Hokan language family

The Hokan language family is a hypothetical grouping of a dozen small language families spoken in California and Mexico.

In nearly a century since Edward Sapir first proposed the “Hokan” hypothesis, little additional evidence has been found that these families were related to each other.

Although some Hokan families may indeed be related, especially in northern California, few linguists today expect Hokan as a whole to prove to be valid, and the term is often used as a convenient label to simplify one of the most linguistically diverse areas of the world.

The name Hokan is loosely based on the word for “two” in the various Hokan languages.Geographic distribution of the Hokan languages suggests that they became separated around the great central valley of California by the influx of later-arriving Penutian and other peoples; archaeological evidence for this is summarized in Chase-Dunn & Mann (1998).

These languages are spoken by Native American communities around and east of Mount Shasta, others near Lake Tahoe, the Pomo on the California coast, and the Yuman peoples along the lower Colorado River.

Some linguists also include Chumash, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and other families, but the evidence is insubstantial, and most now restrict Hokan to 23 to 28 languages.

A relationship between Salinan and Seri was proposed by Edward Sapir at a time when the information about Seri was very scanty and when hypotheses about genetic relationships were being proposed on the basis of such.

Bright provided a small amount of data which might have been developed as supporting evidence, but never was. The relationship is now considered doubtful and is certainly not at the level of a close-knit linguistic family.

M. Langdon (1974) only reported the proposal in her historical review, and suggested instead (in a short paragraph) that perhaps a relationship between Seri and some other languages (Chumash, and Chontal of Oaxaca) might be possible.

Both Seri and Salinan are currently considered language isolates since evidence relating them to the putative Hokan family has not been systematically or convincingly presented.

The inclusion of the Tequistlatecan languages has also not received much support. The Chumash languages were also once included, but that position has been almost universally abandoned.

Hokan peoples left rock carvings, which we now refer to as petroglyphs, and can be construed as some of the earliest “written language” from the western part of North America.

Although all of the symbols are not clearly translated, it is clear that considerable thought and effort went into the production of these carvings.

Hokan Language Family Trees

     Hokan (23)

          Esselen-Yuman (10)

               Esselen (1)

                    Esselen   (United States)

        Yuman (9)

         Cochimi (1)

               Cochimi  (Mexico)

          Delta-Californian (2)

               Cocopa (Mexico)

               Kumiai   (Mexico)

         Kiliwa (1)

              Kiliwa (Mexico)

         Pai (1)

              Paipai (Mexico)

        River Yuman (3)

             Maricopa (United States)

             Mohave (United States)

             Quechan  (United States)

       Upland Yuman (1)

            Havasupai-Walapai-Yavapai (United States)

       Northern (12)

            Karok-Shasta (4)

                 Shasta-Palaihnihan (3)

                      Palaihnihan (2)

                     Shastan (1)

                 Karok (United States)

          Pomo (7)

               Russian River and Eastern (6)

                    Eastern (1)

                    Russian River (5)

               Southeastern (1)

                     Pomo, Southeastern  (United States)

          Chimariko (United States)

    Washo (1)

          Washo (United States)



Article Index:

Achomawi Indians

The Achomawi Indians were originally classed with the Atsugewi as one stock under the name Palaihnihan, the Achomawan stock of Merriam (1926), and this in turn constitutes the eastern branch of the Shastan stock, which in turn is now placed under the widely spread Hokan family.

Atsugewi Indians

With the Achomawi, the Atsugewi constituted the Palaihnihan or eastern group of the Shastan stock, more recently placed by Dixon and Kroeber (1919) in the Hokan family.

Chimariko Indians

Originally considered a distinct stock, the Chimariko are now classed in the Hokan linguistic family.

Esselen Indians
Halchidhoma Indians
Kamia Indians (Kumeyaay)
Karok Indians
Konomihu Indians
Okwanuchu Indians
Pomo Indians
Salinan Indians
Shasta Indians
Tipai-Ipai Tribe (Kumeyaay)
Yahi Indians
Yana Indians
Yuma Indians