Luiseño language

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Native toUnited States
RegionSouthern California
Ethnicity2,500 Luiseño and Juaneño (2007)[1]
Extinct1994, with the death of Villiana Calac Hyde[2]
  • Northern Uto-Aztecan
    • Takic
      • Cupan
        • Luiseño
  • Luiseño
  • Juaneño
Language codes
ISO 639-2lui
ISO 639-3lui
Luiseño language.png
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The Luiseño language is a Uto-Aztecan language of California spoken by the Luiseño, a Native American people who at the time of the first contacts with the Spanish in the 16th century inhabited the coastal area of southern California, ranging 50 miles (80 km) from the southern part of Los Angeles County, California, to the northern part of San Diego County, California, and inland 30 miles (48 km). The people are called "Luiseño" owing to their proximity to the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia.

The language is highly endangered, but an active language revitalization project is underway,[4] assisted by linguists from the University of California, Riverside.[5] The Pechanga Indian Reservation offers classes for children, and in 2013, "the tribe ... began funding a graduate-level Cal State San Bernardino Luiseño class, one of the few for-credit university indigenous-language courses in the country."[6]

As of 2012, a Luiseño video game for the Nintendo DS is being used to teach the language to young people.[7][8]

The dialect spoken by the Juaneño people is extinct.


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



Luiseño has five vowel phonemes.

Front Central Back
Close i   u
Mid e   o
Open   a  


For some native speakers recorded in The Sparkman Grammar of Luiseño, the allophones [ə] and [ɨ] are free variants of [e] and [i] respectively. However, other speakers do not use these variants. Sparkman records fewer than 25 Luiseño words with either [ə] or [ɨ]. For one of these words (ixíla "a cough") the pronunciations [əxɨla] and [ɨxɨla] are both recorded.

Unstressed [u] freely varies with [o]. Likewise, unstressed [i] and [e] are free variants.

Vowel syncope[edit]

Vowels are often syncopated when attaching certain affixes, notably the possessive prefixes no- "my", cham- "our", etc. Hence polóv "good", but o-plovi "your goodness"; kichum "houses" (nominative case), but kichmi "houses" (accusative case).

Vowel length[edit]

Luiseño distinguishes vowel length quantitatively. Luiseño vowels have three lengths.

  • Short: The basic vowel length. In writing, this is the standard value of a given vowel, e.g. ⟨a⟩.
  • Long: The vowel is held twice as long but with no change in quality. In writing, a long vowel is often indicated by doubling it, e.g. ⟨aa⟩.
  • Overlong: The vowel is held three times as long but with no change in quality. In writing, an overlong vowel is indicated by tripling it, e.g. ⟨aaa⟩.

Overlong vowels are rare in Luiseño, typically reserved for absolutes, such as interjections, e.g. aaashisha, roughly "haha!" (more accurately an exclamation of praise, joy or laughter).


A stress accent regularly falls on the first syllable of a word. In Luiseño, stress is fixed and is not contrastive.

Many orthographies mark irregular stress with an acute accent on the stressed syllable's vowel, e.g. chilúy "speak Spanish". In these systems, irregularly stressed long vowels either carry a written accent on both vowels or the first vowel only, e.g. koyóówut or koyóowut "whale". Also, stress is not visually represented when it falls on the first syllable, e.g. hiicha "what".

Another convention is to mark stress by underlining accented vowels, e.g. koyoowut "whale".

As a rule, the possessive prefixes are unstressed. The accent remains on the first syllable of the root word, e.g. nokaamay "my son" and never *nokaamay. One rare exception is the word -ha "alone" (< po- "his/her/its" + ha "self"), whose invariable prefix and fixed accent suggests that it is now considered a single lexical item (compare noha "myself", poha "him/herself", etc.).


Luiseño has a fairly rich consonant inventory.

Luiseño consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m [m] n [n] ng [ŋ]
Stop voiceless p [p] t [t] ch [tʃ] k [k] q [q] ʼ [ʔ]
voiced b [b] d [d] g (ɡ)
Fricative voiceless f [f] s [s̪] z [s̺] sh [ʃ] x [χ] h [h]
voiced v [v] th [ð]
Approximant l [l] y [j] w [w]
Trill r [ɾ] g [ʀ]
  • /f/ and /ɡ/ are found only in borrowed words, principally from Spanish and English.
  • Both [ʃ] and [tʃ] are found in word initial position. However, only [tʃ] occurs intervocalically, and only [ʃ] is found preconsonantally and at word final position. Examples of these allophones in complementary distribution abound, such as yaʼásh ('man nom.') and yaʼáchi ('man acc.').


