Alsea or Alsean (also Yakonan) was two closely related speech varieties spoken along the central Oregon coast until the early 1950s.[1] They are sometimes taken to be different languages, but it is difficult to be sure given the poor state of attestation; Mithun believes they were probably dialects of a single language.[2]

Alsea–Yaquina / Yakonan
EthnicityAlsea people, Yaquina people
Extinct1942, with the death of John Albert
  • Alsea
  • Yaquina
Language codes
ISO 639-3aes
Pre-contact distribution of Alsean
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  • Alsea
    • Alsea (Alséya)
    • Yaquina (Yakwina, Yakona)

Both are now extinct.

The name Alsea derives from the Coosan name for them, alsí or alsí·, and the Marys River Kalapuyan name for them, alsí·ya. Alsea was last recorded in 1942 from the last speaker, John Albert, by J. P. Harrington.

The name Yaquina derives from the Alsean name for the Yaquina Bay and the Yaquina River region, yuqú·na. Yaquina was last recorded in 1884 by James Owen Dorsey.

Linguistic affiliation


Alsea is usually considered to belong to the Penutian phylum, and may form part of a Coast Oregon Penutian subgroup together with Siuslaw and the Coosan languages.[3] Numerous lexical resemblances between Alsea and the Northern Wintuan languages, however, are more likely the result of borrowing about 1,500 years ago when the (Northern) Wintuan speech community appears to have been located in Oregon. Alsea is also considered to be a language isolate.[4]





Alsea had 34 consonants:[2]

Labial Alveolar (Alveolo-)
Velar Uvular Glottal
plain lateral plain labialized plain labialized plain labialized
plain p t k q ʔ
ejective p’ t’ tɬ’ tɕ’ k’ kʷ’ q’ qʷ’
Fricative ɬ ɕ x χ χʷ h [a]
Sonorant plain m n l j w
glottalized m’ n’ l’ j’ w’
  1. ^ The status of /hʷ/ is uncertain.

/ɕ/, /tɕ/ and /tɕ’/ are spelled as s, c and in modern descriptions.[2][5] Their phonetic value has been described as "palatal",[6] or "between alveolar and palatal".[2]


Front Back
High i u
Low a

Three vowels are listed as /a, i, u/. Long vowel variants of /i, u/ are [eː, oː]. A mid vowel /ə/ occurs as a phonetically inserted vowel sound.[5]


  1. ^ Buckley, Eugene (1989). "The Structure of the Alsea Verb Root: Papers from the 1989 Hokan-Penutian Workshop. Ed. Scott DeLancey". University of Oregon Papers in Linguistics. 2 (17).
  2. ^ a b c d Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X
  3. ^ Grant, Anthony P. (1997). "Coast Oregon Penutian: Problems and Possibilities". International Journal of American Linguistics. 63 (1): 144–156. doi:10.1086/466316. JSTOR 1265867. S2CID 143822361.
  4. ^ Golla, Victor (1997). "The Alsea-Wintuan Connection". International Journal of American Linguistics. 63 (1): 157–170. doi:10.1086/466317. JSTOR 1265868. S2CID 144293507.
  5. ^ a b Buckley, Eugene (2007). "Vowel–Sonorant Metathesis in Alsea". International Journal of American Linguistics. 73 (1): 1–39. CiteSeerX doi:10.1086/518333. JSTOR 10.1086/518333. S2CID 143330148.
  6. ^ Frachtenberg, Leo Joachim (1920). Alsea texts and myths. Washington: Govt. Printing Office. Retrieved 13 January 2020.

Further reading