Algic languages

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northern North America
Linguistic classification One of the world's primary language families
Proto-language Proto-Algic
ISO 639-5 aql
Glottolog algi1248[1]
Pre-contact distribution of Algic languages (in red). Note distribution in northwestern California.

The Algic (also Algonquian–Wiyot–Yurok or Algonquian–Ritwan)[2] languages are an indigenous language family of North America. Most Algic languages belong to the Algonquian family, dispersed over a broad area from the Rocky Mountains to Atlantic Canada. The other Algic languages are the Yurok and Wiyot of northwestern California, which, despite their geographic proximity, are not closely related. All these languages descend from Proto-Algic, a second-order proto-language estimated to have been spoken about 7,000 years ago and reconstructed using reconstructed Proto-Algonquian and the attested languages Wiyot and Yurok.


The term "Algic" was first coined by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft in his Algic Researches, published in 1839. Schoolcraft defined the term as "derived from the words Alleghany and Atlantic, in reference to the indigenous people anciently located in this geographical area."[3] Schoolcraft's terminology was not retained. The peoples he called "Algic" were later included among the speakers of Algonquian languages.

When Edward Sapir proposed that the well-established Algonquian family was genetically related to the Wiyot and Yurok languages of northern California, he applied the term Algic to this larger family. The original Algic homeland is thought to have been located in the American Northwest somewhere between the suspected homeland of the Algonquian branch (to the west of Lake Superior according to Goddard[4]) and the earliest known location of the Wiyot and Yurok (along the middle Columbia River according to Whistler[5]).

Classification of Algic[edit]

The genetic relation of Wiyot and Yurok to Algonquian was first proposed by Edward Sapir (1913, 1915, 1923), and argued against by Algonquianist Truman Michelson (1914, 1914, 1935). The relationship "has subsequently been demonstrated to the satisfaction of all".[6] This controversy in the early classification of North American languages was called the "Ritwan controversy" because Wiyot and Yurok were assigned to a genetic grouping called "Ritwan". Most specialists now reject the validity of the Ritwan genetic node.[7] Berman (1982) suggested that Wiyot and Yurok share sound changes not shared by the rest of Algic (which would be explainable by either areal diffusion or genetic relatedness); Proulx (2004) argued against Berman's conclusion of common sound changes. More recently, Sergei Nikolaev has argued in two papers for a systematic relationship between the Nivkh language of Sakhalin and the Amur river basin and the Algic languages and a secondary relationship between these two together and the Wakashan languages,.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Algic". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ Howard Berman, Proto-Algonquian-Ritwan Verbal Roots, in the International Journal of American Linguistics, volume 50, number 3 (July 1984)
  3. ^ Schoolcraft 1839: 12.
  4. ^ Goddard 1994: 207.
  5. ^ Moratto 1984: 540, 546, 564
  6. ^ Campbell 1997: 152, who cites among others Haas 1958
  7. ^ Campbell 1997: 152; Mithun 1999: 337
  8. ^ Nikolaev, S. (2015)
  9. ^ Nikolaev, S. (2016)


Journals and books[edit]

AA = American Anthropologist; IJAL = International Journal of American Linguistics

  • Berman, Howard. 1982. Two Phonological Innovations in Ritwan. IJAL 48: 412–20.
  • Campbell, Lyle. 1997. American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Goddard, Ives. 1994. The West-to-East cline in Algonquian dialectology. Actes du vingt-cinquième congrès des algonquinistes, ed. William Cowan. Ottawa: Carleton University.
  • Goddard, Ives (Ed.). 1996. Languages (Vol. 17). Handbook of North American Indians (W. C. Sturtevant, General Ed.) Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0-16-048774-9.
  • Haas, Mary R. 1958. "Algonkian–Ritwan: The end of a controversy. IJAL, 24:159–173.
  • Haas, Mary R. 1966. "Wiyot–Yurok–Algonquian and problems of comparative Algonquian". IJAL. 32:101–107
  • Michelson, Truman. 1914. Two alleged Algonquian languages of California. AA, n.s. 16:361–367.
  • Michelson, Truman. 1915. Rejoinder. AA, n.s. 17:194–198.
  • Michelson, Truman. 1935. Phonetic shifts in Algonquian languages. IJAL, 8:131–171
  • Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.
  • Moratto, Michael J. 1984. California archaeology. Academic Press.
  • Nikolaev, S. L. 2015. Toward the reconstruction of Proto-Algonquian-Wakashan. Part 1: Proof of the Algonquian-Wakashan relationship. Journal of Language Relationship • Вопросы языкового родства 13/1 (2015), 23—61.
  • Nikolaev, S. L. 2015. Toward the reconstruction of Proto-Algonquian-Wakashan. Part 2: Algonquian-Wakashan sound correspondences. Journal of Language Relationship • Вопросы языкового родства 13/4 (2015), 289—328.
  • Proulx, Paul. 1982. Yurok retroflection and sound symbolism in Proto-Algic. Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics, 7:119–123.
  • Proulx, Paul. 1984. Proto-Algic I: Phonological sketch. IJAL, 50:165–207.
  • Proulx, Paul. 1985. Proto-Algic II: Verbs. IJAL, 51:59–94.
  • Proulx, Paul. 1991. Proto-Algic III: Pronouns. Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics, 16:129–170.
  • Proulx, Paul. 1992. Proto-Algic IV: Nouns. Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics, 17:11–57.
  • Proulx, Paul. 1994. Proto-Algic V: Doublets and their implications. Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics, 19(2):115–182.
  • Proulx, Paul. 2004. Proto-Algic VI: Conditioned Yurok reflexes of Proto-Algic vowels. Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics, 27:124–138.
  • Sturtevant, William C. (Ed.). 1978–present. Handbook of North American Indians Vol. 1–20. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution.
  • Sapir, Edward. 1913. Wiyot and Yurok, Algonkin languages of California. AA, n.s. 15:617–646.
  • Sapir, Edward. 1915. Algonkin languages of California: A reply. AA, n.s. 17:188–194.
  • Sapir, Edward. 1923. The Algonkin affinity of Yurok and Wiyot kinship terms. Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, 15:37–74
  • Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. 1839. Algic researches, comprising inquiries respecting the mental characteristics of the North American Indians. First series. Indian tales and legends, vol. 1. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1839.