Esselen was the language of the Esselen (or self-designated Huelel) Nation, which aboriginally occupied the mountainous Central Coast of California, immediately south of Monterey (Shaul 1995). It was probably a language isolate, though has been included as a part of the hypothetical Hokan proposal.

Native toUnited States
RegionBig Sur (California)
Extinct19th century
Hokan ?
  • Esselen
Language codes
ISO 639-3esq

Names edit

The name Esselen was derived from a village name. The Esselen people referred to their own language as Huelel. The name was recorded by Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta on May 18, 1832 at Soledad Mission from his informant Eusebio (native name Sutasis) (cf. villel 'tongue' as recorded by Dionisio Alcalá Galiano) (Shaul 1995).

Historical background edit

French explorer Lapérouse, who visited Monterey in 1786, reported:[1]

The country of the Ecclemachs [Esselen] extends above 20 leagues to the [south]eastward of Monterey. Their language is totally different from all those of their neighbors, and has even more resemblance to the languages of Europe than to those of the Americas. This grammatical phenomenon, the most curious in this respect ever observed on the continent, will, perhaps, be interesting to those of the learned, who seek, in the analogy of languages, the history and genealogy of transplanted nations.

Esselen may have been the first Californian language to become extinct. Although it was spoken by many of the early converts at Mission Carmel, its use rapidly declined during the Hispanic period. Very little information on the vocabulary and grammar of Esselen was preserved. About 350 words and phrases and a few complete sentences have been preserved in literature,[1] including a short bilingual catechism (for a summary see Mithun 1999:411–413 and Golla 2011:114). By the beginning of the 20th century the only data on Esselen that investigators such as Kroeber and Harrington could collect were a few words remembered by speakers of other Indian languages in the area.[citation needed]

Classification edit

H. W. Henshaw thought that Esselen represented a monotypic linguistic family. Others, such as Shaul (2019),[2] have assigned the language to the proposed Hokan family.

Shaul (2019) also notes that Esselen has had extensive contact with the Chumashan languages, with Esselen and Chumashan sharing many common lexical items.[2]

Dialects edit

The Esselen language consisted of the Western and Eastern dialects. Documentation of Western Esselen was based on data collected at Mission Carmel. It was spoken by the Excelen local tribe, and likely also the Ecgeajan local tribes to the south along the Big Sur coast, although the Ecgeajan subdialect is unattested. Eastern Esselen was documented by Arroyo, and was based on data collected at Mission Soledad, which hosted Arroyo Seco local tribes. Eastern Esselen was spoken by the Eslenajan local tribe, and probably also by the Aspasniajan and Imunajan local tribes.[2]

The Esselen language was spoken by five local tribes. Each of the five local tribes spoke a separate subdialect.[2]

The Santa Lucia Mountains formed the heart of the Esselen homeland.

Each Esselen district consisted of a local tribe with their own patrilineal clans. Members of the clans were exogamous, marrying members of other clans but within the local tribe.[2]

Local Esselen tribes and their demographics are surveyed in Milliken (1990: 59).[3]

Breschini and Haversat (1994: 82-88) give the following numbers of villages and population estimates for each of the five Esselen tribes. Population estimates are calculated by multiplying the number of villages by either 30 or 40 (i.e., the presumed number of individuals per village).[4]

District Villages Population (with 30 persons
per village)
Population (with 40 persons
per village)
Excelen 4 120 160
Eslen/Eslenajan 7 210 280
Aspaniajan 2 60 80
Imunajan 5 150 200
Ecgeajan 6 180 240
Totals 24 600 960

Phonological and lexical differences edit

Sound correspondences between the Western and Eastern dialects:[2]

