ^ Lonny Shavelson (March 30, 2006). "California's Elém Pomo Tribe Tries to Save Its Language". VOA News. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Moshinsky, Julius (1974). A Grammar of Southeastern Pomo. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  5. ^ McLendon, Sally. (1973). Proto Pomo. Univ. of Calif. Press. ISBN 0-520-09444-1. OCLC 185287286.
  6. ^ "The languages of native America: historical and comparative assessment". Lingua. 59 (2–3): 275–291. February 1983. doi:10.1016/0024-3841(83)90066-9. ISSN 0024-3841.
  7. ^ "Department of Linguistics – Director". Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Leipzig Germany. Archived from the original on January 22, 2008. Retrieved July 5, 2023.
  8. ^ "WALS Online - Datapoint Pomo (Southeastern) / Alignment of Case Marking of Full Noun Phrases". Retrieved March 4, 2020.