California Indian languages

California Indian languages. By Victor Golla. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. Pp. 400. ISBN 9780520266674. $90 (Hb).

Reviewed by Peter Freeouf, Chiang Mai University

The ‘California of this book’ (1) extends from present-day Baja California into south-central Oregon. At the time of European contact, seventy-eight distinct languages were spoken in this area along the Pacific Coast of North America. A number of these languages are related to languages spoken elsewhere in North America. For others, any relationship to languages outside the area is tentative at best. Most of these languages are no longer spoken by native speakers, and the remaining ones are on the verge of extinction or are extremely endangered. This is the definitive overview on the pre-European California language area. The book includes a detailed account of the research and scholarship on the native languages of California, from the time of the first European contact and conquest to present-day linguistic study with its more sophisticated scientific orientation.

This book is divided into five principal parts: ‘Introduction: Defining California as a sociolinguistic area’ (1–9), ‘History of study’ (11–59),‘Languages and language families’ (61–201), ‘Typological and areal features: California as a linguistic area’ (203–37), and ‘Linguistic prehistory’ (239–58). The work begins with a detailed table of contents (vii–viii) followed by a short preface (ix–xi), and very detailed tables of the phonetic orthography used in the book (xiii–xiv).

The larger language groupings discussed in the third part, covering languages and language families, include Algic, Athabascan (Na-Dene), Hokan, Penutian, Uto-Aztecan, and unaffiliated languages. Subgroupings and individual languages are discussed under each category. A representative example is the section on Chimariko (87–90), a language of the Hokan group. The numbered topic headings include ‘Geography’, ‘Documentation and survival’, ‘Linguistic structure’, and ‘Nomenclature’, the last of which discusses the names used to designate the language and its speakers, both in the literature and by the speakers themselves.

There are four appendices. The first two are each a discussion, respectively, of the work of two earlier twentieth-century linguists, C. Hart Merriam (259–71) and John Peabody Harrington (273–81). Appendix C (283–86) presents five of the most important linguistic transcription systems used for California Indian languages in recent times, since the later part of the nineteenth century. Appendix D (287–94) contains lists of the basic numerals in fifty native Californian languages and dialects. There are also included a section of notes (295–321), an extensive bibliography (323–69), and a detailed index (371–80). The book includes numerous photographs of researchers and speakers of the languages, and there are detailed maps showing the location of languages and dialects. There are also many charts and tables displaying the phonemic structures and various inflectional paradigms of individual languages.

This book is a model of exceptional clarity and organization, and it is extremely user-friendly. It is a multifaceted work of encyclopedic comprehensiveness by a leading scholar of the native languages of North America. It will serve as an essential resource in the coming years for anyone with an interest in the languages, cultures, and histories of the native peoples of California and of the Americas.