|Extinct||1916, with the death of Ishi|
Pre-contact distribution of the Yana language
The Yana language (also Yanan) was formerly spoken by the Yana people, who lived in north-central California between the Feather and Pit rivers in what is now the Shasta and Tehama counties. The last speaker of the southernmost dialect, which is called Yahi, was Ishi, who died in 1916. When the last fluent speaker(s) of the other dialects died is not recorded. Yana is fairly well documented, mostly by Edward Sapir.
The names Yana and Yahi are derived from ya "people" plus an obligatory suffix, -na in the northern two dialects and -hi or -xi in the southern two dialects.
There are four known dialects:
Northern Yana, Central Yana, and Yahi were well recorded by Edward Sapir through work with Betty Brown, Sam Batwi, and Ishi respectively. Only a small collection of words and phrases of Southern Yana (more properly, Northern Yahi) were recorded by Sapir in his work with Sam Batwi, who spoke the dialect only in his childhood. Because Southern Yana is poorly attested, it is unclear how many additional subdialects there may have been.
Northern and Central Yana are close, differing mainly in phonology (mostly by innovations in Northern Yana), and Southern Yana and Yahi are similarly close. The two pairs differ from each other in phonological, lexical, and grammatical elements, and can only be understood by the other side with difficulty.
Yana is often classified in the Hokan superstock. Sapir suggested a grouping of Yana within a Northern Hokan sub-family with Karuk, Chimariko, Shastan, Palaihnihan, and Pomoan. Contemporary linguists generally consider Yana to be a language isolate.
The use of bipartite verb stem formation in Yana is not a Hokan characteristic, but is used in other non-Hokan languages in the area, suggesting that Yana has stayed geographically stable.
Yana employs 22 consonants and 5 vowels. It is polysynthetic and agglutinative, with a subject-verb-object word order. Verbs contain much meaning through affixation. Like some other California languages, direction is very important - all verbs of motion must contain a different directional affix.
Unlike other languages of the region, Yana has different word forms used by male and female speakers.
The body of linguistic work on Yana is fortunate to include a number of texts and stories. Linguist Jean Perry writes that "Stylistically, the emphasis on direction and location, plus the frequent use of repetition, are traditional and integral to the style and structure of the text and are a necessary part of it … There are also many references to things and people that may seem vague. The level of presumed knowledge in a Yahi story is much higher than in English narration because these people lived in a small, face-to-face society, and stories were told over and over. A native audience would be familiar with the characters and plot, and therefore much of the emphasis is on detail and technique rather than plot." (277)
Yana has five vowels, /i, ɛ, a, ɔ, u/; Sapir's (1910) comparanda with vowels of English, French and German clearly indicate that the mid vowels are lower mid. Each vowel occurs with phonemic vowel length.
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Sapir's names (N. Yana, C. Yana, S. Yana and southernmost Yana or Yahi) reflects [sic] the general ignorance of Yahi at the time of his first work on Yanan in 1907. He later (e.g. 1917, 2n) shifted his S. Yana to denote S. Yahi, presumably because N.Yahi is so slightly documented (but cf. also Waterman as quoted in T. Kroeber, 1967, 207) . The present terminology reflects the conclusion reached in Sapir and Spier (1943) 244 concerning the probable interrelations in Yanan.