The Calusa language is an unclassified language of southern Florida, United States that was spoken by the Calusa people.[2]

Native toUnited States
Extinctca. 1800
unclassified (related to Tunica?[1])
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)

Background and classification


Little is known of the language of the Calusa. A dozen words for which translations were recorded and 50 or 60 place names form the entire known corpus of the language. Circumstantial evidence, primarily from Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, suggests that all of the peoples of southern Florida and the Tampa Bay area, including the Tequesta, Mayaimi, and Tocobaga, as well as the Calusa, spoke dialects of a common language. This language was distinct from the languages of the Apalachee, Timucua, Mayaca, and Ais people in central and northern Florida.[3]

Julian Granberry (1994) has suggested that the Calusa language was related to the Tunica language of the lower Mississippi River Valley, with Calusa possibly being relatively a recent arrival from the lower Mississippi region. Another possibility was that similarities between the languages were derived from long-term mutual contact.[1]



Granberry (2011) provides the following inventory of Calusa phonemes.[4][1]

Labial Apical Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p t k ʔ
Fricative s h
Rhotic r
Nasal m n ɲ
Lateral l
Approximant w j
Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a

A Calusa /s/ [s̠] sound is said to range between a /s/ to a /ʃ/ sound.

Known words and phrases


A few vocabulary examples from Granberry (2011) are listed below:[4]

  • tepe 'join'
  • kuči 'destroy'
  • ñoka 'war'
  • ño 'village'
  • *śahka 'tree'
  • mayai 'on the other side'

(*) denotes earlier century Calusa language records.

Some Calusa words, proper nouns, and phrases from Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda's writings (including his 1575 memoir Memoria de las cosas y costa y indios de la Florida) that are cited in Zamponi (2024) include:[2]

Calusa English gloss (Zamponi 2024) Spanish gloss (original) notes
carlos ferocious people quiere desir en su lenguaje pueblo feros Spanish corruption of caalus
Certepe chief king and great lord Rey mayor y gran señor
ño beloved town quiere dezir pueblo querido
seletega Run, see if people are coming! Corre mira si biene jente
tejiEue lookout, vantage point miradero quiere dezir
cañogacola wicked people without respect gente bellaca sin Respeto from regions above Tampa on the Gulf Coast
cuchiaga place where there has been torture quiere dezir lugar Amartirisado from the Keys
guarugunbe town of weeping quiere desir en rromanse pueblo de llanto from the Keys
guasaca Esgui river of reeds quiere desir Rio de cañas from regions above Tampa on the Gulf Coast
mayaimi (very) large llamase laguna de mayaimi porqués muy grande from the Lake Okeechobee region
tocobaga chile principal chief of the Tocobaga el Rei casique mayor (...) llamase tocobaga chile from the area around Tampa Bay

Sipi is the name of a main idol in a Calusa temple, according to a 1743 report (Informe) by Fr. Joseph Xavier de Alaña that was sent to his superiors.[5]

Comparison with Tunica


See also



  1. ^ a b c Granberry, Julian (1994). "Evidence for a Calusa-Tunica Relationship". Papers of the Mid-America Linguistics Conference (MALC). Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas. pp. 505–519.
  2. ^ a b Zamponi, Raoul (2024). "Unclassified languages". The Languages and Linguistics of Indigenous North America. De Gruyter. pp. 1627–1648. doi:10.1515/9783110712742-061. ISBN 978-3-11-071274-2.
  3. ^ Granberry, Julian (2011). The Calusa: Linguistic and Cultural Relationships. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press. pp. 19–24. ISBN 978-0-8173-1751-5.
  4. ^ a b Granberry 2011: 27-38
  5. ^ Sturtevant, William C. 1978. "The last of the south Florida aborigines". In Jerald T. Milanich & Samuel Proctor (eds.), Tacachale: essays on the Indians of Florida and southeastern Georgia during the historic period, 141–162. Gainesville, FL: The University Presses of Florida.