Kawaiisu language

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Nɨwɨ'abigidɨ, Nɨwɨ'abigipɨ
Pronunciation[nɨwɨʔabiɣidɨ], [nɨwɨʔabiɣipɨ]
Native toUnited States
Ethnicity150 Kawaiisu (2005)[1]
Native speakers
5 (2005)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3xaw
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The Kawaiisu language[3] is a Uto-Aztecan language spoken by the Kawaiisu people of California.


Kawaiisu is a member of the Southern Numic division of the Uto-Aztecan language family.

Linguistic environment[edit]

The Kawaiisu homeland was bordered by speakers of non-Numic Uto-Aztecan languages: the Kitanemuk to the south spoke Takic, the Tubatulabal to the north spoke Tubatulabal, the Yokuts to the west were non-Uto-Aztecan. Because they shared the Southern Numic language, the Chemehuevi to the east are considered the closest relatives to Kawaiisu.

Geographic distribution[edit]

The remaining Kawaiisu speakers live in the Tehachapi area of California.


In 1994, the language was severely endangered, with perhaps fewer than 20 remaining speakers.[4]

In 2011, The Kawaiisu Project received the Governor’s Historic Preservation Award for its efforts to document the Kaiwaiisu language and culture, including "the Handbook of the Kawaiisu, language teaching and the Kawaiisu Language and Cultural Center [and] the Kawaiisu exhibit at the Tehachapi Museum."[5][6] As of 2012, the Kawaiisu Language and Cultural Center offers language classes and DVDs for home learning, as well as training for other groups seeking to create language learning programs and materials.[7]


Kawaiisu is an agglutinative language, in which words use suffix complexes for a variety of purposes with several morphemes strung together.



Kawaiisu has a typical Numic vowel inventory of six vowels.

front back
High i ɨ u
Non-High e a o


Kawaiisu has an atypical Numic consonant inventory in that many of the predictable consonant alternations in other Numic languages are no longer predictable in Kawaiisu. The Kawaiisu consonant inventory, therefore is much larger than the typical Numic language.

Bilabial Coronal Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lab.
Nasal m n (ŋ)*
Stop voiceless p t k ʔ
voiced b d
Affricate ts
Fricative voiceless s ʃ h /
voiced β z ʒ ɣ ɣʷ
Approximant (l)* j w
Flap ɾ
  • /l/ and /ŋ/ are found only in loanwords.


  1. ^ a b Kawaiisu at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kawaiisu". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Maurice L. Zigmond, Curtis G. Booth, & Pamela Munro. 1991. Kawaiisu, A Grammar and Dictionary with Texts. Ed. Pamela Munro. University of California Publications in Linguistics Volume 119. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.
  4. ^ Leanne Hinton. 1994. Flutes of Fire: Essays on California Indian Languages. Heyday Books.
  5. ^ Jon Hammond (2011-11-29). "Kawaiisu Project receives Governor's Historic Preservation Award". TehachapiNews.com. Archived from the original on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2012-08-26.
  6. ^ Jon Hammond (2010-04-06). "The original Tehachapi language: new grant funds new grant funds two-year Nüwa (Kawaiisu) project". TehachapiNews.com. Archived from the original on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2012-08-26.
  7. ^ Kawaiisu Language and Cultural Center

External links[edit]