Mary Joachina Yee (née Mary Joachina Ygnacio Rowe; 1897–1965)[2][3] was a Barbareño Chumash linguist. She was the last first-language speaker of the Barbareño language, a member of the Chumashan languages that were once spoken in southern California by the Chumash people.

Mary Joachina Yee
Mary Joachina Ygnacio Rowe

Died1965 (aged 67–68)
NationalityChumash, United States
Other namesMary J. Rowe[1]
Known forLast first-language speaker of the Barbareño language
ChildrenValentina Yee, Josie Yee, John Yee, Angela Yee, and Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto
ParentLucretia García (mother)
RelativesLuisa Ygnacio (grandmother)


Yee was born in 1897 in an adobe house near Santa Barbara, California, the home of her grandmother. In the late 1890s, Yee was one of only a handful of children brought up to speak any Chumash language. She memorized several old Chumash stories.[4]

In her fifties, Yee began to take part in the analysis, description, and documentation of her language, for many years working closely with the linguist John Peabody Harrington, who had also worked with Yee's mother Lucretia García and her grandmother Luisa Ignacio.[5][6][7] Yee and Harrington corresponded with each other in Chumash. After retiring in 1954, Yee worked with Harrington nearly every day.[8] She also worked with linguist Madison S. Beeler.[9] Over the course of her work she became a linguist in her own right, analyzing paradigms and word structure.[5]

Yee's story appears in the documentary film, 6 Generations: A Chumash Family History (2010) which was co-written by her daughter Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto.[10][11] Posthumously, she published a children's book, The Sugar Bear Story (2005), illustrated by her daughter Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto.[12]


  • Yee, Mary J. (2005). The Sugar Bear Story. Ernestine Ygnacio De Soto (illustrator). San Diego, CA: Sunbelt Publications. ISBN 9780932653703.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "John P. Harrington and two of his principal Barbareno Chumash consultants at the site of their former adobe home, Indian Orchard, Goleta: 1931 ; left to right: Mary J. Yee (nee Rowe), holding her son John Yee, Lucrecia Garcia (nee Ygnacio), John Harrington holding Angela Yee". Online Archive of California (OAC). Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  2. ^ Grant, C. (1978). "Chumash: Introduction". Handbook of North American Indians. 8: 505–508.
  3. ^ "Yee, Mary J., 1897-". The Library of Congress, LC Linked Data Service. Retrieved 2021-11-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ Ernestine Ygnacio-De Soto, illustrated by Mary Yee, The Sugar Bear Story (Paperback): Introduction.
  5. ^ a b Marianne Mithun (1997), Jane Hill; P. J. Mistry; Lyle Campbell (eds.), "The regression of sibilant harmony through the life of Barbareño Chumash.", The Life of Language., Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 108: 221–242
  6. ^ "Luisa Ygnacio, Barbareño Chumash, consultant to John P. Harrington: 1913", Online Archive of California (OAC), 1913, retrieved 2021-11-13
  7. ^ Hill, Jane H.; Mistry, P. J.; Campbell, Lyle (2011-06-24). "5.2 Lucretia Garcia 1928–1930: occasional disharmony". The Life of Language: Papers in Linguistics in Honor of William Bright. Walter de Gruyter. p. 232. ISBN 978-3-11-081115-5.
  8. ^ Poser, William J (2004). "On the status of Chumash sibilant harmony" (PDF). Ms., University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Retrieved 2010-09-22.
  9. ^ "Madison S. Beeler; Linguistics Scholar, Chumash Expert". 1989-03-07. Retrieved 21 September 2010.
  10. ^ Kettmann, Matt (2011-01-27). "Santa Barbara on Screen". The Santa Barbara Independent. Archived from the original on 2013-01-17. Retrieved 2013-05-08.
  11. ^ Hurst Thomas, David (2011-02-01). "Listening to Six Generations of Chumash Women (Goldsmith, Soto, Johnson, Edwards, Walden, and Johnson's )". Current Anthropology. 52 (1): 127–128. doi:10.1086/657926. ISSN 0011-3204. S2CID 224791797.
  12. ^ Newsletter, Volume 24. Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas. The Society. 2005. p. 14.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)

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