Hokan languages

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The Hokan /ˈhkæn/ language family is a hypothetical grouping of a dozen small language families that were spoken mainly in California, Arizona and Baja California.

North America
Linguistic classificationProposed language family
ISO 639-5hok
Proposed Hokan langs.png
Hokan families of California


The name Hokan is loosely based on the word for "two" in the various Hokan languages: *xwak in Proto-Yuman, c-oocj (pronounced [koːkx]) in Seri, ha'k in Achumawi, etc.

History of the proposalEdit

In the first half-century after the "Hokan hypothesis" was first proposed by Roland B. Dixon and Alfred L. Kroeber,[1][2] and further elaborated by Edward Sapir, little additional evidence was found that these families were related to each other. But since about 1950, increased efforts to document Hokan languages and to establish sound correspondences in proposed lexical resemblance sets have added weight to the Hokan hypothesis, leading to its acceptance by many specialists in the languages of California, Oregon, and Mesoamerica. However, some skepticism remains among scholars.[3]

The Yurumanguí language of Colombia was claimed to be Hokan by Rivet.[4] This claim has not been accepted by historical linguists. Terrence Kaufman wondered if Hokan might be related to Oto-Mangean. [5]

An automated computational analysis (ASJP 4) by Müller et al. (2013)[6] found lexical similarities among Seri, Yuman and Tequistlatecan. However, since the analysis was automatically generated, the grouping could be either due to mutual lexical borrowing or genetic inheritance.


The geographic distribution of the Hokan languages suggests that they became separated around the Central Valley of California by the influx of later-arriving Penutian and other peoples; archaeological evidence for this is summarized in Chase-Dunn & Mann (1998). These languages are spoken by Native American communities around and east of Mount Shasta, others near Lake Tahoe, the Pomo on the California coast, and the Yuman peoples along the lower Colorado River. Some linguists also include Chumash, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and other families, but the evidence is insubstantial, and most now restrict Hokan to some or all of the languages listed below.


The Hokan languages retained by Kaufman (1988) due to regular sound correspondences and common core vocabulary are as follows. (The data on which these conclusions were drawn have not been published or evaluated by anyone else.) Apart from Shasta–Palaihnihan and Yuman, all branches are single languages or shallow families.[7]

Marlett (2008) reevaluated the evidence and concluded that the evidence for Seri and Salinan has not been systematically or convincingly presented. The inclusion of the Tequistlatecan languages has also not received much support.[citation needed] The Chumash languages were once included, but that position has been almost universally abandoned. On the basis of lexical similarities between various Hokan languages and languages of the Lencan and Misumalpan families, Jolkesky (2017:45-54) proposes either a genetic relationship or prehistoric contact between these languages.


Some Hokan lexical correspondences from Mary R. Haas (1963) are provided below.[8]

Yana Karok Chimariko PROTO-

*išamál malʔgu -sam *išamárika
'liver' *č-ímapasi
ima váfiš -ši
'navel' *ímaraw
alu (Achomawi)
'neck (nape)' *ímapka


ipwá (Okwanuchu)





Similar forms for 'tongue' include:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dixon, Roland R.; Kroeber, Alfred L. (1913a). "Relationship of the Indian languages of California." Science, 37, 225
  2. ^ Dixon, Roland R.; Kroeber, Alfred L. (1913b) "New linguistic families in California." American Anthropologist, 15, 647–655
  3. ^ Kaufmann, Terrence (2009). "Hokan". In Brown, E. K.; Ogilvie, Sarah (eds.). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world (1st ed.). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier. pp. 504–510. ISBN 9780080877754. OCLC 318247422.
  4. ^ Paul Rivet, 1942
  5. ^ Kaufmann, Terrence (1990). Tlapaneko-Sutiaba, OtoMangean, and Hokan: where Greenberg went wrong.
  6. ^ Müller, André, Viveka Velupillai, Søren Wichmann, Cecil H. Brown, Eric W. Holman, Sebastian Sauppe, Pamela Brown, Harald Hammarström, Oleg Belyaev, Johann-Mattis List, Dik Bakker, Dmitri Egorov, Matthias Urban, Robert Mailhammer, Matthew S. Dryer, Evgenia Korovina, David Beck, Helen Geyer, Pattie Epps, Anthony Grant, and Pilar Valenzuela. 2013. ASJP World Language Trees of Lexical Similarity: Version 4 (October 2013).
  7. ^ Golla (2011) California Indian Languages
  8. ^ Haas, Mary R. (1963): "Shasta and Proto-hokan." Language, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1963), pp. 40-59. doi:10.2307/410761


External linksEdit