Chimariko language

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Native to USA
Region California
Extinct ca. 1930s
  • Chimariko
Language codes
ISO 639-3 cid
Glottolog chim1301[1]
Pre-contact distribution of Chimariko
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Chimariko is an extinct language isolate formerly spoken in northern Trinity County, California, by the inhabitants of several independent communities. While the total area claimed by these communities was remarkably small, Golla (2011:87–89) believes there is evidence that three local dialects were recognized: Trinity River Chimariko, spoken along the Trinity River from the mouth of South Fork at Salyer as far upstream as Big Bar, with a principal village at Burnt Ranch; South Fork Chimariko, spoken around the junction of South Fork and Hayfork Creek, with a principal village at Hyampom; and New River Chimariko, spoken along New River on the southern slopes of the Trinity Alps, with a principal village at Denny.

Genetic relations[edit]

Proposals linking Chimariko to other languages in various versions of the hypothetical Hokan family have been advanced. Roland Dixon suggested a relationship between Chimariko and the Shastan and Palaihnihan families. Edward Sapir's famous 1929 classification grouped Chimariko with Shastan, Palaihnihan, Pomoan, and the Karuk and Yana languages in a Hokan sub-grouping known as Northern Hokan. A Kahi family consisting of Chimariko, Shastan, Palaihnihan, and Karuk has been suggested (appearing also within Sapir's 1929 Northern Hokan). Most specialists currently find these relationships to be undemonstrated, and consider Chimariko to remain best considered an isolate.[2]

Documentary History[edit]

Roland Dixon began work on the Chimariko language in the early 1900s, when there were few remaining speakers. Dixon worked with two: Mrs. Dyer and a man who was named Friday.[3] Later, extensive documentation on the language was carried out by J.P. Harrington, who worked with Sally Noble, the last speaker of the language.[4] Harrington's assistant John Paul Marr also made recordings of the language with speaker Martha Zigler.[5]



The consonant inventory of Chimariko is:[6]

Bilabial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive plain p t k q
aspirated ṭʰ
glottalized p’ t’ ṭ’ k’ q’ ʔ
Affricate plain c č
aspirated čʰ
glottalized c’ č’
Fricative s š x χ h
Sonorant nasal m n
non-nasal l, r y w


The vowel inventory of Chimariko is: i, e, a, o, u.[7]

Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e o
Low a


Chimariko shares syllabic similarities with other languages in Northern California. The most common syllable structures for Chimariko are CV and CVC, with the largest possible structures being CCVC or CVCC.[8]


Noun incorporation is present in Chimariko.[9] The verbs have prefixes, suffixes and a circumfix.[10]

Verb templates:[11]

Person Root Negative kuna Directional Tense/Aspect Mood
Person Negative x- Root Negative -na Directional Tense/Aspect Mood
Root Person Tense/Aspect Mood

Grammatical characteristics[edit]

Because the documentary corpus of Chimariko was limited, the description of the grammar of the language was not complete.[3] However, general observations were made.

Among the recorded grammatical characteristics are the following: Chimariko had reduplication in many nominal forms, particularly in the names of fauna (e.g., tsokoko-tci "bluejay", himimitcei "grouse"). Like many American languages (such as Shasta, Maidu, Wintun, as well as Shoshoni, Siouan, and Pomo), Chimariko verbs had a series of instrumental and body-part prefixes, indicating the particular body part or object with which an action was carried out.[3] Instrumentals are attached at the beginning of the verb root and often occur with a suffix which indicates the motion in the verb, such as -ha "up", -hot "down", and -usam "through".[7]

List of instrumentals from Dixon:[7]

a- with a long object
e- with the end of a long object
me- with the head
mitci- with the foot
tcu- with a round object
tu- with the hand
wa- by sitting on

Chimariko does not use numeral classifiers.[12] Also lacking is a clear pattern to indicate control.[13]

Pronominal affixes by verb stem class:

Person i-stem a-stem e-stem o-stem u-stem
1SG Agent ˀi ye ye yo yu
1SG Patient čʰu čʰa čʰo čʰo čʰu
1PL Agent ya ya ya ya ya
1PL Patient čʰa čʰa čʰa čʰa čʰa
2SG me, mi me, ma me, me me, mo me, mu
2PL Agent qʰo, qʰu qʰo, qʰa qʰo, qʰo qʰo, qʰo qʰo, qʰu
2PL Patient qʰa qʰa qʰa qʰa qʰa
3 hi ha he ho hu



According to Carmen Jany, "no other language has the exact same system as Chimariko".[15] Chimariko uses both a decimal and quinary numeral systems.[16] Numerals appear in noun phrases, do not take affixes (except for the determinative suffix -lle), can either follow or precede the noun, and can appear without a noun.[17]

