Quileute language

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Native to Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Ethnicity 500 (2007)[1]
Extinct 1999[1]
  • Quileute
Language codes
ISO 639-3 qui
Glottolog quil1240[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Quileute /ˈkwɪlɨjt/,[3] also known as Quillayute /kwɨˈljt/, was the last Chimakuan language, spoken until the end of the 20th century by Quileute and Makah elders on the western coast of the Olympic peninsula south of Cape Flattery at La Push and the lower Hoh River in Washington State, USA. The name Quileute comes from kʷoʔlí·yot’ [kʷoʔléːjotʼ], the name of a village at La Push.

Quileute is famous for its lack of nasal sounds, such as [m], [n], or nasal vowels, an areal feature of Puget Sound.[4] Quileute is polysynthetic and words can be quite long.

Use and revitalization efforts[edit]

There were ten elderly speakers in 1977, and "a few" in 1999.[5] The Quileute Nation is attempting to prevent the loss of the language by teaching it in the Quileute Tribal School, using books written for the students by the tribal elders.

"[In 2007], the Tribal Council set up a two-year Quileute Revitalization Project with the goal of encouraging the use of Quileute words and phrases in everyday village life. A basic vocabulary of greetings, questions, numbers, names of things, and "one-liners" in Quileute were made available to tribal members and staff through informal classes, email and computer CDs."[6]


Quileute has three vowels, /e/, /a/, /o/ long and short (pronounced [i], [ə], [o] when short and in non-tonic syllables), as well as /æː/ which only occurs long. Stress is historically penultimate, though this has become somewhat obscured and is no longer predictable. There are no nasal consonants. It has the following consonants (t͡ɬ and ɡ are rare):

  Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
  central lateral   plain labialized plain labialized  
Plosive voiceless p t     k q ʔ
voiced b d     (ɡ)        
ejective     kʼʷ qʼʷ  
Affricate voiceless   t͡s (t͡ɬ) t͡ʃ          
ejective   t͡sʼ t͡ɬʼ t͡ʃʼ          
Fricative     s ɬ ʃ x χ χʷ h
Approximant       l j   w      


Quileute features an interesting prefix system that changes depending on the physical characteristics of the person being spoken to. When speaking to a cross-eyed person, [ƛ-] is prefixed to each word. When speaking to a hunchback, the prefix /c̀-/ is used. Additional prefixes are also used for short men (/s-/), "funny people" (/čk/), and people that have difficulty walking (/čχ̣/).[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Quileute at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Quileute". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^ Mithun, Marianne (2001). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-521-29875-9. 
  5. ^ Mithun, The Languages of Native North America
  6. ^ "Quileute Nation - Language". Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  7. ^ Mithun (1999). "Special Language. p. 275 of Mithun, Marianne (1999). The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge University Press.

External links[edit]