Instructor teaching Yurok with the Yurok Language Program
Native toUnited States
RegionNorthwestern California
Extinct26 March 2013, with the death of Archie Thompson[1]
Revivallanguage revival in progress; 350 with some knowledge, 35 fluent L2 speakers[1] as of 2020[citation needed]
  • Yurok
Language codes
ISO 639-3yur
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Welcome sign with Yurok greeting, "Aiy-yu-kwee'"

Yurok (also Chillula, Mita, Pekwan, Rikwa, Sugon, Weitspek, Weitspekan) is an Algic language.[2] It is the traditional language of the Yurok people of Del Norte County and Humboldt County on the far north coast of California, most of whom now speak English. The last known native speaker died in 2013.[1] As of 2012, Yurok language classes were taught to high school students, and other revitalization efforts were expected to increase the population of speakers.[3]

The standard reference on the Yurok language grammar is by R. H. Robins (1958).[4]


Concerning the etymology of Yurok (a.k.a. Weitspekan), this below is from Campbell (1997):

Yurok is from Karuk yúruk meaning literally 'downriver'. The Yurok traditional name for themselves is Puliklah (Hinton 1994:157), from pulik 'downstream' + -la 'people of', thus equivalent in meaning to the Karuk name by which they came to be known in English (Victor Golla, personal communication).(Campbell 1997:401, notes #131 & 132)


Decline of the language began during the California Gold Rush, due to the influx of new settlers and the diseases they brought with them. Native American boarding schools initiated by the United States government with the intent of incorporating the native populations of America into mainstream American society increased the rate of decline of the language.[5]

Current status

The program to revive Yurok has been lauded as the most successful language revitalization program in California.[6] As of 2014, there are six schools in Northern California that teach Yurok - four high schools and two elementary schools. Rick Jordan, principal of Eureka High School, one of the schools with a Yurok Language Program, remarks on the impact that schools can have on the vitality of a language, "A hundred years ago, it was our organizations that were beating the language out of folks, and now we're trying to re-instill it – a little piece of something that is much larger than us".[7]

The last known native, active speaker of Yurok, Archie Thompson, died March 26, 2013. "He was also the last of about 20 elders who helped revitalize the language over the last few decades, after academics in the 1990s predicted it would be extinct by 2010. He made recordings of the language that were archived by UC Berkeley linguists and the tribe, spent hours helping to teach Yurok in community and school classrooms, and welcomed apprentice speakers to probe his knowledge."[1]

Linguists at UC Berkeley began the Yurok Language Project in 2001. Professor Andrew Garrett and Dr. Juliette Blevins collaborated with tribal elders on a Yurok dictionary that has been hailed as a national model.[6] The Yurok Language Project has gone much more in depth than just a printed lexicon, however. The dictionary is available online and fully searchable. It is also possible to search an audio dictionary – a repository of audio clips of words and short phrases. For a more in depth study, there is a database of compiled texts where words and phrases can be viewed as part of a larger context.[8]

As of February 2013, there are over 300 basic Yurok speakers, 60 with intermediate skills, 37 who are advanced, and 17 who are considered conversationally fluent.[6] As of 2014, nine people are certified to teach Yurok in schools. Since Yurok, like many other Native American languages, uses a master-apprentice system to train up speakers in the language, having even nine certified teachers would not be possible without a piece of legislation passed in 2009 in the state of California that allows indigenous tribes the power to appoint their own language teachers.[7]



Vowels are as follows:[9][10]

Front Central Back
High i iː u uː
Mid e ɚ ɚː ɔ ɔː
Low a aː


Consonants are as follows:[11]

Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
plain labialized
plain p t t͡ʃ k ʔ
ejective t͡ʃʼ kʷʼ
Fricative plain ɬ ʂ ʃ x h
voiced ɣ
Nasal plain m n
glottalized ˀm ˀn
Approximant plain l ɻ j w
glottalized ˀl ˀɻ ˀj ˀw

Notable is the lack of plain /s/.