Sound correspondences in Esselen dialects
Western Eastern
č ~ ts
e a
š s
Examples of Western č ~ ts : Eastern ṭ
Gloss Western Eastern
man exe-noč exe-noṭ
father aya ~ a'ay m-a'aṭ
earth matsa maṭa
we leč leṭ
you (pl.) *nomeč nomeṭ
they lač laṭ
it is finished *amomuč amo-muṭ
completive -mutsu ~ -musu -muṭ
Examples of Western e : Eastern a
Gloss Western Eastern
you (sg.) ném:e name
your (sg.) nemi-š- nami-s-
you (pl.) neme-x nome-
Examples of Western š : Eastern s
Gloss Western Eastern
my daughter ni-š-ta ni-s-ta
sun aši asi
cottontail rabbit čiši čis
girl šoleta soleta-sis
agentive marker -piši -pisi

Lexical differences between the Western and Eastern dialects:[2]

Lexical variation in Esselen dialects
Gloss Western Eastern
head kxata-sax xis:i
eyes hikpa ka
mouth iši ~ iš:e katus-nex
heart tika-s maša-nex
river sana-x asum
that one hainihi huiniki
I eni ne

Phonology edit

Labial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p t ʈ k ʔ
Affricate ts kx
Fricative s ʃ x h
Nasal m n
Rhotic r
Approximant w l j

/p/ has allophones of [f] and [pf]. /t/ has an allophone of [tʃ].[5]

Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open a

Pronouns edit

Subject pronouns in Western Esselen (Shaul 2019: 89):

sg pl
1 ene ~ eni leč-s; lex
2 nemi ~ nimi nemič; nemux
3 lal lač; lax

Subject pronouns in Eastern Esselen (Shaul 2019: 89):

sg pl
1 ene ~ ne leṭ; lex
2 name nomeṭ; nomux
3 huiniki laṭ; lax

Syntax edit

Word order is primarily SOV (Shaul 2019).

Lexicon edit

Shaul (1995) reconstitutes Esselen vocabulary, synthesized from various historical sources, as follows.[5] Forms from Alfred L. Kroeber are marked by (Kr).

gloss Esselen
adult -nVč
all komVnam
arrow lóto-s
bear koltála
bow paxu-nax
child/son pana
cry siawa
dance mepV, mef-
dark tumas (Kr)
day asátsa
die moho
dog šošo
drink etse, eše
ear tus-usp (Kr)
earth maṭa, matsa
eyes -ikxpa
father haya
female ta-
foot kxéle
friend -efe
girl soléta
give toxésa
good/well sale-
grandfather meči
ground squirrel mexe
hair haka
head kxáta-sVx
large putú-ki; yakí-s-ki
man exe-
mother atsia
mountain polomo
mountain lion xeke-s
mouth iši
nails uluxV
night tomani-s
nose xoši
person efexe
pinole amúxe
plain yala-x
quail kumul (Kr)
rabbit (cottontail) čiši, čis-
salmon kilí-
seal opopa-pas
sky imi-
small ukxu-s-ki
speak al-pa
sun aši
teeth awur
water asa-nax
where kéya-
who kíni
wildcat toloma
wood i'i
yes íke

Numbers edit

gloss Esselen
one pek
two kxulax
three kxulep
four kxamakxu-s
five pemakxa-la
six pek-walanai
seven kxula-walanai
eight kxulef-walanai
ten tomóila

References edit

  1. ^ a b "DCQ Fall Equinox 1999 -- The Caves Ranch". Retrieved 23 April 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Shaul, David (2019). Esselen studies: language, culture, and prehistory. Muenchen: Lincom Europa. ISBN 978-3-86288-986-0. OCLC 1132875180.
  3. ^ Millikan, Randal. 1990. Ethnography and Ethnohistory of the Big Sur District, California State Park System, During the 1770-1780 Time Period. Submitted to Department of Parks and Recreation, Sacramento.
  4. ^ Breschini, Gary and Trudy Haversat. 1994. An Overview of the Esselen Indians of Central Monterey County, California. Salinas, CA: Coyote Press.
  5. ^ a b Shaul, David L. 1995. "The Huelel (Esselen) Language." International Journal of American Linguistics 61:191-239.

Bibliography edit

  • Golla, Victor. 2011. California Indian Languages. University of California Press.
  • Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The Languages of Native North America. Cambridge University Press.
  • Shaul, David L. 1995. "The Huelel (Esselen) Language." International Journal of American Linguistics 61:191-239.

External links edit