Yurok language

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Region Northwestern California, U.S.
Ethnicity Yurok
Native speakers
17 fluent[1]  (2013)[1]
300 basic[1][2]
  • Yurok
Language codes
ISO 639-3 yur
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Yurok language (also Weitspekan) is an endangered Algic language.[3] It is the traditional language of the Yurok tribe of Del Norte County and Humboldt County on the far North Coast of California, U.S., most of whom now speak English. There are about a dozen elders who learned the language as children, but it is no longer used at home.[2] As of 2012, Yurok language classes are taught at the high school level, and other revitalization efforts are expected to increase the population of speakers.[4]

The standard reference on the Yurok language is the grammar by Robins (1958).[5]


Concerning etymology of Yurok (AKA Weitspekan), this below is from Campbell (1997):

Yurok is from Karuk yúruk meaning literally 'downriver'. The Yurok traditional name for themselves is Puliklah (Hinton 1994:157), from pulik 'downstream' + -la 'people of', thus equivalent in meaning to the Karuk name by which they came to be known in English (Victor Golla, personal communication)." (Campbell 1997:401, notes #131 & 132)
The connection of Wiyot and Yurok in northern California (which together were formerly called Ritwan, after Dixon and Kroeber's [1913] grouping of the two as one of their more remote Californian stocks) with Algonquian was first proposed by Sapir (1913) and was quite controversial at that time (see Michelson 1914, 1915; Sapir 1915a, 1915b; see also Chapter 2), but the relationship has subsequently been demonstrated to the satisfaction of all (see Haas 1958; Teeter 1964a; Goddard 1975, 1979, 1990). Before 1850 the Yurok lived on the lower Klamath River. The Wiyot (earlier called Wishosk) lived in the Humboldt Bay area, in the redwood belt; the last fully fluent speaker died in 1962 (Teeter 1964b). Many scholars have commented that although Wiyot and Yurok are neighbors in northern California, they seem not to have a closer relationship with each other than either has with Algonquian...." (Campbell 1997:152).

Current status[edit]

The program to revive Yurok has been lauded as the most successful language revitalization program in California.[6] By early 2013, five high schools in Northern California had initiated Yurok-language programs, the largest being Eureka High School.[6]

The last known native, active speaker of Yurok, Archie Thompson, died March 26, 2013. "He was also the last of about 20 elders who helped revitalize the language over the last few decades, after academics in the 1990s predicted it would be extinct by 2010. He made recordings of the language that were archived by UC Berkeley linguists and the tribe, spent hours helping to teach Yurok in community and school classrooms, and welcomed apprentice speakers to probe his knowledge."[1]

Linguists at UC Berkeley began the Yurok Language Project in 2001. Professor Andrew Garrett and a colleague collaborated with tribal elders on a Yurok dictionary that has been hailed as a national model.[6]

As of February 2013, there are over 300 basic Yurok speakers, 60 with intermediate skills, 37 who are advanced, and 17 who are considered conversationally fluent.[6] As of 2014, nine people are certified to teach Yurok in schools.[7]



|Vowels are as follows:[citation needed]

Front Central Back
High i iː u uː
Mid e ə əː o oː
Low a aː


Consonants are as follows:[citation needed]

Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Postalveolar
or palatal
Velar Glottal
Unrounded Rounded
Stop or
Plain p t k ʔ
Glottalized tʃʼ kʷʼ
Fricative ɬ ʂ ʃ x h
Nasal Plain m n
Glottalized ˀm ˀn
Approximant Plain l ɻ j ɰ w
Glottalized ˀl ˀɻ ˀj ˀɰ ˀw

Notable is the lack of plain /s/.[citation needed]

The glottalized approximants /ˀl ˀɻ ˀj ˀɰ ˀw/ may be realized as creaky voice on the preceding vowel, a preceding glottal stop, or both. They are often devoiced when they occur at the end of a word.[citation needed]