Yurok has an anticipatory vowel harmony system where underlying non-high vowels /a/, /e/, and /ɔ/ are realized as [ɚ] if they precede an /ɚ/.[12]

The glottalized approximants /ˀl ˀɻ ˀj ˀw/ may be realized as creaky voice on the preceding vowel, a preceding glottal stop, or both. They are often devoiced when they occur at the end of a word.[citation needed]

Yurok has front-, central-, and back-closing diphthongs. The second element of the diphthongs is considered a consonant or semivowel. This is because Yurok diphthongs are falling diphthongs and behave similarly to nasal and approximates following a vowel and preceding a pause or voiceless non-glottalized consonant.[4]

All Yurok syllables begin with a consonant and contain at least one vowel. Here are some examples of the different kinds of syllable structure:[4]

CV ki will, can
CV: hoː to go
CVC kuʂ when? how?
CV:C kiːɬ redwood tree
CVCC mekʷt͜ʃ snail
CVCCC taʔanojʔɬ it is hot (weather)
CV:CC hoːkʷʼt͜ʃʼ he gambles
CV:CCC noːjt͜ʃʼkʷ he eats as a guest
CCV t͜ʃpi only
CCV: ploːlikin wide
CCVC ɬkeɬ earth
CCV:C t͜ʃpaːk late
CCVCC plaʔʂ stick for measuring net meshes
CCV:CC ɬkoːʔm they take
CCVC ɬkjoɻkʷekʼ I look
CCVCCC t͜ʃkʷaʔɻkʼ near
CV:VC ʂoːol yew
CCV:V knuːu hawk

V:V can only be /oːo/ or /uːu/ and is signaled by a change in pitch between the vowels.


Yurok morphological processes include prefixation, infixation, inflection, vowel harmony, ablaut, consonantal alternation,[clarification needed] and reduplication.[4]

Prefixation and infixation occur in nominals and verbals, and occasionally in other classes, although infixation occurs most frequently in verbals.

Vowel harmony occurs for prefixes, infixes, and inflections, depending on the vocalic and consonantal structure of the word stem. Internal vocalic alternation involves three alternating pairs: /e/~/i/, /e/~/iʔi/, /e/~/u/.

Reduplication occurs mostly on verb stems but occasionally for nouns and can connote repetition, plurality, etc. Reduplication occurs on the first syllable, and sometimes a part of the second syllable:

Stem Reduplicated form
kelomen to turn (trans.) kekelomen to turn several things
ketʼul there is a lake ketʼketʼul there is a series of lakes
kneweʔlon to be long kokoneweʔlon to be long (of things)
ɬkɻʔmɻkɬkin to tie a knot. ɬkɻʔmɬkɻʔmɻkɻɬkin to tie up in knots
ʂjaːɬk to kick ʂjaʔʂjaːɬk to kick repeatedly
tekʷʂ to cut tekʷtekʷʂ to cut up
tikʷohʂ to break (trans.) tikʷtikʷohʂ to break in pieces
mɻkʷɻɬ peak mɻkʷɻmɻkʷɻɬ series of peaks
ʂlekʷoh shirt ʂlekʷʂlekʷ clothes


Numerals and adjectives can be classified according to the noun grammatically associated with them.[13]

Numerals Common root frame: /n - hks-/
Human beings /nahkseyl/
Animals and birds /nrhksrʔrʔy/
Round things /nrhksrʔrʔy/
Tools /nahksoh/
Plants other than trees /nahksek'woʔn/
Trees and sticks /nahkseʔr/
Body parts and clothes /nahkseʔn/
Long things /nahksek'/
Flat things /nahksok's/
Houses /nahkseʔli/
Boats /nahksey/
Days /nahksemoyt/
Arm's lengths (depth measurements) /nahksemrys/
Finger joint lengths (length measurement of dentalium shells) /nahksepir/
Times /nahksemi/
Adjectives (to be) red (to be) big
Human beings /prkaryrʔry(-)/ /peloy-/
Animals and birds /prkryrʔry(-)/ /plrʔry-/
Round things /prkryrh/ /ploh/, /plohkeloy-/
Tools /pekoyoh/ /peloy-/
Plants other than trees /pekoyoh/ /ploh/, /plohkeloy-/
Trees and sticks /pekoyeʔr/ /peloy-/, /plep-/
Body parts and clothes /pekoyoh/ /plep-/, /plohkeloy-/
Long things /pekoyoh/ /plep-/
Flat things /pekoyoks-/ /ploks-/
Houses /pekoyoh/ /pleʔloy-/
Boats /pekoyoh/ /pleyteloy-/
Water /pekoyop-/ ---

Tense and aspect

As in many indigenous languages of the Americas, Yurok verbs do not code tense through inflection. The time when an action takes place is inferred through both linguistic and nonlinguistic context.

On the other hand, aspect is prevalent in Yurok verbs, being indicated by preverbal particles. These occur either directly or indirectly before a verb. These can combine with verbs and other particles to indicate time and many other aspects.

