Hokan languages

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North America
Linguistic classificationProposed language family
ISO 639-5hok
Proposed Hokan langs.png
Hokan families of California

The Hokan /ˈhkæn/ language family is a hypothetical grouping of a dozen small language families that were spoken mainly in California, Arizona and Baja California. In the first half-century after the "Hokan hypothesis" was first proposed by Roland B. Dixon and Alfred L. Kroeber,[1][2] and further elaborated by Edward Sapir, little additional evidence was found that these families were related to each other. But since about 1950, increased efforts to document Hokan languages and to establish sound correspondences in proposed lexical resemblance sets have added weight to the Hokan hypothesis, leading to its acceptance by many specialists in the languages of California, Oregon, and Meso-America, although some skepticism remains among scholars.[3]

The name Hokan is loosely based on the word for "two" in the various Hokan languages: *xwak in Proto-Yuman, c-oocj (pronounced [koːkx]) in Seri, ha'k in Achumawi, etc.

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 some or all of the languages listed below.

The Yurumanguí language of Colombia was claimed to be Hokan by Rivet.[4] This claim has not been accepted by historical linguists.


The Hokan languages retained by Kaufman (1988) due to regular sound correspondences and common core vocabulary are as follows. (The data on which these conclusions were drawn have not been published or evaluated by anyone else.) Apart from Shasta–Palaihnihan and Yuman, all branches are single languages or shallow families.[5]

Marlett (2008) reevaluated the evidence and concluded that the evidence for Seri and Salinan has not been systematically or convincingly presented. The inclusion of the Tequistlatecan languages has also not received much support.[citation needed] The Chumash languages were once included, but that position has been almost universally abandoned. Recently, Jolkesky (2017:45-54) presented lexical evidence, such as pronouns, body part terms and kinship terms, which may point to the inclusion of the Lencan and Misumalpan language families in the Hokan stock or, alternatively, that they formed a Sprachbund with some Hokan languages long before a spreading along the Pacific Coast.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dixon, Roland R.; Kroeber, Alfred L. (1913a). "Relationship of the Indian languages of California." Science, 37, 225
  2. ^ Dixon, Roland R.; Kroeber, Alfred L. (1913b) "New linguistic families in California." American Anthropologist, 15, 647–655
  3. ^ Kaufmann, Terrence (2009). "Hokan". In Brown, E. K.; Ogilvie, Sarah (eds.). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world (1st ed.). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier. pp. 504–510. ISBN 9780080877754. OCLC 318247422.
  4. ^ Paul Rivet, 1942
  5. ^ Golla (2011) California Indian Languages


  • Bright, William (1956). "Glottochronologic counts of Hokaltecan materials". Language. 32 (1): 42–48. doi:10.2307/410651. JSTOR 410651.
  • Campbell, Lyle (1997). American Indian languages: the historical linguistics of Native America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Chase-Dunn, Christopher; Kelly M. Mann (1998). The Wintu and Their Neighbors: A Small World-System in Northern California. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  • Golla, Victor. (2011). California Indian Languages. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-5202-6667-4
  • Jolkesky, Marcelo (2017) "On the South American Origins of Some Mesoamerican Civilizations". Leiden: Leiden University. Postdoctoral final report for the “MESANDLIN(G)K” project. Available here.
  • Kaufman, Terrence. 1988. "A Research Program for Reconstructing Proto-Hokan: First Gropings." In Scott DeLancey, ed. Papers from the 1988 Hokan–Penutian Languages Workshop, pp. 50–168. Eugene, Oregon: Department of Linguistics, University of Oregon. (University of Oregon Papers in Linguistics. Publications of the Center for Amerindian Linguistics and Ethnography 1.)
  • Marlett, Stephen A. 2007. Las relaciones entre las lenguas “hokanas” en México: ¿Cuál es la evidencia?. In Cristina Buenrostro & others (eds.), Memorias del III Coloquio Internacional de Lingüística Mauricio Swadesh, 165-192. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México & Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas.
  • Marlett, Stephen A (2008). The Seri and Salinan connection revisited. International Journal of American Linguistics 74.3: 393–99.
  • Rivet, Paul (1942). "Un dialecte Hoka Colombien: le Yurumangí". Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris. 34: 1–59. doi:10.3406/jsa.1942.2334.

External links[edit]