Spelling systems[edit]

Along with an extensive oral tradition, Luiseño has a written tradition that stretches back to the Spanish settlement of San Diego. Pablo Tac (1822–1841), a native Luiseño speaker and Mission Indian, was the first to develop an orthography for his native language while studying in Rome to be a Catholic priest.[9] His orthography leaned heavily on Spanish, which he learned in his youth.

Although Luiseño has no standard orthography, a commonly accepted spelling is implemented in reservation classrooms and college campuses in San Diego where the language is taught. The various orthographies that have been used for writing the language show influences from Spanish, English and Americanist phonetic notation.

Notable Luiseño spelling correspondences
IPA Pablo Tac (1830s) Sparkman (1900) Modern
(Long vowel, e.g. /iː/) ii iꞏ ii
/tʃ/ č ch
/ʃ/ š sh
/q/ q q
/ʔ/ ʼ ʔ ʼ
/x/ j x x
/ð/   δ th / ð
/ŋ/ ŋ ng / ñ
/j/ y y y

Sample texts[edit]

The Lord's Prayer (or the Our Father) in Luiseño, as recorded in The Sparkman Grammar of Luiseño:

Cham-naʼ tuupaña aaukat cham-cha oi ohóʼvanma.
Toshño om chaami.
Lovíʼi om hish mimchapun iváʼ ooxñ tuupaña axáninuk.
Ovi om chaamik cham-naachaxoni choun teméti.
Maaxaxan-up om chaamik hish aláxwichi chaam-loʼxai ivianáninuk chaam-cha maaxaxma pomóomi chaami hish pom-loʼxai aláxwichi.
Tuusho kamííʼi chaami chaam-loʼxai hish hichakati.
Kwavcho om chaami.
Our-father / sky-in / being / we / you / believe / always.
Command / you / us.
Do / you / anything / whatever / here / earth-on / sky-in / as.
Give / you / us-to / our-food / every / day.
Pardon / you / us-to / anything / bad / our-doing / this as /we / pardon / them / us / anything / their-doing / bad.
Not / allow / us / our-doing / anything / wicked.
Care / you / us.

Linguistic documentation[edit]

Linguist John Peabody Harrington made a series of recordings of speakers of Luiseño in the 1930s. Those recordings, made on aluminum disks, were deposited in the United States National Archives.[10] They have since been digitized and made available over the internet by the Smithsonian Institution.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Luiseño language at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Luiseno-Juaneño". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ *Marisa Agha (2012-03-18). "Language preservation helps American Indian students stick with college". The Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on 2012-03-21. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
  5. ^ "Preserving the Luiseno Indian Language: The California Report". The California Report, Retrieved 8 May 2010.
  6. ^ Olson, David (2013-02-15). "TRIBES: Campaign to save Native American languages". Press-Enterprise, Retrieved 2013-02-23.
  7. ^ Deborah Sullivan Brennan (2012-09-01). "Video games teach traditional tongue". North County Times. Escondido, California. Archived from the original on 2012-08-07. Retrieved 2012-10-21.
  8. ^ "Video Games Make Learning Fun". SpokenFirst, Falmouth Institute. Retrieved 2012-10-21.
  9. ^ Clifford, pp. 39-46.
  10. ^ Glenn, James R. (1991), "The Sound Recordings of John P. Harrington: A Report on Their Disposition and State of Preservation", Anthropological Linguistics, Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 33, No. 4, 33 (4): 357–366, ISSN 0003-5483, JSTOR 30028216.
  11. ^ "Collections Search Center, Smithsonian Institution". Retrieved 8 May 2010.


  • Chung, Sandra (1974), "Remarks on Pablo Tac's La lingua degli Indi Luiseños", International Journal of American Linguistics, 40 (4): 292–307, doi:10.1086/465326
  • Clifford, Christian (2017), Meet Pablo Tac: Indian from the Far Shores of California, CreateSpace
  • Hyde, Villiana Calac; Elliot, Eric (1994), Yumáyk Yumáyk: Long Ago, University of California Press
  • Hyde, Villiana (1971), An Introduction to the Luiseño Language, Malki Museum Press
  • Kroeber, A. L.; Grace, George William (1960), The Sparkman Grammar of Luiseño, Berkeley: UC Berkeley Press
  • Tagliavini, Carlo (1926), La lingua degli Indi Luisenos, Bologna: Cooperativa Tipografica Azzoguidi
  • Sparkman, Philip Stedman (1908). The culture of the Luiseño Indians. The University Press. Retrieved 24 August 2012.

External links[edit]