Space, Time, Modality[edit]

There are two demonstrative pronouns in Chimariko indicating "here" and "there". Qè- indicates here, or near the speaker, and pa- indicates there, or a distance from the speaker.[7] To indicate "this" and "that", the intensive suffix -ut is added:

This: qèwot, qât
That: pamut, paut, pât[7]

There are many directional suffixes:

-ktam/-tam 'down'
-ema/-enak 'into'
-ha 'up'
-hot 'down'
-lo 'apart'
-ro 'up'
-sku 'towards'
-smu 'across'
-tap 'out'
-tku/-ku Cislocative ('towards here')
-tmu/-mu Transmotional ('towards there')
-kh 'motion towards here'
-m 'motion towards there'
-tpi 'out of'
-xun/-xunok 'in, into'
-qʰa 'along'
-pa 'off, away'
-qʰutu 'into water'
-čʼana 'to, toward'
-čama 'in, into'


The modal system in Chimariko is abundant.[19] Modal suffixes attach at the very end of a verb after all other suffixes are applied and generally don't occur with aspectual suffixes.[20] The modal suffixes function as interrogatives, negatives, dubitatives, speculatives, conditionals, emphatics, potentials, potential futures, purposive futures, optatives, desideratives, imperatives, admonitives, intensives, inferentials, resultatives, and evidentials.[21]

Sentence Structure[edit]

The research available indicates a variation in opinion about Chimariko's word order. Dixon claimed that usual word order is SVO or SOV, but in some cases the object precedes the subject, especially when the subject is pronominal.[7] Jany claims that word order is not rigid but is mainly verb-final.[22] The clauses are separated by brackets and the verbs are bolded in the following example:

    ʔawaidače xowonat, šičel hiwontat
    [ʔawa-ida-če   x-owo-na-t]        [šičel h-iwonta-t]
    home-POSS-LOC  NEG-stay-NEG-ASP    horse 3-ride-ASP
    'She does not stay at home, she goes around on horseback.'[23]

Inside noun phrases, there is variation in order of modifiers and the noun; sometimes the noun comes before other elements of the phrase, sometimes after.[24] When dealing with possession, the subject always precedes the object.[25]


Chimariko has an agent/patient case system.[26] Person hierarchy in the argument structure is present as well.[27] For first persons, agent and patient are differentiated.[28]


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Chimariko". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Jany (2009)
  3. ^ a b c Sapir, Edward (1911) [1990]. William Bright, ed. "Review of Roland B. Dixon: The Chimariko Indians and Language". The Collected Works of Edward Sapir V: American Indian Languages. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 185–187. ISBN 0-89925-654-6. 
  4. ^ Luthin, Herbert (2002). Surviving through the Days. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-22270-0. 
  5. ^ "Chimariko Sound recording n.d". Retrieved 9 May 2010. 
  6. ^ Carmen Jany, 2007, p. 112
  7. ^ a b c d e f Dixon, Roland Burrage (1910). "The Chimariko Indians and Language". University of California publications in American archaeology and ethnology 5 (5): 293–380. 
  8. ^ Jany,(2007)"Chimariko..."
  9. ^ Mithun 44
  10. ^ Jany,(2007)"Chimariko..."p.185
  11. ^ p.185
  12. ^ Conathan p.11
  13. ^ Jany(2007)"Chimariko..."
  14. ^ Jany,(2007)"Chimariko..."p.69
  15. ^ Jany,(2007)"Chimariko..."p.114
  16. ^ p114
  17. ^ p.112-113
  18. ^ Jany,(2007)"Chimariko..."pp.247-248
  19. ^ Jany,(2007)"Chimariko..."p.206
  20. ^ Jany,(2007)"Chimariko..."p.206
  21. ^ Jany,(2007)"Chimariko..."pp.206-209
  22. ^ Jany,(2007)"Chimariko..."pp.258-263
  23. ^ p258
  24. ^ p264
  25. ^ p265
  26. ^ Mithun p.213
  27. ^ Jany (2007)p.266
  28. ^ p.12


  • Campbell, Lyle (1997) American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Goddard, Ives (ed.) (1996) Languages. Handbook of North American Indians (W. C. Sturtevant, General Ed.) (Vol. 17). Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-048774-9.
  • Golla, Victor (2011) California Indian Languages. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26667-4.
  • Jany, Carmen (2007) "Is there any evidence for complementation in Chimariko?", International Journal of American Linguistics, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp. 94–113, Jan 2007
  • —— (2007) "Chimariko in Areal and Typological Perspective." Order No. 3274416 University of California, Santa Barbara. Ann Arbor: ProQuest.
  • —— (2009) Chimariko Grammar: Areal and Typological Perspective. UC Press.
  • Mithun, Marianne (1999) The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.

External links[edit]