Some preverbal particles include: ho (completed action in the past); kic (past but with ongoing effects); wo (past after a negative, or in "unreal conditions"); ?ap (past with the implication of starting some action).[14]

Basic syntax

The most common form of sentence structure consists of a Nominal + Verbal. Indeed, most other, seemingly more complex sentence structures can be viewed as expanding on this fundamental type.[15]




be dancing



nek helomey -ek

I {be dancing} -1sg

I am dancing





pu:k roʔop'

deer run

The deer is running

Sentences can also be equational, consisting of two nominals or nominal groups:







wok ne- let

3SG.PRO SG.POSS- sister

That is my sister







woʔot ku tmi:gomin

3SG.PRO ART hunter

He is the hunter

Sentences can also be composed of one or more verbals without nominals as explicit arguments.


to shoot



tmo:l -ok'

{to shoot} -1SG.INFL

I am shooting


build a fire



hoʔop' -es

{build a fire} -2SG.IMP.INFL

Build a fire!

The same is true for nominals and nominal groups, which can stand alone as complete sentences, following a similar pattern to the equational sentences already mentioned.





kwesi twegoh

ADV raccoon

And it was the raccoon

Complex sentences are formed along similar principles to these, but with expanded verbals or nominals, or verbals and/or nominals connected by coordinators.

Word order is sometimes used to distinguish between the categories of subject and object.






to chase



ku pegək noʔp'eʔn mewiɬ

the man {to chase} elk

The man chased the elk.

However, if the morphological inflections are sufficiently unambiguous, it is not necessary to maintain a strict word order.




to see







nekac new -ohpeʔn ku wencokws

1SG.OBJ {to see} -3SG.INFL ART woman

The woman saw me.

In the sentences composed of a subject and a verb, the two are often interchangeable.


to dance







helom -eʔy ku pegək

{to dance} -3SG.INFL ART man

The man dances.






to dance



ku pegək helom -eʔy

ART man {to dance} -3SG.INFL

The man dances.


As of 2020, Yurok is written in the New Yurok Alphabet, using Latin characters. Previously, Yurok was written in the Yurok Unifon; some books cited in the Yurok Language Project contain Yurok written in the unifon, though due to practicality in writing, typing, and reading, the Latin characters are now preferred. Currently, there is a spelling reform occurring to streamline the spelling of words; thus, some letters may differ between spellings. Currently, this is the alphabet as taught at various schools.

New Yurok Alphabet

Some books have been written partially in Yurok. One such example is the graphic novel Soldiers Unknown,[16] written by Chag Lowry.[17] The Yurok text in Soldiers Unknown was translated by Yurok language teacher James Gensaw, and the graphic novel was illustrated by Rahsan Ekedal.


  1. ^ a b c d Romney, Lee (April 7, 2013). "Archie Thompson dies at 93: Yurok elder kept tribal tongue alive". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  2. ^ Campbell (1997:152)
  3. ^ Atherton (2010)
  4. ^ a b c d Robins, Robert H. 1958. The Yurok Language: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon. University of California Publications in Linguistics 15.
  5. ^ "The Yurok Tribe Home Page". Archived from the original on April 30, 2015. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Romney, Lee. (2013, February 6). Revival of nearly extinct Yurok language is a success story. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 7, 2013
  7. ^ a b Onishi, Norimitsu (April 12, 2014). "In California, Saving a Language That Predates Spanish and English". New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  8. ^ "Yurok Language Project: Advanced Search".
  9. ^ "Yurok Sounds". Yurok Language Project. UC Berkeley. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  10. ^ "Yurok vowels". Yurok Language Project. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  11. ^ "Yurok consonants". Yurok Language Project. UC Berkeley. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  12. ^ "Yurok". Survey of California and Other Indian Languages. UC Berkeley. Retrieved January 7, 2017.
  13. ^ "Yurok" by R. H. Robins, Lingua. vol. 17
  14. ^ The Yurok Language by R. H. Robins
  15. ^ Robins, Robert H. 1958. The Yurok Language: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon. University of California Publications in Linguistics 15.
  16. ^ "SOLDIERS UNKNOWN: A World War One graphic novel by Chag Lowry & Rahsan Ekedal". A Tribe Called Geek. August 23, 2019. Retrieved January 5, 2021.[dead link]
  17. ^ "Chag Lowry". Blue Lake Rancheria. Retrieved January 5, 2021.