Yurok has front-, central-, and back-closing diphthongs. The second element of the diphthongs is considered a consonant or semivowel. This is because Yurok diphthongs are falling diphthongs and behave similarly to nasal and approximates following a vowel and preceding a pause or voiceless non-glottalized consonant.[5]

All Yurok Syllables begin with a consonant and contain at least one vowel. Here are some examples of the different kinds of syllable structure:[5]

CV ki will, can
CV: hoː to go
CVC kuʂ when? how?
CV:C kiːɬ redwood tree
CVCC mekʷt͜ʃ snail
CVCCC taʔanojʔɬ it is hot (weather)
CV:CC hoːkʷʼt͜ʃʼ he gambles
CV:CCC noːjt͜ʃʼkʷ he eats as a guest
CCV t͜ʃpi only
CCV: ploːlikin wide
CCVC ɬkeɬ earth
CCVC t͜ʃpaːk late
CCVCC plaʔʂ stick for measuring net meshes
CCV:CC ɬkoːʔm they take
CCVC ɬkjoɻkʷekʼ I look
CCVCCC t͜ʃkʷaʔɻkʼ near
CV:VC ʂoːol yew
CCV:V knuːu hawk

V:V can only be /oːo/ or /uːu/ and is signaled by a change in pitch between the vowels.


Yurok Morphological processes include prefixation, infixtion, inflection, vowel harmony, ablaut, consonantal alternation,[clarification needed] and reduplication.[5]

Prefixation and infixation occur in nominals and verbals, and occasionally in other classes, although infixation occurs most frequently in verbals.

Vowel harmony occurs for prefixes, infixes, and inflections, depending on the vocalic and consonantal structure of the word stem. Internal vocalic alternation involves three alternating pairs: /e/~/i/, /e/~/iʔi/, /e/~/u/.

Reduplication occurs mostly on verb stems but occasionally for nouns and can connote repetition, plurality, etc. Reduplication occurs on the first syllable, and sometimes a part of the second syllable:

Stem Reduplicated form
kelomen to turn (trans.) kekelomen to turn several things
ketʼul there is a lake ketʼketʼul there is a series of lakes
kneweʔlon to be long kokoneweʔlon to be long (of things)
ɬkɻʔmɻkɬkin to tie a knot. ɬkɻʔmɬkɻʔmɻkɻɬkin to tie up in knots
ʂjaːɬk to kick ʂjaʔʂjaːɬk to kick repeatedly
tekʷʂ to cut tekʷtekʷʂ to cut up
tikʷohʂ to break (trans.) tikʷtikʷohʂ to break in pieces
mɻkʷɻɬ peak mɻkʷɻmɻkʷɻɬ series of peaks
ʂlekʷoh shirt ʂlekʷʂlekʷ clothes


Numerals and adjectives can be classified according to the noun grammatically associated with them.[8]

Numerals Common root frame: /n - hks-/
Human beings /nahkseyl/
Animals and birds /nrhksr?r?y/
Round things /nrhksr?r?y/
Tools /nahksoh/
Plants other than trees /nahksek'wo?n/
Trees and sticks /nahkse?r/
Body parts and clothes /nahkse?n/
Long things /nahksek'/
Flat things /nahksok's/
Houses /nahkse?li/
Boats /nahksey/
Days /nahksemoyt/
Arm's lengths (depth measurements) /nahksemrys/
Finger joint lengths (length measurement of dentalium shells) /nahksepir/
Times /nahksemi/
Adjectives (to be) red (to be) big
Human beings /prkaryr?ry(-)/ /peloy-/
Animals and birds /prkryr?ry(-)/ /plr?ry-/
Round things /prkryrh/ /ploh/, /plohkeloy-/
Tools /pekoyoh/ /peloy-/
Plants other than trees /pekoyoh/ /ploh/, /plohkeloy-/
Trees and sticks /pekoye?r/ /peloy-/, /plep-/
Body parts and clothes /pekoyoh/ /plep-/, /plohkeloy-/
Long things /pekoyoh/ /plep-/
Flat things /pekoyoks-/ /ploks-/
Houses /pekoyoh/ /ple?loy-/
Boats /pekoyoh/ /pleyteloy-/
Water /pekoyop-/ ---

Tense and aspect[edit]

Tense - Yurok has no way to differentiate tense through verbal inflection. Past, present and future may be inferred through both linguistic and nonlinguistic context.

