Cahuilla language

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Native to USA
Region Southern California
Ethnicity 800 Cahuilla (2007)[1]
Native speakers
35  (2009)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 chl
Glottolog cahu1264[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Cahuilla /kəˈwə/ is an endangered Uto-Aztecan language, spoken by the Cahuilla tribe, living in the Coachella Valley, San Gorgonio Pass and San Jacinto Mountains region of Southern California.[3] Cahuilla call themselves Iviatam, speakers of 'Ivia' - the 'original' language.[4] A 1990 census revealed 35 speakers in an ethnic population of 800. It is nearly extinct, since most speakers are middle-aged or older.

Three dialects are known to have existed, referred to as Desert, Mountain, and Pass Cahuilla.[5]

Use and revitalization efforts[edit]

Alvino Siva of the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians, a fluent speaker, died on June 26, 2009. He preserved the tribe's traditional bird songs, sung in the Cahuilla language, by teaching them to younger generations of Cahuilla people.[6] Katherine Siva Saubel (b. 1920 - d. 2011) was a native Cahuilla speaker dedicated to preserving the language.[7]

In April 2014, the University of California, Riverside offered free public workshops in the Cahuilla language.[8]


Cahuilla has the following vowel and consonant phonemes (Bright 1965, Saubel and Munro 1980:1-6)

Front Back
High iː   i uː   u
Mid eː   e ()
Low a

Long /oː/ only appears in borrowings.

IPA chart of Cahuilla consonants
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
plain labial.
Nasal m [m] n [n] ny [ɲ] ng [ŋ]
Stop voiceless p [p] t [t] k [k] q [q] qw [qʷ] ' [ʔ]
voiced (d [d])
Affricate ch [t͡ʃ]
Fricative voiceless (f [f]) s [s] sh [ʃ] x [x] h [χ] xw [χʷ]
voiced v [v] (z [z]) (g [ɣ])
Approximant w [w] y [j]
Lateral l [l] ll [ʎ]
Flap r [ɾ]

Consonants in parentheses only occur in loans. Material in brackets[where?] after a consonant shows how it is spelled in the practical orthography of Saubel and Munro (1980).


Verb morphology[edit]

Cahuilla verbs show agreement with both their subject and object. Person agreement is shown by prefixes and number agreement is shown by suffixes. (Saubel and Munro p. 29)

'He is sleeping.'
'They are sleeping.'

Basic sample vocabulary[edit]

  • One: Súplli'
  • Two: Wíh
  • Three: Páh
  • Four: Wíchiw
  • Five: Nemaqwánang
  • Man: Náxanish
  • Woman: Nícill
  • Sun: Támit
  • Moon: Ménill
  • Water: Pál[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cahuilla at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Cahuilla". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ "Cahuilla." Ethnologue Report for the Language Code: chl. (retrieved 13 Dec 2009)
  4. ^ "Cahuilla Indian Language (Iviatim)." Native Languages of the Americas. 2009 (retrieved 13 Dec 2009)
  5. ^ Shipley, William F. (1978). "Native Languages of California". In R.F. Heizer. Handbook of North American Indians. 8, California. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. pp. 80–90. 
  6. ^ Waldner, Erin. "Cahuilla elder, one of last fluent in language, dies." The Press-Enterprise. 9 July 2009 (retrieved 13 Dec 2009)
  7. ^ Elaine Woo (2011-11-06). "Katherine Siva Saubel obituary: Preserver of Cahuilla Indian culture dies at 91". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  8. ^ Victoria, Anthony (2014-04-15). "UCR to offer free workshops on endangered Native American language". University of California, Riverside Highlander. Retrieved 2014-04-21. 
  9. ^ "Vocabulary Words in Native American Languages: Cahuilla." Native Languages of the Americas. 2009 (retrieved 13 Dec 2009)
  • Saubel, Katherine Siva, Pamela Munro, Chem'ivillu' (Let's Speak Cahuilla), Los Angeles, American Indian Studies Center, University of California, 1982.
  • Seiler, Hansjakob, Cahuilla Texts with an Introduction, Bloomington, Language Science Monographs, Indiana University Press, 1970.
  • Seiler, Hansjakob, Cahuilla Grammar, Banning, Malki Museum Press, 1977.
  • Seiler, Hansjakob, Kojiro Hioki, Cahuilla Dictionary, Banning, Malki Museum press, 1979.

External links[edit]