Aspect - Aspect in Yurok is indicated by preverbal particles. These occur either directly or indirectly before a verb. These can combine with verbs and other particles to indicate time and many other aspects.

Some preverbal particles include: ho (past time); kic (past but with ongoing effects); wo (past after a negative, or in “unreal conditions”); ?ap (past with the implication of starting some action); etc.[9]


The counting system in Yurok is dependent on whether round or flat shapes are being counted, or whether humans or animals are being counted.[6]

Yurok also lacks general terms for squirrel, owl, or hawk, but it has names for specific types within those groups.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d Romney, Lee (2013-04-07). "Archie Thompson dies at 93: Yurok elder kept tribal tongue alive". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-04-08. 
  2. ^ a b "Yurok Language Project". UC Berkeley. Retrieved 2009-09-26. 
  3. ^ Campbell (1997:152)
  4. ^ Atherton (2010)
  5. ^ a b c d Robins, Robert H. 1958. The Yurok Language: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon. University of California Publications in Linguistics 15.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Romney, Lee. (2013, February 6). Revival of nearly extinct Yurok language is a success story. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 7, 2013
  7. ^ Onishi, Norimitsu (April 12, 2014). "In California, Saving a Language That Predates Spanish and English". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-04-15. 
  8. ^ "Yurok" by R. H. Robins, Lingua. vol. 17
  9. ^ The Yurok Language by R. H. Robins


  • Blevins, Juliette (October 2003). "The phonology of Yurok glottalized sonorants: Segmental fission under syllabification". International Journal of American Linguistics 69 (4): 371–396. doi:10.1086/382738. 
  • Atherton, Kelley. "Back from the Brink: Learning the Yurok Language". The Daily Triplicate. Published 16 October 2010. Accessed 30 April 2012.
  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Dixon, Roland; & Kroeber, Alfred L. (1913). New linguistic families in California. American Anthropologist, 5, 1-26.
  • Goddard, Ives. (1975). Algonquian, Wiyot, and Yurok: Proving a distant genetic relationship. In M. D. Kinkade, K. L. Hale, & O. Werner (Eds.), Linguistics and anthropology in honor of C. F. Voegelin (pp. 249–262). Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press.
  • Goddard, Ives. (1979). Comparative Algonquian. In L. Campbell & M. Mithun (Eds.), The languages of native America: Historical and comparative assessment (pp. 70–132). Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • Goddard, Ives. (1990). Algonquian linguistic change and reconstruction. In P. Baldi (Ed.), Linguistic change and reconstruction methodology (pp. 99–114). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Golla, Victor. (2011). California Indian Languages. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26667-4
  • Haas, Mary R. (1958). Algonkian-Ritwan: The end of a controversy. International Journal of American Linguistics, 24, 159-173.
  • Hinton, Leanne (1994). Flutes of fire: Essays on Californian Indian languages. Berkeley: Heyday Books.
  • Michelson, Truman. 1914. Two alleged Algonquian languages of California. American Anthropologist, 16, 361-367.
  • Michelson, Truman. 1915. Rejoinder (to Edward Sapir). American Anthropologist, 17, 4-8.
  • Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Robins, Robert H. 1958. The Yurok Language: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon. University of California Publications in Linguistics 15.
  • Sapir, Edward. 1913. Wiyot and Yurok, Algonkin languages of California. American Anthropologist, 15, 617-646.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1915)a. Algonkin languages of California: A reply. American Anthropologist, 17, 188-194.
  • Sapir, Edward. (1915)b. Epilogue. American Anthropologist, 17, 198.

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